I've written on West at length, infuriating some of my friends and former friends in the process.
For those who don't know West and his song and dance, the best analogy is this ...
West is to lust and Catholics what the "Prosperity Gospel" is to greed and Protestants - a slick self-serving attempt to quiet our consciences regarding the basest of human desires. But the Westians are probably doing more damage than the Greedsters in that our bishops have given the tacit impression that West is teaching legitimate Catholic doctrine, when he's obviously not.
What's wrong with that? Is West wrong enough and dangerous enough that the bishops should simply do their jobs and take notice?
Imagine this. Imagine a young man eager for Christ falling in among the Prosperity Gospel crowd. They may convince him that the love of Our Lord is synonymous with suburban affluence, that three cars in every garage is the Holy Trinity of the here and now; but even so, they'd only be getting him to rationalize a rather mean desire, greed.
But imagine a young man eager for Christ falling in among the Westians. They may convince him that the love of Our Lord is synonymous with the lust for the naked lady on the internet, on whom this young man can gaze boldly, if he possesses "mature purity" (according to this strange system). Now you might say that this is nothing but the rationalization of another mean desire, lust - but the problem is that West confuses lust and love, even love for the divine.
The problem is that lust is never just lust. We're not made that way. Lust and affection go together; the heart and the "naughty bits" are somehow connected. And all of that strange stuff - that palpitation that you get when the cute blonde in the pretty sweater walks by in class, that thrill you get if she one day holds your hand, that ecstasy you are blessed with on your wedding night if you marry her - all of that is Eros and Agape mixed, all of that is potentially lustful and potentially loving; all of that may or may not point to self-sacrifice and point to God.
So if you're told sex sex sex sex sex sex, baby! God is Love is Lust is Sex and Sex is Separate from Marriage and Babies - if you're told that in so many words over and over again, it will do a lot more damage than the message "Pray to God get a New Car".
Am I exaggerating? Do you need proof?
The following is an email I recently received. I have edited out anything that would identify the writer, who is obviously a very sensitive and well-intentioned young man.
Might not be, indeed.Do you know what my first exposure to West was? I was in college, probably a sophomore. I struggled with image issues because it felt like many of the practicing, clique-oriented Catholics I knew were so obsessed with getting married, and getting married ASAP, that it suggested that people who did not marry early were deformed and less loved by God. I went to a young, charismatic priest on campus and asked him if he had any information on the "theology of the body," hoping it would provide me some spiritual relief on the subject.So he handed me a copy of Christopher West's first book (the sodomy book) and a couple of his tapes. It did nothing for me, at all. I proceeded in this self-doubt and uncertainty all the way until late 2011, when, on a whim, I decided to Google around about the controversy between West and this woman I'd heard about, Alice von Hildebrand. I ended up finding both her critique and Dawn Eden's, printed them out, and went out to my car in my work parking lot to cry while reading them. This was the thing that I had been seeking, really, since high school.I'm not a theologian. So, a guy like me casually surfing for answers who isn't gifted on this subject isn't going to look too deeply. When you look at this issue, West has saturated the market to such an extent that it's easy for the casual observer to think that is is a) all that is out there and b) endorsed by God, Himself.This needs to be stopped. I look at these things from a very practical perspective. When I look on Amazon for "theology of the body," and the results are saturated with West books, I wish there was an alternative that made people aware that a controversy exists over him. I think it's huge just to plant that seed, if nothing else. It was only the "seed" of a casual remark someone had once made about Alice von Hildebrand that even made me aware that the world Christopher West has built for himself might not be authentic Catholic teaching.
This, my friends, is the harm bad theology can do. It's not just academic or theoretical.
It's personal. And it can damage young lives.