Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review of "Fill These Hearts"

Theology professor Susan Windley-Daoust posted her review of Christopher West's "Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing," which she uses in an anthropology course. Here's a sample of what she had to say:

This text electrified most of the class.  People really resonated with the treatment of desire, were open to the treatment of design, and were really thinking through consequences by the time we got to destiny.  As a professor, it struck me as an ideal first text before moving into more “academic theology” and primary sources.  Indeed, we went from this text to reading Augustine's Confessions, and they got it: Augustine wasn't an overly guilt-ridden sex addict who talks too much about his sinfulness.  He was a man with disordered desires who opened himself to a new way of seeing through grace.

What was intriguing to me was how they latched on to a piece that West has been criticized for in the past: West writing from the perspective that people have received a Christian upbringing that was cold, stoic, and rule-centered.  Some have criticized West that most Catholics after Vatican II simply have not had that upbringing: the stereotype is more “felt banner and singing about God’s love round the campfire” (which is not a fair stereotype, but moving on).

These students thought the cold stoic Church description was right on.  The Christianity they know, they say, is ALL about rules.  This “frame” (as West calls it) of desire, design, and destiny, wrapped in God’s lavish love, was seen as truly radical.

The thing is, that is not their experience—because a lot of them have no experience of being in a Christian church outside of major holidays.  The Church they “know” is a bizarre echo chamber of their parents’ apathy and fear, the culture of the mainstream press and movies, and a projection of their fears.  It doesn’t exist.  But for them, the echo chamber is keeping them from listening to the wisdom of the Christian faith.

One of the reasons West’s approach is effective is because he is talking to Christians, especially Catholics, who have fundamental misconceptions of what Catholic theology is about: and he addresses those misconceptions head on.  You shouldn’t end your reading of theology with West (does he ever argue that?  of course not), but this book whets the appetite for a faith seeking understanding that they do not know they have.  People on the inside forget that teaching theology in American culture neither builds on a solid catechetical foundation, nor a blank slate.  We unteachbefore we teach.  Christopher West’s popularity in many young adult circles—to the point of people saying things such as “the Theology of the Body changed my life!”—is attributable directly to West exposing the delusion of this echo chamber and presenting the revelation of Christianity in both the natural world of signs and the Church they clearly do not yet know.  He is a dazzling "unteacher," and this book makes space to truly explore what it means to be human.

It’s a potentially life-transformative book.

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