.- Continuing the discussion about Theology of the Body speaker Christopher West, Prof. Janet E. Smith has argued that theologian Prof. David Schindlerâs criticism of West has been âunfairâ and has focused upon âunsubstantiatedâ and âout of contextâ examples of errors he sees in Westâs work.
Smith, a moral theologian at Detroitâs Sacred Heart Major Seminary, is teaching a June immersion course on Pope John Paul IIâs âLove and Responsibilityâ with West through the Theology of the Body Institute. Schindler, a dean at the John Paul II Institute at Washington, D.C., initially criticized Westâs interpretation of the late pontiffâs Theology of the Body for significantly misrepresenting the thought of John Paul II, for being âtoo much about sex and too romantic,â and for neglecting a sound understanding of mankind's fallen nature.
In the second of his two criticisms published at HeadlineBistro.com, Schindler said Westâs views can encourage a âdangerous imprudenceâ and argued that those not at ease with his presentation have some cause for concern.
Smithâs second response to Schindler, also published at HeadlineBistro.com, repeated her praise for West, saying he is a âpioneerâ who has taught the public and has created an âexcellent toolâ for scholars with his commentary on the Theology of the Body.
âCriticism of his work is to be welcomed but it must be delivered in a way as to be useful,â Smith wrote, expressing her continued âserious misgivingsâ about the manner of the conversation about Westâs work.
âIt surprises me that Prof. Schindler defends his use of unsubstantiated examples taken out of context in his critique of the work of West,â she said, adding that if sufficient evidence against West exists it should be evident in his many CDs and DVDs.
Smith said she could not respond to Schindlerâs criticisms of West without knowing the context of the disputed elements.
âSchindler seems to me to risk sliding into sound bites as criticism rather than textual citation as criticism. It is time for more citation of texts; not sound bites, not implication, but substantiated criticism.â
Some critics of West, she remarked, refer to âimpressionsâ of the speaker whom they may have seen more than ten years ago and are not reacting to his more recent work and presentations.
She then responded to one of Schindlerâs specific criticisms, namely that West has used âphallic symbolismâ to describe the Easter Candle.
âI wouldnât use the example myself, but I donât think it worthy of a wholesale attack or a wholesale defense; the issue is very overblown,â she said.
âI know that Westâs talks have elements that challenge the sensitivities of many. When I heard West in his first series of talks claim that the submersion of the Easter Candle into the holy water font was sexual imagery used by the Church to show that, through baptism, spiritual children are born, I was appalled.â
Smith explained that her response may have been âprudishâ but she thought Westâs reference was âvulgar and irreverent.â
However, she said, she was surprised to learn that liturgists and theologians âfrom the early days of the Churchâ have understood the Easter Candle âjust as West does.â
âSchindler thinks that some things ought never to be discussed in public,â Smith continued, suggesting that if West told an audience he would only address certain issues in a private discussion, the whole audience would show up.
Smith said Schindler had justified Westâs status as a public figure to âuse the media and create a firestormâ by making his arguments. She argued that it was âunjustâ for someone of Schindlerâs influence to raise âvery serious objectionsâ in a public forum.
âI believe here that he is stepping outside of the arena where the kinds of concerns he raises are best and appropriately addressed â the academic arena where issues can receive patient reflection and prolonged and careful assessment; not the arena of the Internet blog which invites hasty and unreflective judgment,â she wrote, referring to the news aggregator HeadlineBistro.com.
Smith reported that a bishop and a conference organizer have both said they received a copy of Schindlerâs critique from someone who sought to dissuade them from sponsoring Westâs appearance at a conference. While Schindler does not want West to fail, she said, some will attempt to use the scholarâs authority to make the popular speaker fail.
She then suggested that Schindlerâs aims differ from those of Pope John Paul II and Christopher West:
âJohn Paul II and West have not undertaken the same project that Schindler undertakes. Their approach to topics is chosen for pedagogical reasons and thus they may not go into some of what Schindler considers essential for understanding the relation of the person to God and the body to love.â
Concluding her response, Prof. Smith said âsome good thingsâ are coming out of the conversation about West. She expressed hope West will âjust keep getting better and better,â will convert many people, and will take present criticism âas graciously as he had taken criticisms in the past.â
âI also hope Westâs critics, after patient and prolonged reflection AND a close look at the evidence, will be very open to the possibility that they are not being altogether fair to him,â she wrote.