Modern interpretations of the Theology of the Body

I just read an article by James Likoudis (who is perhaps most well known for his writing on Eastern Orthodoxy from a Catholic perspective). In the article, he has some rather strong criticism for Christopher West’s book Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teachings, as well as some of his other works. I have not yet read Good News About Sex and Marriage, although I do own it, and it is on my “to-read” list. For those of you who have, or who are familiar with the work of Christopher West, do you think the statements made by James Likoudis in the article are justified?

Here is a short selection, though I encourage you all to read the entire article:

Though Mr. West’s TOB presentations have been widely applauded, he has not been without some critics who have taken exception to his presentations, finding, for example, his TV programs (geared to teenagers or older students or the young/engaged) crude and vulgar and verbally explicit in dealing with sexual matters. This is hardly in conformity with the seminal Vatican document “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality” (TMHS) which has established the exact guidelines for the manner in which sexuality content is to be presented.

There is also the problem of his ranting “style” and use of jarring street-language in the effort to relate to audiences already “sexually educated beyond their years” by a decadent culture. Some will sense a serious lack of modesty or shame or even a deliberate effort at desensitizaition of the “prudes” in his audiences by West with his being “cool, and with it” and his too comfortable use of sexual terminology.

There is need for the utmost caution in the rash use of sexual language which can seriously diminish the sense of sin and shame and what philosophers Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand have termed “holy bashfulness” in youth and adults. There are priests and lay people who find his presentations offensive for their earthy, “brutally honest” (his own words) language. He does no justice to Pope John Paul II’s TOB with his crass, indelicate, foul (“getting laid”) irreverent language characterizing what he himself has termed a “pornified” society. West’s “deliberate provocation” of audiences and not hesitating, in the words of another observer, “to get down in the muck to speak to today’s youth” have led his detractors to refer to West’s “Theology of the Bawdy”.

The area of sexual morality is very important when one is considering the Catholic Church. The idea that sex is somehow dirty or shameful and, at best, a necessary evil, is an idea that is often attributed to the Catholic Church (and to many Protestant denominations). Mr. Likoudis certainly does not hold this view, but he does seem to take issue with Mr. West’s far more affirming stance. Any thoughts?

Thanks and God bless!

Iambic Pen, I read the article, and I have read West’s Good News about Sex and Marriage. I think Likoudis is way, way off the mark, and is taking bits and pieces of what West presents out of context.

I have so many thoughts buzzing through right now, and not much time to sort them out, but I’ll give it a shot. Our diocese uses a pre-cana program which utilizes West’s material. Generally there are around thirty couples at a given pre-cana (my bride and I teach as part of the pre-cana team). Usually 29 of the 30 are living together, sexually active, and contracepting. Maybe half attend Mass regularly. If we came in and started with sanctifying grace for the soul and some of the other lofty spiritual truths which Likoudis claims are absent in West’s presentations, we would be immediately turned off by 99% of the participants. We must meet people where they are to a certain extent, while still proclaiming the glory and beauty of the truth of our creation as man and woman. I think West does an excellent job of this. West is thoroughly orthodox in my view.

West doesn’t use vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake, and I actually can’t think of any time he does use what Likoudis calls “street language” unless he is trying to highlight the distorted view of sex and sexuality that society and the culture present. One of the main points of TOB is that we image trinitarian love and life - - how much more spiritual does Likoudis want West to be?

Likoudis claims that the Church has always taught that sex and sexuality (within marriage, of course) is a good. In the abstact, I suppose that is true, as far as it goes. Still, if you’ve heard that message from the Church in a non-TOB context, you’d be the first person that I have encountered that has received that message. The Church in general I think has done a terrible job of proclaiming its vision of sex and sexuality. I cannot tell you how many cradle Catholics I know who openly acknowledge that their understanding of sexuality was a bunch of “thou shalt nots” with zero understanding of the “why”. Further, so many people have the view that sex is dirty, naughty, etc., and of course it can be misused like anything else, and that our bodies are bad. I guess my point here is that we are not talking about an academic discussion between theology grad students, but talks that are designed to get people to think about how they have been formed and what the Church actually teaches. It’s (West presentations and treatments of the topic) not supposed to be the be-all, end-all last word on Catholic sexuality but a starting point on a journey of discovery of the truth.

West does not rant, either! Gosh, I guess I am a little fired up about this.

I cannot tell you how valuable West’s treatment of JPII’s material has been for my marriage - - it was a real turning point in our physical and spiritual jouney. Further, at most pre-canas, at least some couples are so moved that they indicate (on the evaluation form) that they are saving sex for marriage, will not use contraception, have made a deeper commtment to Christ and the Church, etc., and almost all find that they have learned more about the Church’s actual views on sex. The old program did not even address these issues.

Whew! Off the soapbox for the moment.

Thanks for your excellent post! I really need to find my copy of Good News About Sex and Marriage, so I can have an informed opinion about it. :slight_smile:

I agree that Likoudis is way off the mark. I have read a few of West’s books and they have been very helpful to me. I have also seen West speak in person, and I welcome his open and honest approach. Growing up in a very secularized environment, I had many experiences like West himself did, and the last thing a guy like me needs is some candy coated water downed sex talk. West is open and honest. Imagine that, open and honest teaching on sexualtiy.:thumbsup:

So if a married couple uses contraception,it’s a sin.
If a couple lives together but uses no contraception, they are sinning anyway.
Who is more guilty?
I sometimes get to thinking that there really must be degrees to sin.
What about a person who does not believe in Jesus as their savior.
Are they more guilty then one who proclaims to be a Faithful Christian but yet is caught doing something that the unbeliever wouldn’t even imagine doing?
I’ve met a lot of people who seem so nice yet they don’t have anything to do with church or Christianity. Then there are regular church going folks who are self righteous and out right rude.
Sorry if this got off topic but this topic got me to thinking about morality and saved and unsaved individuals.

I appreciate all that West has done for us. As most know, I’m really a big fan. However, I have seen some Utube videos that I would call over the top. He does seem to get carried away sometimes with his personal analogies and I can understand why some people are turned off by him. I mean, there was a comediene at one of the comedy shops here that made paper airplanes out of feminine hygene products. Some ladies just didn’t take well to it. Most thought it was hilarious. It may be honest but sometimes even the truth can be delivered with more sensitivity to the audience. CW tends to deliver to large audiences and as such, some could easily be offended by some of his comments taken out of context. I had the opportunity to take my High Schooler to one of his lectures. I did not because I was not sure ahead of time, exactly how much CW was going to tell him. A chaste unengaged minor does not need to know the church approved way to bring his future wife to orgasm at this time.

Excellent book! I lost mine around here somewhere. I need to find it. There are some parts of his book that some say is inconsistant with Church teaching. I think some of his positions (theological) have changed since that was written.

I am curious though… since TOB is relatively new, what is a “modern interpretation” of it?

I have had people call out specific things that CW says is “OK” but they point out in the original Wednesday homilies, such things were not said by JP II. This is true. The TOB evolved (am I allowed to say that?) as I understand it based on what those that study at the JP II Institue of Marital studies (not sure of the exact name) preach.

We tend to want a check list of what is OK and what is not. I really think that we should read these things and discuss them with our spouses. What may be necessary for one couple may not be all that interesting or workable for another. The key to TOB is stepping back to look at the big picture and becoming one with another in love, not just in sex. (if you get my meaning here.)

I agree.

My thread title isn’t very good. A better one would probably be “current interpretations of the Theology of the Body by contemporary Catholics that may or may not differ from Pope John Paul II’s original intent…”

Christine2009, regarding couples living together using no contraception as compared to married couples using contraception, my point was not to get into a discussion of degrees of sin, or really a discussion of culpability, but only to highlight the extent that many of the engaged couples that I teach have disordered views of sexuality, sex, and marriage in the RCC understanding.

Contraception separates the unitive and procreative aspects of our married sexuality, which absolutely contradicts our design, by God, as male and female in His image. Such purposeful separation is, in Church language, intrinsically disordered, that is, always wrong. I think what you are getting at is each person’s/couple’s culpability, i.e., what did they know about what they are or are not doing. Put another way, contraception is always grave matter, but whether the couple has full knowledge and full consent of the will is another question (two questions, actually).

I see you have your religion listed as Christian. I am assuming that that does not mean Catholic Christian. Check out West’s Good News book referenced above for a relatively easy read on RCC understanding of sexuality - - it is in question and answer format, so while it helps to read from beginning to end, you can pick out parts that may be of interest to you and read it in little chunks, if you are interested in RCC’s understanding.

The critic is way off base. West is not the be-all, end all source of catholic TOB thought. His is not a scholarly nor intellectual approach. He is an evangelist. He has committed his life to sharing how Christ has changed his life, and for HIM the hugest effect has been on how he has lived out his sexuality.

Vulgar and debased sexuality is the norm in our society. We can’t reach them if we don’t speak to the pain that is inside them (sometimes deep inside). CW has been there, done that and had his chains broken free. He simply wants that same freedom for others who are in the same chains. By speaking to them of his own experiences, which are much the same as theirs, he is doing nothing less than preaching the gospel to people where they are at.

That’s a life to be admired, not torn down.

Well, being that the #1 reason young people leave the Catholic Church is sexual sin, and that we are not called to hide our faith under a bushel, but engage the culture we live in,
it seems to me that Mr. Likoudis is fairly out of touch with the culture of the youth today.

I think sexual SIN is vulgar, and crude. So, if someone is turned off by CW, can they offer another better alternative to engaging the culture of kids today with a message of sexual purity? I’m sorry, but packages of condoms are flying around like chewing gum in the public schools. (And that’s in a good neighborhood.)

Children are parading their disordered “sexual identity” publicly in classes and hallways. This is in the high schools, it is much worse on college campuses.

What does he offer to today’s youth as an alternative???

The message of salvation and redemption and holiness, and healing and forgiveness is totally intertwined in Christopher West’s teaching. A thorough study of the Theology of the Body will acquaint you will almost all Catholic sacramental theology on every subject.

If he can offer something better to today’s youth, go for it…
If you are blessed enough to protect your children in an isolated environment, PRAISE GOD!!! Those kids might not need this message. But for the rest of the youth who were baptized Catholic, I don’t think there is anything better to keep the kids purity intact and give them the moral and spiritual reasons not to have premarital sex.

**
“True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.”
Pope John Paul II**

Mr. James Likoudis has been a scholarly voice on the subject of sex-ed for over forty years. Christ met with prostitutes and hardened sinners; He never used crude language. Sins confessed are to remain in the confessional. As to the prevalent sexual mores, situation ethics does not trump papal teaching as expressed in “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.”

I finally got around to reading the article. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I actually find nothing offensive. As a fan of CW and his ability to wake me up to the real purpose of the marital embrace, I can see where “grey areas” need to be debated. And as I have said in the past, sometimes even CW goes over the top a bit with his own understanding of things that may or may not be expressly mentioned in the original “talks.”

I think the criticism is fair. Much of what CW disucsses is for married/engaged couples. And it does hit us where we are. And that is probably good for most, but certainly not all. Some, I know, do not appreciate the approach because that is not where they are. Makes sense. There are others that can communicate at that level and I think it’s important that people find that approach and pursue it.

I may have missed something but I did not find TOB, itself, to be under scrutiny but the method and embodiment of the explaination that was being disputed. He does make some good points that I have heard others make. At first I was outraged… but then I studied further. With the help of Popcak, Fr. Altier and Father Riccardo, I have furthered my education and come to the conclusion that all that they say does not come directly from JP II, nor the scriptures, but from a sense of experience (either first or second hand). CW is certainly not infallible. As none of us are. Collectively we are to take in the discussion, verify by other sources, discern with our spouse, and listen for the input from God about what and how we do things. This is, of course, not limitied to our sexual relationship.

The danger we have in front of us is the demand for a “list” of what is right and wrong. The Church provides a set of guidelines. Some more explicit than others. We judge sometimes more than we should. Looking for a “list” can be a bad thing. Are we using it to justify a selfish desire or to judge others? The most important thing about TOB, to me, isn’t the nitty gritty details, but the general direction. From that perspective, CW is certainly doing a good job of getting us to look at ourselves anew. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I found the spirit of the artilce to be along the lines of “you may be hot, but you’re not *that *hot.” I would agree (and other posters here on CAF will too) that CW isn’t going to be popular with everyone. But I do see his mission as important to the church. The article seems to indicate that maybe he’s forgotten some church teachings OR that what he is saying appears to be going against such. That is a very critical and important message to hear and understand. For us and CW.

A chaste unengaged minor does not need to know the church approved way to bring his future wife to orgasm at this time.

That is definitely true, however, that chaste un-egaged minor is going to grow into an adult & hopefully marry. It would be better for that minor to know it is permissable by the Church for him to bring his future wife to orgasm now as a minor, but not the mechanics. I think many minors (some chaste & some not-so-chaste) feel turned away from the Church b/c they are hearing from propular culture that the Catholic Church is all about “no, no, no”, “sex isn’t for fun, its to make babies”, etc. IMO hearing the good news about TOB either straight from the source (great) or through CW (good) is important - especially if there has already been ‘the sex talk’ between the minors & parents. It lets kids know that they are supposed to have fun in marriage and that while sex is for making babies - its also to grow closer to one another & enjoy one another.

I have TOB for Beginners by CW & so far he’s not gotten into mechanics of ‘how-to’, but he has gotten into this is permissable and actually encouraged. Too many people (even today w/ TOB out there) are still stuck in the mind-set that the Church has a negative view of sexuality even w/n marriage. Instead TOB & CW try to promote the positive view of sexuality w/n the Church and help people understand it better. That’s a truly admirable goal IMO.

I agree. I did get TOB for Teens book and it was impossible for me to get the boys to participate. I’m hoping the DVD is better. Better yet, I’m wanting to get the Parish to start a program for the post-confirmation kids. They get confirmed and it’s like church after mass. Don’t get in anyones way in the parking lot, they are heading for parts unknown. I really think the let down that seems to occur in the first year of college is related to the “your done” attitude. We need to create a program which includes TOB to help them bridge the gap and keep more in the faith as they move through the college years.

Hey!!! Newbetx!!!
I’m doing this right now!
Also with the post confirmation students.

One thing Christopher West focuses on when he’s “evangelizing” with the Theology of the Body is every individual’s personal relationship with Christ. If the kids are being crammed full of knowledge, but haven’t personally been converted, there’s like a mass exodus once they are confirmed. This really saddens me. Not sure what to do about it.

If a person’s relationship with Christ is intact, they wouldn’t WANT to sin…in any way…They would want to be receiving the Sacraments in a state of grace. There’s a lot of philosophy AND catechesis within the TotB, that’s what makes it such a treasure trove of teaching…

TOB is part of the “new evangelisation.” It is a new “ethos,” It is about developing the “mind of Christ.”


don’t really know where I’m going here. I’m just glad to see that you’re doing the same thing as me, and it looks like we’ve come to some of the same conclusions. Hope to keep in touch.

I’m wanting, not doing. PM me with the particulars of what you are doing. I see some new oportunities here in Austin for such programs.

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