Book Club Channel
The Saving Power of Sex: An Interview with Christopher West
Do you expect this book to change anyone's mind? About what?
Some people within the Church have strongly resisted John Paul's teaching on certain points, and not just those who would balk at Catholic sexual ethics. Many people who accept the Church's moral teachings also strongly resist John Paul's teaching on the importance of sexuality in understanding Christ's relationship with the Church; strongly resist the idea that our bodies and the intimacies of spousal union provide an image of Christ's intimacy with us; strongly resist the teaching of the prophets, saints, and mystics of the Church that use, as Pope Benedict says, "boldly erotic images" (see God is Love 9) in describing God's passion for his people.
This resistance is understandable in light of the terrible distortions of the body and sex that are so prevalent in our world today. As John Paul says, because of sin in the world, the body "loses its character as a sign" of God's love, and this makes it very difficult to see the body through any other lens than something pornographic. We've been blinded to the holiness and sacredness of the body and thus find it very difficult to embrace, to quote Pope Benedict once again, "boldly erotic imagery" as something fitting for explaining holy realities. But the good news of the Gospel is that Christ came preaching sight for the blind. The whole point of the TOB is to help us reclaim a vision of the body and sex as a sign of God's love.
In your introduction, you note that your work on the Theology of the Body has been harshly critiqued. Why do you think your teaching has been misunderstood?
I thank my critics in the acknowledgement section of my book. Their challenges have sharpened me, refined me, and encouraged me to dig even deeper into the thought of John Paul II and the mystical tradition of the Church. I do not hesitate to acknowledge where I believe these authors have been correct in their critiques. The last perfect teacher of the faith ascended to heaven two thousand years ago, so there is always room for improvement.
Of course, it's in the very nature of theologians to debate. As I say in my book, the resolution of theological debate often involves finding the right balance between what appear to be competing truths, but are rather complementary aspects of the whole truth that must be held together in their proper "tension." It's like tuning a guitar--we inevitably go sharp, then flat, then back again until we find just the right tension in the string. When we understand this, we come to see how we need one another's different emphases.
The subtitle of your book is "Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization." Who do you hope this book "evangelizes" and how does a renewed theology of the body have the potential to do so?
Many people are raised in the Church, but "so very little sticks," laments Pope Benedict. Why? The modern crisis in faith stems in part from the fact that the Gospel has been proclaimed "in formulas that, while true, are nevertheless at the same time outmoded," says the Pope. "They no longer speak to our living situation and are often no longer comprehensible to us." The "new evangelization" is an expression that John Paul II first used in the early 1980s to refer to new, more compelling ways of proclaiming the Gospel.
I think one of the reasons God may have tapped me on the shoulder to do this work is because I desperately need the message of the TOB in my own life. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. As a teacher of the TOB, I'm constantly being challenged by its message. So, first and foremost, I hope this book evangelizes me. Beyond that, I hope this book helps to evangelize everyone who reads it, for we are all in need of ongoing conversion.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.