Christopher West, the popular author and speaker whose presentation of Pope John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” has provoked controversy, returned from a six-month sabbatical with a new multimedia show this past weekend. Maintaining that his goal is to correct common misconceptions of Christianity, West added that he is most often criticized by members of “the religious right.”
His Sept. 18 show, titled “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing,” was a collaboration with the young folk-rock group Mike Mangione & The Union. West's teaching was also illustrated visually through film and sand paintings. The show was initially developed for Sydney's World Youth Day in 2008, and performed earlier this year in New York City.
The performance at Colorado Springs' Pikes Peak Center this past Saturday was West's first public appearance since his announcement of a six-month break in April. His “personal and professional” sabbatical followed a spate of critical comments from Catholic theologians and authors, such as Dr. Alice von Hildebrand and David Schindler, who claimed that West was ignoring the weakness of human nature and presenting an overly sexualized vision of Christianity.
West was also criticized for comparing Pope John Paul II to “Playboy” founder Hugh Hefner in a 60 Minutes interview, a comparison he said was misconstrued in the television profile.
Speaking to the Colorado Springs Independent last week, West said that his motivation is not to offer a new Gospel, but “to blow the lid off the common idea of what Christianity teaches,” which he has described as puritanical and negative. “Christianity isn't an invitation to starve,” he explained, but rather “the invitation to a banquet that really feeds the hunger.”
The show, he told the Independent, is “for everyone,” including non-Catholics and the non-religious, “because it's an appeal to the longing for love that every human being has.”
However, West acknowledged that “there will inevitably be some who are offended” by his non-traditional presentation of Catholic teaching on sexuality. He specifically singled out religious conservatives --a group with which he himself has been identified, by groups such as People For The American Way--as being the most offended by his talks.
“You'd probably be surprised as to who (the critics) are,” he told the Independent, saying that those offended by his presentations are “usually from the religious right.”