Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fall Round-Up

Yes, friends, it’s time for The Wild Reed’s fall round-up of some of the insightful and interesting online articles I've come across over the past few months.


Let’s get the round-up started with a visit to Find and You Shall Seek where Mystical Seeker has an intriguing post entitled Nazareth’s Abu Graib Moment, in which he explores the destruction of many Galileen towns by Roman forces at the time of Jesus’ childhood. The town of Sepphoris, for instance, only four miles from Nazareth (“an hour and a half's walk,” as Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan put it in The First Christmas), was burned to the ground by the Romans when Jesus was only a baby. “Did Nazareth, where Jesus lived, itself escape Roman wrath?” ponders Mystical Seeker. Or was it too devastated?

Regardless, the brutalizing presence of the Romans in the area “would have been a sort of Abu Ghraib moment for Jesus and his fellow Galileans,” writes Mystical Seeker. “They had first hand experience with the brutality of Empire. But they also had first hand experience with the failure of open rebellion against Rome. Herein lay the genius of Jesus’s way of rebellion against Imperial authority; for what he proposed was a program of nonviolent resistance, in contrast to the more violent forms of resistance that others favored.”

Mystical Seeker also notes that: “Borg and Crossan suggest that Jesus’s father could have been one of the victims of Roman brutality during the suppression of the rebellion at that time. That is pure speculation, of course, but it is an easy inference to make.”

After all, in Mark 6:3, Jesus is referred to as “son of Mary,” not “son of Joseph.” Writes Mystical Seeker: “One could argue that [this] would have been a strange thing to say in a patriarchal culture unless there was no living father. The patriarchal assumption is further reinforced in that passage by the fact that the brothers [of Jesus] were identified by name, but the sisters were not. (And if Jesus had lots of siblings, as Mark suggests, and if Joseph had died after Jesus died, which is of course pure speculation, then Jesus would have been the youngest child of a fairly large family containing at five boys and at least two girls).”

It’s all very fascinating, don’t you think?


You’ll also find on Mystical Seeker’s excellent blog an informed analysis of Europe and the Failure of Orthodox Christianity.

Mystical Seeker begins his commentary by reflecting on a recent trip in Denmark, a country in which he found no “organized expression of progressive Christianity.”

This leads Mystical Seeker to conclude that:

The only choice available to religious seekers within the Christian tradition is that of orthodoxy. When asked to choose between, on the one hand, abandoning one’s intellectual foundations at the church house door in order to satisfy one’s religious curiosity, and on the other hand simply leaving Christianity altogether, many Danes (quite understandably) choose the latter. They simply are not afforded the option of an intellectually viable religious experience that makes sense in the post-Enlightenment world. As a result, most Danes simply eschew religion altogether. This is, indeed, a phenomenon that we find throughout Europe, where religious attendance throughout much of the continent is quite low. And the blame for this low attendance, I believe, can be placed right at the door of the European churches themselves. As long as these churches insist that believers must adhere to certain dogmas that most modern Europeans simply can’t accept, attendance will continue to be low.

In discussing this topic, Mystical Seeker shares some insightful quotes from Russell Shorto’s April 8, 2007 New York Times article on the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Writes Shorto:

“The interesting fact is that people responding to questions about religion lie in both directions,” says the Spanish sociologist José Casanova, who is chairman of the sociology department at the New School for Social Research in New York and an authority on religion in Europe and the United States. “In America, people exaggerate how religious they are, and in Europe, it’s the other way around. That has to do with the situation of religion in both places. Americans think religion is a good thing and tend to feel guilty that they aren’t religious enough. In Europe, they think being religious is bad, and they actually feel guilty about being too religious.”

In other words, there is a great, untapped religious craving that exists in Europe that is not being fulfilled. Could the reason it is not being met is that orthodoxy has a stranglehold on Christianity there?

To read more, click here.


On his blog site, On Guard Against the Catholic “Lunatic Fringe,” Fr. Charles Ledderer has two insightful posts on celibacy here and here.

The Wild Reed, incidentally, is listed in Fr. Ledderer’s blog roll – one entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

I wonder under which of these three categories Fr. Ledderer places The Wild Reed?


In a recent commentary in the Los Angeles Times, Catholic author Gary Wills takes evangelical Christians – including Catholics – to task over their stance on abortion. In doing so, Wills offers a number of insightful and well-articulated points that, at the very least, are worth pondering.

In one part of his commentary, Wills opines that abortion is not a religious issue but a “matter of natural law.” He goes on to say that:

If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear.

Of course, this is also true of evangelicals and their selective and limited understanding of homosexuality. The official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, insists that homosexuality is “unnatural,” and that homosexual acts are therefore always “sinful.” Yet “reason and science” (not to mention human experience) say otherwise.


David W. Shelton, on his blog Skipping to the Piccolo, reviews The God Box – a new novel for young readers by Alex Sanchez. The book is being described as a thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be both Christian and gay in a small Southern town.

Writes David:

I’m not sure if I can adequately relate just how refreshing it was to read a book that so accurately portrays the struggle that young gay Christians endure. I’ve seen so many stories about young gay teens and adults that are all about the sex, drugs, and clubbing that is so often associated with the gay community.

To me, ‘refreshing,’ is neither accurate nor appropriate to describe my feelings as I read through its pages. A far better word is ‘living.’ This is a story about life, faith, and love in a way that is as crisp as it is timely.

What makes this story so powerful is that it shows the compassionate heart behind evangelical and even fundamentalist Christianity. These are people that genuinely believe they’re working for our very souls, often not realizing just how hurtful their actions truly are. Even as I was angered by their actions, I felt compassion for them because they were just SO close to the truth.

To read David’s complete review of The God Box, click here.


The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is a novel I’ve been meaning to read for years. And now after reading Crystal’s wonderful post, St. Isaac Jogues & The Sparrow, I’m even more determined to do so!


And finally, Harry Potter is a “left-winger” and the seven books by J.K. Rowling are a “diatribe against Thatcherite Britain,” according to a French philosopher in this article by Hugh Schofield.

Well done, Harry (and J.K. Rowling)!

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Spring Round-Up

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.


crystal said...

Thanks for the mention :-)

Anonymous said...


Excellent overview of various issues. Several observations.

(1) The Jesus Seminar folk are simply extensions of the demythologizer Lutheran theologian Bultmann. As you observe, remove the "mystery," and what's left? Remove the myths, and what does one have? Answer: Jesus Seminar.

I'll be the first to admit that Christianity without the mystery is a myth without relevance. The mysteries of the incarnation, epiphany, transfiguration, healing, resurrections, ascensions, and parousia are the only values to the Christological event. And yet, the principal new testament author, Saul of Tarsus (Saint Paul) never experienced the incarnate Jesus, only the Risen Christ in his "vision" after a fall. A disembodied god, a neo-Platonic Form, a pure spirit without contamination by the flesh. I believe that is about as mystical a faith as one can imagine -- almost scrupulously anti-incarnate.

In many ways, Saint Paul is the polar opposite of the Jesus Seminar. The former cannot imagine god in the flesh, the latter cannot imagine flesh containing god. Those who have tried to maintain the Incarnate Christ as both the mystical and incarnate -- paradigmatic in the eucharistic celebration -- stripped the eucharistic mystery of its iconic force, or demythologized the feast into a common supper -- all because the post-Enlightenment individual CANNOT sustain both concepts (as you insightfully observe).

The Evangelicals, to my chagrin, "accept Jesus, but follow St. Paul," because they cannot sustain the mystical/mystery either. As literalists, they instantly go metaphorical in ALL references to the incarnation/eucharistic mystery. They cannot imagine god in the flesh dwelling in their presence, much less a presence in every other god-created person, only as a catalyst (bar Joseph) to effect personal change supernaturally -- to overcome life's tribulations, to make rich, to blame, but not a mystery in which they participate both immanently and transcendentally.

With Catholicism desacramentalizing the universe, with Evangelicalism deythologicalizing the Incarnate into literal text, with son-god reduced to a catalyst for correction, the orthodoxy you hold as the only alternative has rarely been attained, and is probably unattainable in the post-Enlightenment Age. With symbolism moribund, with god reduced to human literalism, with Christ disembodied but not mystical, the great polysemy and iconography of Golden Age of Christianity has been forever eclipsed, and Jesus is just an image, an opiate, a catalyst, an outdated Palestinian hippie who no longer musters respect or obedience. He's become a caricature of his antithesis.

(2) Despite immense respect for Gary Wills, "Natural Law Theory" is utter bunk. Tenacious adherence to Aquinas' mistakes of Aristotlean thought has made the Church not only irrelevant in matters of ethics and morals, but obscene in her own acts. When contraception is banned because it interferes with ARISTOTLE'S FINAL ENDS, when homophiles are sinners because they violate the final ends of natural law, when Pope John Paul VI could not distinguish between the "laws of nature" and "natural law theory," 400 years after Boyle and Bacon, how can Wills appeal to natural law with a straight face?

As Hume (and G. E. Moore) and others have amply demonstrated, nature has no values, only humans do, and to impute natural laws (cf., laws of nature) in today's age, as the Popes continue to do, only makes biblical fundamentalists look like scientific progressives. For Wills to defend such archaic and impossible theories, but throw stones at those who insist dinosaurs rode out the flood in Noah's ark, only makes Wills look a tad affected.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Crystal and Gay Species,

Thanks to you both for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Gay Species, perhaps Garry Wills understands "natural law" in much the same way as Catholic theologian Daniel Helminiak.

Writes Helminiak:

The Catholic Church has commandeered the notion of natural law and made it a synonym for the supposition that the purpose of sex is procreation. Then, some other use of sex is supposedly a “violation of natural law.”

But natural law has been around much longer than the Catholic Church. Its roots are in the deepest strata of Western civilization. Its real meaning is simply this: We are capable of understanding how things function, and ethical living is simply to follow those ways. To follow natural law is, as it were, to follow the directions that came with the item. Now, when it comes to sex, the question of the day is this: What is the nature of sex? What is the purpose and function of sex?

To be sure, procreation is an inherent aspect of sexuality. But there is more to sex than that, especially when we look at sex in human beings. Procreation is an animal function. In humans sex is taken up into a new array of purposes. Human sex involves emotional bonding and the dreams and promises of lovers. That is to say, beyond the physical, human sex also involves the psychological and the spiritual. (I see “dreams and promises,” or ideals, and beliefs and ethics – all ways of suggestion meaning and value – as spiritual matters.) So having sex (physical) seduces lovers (emotional) into dreaming dreams and making promises (spiritual). The trend of sex is toward higher things. And since the spiritual dimension of human sexual sharing is the highest and most significant, it is what determines the unique nature of human sexuality, so it is what must be preserved in every case. Not procreation, but genuine care and loving are the non-negotiables of human sex.

Contemporary social science suggests and supports the interpretation of sex that I have just sketched. Science is the method of our age for discovering the nature of things. This point is obvious in the physical sciences. Physics and chemistry have opened undreamed-of possibility for us – because we have come to understand the true nature of things. Francis Bacon pointed out that nature can only be controlled by being obeyed. The same applies to the social sciences although in their case the questions are much more difficult and finding consensus takes more effort. Even so, it is science that will tell us the nature of things, and science is not whimsical. Its conclusions do not depend on inspiration or supposed revelation. Science depends on demonstrable evidence; it is a self-correcting enterprise. Our best bet today is to rely on science to discern “the nature of things.”

Thus, I say that natural law is the best way to go when debate about sexual ethics arises. What is the “best available opinion of the day” about sex? Invoke it when you want to know how one should use sex. The ethical way is to use sex as it was made to be used, and we know how it was made to be used by studying it. All the studies, for example, support homosexuality as a widespread normal variation in God’s creation. In this sense, homosexuality is natural. It is part of the nature of things. In humans in a novel way, it expresses the essential of sex: interpersonal bonding. So engaging in it could hardly be wrong per se.



Mystical Seeker said...

I am flattered that you took the time to summarize two of my blog entries. Thanks for the positive commentary. :)

Anonymous said...

Natural Law Theory, as espoused by Aquinas and the Church, conflates two Aristotlean notions into one. Their first is archaic physics based on Aristotle's four "be-causes," i.e., first, formal, efficient, and final. Only efficient causality has currency in Western science for more than 400 years. That the "final end of all acorns is to be an oak tree" is a common teleological cause in Natural Law Theory. But acorns can be squirrel food. The church allows only one final end, and here is already TWO different final ends. The Church's discussion of sexual matters errs in retaining this archaic physics predating Christ.

The notion of "natural law," in which one infers against logic and the naturalistic fallacy, that moral and ethical values can be ascertained from natural facts was imported into Christianity by Augustine of Hippo from the Stoics. Aristotle, however, held no such theory, and Hume's is/ought divide severs the chasm between facts/values.

The church also adopts Aristotle's instrumental reasoning (a.k.a., practical reason) where one does A to attain B. This is a perfectly valid means of reasoning. It's the physic's four causes that are invalid. Thus, we instrumentally reason my penis may be used to excrete urine, ejaculate semen, or simply rub, and each act is efficient to achieving different goals, but none of these instrumental acts is first, formal, or final. Insisting otherwise has been the church's legacy.

Robert George insists nature acts for final ends. It simply does not. Humans do, but not acorns. Aristotle simply assume nature mirrored his own mental processes. We now know it does not -- except for the church. To determine the sinful matter of an act based on Aristotlean physics of the "four be-causes" is so obscene 2,500 years after Aristotle in that it gives the church its reason why condoms may not be used to impede HIV infection. That is so perverse I am stunned that moral theologians have not balked at such utter nonsense.