Christopher West came in for some criticism recently, much of it deserved, for his appearance on Nightline. In one sense, I sympathize with the critics. I have heard West speak, and found the simplification (bordering on sensationalization) of certain aspects of Theology of the Body somewhat off-putting. In a perfect world, people would read the writings of John Paull II and others to acquire a sophisticated, nuanced grasp of the subject matter. Nevertheless, that is not the world in which we live. That being the case I think, on balance, West’s work is valuable, difficult, and necessary.
And so I was somewhat surprised to see Dr. Schindler take the recent brouhaha as an opportunity to rather harshly criticize all of West’s work. The tension between academics and popularizers is nothing new (even writers as brilliant as C.S. Lewis and Chesterton had and have their academic detractors); but one would hope for a more restrained and sympathetic treatment given the difficulty of presenting the Catholic understanding of sexuality in the modern United States. I think the following defenses by Dr. Janet Smith and Dr. Michael Waldstein help provide a better context for understanding West and his work:
Dr. Janet Smith here:
What is puzzling is that an influential scholar chose this moment to issue a sweeping, negative critique of West in such a public forum. I have great respect for the work and thought of Schindler and realize that it must be difficult to be on the receiving end of criticisms of the work of one of their most high profile graduates. I wish, however, he had found another occasion to express his reservations about West’s work. I think we should be very careful in our evaluation of the work of someone who is on the front lines and who is doing pioneer work…
And Dr. Michael Waldstein here:
I know that David Schindler is a careful scholar, but I was surprised and taken aback by his recent blanket negative statement about Christopher West in reaction to West’s Nightline interview. He cites a few anecdotes, quotes some snippets of texts, recalls some discussions he had with West in the past, and then makes a number of sweeping, massive accusations against West’s work as a whole.
His West is not the Christopher West I know from studying West’s commentary on the Theology of the Body…
H/t: Insight Scoop.