By David Trautman
Christopher West is a renowned educator, best-selling author, cultural commentator, and popular theologian who specializes in making the dense scholarship of the late Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body accessible to a wide audience. He is leading a series of three break-out sessions at Assembly 2014 on “God, Sex, and Universal Longing.”
During the first session, West challenged the way contemporary Christians have responded to the deep longings embedded in every human being. Instead of demonizing the longings people have, he argues that we should instead affirm those longings. He defines this longing as eros, from which we get the word erotic. “Eros is a longing for ultimate truth and beauty. It is a longing for God,” said West.
He contrasted three different responses to human longing. The first, called “the Stoic,” represses desire and proclaims a “starvation diet gospel.” The second, called “the Addict,” embraces desire, but directs that desire on the cheap substitutes of a “fast food gospel.” The fast food gospel tells us to apply our longing for the infinite to something finite. The third, called “the Mystic,” applies their yearning for the infinite to something infinite, namely God.
West used marriage as an analogy for the kind of intimate relationship God wants to cultivate with His people. “God wants to marry us. That’s the whole Bible in five words,” he said. “The Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage.”
West has been teaching graduate and undergraduate courses on the Theology of the Body and sexual ethics since the late 1990s, having served on the faculties of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, The Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, and as a visiting professor at the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Since 2004 he has served as a research fellow and faculty member of the Theology of the Body Institute near Philadelphia.
The Rev. David Trautman is Assistant Rector of Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, PA.