Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Round-Up

It's been quite a while since I posted a "round-up" of online articles and commentaries that I have found to be of particular interest. In fact, the last Wild Reed round-up was in Spring 2010. Yes, I've been rather neglectful in my round-up duties – a bit like the loitering cowboy pictured at left!

Time to saddle-up!


I'd like to give the first piece I'm sharing this evening a little introduction. It seems that fellow Catholic blogger Ray over at Stella Borealis has taken issue with my Prayer of the Week of August 7 – one that he correctly notes, when commenting on this particular post, "pray[s] for the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Ray mocks and dismisses those who pray such a prayer as "draft dodgers and peaceniks," and wants to know why prayers aren't being offered for the victims of Japanese aggression in the 1930s and throughout the Second World War. Interestingly, he himself, as far as I can gather, has never offered such a prayer on his blog. Nor did he acknowledge the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 respectively. What Ray did
share at Stella Borealis during those days was a Catholic Spirit piece about Fr. Jerome Fehn, an army combat chaplain. Nowhere in this piece, however, is the disconnect between Jesus, the "Prince of Peace," and militarism and war ever acknowledged, let alone discussed.

Anyway, I think Ray misses the point of my August 7 Prayer of the Week. The atrocities committed by the Japanese empire that he lists are truly horrendous. Yet they are horrors that empires have been committing for thousands of years, be these empires Persian, Roman, British, French, Japanese or the quasi--American empire of today. Atrocious things are what empires do to stay in power. Ray may also do well to remember that for the last 1500 years the clerical caste of the Roman Catholic Church has aligned itself with the notion, trappings, and, in many cases, the activities of empire. For instance, the Church very much was part of the Spanish "conquest" of the so-called New World – a conquest that saw the slaughter of millions of indigenous people.

The dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was something different: a decisive turning point in human history. Never before had humans had the capability to instantaneously wipe our so many people. It also ushered in decades of the "Cold War," leading to the often torturous deaths of hundreds of thousands across the globe, and the development of a range of nuclear weapons that, to this day, are used in combat with horrendous effects on people and the environment. I'm thinking in particular of Uranium 238 (or "depleted uranium") munitions.

I share all of this as a lead-up to the first link I want to share today. It's an article from The Nation magazine by Greg Mitchell entitled "The Crime of Nagasaki: The 'Forgotten' A-Bomb City." Mitchell is the author of numerous books about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His latest book is Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made. Here's a little of what Mitchell writes in his August 9 article for The Nation:

. . . [I]n many ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-bomb city, the city with perhaps the most meaning for us today. For one thing, when the plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki it made the uranium-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima obsolete.

And then there’s this. “The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable,” Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, once observed, “but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki”—which he labeled a war crime. Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who experienced the firebombing of Dresden at close hand, said much the same thing. “The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki,” he once said. “Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I’m glad I’m not a scientist because I’d feel so guilty now.”

. . . When they’d learned of the Hiroshima attack, the scientists at Los Alamos generally expressed satisfaction that their work had paid off. But many of them took Nagasaki quite badly. Some would later use the words “sick” or “nausea” to describe their reaction.

As months and then years passed, few Americans denounced as a moral wrong the targeting of entire cities for extermination. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, declared that we never should have hit Japan “with that awful weapon.” The left-wing writer Dwight MacDonald cited America’s “decline to barbarism” for dropping “half-understood poisons” on a civilian population. His conservative counterpart, columnist and magazine editor David Lawrence, lashed out at the “so-called civilized side” in the war for dropping bombs on cities that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. However much we rejoice in victory, he wrote, “we shall not soon purge ourselves of the feeling of guilt which prevails among us…. What a precedent for the future we have furnished to other nations even less concerned than we with scruples or ideals! Surely we cannot be proud of what we have done. If we state our inner thoughts honestly, we are ashamed of it.”

To read Mitchell's article in its entirety, click here.


Perhaps, like me, you've been trying to make sense of the recent rioting in London and other British cities. Most commentaries I've read on the situation have either basically excused those looting and destroying property by focusing solely on the socio-economic conditions that sparked the initial uprising or totally ignored or downplayed such conditions in their eagerness to label every protester as a thug and criminal and to insist on calling out the water cannons. I think the reality of the situation lies somewhere in-between. Which is why I greatly appreciate the balanced perspective of Michelle Chen's In These Times article, "Police and Thieves: Making Sense of the English Riots."

Here's a snippet of Chen's commentary. (Oh, and be sure to follow the links!):

. . . [S]ystemic ills are undeniably feeding into the unrest. But the assumption that rioting is simply a reflexive manifestation of despair reinforces the stereotype that “anti-social” behavior is endemic to poor youth of color. And while everyone is busy pathologizing youth, they'd do well to examine the prevailing societal attitudes that have quietly aided and abetted the rioters' “crime.”

There's a link between the madness unfolding in the streets and the grand delusion in Parliament that the poor are to blame for their own predicament—a deeply ingrained philosophy that was most recently encapsulated in the “Big Society” austerity cuts.

Social historian Ted Vallance says that today's riots resonate with well-worn historical patterns of revolt against the establishment, from the mine worker strikes that helped topple Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath in the 1970s, to the scathing anti-Thatcher poll tax riot in Trafalgar Square. But Vallance also sees a lack of political valence in the current disturbances: ". . . anti-capitalist protesters have often targeted major global brands such as McDonalds and Starbucks. But the youths involved in this August's unrest have hit local independent shops and chain stores alike – the only discrimination evident is the value placed on particular goods. It has been the accoutrements of urban youth – box-fresh trainers, smart phones, clothes – which have been most readily plundered. The only ideology on display, if it can even be called that, is that of the kindergarten: 'Finders keepers'."

. . . In a world that denies them a future, youth cannot be condemned for acting as if there's no tomorrow. But it's also up to them to resist despair by demonstrating consciousness and dignity in the face of dehumanizing oppression. Maybe it shouldn't take a riot to get people to take action, but now that it's happened, there's no excuse not to.

To read Chen's commentary in its entirety, click here.


In the August 15 issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza has an extensive (and disturbing) profile on GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, whom he describes as "a two-term member of Congress from Stillwater, Minnesota, [who] is an ideologue of the Christian-conservative movement." Bachmann's appeal and popularity, writes Lizza "is based on a collection of right-wing convictions, beliefs, and resentments that she has regularly broadcast from television studios and podiums since 2006, when she was first elected to Congress. Often, she will say something outrageous and follow it with a cheerful disclaimer. . . ."

Of course, Bachmann is well known for her anti-gay views, of which Lizza has the following to say:

Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians. Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared. Bachmann said in 2004 that being gay is “personal enslavement,” and that, if same-sex marriage were legalized, “little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps they should try it.” Speaking about gay-rights activists, that same year, she said, “It is our children that is the prize for this community.” She believes that evolution is a theory that has “never been proven,” and that intelligent design should be taught in schools. Bachmann’s assertions on these issues are, unsurprisingly, disputed. She is also often criticized for making factual errors on less controversial matters. . . .

Lizza identifies evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) as one of the Christian conservative leaders "not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians" whose writings have influenced Bachmann. Writes Lizza:

Schaeffer [pictured at right], who ran a mission in the Swiss Alps known as L’Abri (“the shelter”), opposed liberal trends in theology. One of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, he has been credited with getting a generation of Christians involved in politics. Schaeffer’s film series consists of ten episodes tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture, from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade. In the films, Schaeffer—who has a white goatee and is dressed in a shearling coat and mountain climber’s knickers—condemns the influence of the Italian Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Darwin, secular humanism, and postmodernism. He repeatedly reminds viewers of the “inerrancy” of the Bible and the necessity of a Biblical world view. . . . [Schaeffer] was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Sara Diamond, who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer’s interpretation: “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.”

In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed. . . . Schaeffer [also] warned that America’s descent into tyranny would not look like Hitler’s or Stalin’s; it would probably be guided stealthily, by “a manipulative, authoritarian élite.”

Today, one of the leading proponents of Schaeffer’s version of Dominionism is Nancy Pearcey, a former student of his and a prominent creationist. Her 2004 book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, teaches readers how to implement Schaeffer’s idea that a Biblical world view should suffuse every aspect of one’s life. She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians. There may “be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right,” she writes in Total Truth. “Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false—for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view.”

When, in 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Bachmann what books she had read recently, she mentioned two: Ann Coulter’s Treason, a jeremiad that accuses liberals of lacking patriotism, and Pearcey’s Total Truth, which Bachmann told me was a “wonderful” book.

Scary stuff, wouldn't you agree? My friend Brian actually welcomes Bachmann's presidential bid as he sees it bringing into sharp relief the extremism of Bachmann and, by extension, the Tea Party. It's an extremism that Brian believes the vast majority of Americans reject. I hope so!

Anyway, to read Lizza's profile on Bachmann in its entirety, click here.


The rabid fundamentalism of Michele Bachmann and Francis Schaeffer brings to mind a very different perspective articulated by none other than Francis Schaeffer's son, Frank Schaeffer (pictured at left). In his Huffington Post commentary of June 2010, the younger Schaeffer writes:

Clearly the issue for any sane Christian believer (or any believer in not just religion but any human construct, including science) is how to decide what parts of the moral teaching of the Bible (or Koran, or scientific theory) to edit or discard and what to live by.

Those of us who have no problem with celebrating the fact that some people are created gay, or that other people live with a girlfriend or boyfriend because marriage isn't always the best way to relate to a lover, have drawn an admittedly arbitrary circle of what is acceptable to them a bit wider than other believers have.

But the truth is no one (not even the dourest Reconstructionist Christian or Orthodox Jew) takes everything any religion teaches completely seriously, let alone practices it faithfully.

The truth is that interpreting religion is just that: interpreting. All that means is that common sense and compassion are the filters through which we look at religion, as we do with all of life. There is such a thing as freedom of conscience and the right to think!

In that sense everyone is a "liberal" and those who pretend they are consistent to their stated creeds are liars.

The big "Moral Teachings" fundamentalists love so much because they provide a stick with which religious bullies may beat their fellow human beings into submission, are meaningless. If these same anti-gay or anti-abortion advocates actually took their Bibles literally they would be weighing people at their church door to check for gluttony and excommunicating half the parish for being overweight. As it says in Philippians (3:18-19); "For many... walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things."

Well, there goes the whole of American God-is-their-belly porkers-for-Jesus evangelicalism with its consumer-oriented free enterprise "ethic" and overeating!

To read Frank Schaeffer's article, "Eradicate Fundamentalism In All Its Forms," click here.


Thanks to Jayden Cameron over at Gay Mystic I've become aware of a new book by Richard Wagner who, apparently, is the only Catholic priest in the world with a doctorate in human sexuality.

Wagner is a gay man whose public priesthood was destroyed by the backlash within his religious community to his groundbreaking (but sadly now out-of-print) book, Gay Catholic Priests: A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance.

Wagner's latest book makes the connections between the systemic dysfunction of the church's clerical caste and his deplorable treatment as a gay man by this caste. The book's entitled Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex in the Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest, and following is a little of what its publishers have to say about it:

[Wagner's book] provides an intimate and disturbing look into the unseemly inner-workings of the Catholic Church. It is a story of how this institution deals with dissent in its midst, and to what lengths it will go to silence a whistle-blower. It involves the highest levels of the Vatican bureaucracy, secret documents, corporate incompetence, canonical corruption, and institutionalized homophobia on an epic scale.

His account of ecclesiastical malfeasance is both timely and in sync with current trends in the popular culture, from the gay marriage debate to the revelation of rampant clergy sexual misconduct.

. . . While Richard is being singled out for 13 years of Church vitriol, public character assassination and communal shunning these same Church leaders and others are lying, prevaricating and sabotaging any effort to uncover the burgeoning clergy sexual abuse scandal that now rock the front pages of newspapers all over the world.

The public panic, among Church officials, exhibited toward Richard -- a single up-front gay priest in their midst -- is in stark contrast to their apathetic and anemic response to the systemic clergy sexual misconduct and abuse that engulfs them.

Richard has first-hand knowledge of this clergy abuse. He was repeatedly sexually molested by his superior as a 14-year-old boy in an Oblate seminary in southern Illinois.

To read more about Richard Wagner's book, visit this page at Gay Mystic.


Jayden's Gay Mystic is just one of many Catholic blogsites that I regularly visit and highly recommend. Others include: Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s Enlightened Catholicism, Terence Weldon's Queering the Church, William Lindsey's Bilgrimage, Thom Curnutte's Faith in the 21st Century, Karen Doherty’s Nihil Obstat, Prickiest Pear’s The Way Ahead, Crystal’s Perspective, Sherry's Walking in the Shadows, Joseph O’Leary’s homepage, and Marty Kurylowski’s Thalamus Center.

Another site well worth visiting is Kittredge Cherry's always thought-provoking and creative Kittredge (pictured at left) identifies as a "lesbian Christian author" who, as National Ecumenical Officer for Metropolitan Community Churches, was "at the forefront of the international debate on sexuality and spirituality." She founded in 2005 with the goal of supporting LGBT spirituality and the arts via a blog and e-newsletter. Kittredge's efforts promote artistic and religious freedom "with an emphasis on queer saints and gay Jesus images." Her books include Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More, Jesus in Love: A Novel and Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies and Celebrations.

The Jesus in Love blog showcases many beautiful and, no doubt for some people, provocative works of art. A recently highlighted work is Wes Kempel's "A New Beginning."

Notes Kettridge about Kempel and his artistic style:

The Colorado artist creates a sense of mystery by combining contemporary figures with historical elements, using the polished, realistic style of the past. His projects include “a re-visioning of what art history might have looked like had homosexuality not been vilified.”

Some of Hempel’s paintings address the clash between contemporary gay identity and religious tradition. Others imply gay experiences of sublime awe through nature, sexuality and, by extension, the One who created it all. The beauty of his style and subject matter reflects the holiness of human nature.

To read more about Wes Kempel and his art, visit this page of You can also visit his official website here.

See also the previous Wild Reed Round-Ups:
Spring 2010
(Australian) Summer 2009 II
Summer 2009
Spring 2009
(Australian) Summer 2009
Fall 2007
Spring 2007
End of Year (2006)


Sage said...

Wow. If this is what your readers have been missing since the Spring of 2010 we have been sorely deprived of much needed milk and honey. This was absolutely perfectly composed, balanced and executed with a beautiful collection of pieces that flowed with equal beauty and kept my attention throughout. Excellent!

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Sage, for your positive feedback. It's greatly appreciated.

SoMN said...

I won't mince words. Ray from Stella Borealis is a hateful dbag. I don't mean to be rude but I'm so fed up with him and the other hateful "Catholic" bloggers around here. They all need a lesson in kindness and need to accept that Catholicism isn't compatible with Tea-Party Conservatism, as much as they try to make it so. They have their man though in archbishop Neinstedt, so they'll continue trying to drive the rest of us out of the Church, claiming they're "real" Catholics. I've tried to kindly comment on their blogs but these new breed of neocon Catholics don't understand kindness, reason or mutual respect. There's no reasoning with them because they think they're completely right even though they are the least Christ-like people out there. They get all riled up over what everyone else is doing when really they should worry about themselves. There is some real hateful stuff on the Abbey Roads blog too. It's just disgusting. I pray for them all. I thank God for blogs like this and the Progressive Catholic Voice because they give me hope that there are sane, kind people out there working for justice in the Church that we all should be able to love!

brian gerard said...

Love the round-up, Michael. I have missed them! It may be my own laziness, but I do rely on you for, to quote Sage :"absolutely, perfectly composed, balanced and executed collection of pieces..." I still firmly disagree with that ramble of Chen's about the goings on in London, but that is a great part of the Wild Reed - whatever disagreement can find a place within a real "catholic" sense and sensibility.