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: