I'm continuing to reflect on some issues raised by Dawn Eden's thesis about C. West.
Let me stress again that I have the utmost respect for both Dawn and Christopher. They're both evangelizing the world in their own way and that's a great thing. This is strictly about ideas, not persons. Some commenters asked for more specifics, so here is one point.
Dawn raises the point that in her view, C. West's approach fosters a lack of respect for the past:
"Christopher West asserts that the theology of the body is "revolutionary" because "previous generations of Christians" grew up under the burden of a "repressive approach" to sexual issues. His intention is to counter a popular myth—the idea that the Church is, as he puts it, "down on sex." However, in countering the one myth, he inadvertently fuels another—the idea that, in the wake of Vatican II, we are "building a new Church," a Church that is fundamentally different from that which preceded it. His praise on Pope John Paul II is predicated on the repeated assumption, sometimes explicit, that the preconciliar Church was stodgy and prudish. While he no doubt intends to promote charity and unity, his approach effectively encourages division and disdain for our past."
Is it really true that West fosters disdain for our Catholic past? I went back to see what he says about it in Theology of the Body Explained where he treats this issue [of disdain for the body] in the prologue. On page 12, he quotes John Paul in the Letter to Families as tracing this problem to Cartesian dualism: "Unfortunately, Western thought, with the development of modern rationalism, has been gradually moving away from [the teaching about God and man which was brought to fulfillment by Christ.] The philosopher who formulated the principle... 'I think,therefore I am' [Descartes], also gave the modern concept of man its distinctive dualistic character. It is typical of rationalism to make a radical contrast in man between spirit and body, between body and spirit. But man is a person in the unity of his body and his spirit..." (n. 19, John Paul).
West then goes back even further to the ancient heresy of Manichaeism. That's where the problem of disdain for the body is also rooted. And that heresy has been around a long time in the Church. We can't deny that; it's a fact. It has affected Christians and Catholics through the ages. Paradoxically, Manichaeism leads to both prudishness on the one hand and libertinism on the other. By noting these things, West is not making a radical division between the Church today and in the past. That's where I think Dawn's claim is not accurate.
In his book, while noting the problem, West says, "Through the centuries the Church has defended the goodness of the physical world and the sacredness of the human body against many heresies..... Suspicion toward the body, sexuality, and the material world is not only alien to authentic Christian belief, but is its very antithesis. (pg. 22, 23).
I think that Dawn's claim of discontinuity doesn't hold up when you examine what West has really said. That's really the point that I wish to make here.
We can't pretend that heresies have never affected the Church for the worse. To note those things is just honest. It doesn't mean that we look at the past with disdain.