Christopher West’s teaching warrants uneasiness, theologian warns

ppchristopher220509 Christopher West

Theologian David Schindler has expanded upon his criticisms of Christopher West, saying the speaker’s views can encourage a “dangerous imprudence” and arguing that those not at ease with his presentation have some ground for concern. He suggested that West’s work merits “patient reflection” in light of its critics.

Last month Christopher West, a Catholic speaker on the Theology of the Body, was the topic of an ABC interview broadcast he later said was “sensationalized.” The ABC story claimed West saw John Paul II and pornography propagandist Hugh Hefner as his “two big heroes” and depicted West’s call for Christians to “complete what the sexual revolution began.”

West's interview drew responses from critics such as Prof. David Schindler, a theologian who is dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C., and defenders.

Prof. Janet Smith, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and Dr. Michael Waldstein, an Ave Maria University theology professor and translator of Pope John Paul II’s work, defended West's teachings. Waldstein spoke of West as an effective communicator and popularizer whose works should not be harmed by a critical “spin,” while Smith said West’s informal style was a response to “the sexually wounded and confused” and dismissed many criticisms of him as “without foundation.”

Writing on the Knights of Columbus site, Schindler explained on Friday that he was not reacting only to West’s comments on ABC Nightline. He also drew on his own personal experience with his former student and his own examination of West’s tapes, videos, and his writings. Further, he said he had been approached by people who had attended West's lectures and workshops.

Schindler said that many people respond to West’s presentations with “uneasiness,” and in his view this has foundation in West’s work. The uneasiness is “not only or always” a consequence of “Puritanism,” but often simply a reaction of their “spontaneous and authentic human and Catholic instincts,” he wrote.

Aspects of West’s thought and focus warrant that “uneasiness,” Schindler said, explaining that his own criticisms of the speaker were intended to establish discussion and not meant to cause West to fail.

Addressing his concern about West’s alleged vulgarity, Schindler said “some things just ought not to be talked about in a public setting, on the grounds not of prudishness but of simple human decorum and respect for others.”

“This is not a matter simply of identifying euphemisms to replace vulgar language, nor simply of avoiding mention of acts that may be immoral,” he said. Rather, the dominant culture’s indiscretion and its intolerance of mystery is “precisely what needs to be called into question.”

Schindler again voiced his concern that West does not adequately treat the Catholic position on concupiscence. Granting that West stresses “purity of heart,” he questioned whether the speaker gives “sufficient weight” to the tendency to sin.

He also questioned whether West adequately weighs modesty and shame. Schindler said there was a “reverence” in the mystery of the body which requires a “sensitivity” which is not a simply a matter of sin and shame.

Faults on such points can encourage a “dangerous imprudence” on sexual matters, he warned.

Schindler then voiced the concern that Christopher West does not place marriage in the proper order of love. First is God’s love, infinitely different from man’s but revealed in Jesus Christ and the Eucharist. Next is the “virginal fruitfulness” of the single human being’s love for God and for all God’s creatures. Marital-sexual love is only a subset of this, he explained.

Citing Pope John Paul II, Schindler wrote that the body is “made for God” and it is only because of that orientation that man has a “capacity” for another human being.

“One must always be clear that the theology of the body is not synonymous with a theology of sexuality,” he said in his essay.

He then repeated an earlier charge that West’s approach is one-sidedly male and does not consider women’s “naturally more profound sense of mystery” as in the example of the Virgin Mary.

“None of those involved in this discussion, myself emphatically included, question the depth of West’s faithful love for the Church and indeed for humanity,” he said. However, he advised that “patient reflection” on West’s work is necessary.

Schindler also offered Christopher West space to print his reflections in Communio, the prestigious international theological journal which he edits.

More in US

To read Dr. Schindler's full response visit:

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.