Book Review: Good News About Sex and Marriage
By Christopher West

Jameson Taylor
Reviewed by Jameson Taylor
December 20, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

As a society, we are oversexed. The irony of such hypersexuality -- dare we use the outdated term, "lust"? -- is that sex itself is no longer very exciting. As Allan Bloom (who was a bit oversexed himself, it seems) once observed, "Today's [youth] wonder what all the fuss was about."

Christopher West's Good News About Sex and Marriage confronts such readers with a revelation regarding the true joy of sex -- a joy that springs from participation in God's plan for marriage. "The joy of sex -- in all its orgasmic grandeur," West proclaims, "is meant to be the joy of loving as God loves ... a foretaste of the joys of heaven: the eternal consummation of the marriage between Christ and the Church."

To explain, the human person -- including the human body -- has been made in the image of God. As such, the person is a mystery that mirrors the sublime mystery of divine love. In the marital act (and true sex can only really occur within the context of a sacramental marriage) man and wife uniquely receive and give God's love in such a way that they share in God's creation of a new human person. The sexual embrace thus images God's love as does no other human act. In recognizing this "nuptial meaning" of the body, we also see that the human body itself is a sacramental sign of God's love. Sex, we might say, is nothing less than a mystical encounter with the divine.

Good News is, at times inspiring, but the book is also a practical manual -- in question and answer format -- that can be used by Catholic couples preparing for marriage or for those who don't understand the Church's teaching on marital sexuality. In addition to introducing the reader to John Paul II's "Theology of the Body," Good News discusses the requirements for a valid Catholic marriage and explains why chastity -- both inside and outside of marriage -- is both beautiful and necessary.

Although characterized as a down-to-earth guide to John Paul II's thought, Good News fails to provide a compelling account of the Pope's groundbreaking Theology of the Body. The book is sprinkled with quotes from the Pope, but West does not so much articulate John Paul's understanding of human sexuality as he does refer to it. To say the least, the task of interpreting the Theology of the Body will require the location of the Pope's scholarship within the historical context of the Church's teaching on marriage. We should not blame West for falling short in this area, but neither should we ascribe to his book a virtue it does not possess.

Non-Catholics, or even lukewarm Catholics, may also be unimpressed by West's effort. Though the author does not back away from controversial issues, such as Church authority, reproductive technologies, and homosexuality, his frequent references to the Catechism and papal teaching indicate that West is assuming an audience that is already somewhat open to his message.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike, however, should be moved by West's discussion of why contraception is intrinsically wrong. "When we understand the prophetic meaning of sexual union," West observes, "the serious contradiction of contraception becomes clear. Sex is meant to proclaim to the world that God is life-giving love. An intentionally sterilized act of intercourse proclaims the opposite: God is not life-giving love." Reminding readers that each man is called to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, West asks, "Would Christ ever intentionally sterilize his love?" The very thought is revolting and blasphemous. Logically, then, "the contracepting husband acts not as Christ but as an anti-Christ"; and the contracepting wife acts as an "anti-Church."

West's illustrations of the sinful nature of contraception are among the best available. In explaining that the Church's opposition to contraception does not stem from a bias against technology, West uses the following example: "If medicine and technology can give sight to a blind man, that's a wonderful, intelligent use of it. But it would be a terrible abuse of medicine and technology intentionally to blind someone with perfectly functioning eyes. ... [I]t's no less a terrible abuse of medicine and technology ... to sterilize someone intentionally." Explaining the difference between contraception and natural family planning (NFP), West challenges: "What's the big difference between an abortion and a miscarriage? What's the big difference between suicide and natural death?" In a particularly touching analogy, borrowed from Donald DeMarco, West compares the marital act to a marriage feast. Each time a couple has relations during the fertile time, they, in effect, send God an "invitation" to "join them" at the feast -- i.e. to join them in creating a new human person. Just as most couples cannot invite everyone they know to their marriage, West allows that sometimes good reasons exist for not "inviting" God to create new life (by abstaining during the fertile time). The couple that contracepts, however, does the equivalent of sending God a "dis-invitation" that says in bold letters: "Do Not Come. We Don't Want You Here."

Good News thus provides solid guidance to couples who are open to, but struggling with, the Church's call to responsible love. Other readers may profit from West's work, but will ultimately have to look elsewhere to find answers to more fundamental questions.

Jameson Taylor is a philosophy professor and author of numerous articles and books, including America's Drug Deal: Vaccines, Abortion, Corruption (forthcoming Requiem Press). For more information, see or call 540-636-3549.