Jun. 7, 2009, at 12:21pm
I have been following the discussion (on this site) about Christopher West and his presentation of the Theology of the Body and find it all very helpful. Lots of good points made on both sides. But what is helpful to me and many others on the sidelines, may well be detrimental to West and the beautiful message he is trying to spread.
There is a definite danger (to use Healy’s words) of “nitpicking Chris to death on his presentation.” He has a message to deliver: too much second guessing would keep him from doing it. Attempting to anticipate all objections or prevent all possible misunderstandings, would take the life and sparkle out of his talks. What he might gain in precision and clarity, would, I suspect, be outweighed by what he would lose in effectiveness.
I am reminded of Newman’s response to the suggestion that the “Tracts for the Times” should go through a committee before being published:
If you correct them…according to the wishes of a board, you will have nothing but tame, dull compositions, which will take no one.
Individuals who are seen and heard, who act and suffer, are the instruments of Providence in all great successes… [If every tract must be] weighed and carefully corrected… they [will] become cold and formal, and (so to say) impersonal. An address with much in it which others question, yet coming from an individual mind, has a life about it which is sure to make an impression.
No one could accuse Newman of having a cavalier attitude towards truth. It is precisely for the sake of advancing the truth that Newman prefers the uncorrected Tracts coming from an individual mind to the more precise and unobjectionable tracts coming from a committee.
There is a further point here that is worth dwelling on: Newman knows that truth advances at the cost of personal sacrifice. The individual gets criticized for the incidental mistakes he makes, while the truth he presents goes on and has an impact. (There is something deeply fitting and appropriate in this.)
To conclude, I realize that the title of this post is too sweeping. To simply ignore all criticism is a fault. But West has a proven record of being open to correction and changing when necessary. I just hope that he won’t allow himself to get bogged down or discouraged by all the criticism. That would be a major loss for us all.