Christopher West on ABC’s Nightline

As some of you may have seen last night, Christopher West appeared on ABC’s Nightline in a segment about John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

As might be expected from a secular news source, the story was sexed up and distorted a good deal. The ABC reporter (or at least the editors) missed the point that this teaching is about what it means to be human, not about some fad which people are ‘trying out’ to improve life in the bedroom. TV coverage here and web article here. Look no further than the article’s title: Sex Sermonist’s Heroes: Pope John Paul II and Hugh Hefner.

Some of this could have been avoided, I’m sure, but I’m hopeful that a few people might search out West’s website ( and delve a bit more deeply into the topic.

I posted the following comment on the Nightline article:

I recommend Christopher’s book, The Love That Satisfies, where he draws out the backdrop of this beautiful teaching by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, particularly as discussed in the latter’s letter entitled God Is Love (Deus Caritas Est). The TV interview sort of jumbled up the insight about Hugh Hefner, and made it unnecessarily ambiguous. What Hefner and John Paul II had in common was an awareness that the Victorian / Puritan view of sex was radically insufficient. Hefner’s response was obviously defective, but the insight that the Victorian view was problematic contains a seed of insight… which John Paul II recognized as well, and unpacked in a Biblical and deeply human way, to point an authentic way forward… recognizing God’s beautiful plan for love and life.

I’m pleased that West decided to post a series of clarifications on his website to untangle some of the misrepresentations which were part of last night’s coverage:

In an effort to correct any editorial comments which may appear misleading, the following few points will help clarify the actual teaching of The Theology of the Body:

  • Christopher West is not a sex therapist. He is a Catholic educator, author, lecturer, and faculty member of the Theology of the Body Institute. The TOB Institute is an educational organization and does not engage in sex therapy.
  • John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is intended for every human being,regardless of his or her state in life and regardless of what sexual tendencies one might experience in this fallen world. The TOB provides not only a vision of God’s glorious plan for human sexuality and married love, but a vision of what it means to be human and what it means to love in the image and likeness of God.
  • From beginning to end, Sacred Scripture unfolds a glorious love story, a story about the “marriage” between God and humanity, Christ and the Church. By inviting men and women to participate in this love, Scripture shows us the “path of love” — including the path for spouses in their sexual intimacy. However, in a cultural climate fixated on the mechanics of sex rather than on authentic marital love, to describe the Bible as the “ultimate sex guide” can be misleading. It is certainly a guide to love, and, indeed, to the “ultimate” love: the love revealed in Christ.
  • The Song of Songs presents an unabashed biblical celebration of the chaste love of a husband and wife, including multiple references to the intimacies of “tasting” the goodness of the other. To construe this as an endorsement for “oral sex” (as the culture uses that term) can be more than misleading. Please see Christopher West’s book Good News About Sex and Marriage (chapter 5) for the full context of his answer to this question.
  • The Song of Songs is of great importance to a proper understanding of Christianity. Indeed, the saints and mystics of the Catholic tradition have written more commentaries on the Song of Songs than any other book in the Bible. It is in the very center of the Bible for a reason. Calling it the “centerfold” in Scripture, Christopher intends to redeem the common understanding of the word “centerfold,” which is usually associated in popular culture with pornography. In no way is it meant to compare the sacredness of the Song of Songs with the distortions of pornography.

My previous posts on the topic of the Theology of the Body are available here.

5 thoughts on “Christopher West on ABC’s Nightline

  1. I would only add to both of your fine comments that the Enemy surely remains active in distorting the profound truths that JPII explicated and Chris West popularized, and there’s little doubt that journalists can be, and are, used as instruments for such distortion, even if they don’t consciously intend to mock or misrepresent the Truth.

    It’s notable that TOB is such a profound anthropological theology that no 7-minute news piece could ever do it justice. Perhaps West expected this, but has prayed that many might be led to begin asking the right questions in spite of the distorted coverage given by Nightline.

  2. Dear Clayton,

    Thanks for posting this. It is saddening to me to see journalists – fellows – who are very talented and capable of real penetrating analysis, uncritically accept the default settings when it comes to religion in general and the Church in particular.

    It also seems that West has handled the matter appropriately.

    That said, I must confess some serious reservations about some of the popularizations of the TOB.

    JPII was a serious, soaringly erudite speculative philosopher; the speculative character of the anthropology – and TOB is essentially a philosophical anthropology informed by faith and articulated as an analysis of the structure of experience – its speculative force and the depth of JPII’s speculative penetration, are not really graspable by those not trained in the sacred sciences; the data of his investigations are only accessible to the generally educated person with great difficulty.

    I am therefore rather reserved in my optimism regarding the immediate “practical application” of TOB.

    This is not to cast aspersions on those involved in such efforts: it is to say that there are dangers, which do not seem to me to be adequately understood or appreciated.



  3. I share the concerns. The audiences of JPII don’t lend themselves well to television sound bytes.

    ABC did to this story what the media did with Pope Benedict’s comments about AIDS/condoms during his apostolic visit to Africa. Only what is prurient is of interest.

    Sometimes I wonder if journalists who engage in this kind of distortion are merely ignorant. Sometimes it seems there is no <>will<> to understand or to faithfully transmit what is being communicated.

  4. West described contraception, quite aptly, as sexual bulimia.

    ABC engaged in another sort of contraception — a contraception of meaning. They refused to receive the meaning he was trying to communicate.

    Sometimes mainstream reporters have a bulimic attitude toward the truth of what they are reporting. They feel the need to protect themselves against it, I suppose…

    To use the analogy of contraception, they swallow the morning-after pill of media spin. Surely the truth won’t bear new life in them this way.

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