My Words Fly Up, My Thoughts Remain Below


I was disappointed in reading Robert Miola’s article on “Shakespeare’s Religion” (May 2008) to see the truths of Shakespeare’s plays muddled in the debate of whether they are Protestant or Catholic. Intent audiences will find spiritual and religious teachings that could be appropriated into either camp. True, the concept of purgatory discussed by Miola is of Catholic origin; however, he cites examples of Catholic “penance” in Leontes’ soft words to Camillo in The Winter’s Tale and Macbeth’s expression of regret, which overshadows the spiritual truth in these citations. The confessional friendship of Leontes and Camillo is biblical as well as Catholic.

Shakespeare offers support for both predestination and personal responsibility. For example, in All’s Well That Ends Well , the wise Helena counsels, Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to heaven , but Hamlet bemoans his predestined fate, The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!

These are not perfect examples of the conflicting sides of the theological argument of predestination, but they prove that examples can be found for trying to weigh the religious lessons of the plays in favor of Catholicism or Protestantism. Either way, it is a shame to study the spiritual genius of the plays for such a purpose rather than for identifying the truths revealed for pure appreciation and enlightenment.

Craig Stephans
Ambridge, Pennsylvania

I much enjoyed Robert Miola’s “Shakespeare’s Religion,” especially since I am just working on a review for Recusant History of his excellent anthology of Catholic primary sources. I have only one correction to make: On page 26, he speaks of Titus Oates as a “Catholic conspirator,” but Oates was an Anglican curate, an active homosexual, and a man already convicted of perjury in his native town. He himself later said he only pretended to convert to Catholicism to get a list of Catholic names so as to accuse this persecuted minority in the absurd popish plot (1678“1681)”the last bloody persecution of Catholics in England, ending with the death of St. Oliver Plunket. Oates was punished, but not executed, when the Catholic king James II came to the throne. In fact, he was pensioned under William of Orange and died in his bed.

Oates was used as a weapon by the cynical Whig party, led by the first earl of Shaftesbury, whose personal secretary was John Locke. He was sued as a way to attack James, then the duke of York. The goal was to slander all English Catholics in order to keep the duke of York (then proprietor of New York and a great champion of liberty of conscience) from the throne. The reason the Whigs hated the duke of York was that he, though next in line to the throne, had dared to convert to Catholicism. Right after his conversion, they passed the Test Act of 1673, barring Catholics from public employment, by making the prerequisite to such employment a solemn oath against transubstantiation and a declaration that the Mass was idolatry.

In the popish plot, the Whigs incarcerated around two thousand Catholics in and about London and caused around thirty priests to be publicly executed. Some died in prison too. All this for a plot that was totally beyond belief. Catholics were charged with having assembled forty thousand soldiers in Europe disguised as pilgrims, and these were supposedly going to land in England, though none were ever seen and no ships were found in any port to carry them. Well, the dark side of Locke’s anti-Catholicism in those years has surprisingly gotten little coverage. Even the earl of Shaftesbury gets a whitewash.

Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Brewster, New York

Many thanks for Robert Miola’s splendid article on Shakespeare’s religion. He surveys the subject in superb style, and provides a rich commentary of his own. I quite agree that the biographical evidence “presents nothing like proof,” but surely the probabilities suggest a Catholic Shakespeare more strongly than a Protestant Shakespeare.

Allow me to correct, however, some minor slips. Cardinal Pandulph, a “Catholic malefactor”? An “Anglican” Duke in Measure for Measure , dressed as a Franciscan friar? Isabella’s chastity is rigidly absolute? Robert Bearman’s complexified appraisal of John Shakespeare’s Spiritual Testament “raises significant doubts”? Even Bearman himself concludes that he cannot claim to have proved it a forgery.

More important, what puzzles me is that Miola provides a litany of Catholic evidence from the plays, but he then assigns Shakespeare to the “large muddled middle” of confused believers. The ultimate question is then clear: Where is the “ample” evidence for those other distinctively Protestant layers in the eclectic mixture of Christian sentiments and beliefs? The proof is simply not there, as it is with Jonson and Donne. The biblical references are indeterminate, particularly when references to the Douay-Rheims New Testament are included. And the homilies hardly accord with Shakespeare’s allusions to Catholic theology. For the details, see my book Catholic Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays . And, finally, the demand for absolute rather than probable certainty raises the bar of proof absurdly high, especially for a dramatist writing in repressive circumstances. Still, a fine, enjoyable essay by a superb scholar.

David Beauregard, O.M.V.

St. John’s School of Theology

Brighton, Massachusetts

The distinction Miola draws between Catholics and Protestants of Shakespeare’s time seems altogether too sharp and reflective more of our own time than of Shakespeare’s. I would compare the situation in Shakespeare’s time with the situation today in mainland China. There is both a state church and an outlawed underground church, and there are many people who belong to both, moving back and forth between them “beneath the radar,” including an unknown number of bishops and priests, who receive their holy orders publicly for the state church and privately for the Church of Rome. It is entirely possible that the question of whether Shakespeare would have been best described as Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, or Protestant would have been settled during his own time with the same degree of uncertainty as exists today. When a government makes it an act of treason to profess loyalty to Rome, that isn’t exactly a recipe for transparency about matters of religion. And there are always many Catholics (for example, in both Elizabethan England and contemporary America) who profess only a partial and incomplete loyalty to Rome but would nevertheless recoil at the appellation “Protestant.”

Larry A. Carstens
Castaic, California

First Things ’ heroic refusal to countenance a Catholic Shakespeare reminds one of the descendants of an esteemed ancestor who recently has been suspected of siring illegitimate offspring by a slave girl. Indignant denials trail off into stunned silence as the evidence mounts. A comprehensive, point-by-point refutation is nowhere in sight. The real mystery is the reluctance to admit the obvious. False ecumenism is the usual suspect (as if a Catholic Shakespeare would cease to be universal), and T.S. Eliot is another. At any rate, Shakespeare’s recusancy is sufficiently well established to survive the approval of First Things .

Blaise Thompson
Toronto, Canada

That Shakespeare was raised in a country where Catholicism had been the dominant religious and cultural tradition for more than a thousand years argues that he could scarcely have avoided some degree of Catholic influence. He was born in 1564 in the midst of the English Reformation; that reformation was just a generation old, having begun in the 1530s and having been interrupted by a restoration of the Roman Church from 1553 to 1558 under Queen Mary. Furthermore, after her ascendancy in 1559, Queen Elizabeth and her advisors moved cautiously in the suppression of the Roman liturgy over the next decade or so (see Hilaire Belloc’s How the Reformation Happened ). It took many more generations”and the terror of Oliver Cromwell”to diminish the Catholic sensibility in the English psyche. Shakespeare’s pervasive influence has assured that such a sensibility will always remain in England.

Pat Landell
Reno, Nevada

In speaking of my paper on “Religion in Arden,” Robert Miola makes much of my emphasis on “the Shakeshafte theory” of Shakespeare in Lancashire and on the Catholicism of his family back in Stratford, but this was merely subordinate to my main concentration on the Catholic resonances in what seems to me one of the most Catholic of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It , set as it is in the (ambiguously named) Forest of Arden. In any case, it wasn’t I who challenged David Daniell on that occasion but Miola himself in his subsequent paper, and it was their confrontation on the opening day that made the conference so memorable, with a clear victory on “the Catholic side.”

Miola goes on to mention a series of plays “at the end of the seventeenth century . . . about the popish plot and the execution of Titus Oates, a Catholic conspirator.” I can well imagine such a series of plays on the highly topical subject of the popish plot, but Titus Oates can hardly be described as “a Catholic conspirator,” when he was the Catholic renegade who leveled accusations of “conspiracy” against his former fellow Catholics. His massive perjury was eventually proved against him and he was duly sentenced to be pilloried, flogged, and imprisoned, but that sentence was soon reduced and, in any case, he didn’t suffer “execution.” One gets the impression that Miola is here confusing the story of Titus Oates and the popish plot with that of Henry Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot.

The spiritual testament of John Shakespeare, according to Miola, “has served as the foundation of the case” for his Catholicism, but I would regard it not precisely as the foundation but as one among many indications. Moreover, the case still stands in spite of the adverse criticism of Robert Bearman in a number of recent articles. Naturally, Bearman is lauded by those of the establishment who want him to be right, but he has signally failed to answer the strong arguments long since put forward by Herbert Thurston and John de Groot in justifying the disputed authenticity of the document against the doubts of Edmond Malone.

Again, what Miola calls “a simplistic notion of religious identity” in a muddled age may itself be called simplistic, in view of the formidable arguments brought forward by such “revisionist” historians as Eamon Duffy, who show that traditional Catholicism was strong in the hearts of the people till well on into Elizabeth’s reign. As might be expected, it was only gradually worn down by the steady attrition of increasingly harsh penal laws against the open profession of their religion. As for such cases as that of Ben Jonson’s “conversion and reconversion,” the muddle is all in the mind of Miola. Jonson was converted to the Catholic Church in prison and subsequently, unlike Shakespeare, made no secret of his recusancy”till the time of the Gunpowder Plot, when he was suspected of complicity and turned state informer to save his own skin.

The case for Shakespeare’s Protestantism, which Miola regards as “equally uncertain” as that for his Catholicism, is so far as I know non-existent. It is usually taken for granted, without discussion, by those who like to see Shakespeare as England’s national (and therefore Protestant) poet. But, again so far as I know, there is no book setting out the case for his Protestantism, as there are many books, especially published in the last two decades, setting out the case for his Catholicism. In these books it is fascinating to see the dramatist as no weak-kneed supporter of the Protestant establishment, which is still the policy of today’s Stratford “establishment,” but an inspired dissenter, in the Catholic sense of “dissent.”

In speaking of “recent scholars who have used the new scholarship,” Miola kindly mentions my name as a “Jesuit who detects Jesuit influence on the playwright in The Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays (1997) and other works.” In these words he disingenuously glides over the fact (known to himself) that the earliest of those “other works,” Shakespeare’s Religious Background , was published as early as 1973, when Eamon Duffy was presumably merely a student and when he might even have been influenced by my book”in which I devote a whole chapter to the “English Jesuits.”

At this point I strongly resent Miola’s coupling of my name with that of Richard Wilson, as treading “a similar path.” Rather, Wilson’s path, in tracing a strong revulsion on Shakespeare’s part against Campion and his suicidal followers, is diametrically opposed to mine. As for Clare Asquith, while warmly agreeing with her main thesis in Shadowplay , I can’t go along with her in her theory of a hidden code or message to members of Shakespeare’s audiences (including the queen herself).

As for individual interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays, James Howe may well say that he finds something of his own Buddhism mirrored in them, though he can hardly maintain that Shakespeare was a hidden Buddhist. In the same way, Eric Mallin may well find his own godlessness mirrored in them, and modern scholars may well find their sexual proclivities mirrored in them, and so on. In this respect, Shakespeare’s plays may be termed, as Catholic controversialists in his age spoke of the Bible as interpreted by the Protestants, “a nose of wax.” All the same, that doesn’t justify one in saying (as agnostic scholars say) that no one should read anything into the plays. After all, what does “understanding” mean but an ability to read between the lines? What is needed is a sound knowledge of the plays and their historical background, not excluding their religious background, before proposing an interpretation. I might add that I have come across all too few Shakespeare scholars with any sound knowledge of his religious background.

As for my own conclusion, I have to protest at the way Miola seems resolved to pin me down to matters of purely biographical interest, when we are all agreed that very little is known for certain about Shakespeare and his religion. I am happy (as I have said in my writings again and again) to leave such matters to others, notably to those who from a Catholic point of view have shown their readiness to recognize the Catholic position both in the plays and in their background. Rather, what we have for certain in our hands are the plays of Shakespeare, in which he speaks to us (as in Newman’s motto) “from heart to heart.”

Peter Milward, S.J.
Sophia University
Tokyo, Japan

Robert Miola replies:


I am grateful to these readers for their engaged responses and for the correction on Titus Oates. I certainly agree with Larry Carstens’ fine commentary, particularly his reflections on the difficulty of religious categorization, especially at this distance. And I agree that uncertainty was a common and practical response to a repressive political situation.

Citing passages for and against predestination from Shakespeare, Craig Stephans seems to agree on the difficulty of easy assessment and on the inherent uncertainty. But in his book he goes on to find “spiritual truths” and “myriad spiritual and religious lessons” in Shakespeare, under such headings as “Action”the fruit of spirituality,” “Friendships make life worth living,” “Guilt: Just say No,” “Drunkenness leads to stumbling,” “Pride comes before a fall,” and the like. Such bromides may be his idea of timeless “spiritual truths,” but I don’t think this approach reveals much about Shakespeare, especially as his evidence consists solely of passages wrenched out of context, and therefore rendered quite meaningless. To take just his first example, Stephans says that “Shakespeare teaches in Julius Caesar that there is a time to act quickly and boldly to gain one’s dreams” and quotes Brutus’ “There is a tide in the affairs of men” speech. Say what? Brutus makes that speech to persuade Cassius and others to go to Philippi, where they suffer defeat, lose the Roman republic, and end their lives in suicide. Some dreams.

My reluctance to assent to Shakespeare’s biographical Catholicity puts me in disagreement with Blaise Thompson, who writes that “Shakespeare’s recusancy is sufficiently well established to survive the approval of First Things .” Recusancy is a technical term for documented refusal to attend Church of England services, and there is no documentation at all of Shakespeare’s recusancy. (Catholicism is an entirely different matter: Many were Catholic but not recusant; others were recusant but not Catholic.) And this reluctance also puts me in disagreement with Peter Milward, who says that the muddle regarding religious identity is in my mind rather than in the age. Powerful studies by Arthur Marotti, Michael Questier, Alexandra Walsham, and Peter Lake, however, provide compelling evidence to the contrary.

My reticence to declare Shakespeare’s religious affiliation also disturbs David Beauregard, who writes that I may be setting the “bar of proof absurdly high,” and who wonders why the Catholic patterns I find in the plays do not persuade me of the playwright’s personal confession. Simple. I think that drawing conclusions about an author’s life from his works usually reveals more about the critic than the author.

The magisterial history of Shakespearean biography by S. Schoenbaum ( Shakespeare’s Lives ) provides overwhelming proof of this. As a playwright, Shakespeare responds in any given work to many immediate literary, economic, cultural, and theatrical exigencies that have nothing to do with his personal beliefs. Public works don’t necessarily reflect private convictions. The cases of Donne and Jonson are exactly to the point: Donne wrote poetry that reflected Catholic dogma regarding Mary, which he pointedly contradicted in his sermons at St. Paul; he also wrote anti-Catholic satire. Jonson provides ample evidence in his works for those who wish to claim him as Catholic (some poems), anti-Catholic (satires in the plays), and unreligious. Beauregard’s correction of “minor slips,” by the way, are not corrections at all but simple disagreements: To take one example, Isabella’s declaration, “More than our brother is our chastity,” certainly shows her chastity to be “rigidly absolute” in my book, as that declaration does not sound like anything in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

I am also grateful to Pat Landell for the remarks on my demonstration of Shakespeare’s Catholic sensibility. But it appears that my Shakespeare is not Catholic enough for Peter Milward, who believes in the absent testament whereas I remain skeptical. I do agree, however, that Shakespeare scholars need to have a sound knowledge of the religious background of the age and that very little is known for certain about Shakespeare and his religion. We part company, however, in assessing Milward’s own contributions to the debate. Yes, Milward disagrees with Wilson and with Asquith on this and that interpretation (as I have noted in my review), but all proceed from the common assumption that Shakespeare has hidden Catholic meanings in his plays that each can decipher. (O wondrous bard who can send different secret messages to different Catholics!) Milward refers to the “deep meaning” of the plays, to his “meta-drama,” both referring to Catholic sympathies, and culminates his argument in the baldly assertive Shakespeare the Papist . I also do not agree that a public playwright in the competitive business of the early modern theater necessarily speaks to us, like some sort of Romantic phantasm, “from heart to heart.” How can we know that?

Secular or Posthuman?


I found Wilfred M. McClay’s essay on the book A Secular Age by Charles Taylor (May 2008) interesting, but it seems to me that a crucial element is missing from Taylor’s thesis”at least as it is described by McClay”and that is a grappling with the disturbing emergence of a profound antihumanism that is growing like a virulent cancer out of the secular mindset.

McClay writes that Taylor defines modern secularity as one that accepts “no final goals beyond human flourishing.” That’s at best naive, and ignores the increasing misanthropy that is a hallmark of many of today’s most self-consciously secular political and social movements.

Environmentalism, for example, no longer is content to conserve resources for posterity and protect pristine areas and endangered species, but seems increasingly dedicated to actively impeding human flourishing in the name of “saving the planet.” The even more radical deep ecologists castigate the human race as a vermin species afflicting Gaia, and proponents yearn for a worldwide pandemic as the cure. The bioethics movement grows increasingly utilitarian, explicitly denying intrinsic human worth, with increasing support expressed in the most respectable and influential journals for antihumanistic agendas such as eugenic infanticide and abortion.

At the same time, euthanasia and assisted-suicide practices in the Netherlands have so detached that society from true humanism that their supreme courts issued decrees allowing access to assisted suicide to both the mentally ill and depressed. On the futuristic side of things, transhumanists long for a “singularity” that will use technology to springboard the development of a master-race-like “posthuman” species. Meanwhile, many are losing sight of the crucial moral distinction between humans and animals. Indeed, the animal rights movement’s fury against the speciesist use of animals”a necessary element for human flourishing, particularly in medical research”has increased to the point that scientists are now under threat of death by the most radical liberationists for daring to experiment on rats or monkeys to find cures for cancer and other human afflictions. The list goes on and on.

It seems to me that secularism is eating its own tail. If I am right, it will take a far deeper mind than mine to explain whether such nihilism is the inevitable consequence of the transcendent losing its hold on individuals and society. But surely this trend must be addressed by any author that expounds on, or indeed, extols a coming “secular age.”

Wesley J. Smith
Castro Valley, California

Wilfred M. McClay replies:


I am grateful to Wesley J. Smith for making these powerful points, and I’m inclined to agree with him that Charles Taylor understates the sheer perversity and self-destructiveness of militantly secular antihumanism, whose influence seems to be on the rise in our times (as has been the religious antihumanism of al-Qaeda, etc.). Taylor does not ignore it completely in his book, but he does give it surprisingly little sustained attention. There are a few pages here and there dealing with what he calls “the immanent counter-Enlightenment” and other expressions of antihumanism, which he associates with the rise of fascism and a “new valorization” of death and violence. He mentions “deep ecology” a couple of times, always respectfully. He conveys little sense of the sheer lunacy that lurks on the fringes, and not-so-fringes, of the environmental movement. Though it is worth noting that he seems to see such antihumanist movements as displacements and perversions of more fundamental religious impulses, despite their eschewal of the transcendental.

But it is a central point for him that there is more than one way to be secular””the camp of unbelief is deeply divided””and for that reason he is unwilling to assert that secularism necessarily leads to the monstrous beliefs and movements that Mr. Smith describes. He even flirts with the idea that “modern unbelief is providential,” since the gains brought by the Enlightenment might not have been possible without it, and, besides, one can always find one’s way back to transcendent faith, as he has. That is an extremely hopeful vision. Taylor is an optimist, and generous to a fault. But, as Mr. Smith rightly observes, whether he is right to be so generous is very much an open question, and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Immigration Ethics, Again


In “The Ethics of Immigration: An Exchange” (May 2008), Michael Scaperlanda gave himself away when he wrote of his migrant acquaintances that “this family didn’t cross the border; the border had crossed the family, in the nineteenth century.” This silly slogan has become the chant of certain far-left activists in the United States. No serious person ever says this, whatever his views on illegal immigrants or immigration generally.

Even if it made sense to say that a border finalized in 1854 has “crossed” a family that didn’t even exist until (roughly) the 1940s, the border moved south in 1848 and 1854, not north. As a result, scores of millions of people have been born as U.S. citizens, with all the blessings consequent to that happenstance, who otherwise would have been living in deep poverty, under an exploitative government, subject every day to corrupt (and sometimes brutal) police, with no hope of social or economic betterment. But even if Mexico had conquered part of the old United States 160 years ago, thereby condemning former citizens to just such a bleak future, it would make no sense whatsoever to say that the border had ever crossed any twentieth-century family.

We have an immigration problem with Mexico now mainly because, for the $25

million that Presidents Polk and Pierce paid Mexico, they took only what land the United States really needed. Moreover, much of the transferred land was desolate and uninhabitable, and many of the Mexicans living in the useful territory were deeply estranged from Mex-ico City and grateful for their incorporation into the United States. Maybe Polk should have been more generous and taken all of it. A border passing through Coatzacoalcos and Juchitán might have been made nearly impermeable, and everyone living north of it would have been a United States citizen.

Thomas Paulick
Minneapolis, Minnesota

The immigration debate is usually posed as what’s good for Americans versus what’s good for Latin Americans. In fact, illegal immigration is good for neither, but it is the illegal immigrants who suffer more. The rule of law is a good thing, limiting the free-market success of predatory employers and protecting the poor from the criminal classes. The creation of a large class of people outside the rule of law is a moral evil, most immediately damaging to the people in that class. It is frustrating to see William Chip’s well-documented argument of the economic and political evils of illegal immigration rebutted from Scaperlanda’s supposedly moral standpoint, when in fact the victims in this scenario are the laborers working without regulations for workplace safety, without employment benefits, and even without police protection (since contact with law enforcement is associated with deportation). Even legalization will not improve their lot. As long as employers are not punished for using illegal labor, an amnesty will simply remove current illegals from their employers’ chosen labor pool, without fitting them for other jobs.

Elissa Torretta
Yardville, New Jersey

Scaperlanda errs egregiously when he limits his cost-benefit analysis of illegal immigration to economics alone. Let us assume for the moment that there is a net economic benefit in allowing as many immigrants as will come, regardless of our ability to assimilate them as Americans. Would greater gross domestic production justify tearing apart our communities, language, and culture to the point of our having two separate, possibly hostile, Americas? Would it justify swamping local and state governments’ abilities to provide health and social services? Would it be worth the increased crime in our cities, or creating a factious, permanent underclass?

I submit all of this is happening now, and not just because they are here illegally. Yet those costs are off the books. Indeed, the profits are private, but the costs are always public. The people to whom we are throwing open our doors do not even wish to be assimilated. Perhaps Scaperlanda did not witness the thousands marching under Mexican flags on American soil last year, brazenly demanding from their host country benefits paid for by our citizens for our own indigents? Those were not huddled masses seeking to become Americans, to shoulder our burdens with us, to fight and die defending this land if necessary. Those were opportunists, driven not by love of country, but by selfishness, abetted by corporate greed. This lack of social cohesion, manifest in such a wanton disregard for our laws, is inevitable when only the economic aspects of immigration drive policy. This is the real cost to our nation; it is steep beyond reckoning, and to ignore its danger is inexcusably naive.

But, more to the point: It pains me to have my country viewed as nothing but a job fair. We are more than a consumer group. We are a people, a culture, a nation, with shared experiences and beliefs, and it so happens we also have an economy. If Scaperlanda’s best-case scenario fails to materialize and the migrants, indifferent to our republican heritage, gain the clout to precipitate ruinous policies, and our southwest becomes in essence an extension of the failed country from which their millions flee; if our nation splinters along cultural lines, and we cease to be united in any meaningful sense, what then?

What should be the Christian response? The article fails on this point entirely, since it jumps sporadically between the individual and the state, muddling the responsibilities of the two. Nobody denies that the people entering this country illegally are desperate and downtrodden, and nobody argues that they are all potential killers or revolutionaries. No serious voice suggests they do not have “human faces,” as Scaperlanda chides. But the Church, in ministering to their spiritual and physical needs, must not become complicit in their criminality, undermining the moral authority of our country’s immigration laws.

Vincent Owens
Canton, Ohio

With all due respect, the bishops’ proposed solution to the illegal-immigration problem only attempts to solve the smaller part of an overall and much more serious problem. Also, the proposed solution will make the overall problem even more severe.

The proposed solution ignores the fifty million people in Mexico who live in poverty. A more comprehensive solution that benefits the people of both nations needs to be proposed and implemented. Such a solution needs to include the liberalization of Mexico’s labor markets.

Then expansion into the global economy with its free markets will reduce the poverty of the fifty million poor people in Mexico, as well as the twelve or more million in America at a much faster rate than illegal immigration can ever hope to do.

Presently Mexico is home to militant, high-powered unions and the most burdensome labor regulation in North America. They need to be changed. Mexico suffered the tragedy of repressive corporatism throughout most of the twentieth century. A one-party system ruled for more than seventy years, making sure there was no economic or political competition.

Nafta has done a lot for Mexico, but some things it can’t cure. Chief among these are the infirmities caused by too much labor regulation. Hiring, maintaining, and firing a worker is so costly that employers go to great lengths to avoid taking on new employees. This produces an excess of workers relative to demand, depressing wages and benefits.

Employment in most cases requires union membership”there is no such thing as a right-to-work state in Mexico”and, if a worker is expelled from the union, he loses his job. This gives union bosses extraordinary power, especially since there is no secret ballot in union elections. Promotions are based on seniority, not merit, so there is little incentive for workers to upgrade their skills or learn new technologies. This harms productivity and helps explain why Pemex, the oil monopoly with one of the country’s most dominant unions, registered a net loss of $484 million last year, when oil prices were sky high. It’s also one reason the state-owned electricity monopoly is repeatedly unable to cover its costs with earnings and instead requires a federal subsidy every year.

Furthermore our border with Mexico needs to be completely sealed to stop or drastically reduce the drug traffic into the United States. The drug lords need to have their drug income reduced by about 95 percent so they can no longer bribe local and national officials, and can no longer finance government and local police forces to protect their drug traffic, and spread terror throughout all those Mexican cities on the border, and then have the terror cross the border into our American cities.

Joseph Sabatini
West Chester, Ohio

Is it possible that the American bishops have been guilted into believing that instruction in ethics, like illegal immigration, flows only in one direction? We all know that Mexico is a poor country. Think again. As a friend of mine remarked, “Mexico is a rich country, with poor people.” When poor people flee their land, risking great danger and hardship, they make a commentary on the legal and economic structure of that land. Yet I see no mention of the Mexican bishops struggling with the moral dimensions of the disproportionate lack of opportunities in their own rich country.

A cynic might be inclined to observe that Mexican elites don’t mind exporting poor people, whose remittances now constitute that country’s second largest source of income, behind tourism and ahead of petroleum. Where is the treatment of the ethical imperative on Mexico’s bishops to enlighten the Mexican Catholic elites on the need for rule of law, property rights, limited government, and the moral role of private capital in promoting a just society south of the border?

Ken Ricci
Larchmont, New York

I am grateful for the discussion concerning the ethics of immigration between William Chip and Michael Scaperlanda. As a staunch conservative who tries mightily to form opinions from a moral perspective, I welcome the tone and tenor of a discussion that is not riddled with invective. My conservative friends and colleagues often adopt a strict and perhaps harsh tone in any evaluation of our problem relating to the growing number of illegal aliens and undocumented workers. The exchange between Chip and Scaperlanda was cogent and instructive, drawing different conclusions from data rather than hyperbole. Yet, I would feel better about the conclusions reached by Scaperlanda if he could quote from statistics that were less than a decade or more old. Surely, while that which Scaperlanda could quote was interesting and helped make his point, the American economy and the number of immigrants, legal and otherwise, is much different from the 1997 analysis from the National Research Council.

Brook C. Akers
Houston, Texas

Thanks to both William Chip and Michael Scaperlanda for an enlightening and civil exchange on immigration. Scaperlanda, however, seems to me to have the better of it. Chip relies too heavily on the argument that immigration depletes our national resources, an argument that for my taste is too similar to one that population-control advocates have been erroneously advancing for years.

As Scaperlanda notes, Chip appears to argue that the United States should curtail immigration because of the burdens that existing immigrant flows place on society. (Scaperlanda seems to want the federal government to curb immigration by enforcing current legal limits on it.) The trouble with Chip’s analysis is that he emphasizes the negative effects of immigration without adequate consideration of its positive effects. Chip argues that immigrants depress wages for already low-paying jobs and that immigrants consume more resources from the public fisc than they contribute. Chip wonders whether our nation can afford the cost.

On its face, Chip’s argument mirrors Club of Rome“style logic. Human beings consume resources and exert a downward pressure on wages. More of them, therefore, is a bad thing. And yet the swell of immigrants (more than twelve million illegal and eleven million legal since 1986, according to his figures) is still dwarfed by the cohort of unborn children lost to abortion in the United States (more than twenty-nine million during the same two decades). If twenty-three million immigrants place such a strain on our resources, why wouldn’t a larger number of aborted children have placed a similar or greater strain on America had they been born? If the drain on resources is an argument against large-scale immigration, why isn’t it also an argument in favor of abortion?

Historically, it seems that human beings have been much better at identifying, measuring, and predicting the ballast that increasing populations will impose on society than at recognizing the even larger contributions those populations make. Economists, social scientists, and others have, since Malthus, made it a habit of overestimating the costs of population growth and underestimating the creative talents and other benefits people bring with them. If Malthus and the Club of Rome had been right, we would all (or nearly all) be dead. Human beings, however, produce significantly more (on average) in their lifetimes than they consume. The human ability to create something where nothing previously existed is what drives our economic growth and makes it possible for us to survive and flourish.

If Chip’s argument is taken to its logical conclusion, Miami and Hong Kong should be squalid cesspools of poverty rather than vibrant centers of industry and commerce. Both metropolises were inundated by waves of mass immigration over relatively short periods of time. As poor and desolate as they were, these immigrants were able to ignite, not decimate, the economies of their adopted homes and build whole new industries and centers of trade that had not existed and may never have existed had the refugees never arrived.

Joseph G. Cosby
Falls Church, Virginia

Both Chip and Scaperlanda characterized Catholic teaching on immigration clearly”there is a right to migrate, qualified by considerations of the common good of receiving countries. Restrictions on the right to migrate should never be imposed arbitrarily or lightly, but the extent of the right is nevertheless a matter for prudential judgment. Chip argues forcefully that the bishops, in their policy statements, are too sanguine about the burdens of immigration on unskilled workers and government coffers, while Scaperlanda forcefully defends the bishops’ position.

Absent from either argument is any question about whether the bishops ought to have an explicit political agenda at all. The joint Mexican and American bishops’ statement, Strangers No Longer , goes beyond teaching the principles outlined by both Chip and Scaperlanda”that there is a right to migrate, qualified by considerations of the common good”to outlining a specific political program. A visit to their website confirms that the bishops have gone far beyond teaching principles to proposing legislation and lobbying for it. This website is nearly indistinguishable from any secular public policy advocacy website.

Does the bishops’ charism to teach the principles of Christian social doctrine extend to those judgments of fact and of the politically feasible that are needed to turn principle into policy? Why are bishops taking public stands on the feasibility of border fences, on guest-worker programs, on workplace enforcement? And why should I, as a faithful lay member of the Church, have to disagree with the Church as represented by its shepherds when I make judgments of fact and feasibility, judgments on which people of goodwill may disagree?

The bishops have overstepped their proper role in the Body of Christ, and by so doing have forced Chip to argue against the Church, and Scaperlanda to defend the Church, on a matter of prudential judgment that belongs by right and necessity to the lay faithful. Archbishop Gomez’s statement, quoted by Scaperlanda, clearly asserts that bishops should form the consciences of the laity and then turn them loose on the political order. Sadly, this call for episcopal discretion in political matters is belied at every turn by the bishops’ heavy-handed lobbying, in the parishes and in the legislatures, for a particular program of immigration reform.

Andrew Yuengert
Pepperdine University
Malibu, California

William Chip replies:


Few advocates of Strangers No Longer seem ready to argue that the economic and social costs of prolonged, mass immigration of unskilled foreign workers are a cross that American Christians are morally obligated to bear. Instead, they mostly wish the cross away, dismissing (in Scaperlanda’s case) mountains of evidence and the normal application of the laws of economics so long as they can find a single economist who hasn’t made up his mind.

In his letter, Joseph G. Cosby prescinds from economics and resorts to teleology: Since God abhors abortion, an overcrowded labor market, like an overcrowded planet, is an impossibility. Overpopulation perhaps could not exist in the Garden of Eden, but our first parents were cast into a different place, where the ground yields subsistence grudgingly and sometimes not at all. When parents cannot afford to feed more children, abortion and migration are not the only choices; there is also abstinence. I stand by my argument that saturating our labor markets and swelling our already ample underclass with third-world economic migrants is exhausting our capacity to aid the vaster numbers who are left behind, let alone the needy Americans who have nowhere else to go.

Michael Scaperlanda replies:


William Chip and I draw different inferences and conclusions from the same data set. Like Brook C. Akers in his letter, I much appreciated that we could engage in a hard-hitting but civil exchange. In their own letters, Joseph Sabatini and Ken Ricci correctly point to the limited scope of our exchange. As the bishops of Mexico and the United States state in their joint pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer , “the implementation of economic policies in Mexico that create living-wage jobs is vital.”

I agree with Elissa Torretta’s letter: The rule of law is a public good for many reasons, including protecting immigrants from exploitation. It is not, however, the only good. Poverty to the south coupled with our own lack of enforcement has created a mess. Given the real-world situation, what does the public good demand? It is here that Chip and I part company.

Vincent Owens is correct; immigration changes a community with real losses and gains for the culture. As Emma Lazarus so eloquently reminds us, a large part of what defines us as “a people, a culture” is the ability to mourn the losses and cherish the gains as a nation of immigrants. Owens’ view of sovereign absolutism, however, is dangerous. I prefer a government subject to higher law.

Finally, I smiled to myself at the thought of Thomas Paulick’s description of me as a “far-left activist,” since colleagues regularly label me a “right-wing extremist” because of my views on abortion, marriage, and a host of other cultural and economic issues. I label myself simply as a Catholic attempting, however feebly, to be faithful to the gospel.

Theology & Theologians


The tone of Avery Cardinal Dulles’ description of the role of the theologian was sometimes disappointing. Dulles reminds us that the bishops can literally censor theology that they do not approve, deny faculty appointments where they can, and issue condemnations when they cannot actually prevent publication or deny appointments.

If any theologians have the temerity to come forward with criticism, he says, they should be like the theologians who “cautiously advocated doctrinal positions that were, for a time, resisted by the magisterium. They made their proposals without rancor and, when rebuffed, submitted without complaint.” This approach of no rancor and no complaint “proved their loyalty and obedience.”

In his concluding paragraph, Dulles warns of “the demonic power of a culture that refuses to submit to the discipline of faith . . . . If the Church allowed herself to be carried away, or even materially weakened, by this demonic force, the very survival of Christian faith would be imperiled.” The clear implication is that theologians who do not satisfactorily toe the line are part of that threatening demonic surge.

Karl Barth (not a Catholic theologian, of course) had a different view of the relation with ecclesiastical authority. He wrote in Evangelical Theology that, yes, the existing teachings deserve deference. But “no ecclesiastical authority should be allowed by theology to hinder it from honestly pursuing its critical task . . . . The task of theology is to discuss freely the reservations as well as the proposals for improvement which occur to it in the reflection on the inherited witness of the community.”

I recognize the vital need to identify and resist false theology. But will the means to achieve that be persuasion or coercion? Barth supports the former, the ability to “discuss freely .” I thought the tone of Dulles’ piece sometimes tended toward the latter.

Andy Saylor
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania