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Robert T. Miller first says that I am a great philosopher (“Waiting for St. Vladimir,” February) and then accuses me of being stupid enough to hold what he takes to be a set of obviously false propositions. On both counts he is mistaken, although I am more disquieted by his foolishly exaggerated praise than I am by his misdirected blame.

The latter rests on unargued assertion and rhetorical misrepresentation. No one could guess from his article that I believe”and said in my Cambridge lecture”that there is no alternative to the present economic system of globalizing capitalism and that we all therefore have to live and work within it: hence the wrongheadedness both of his ill-mannered jibes about my own economic life and of his absurd suggestion that on my view we are waiting not for a new St. Benedict but for Lenin. Equally absurd is his claim that I say, but regard as irrelevant, that capitalism is able to create a higher level of prosperity than any other economic system. What this is irrelevant to is the issue of whether or not the distributive patterns of capitalism are just or unjust.

Miller seems to believe that a mere reiteration of the standard economics-textbook argument against Marx’s theory of surplus value is sufficient to refute it. That is sad, but it is sadder still that he has misunderstood what he praises quite as much as what he blames. If our present economic and social order were as satisfactory as Miller takes it to be, then the central thesis of After Virtue , about the corrosive effect of the individualism of modernity on the tradition of the virtues, would be false. Miller should have condemned my work from the start, as of course those who share his economic views have almost unanimously done. But that is his problem, not mine.

Alasdair MacIntyre

Robert T. Miller’s critique of Alasdair MacIntyre’s view of capitalism is brilliant and beautifully constructed. It expertly articulates what a capitalist must see as the defects in MacIntyre’s theory. Yet I believe MacIntyre is essentially correct and Miller wrong, precisely because Miller adopts capitalism’s “domain assumptions.” The real issues are not, as he thinks, empirical (such as whether capitalism produces more wealth than any other system in history) but philosophical, such as the question, “What is the essential nature of any economy whatever?”

What Miller does not seem to understand are the implications of the fact that Adam Smith’s theory was built directly on Enlightenment philosophy and much more so than on empirical analysis. That philosophy, known as rationalism, was (philosophically) materialist: Only the material is real. And that principle, in turn, reflected that rationalism started as an epistemology about how and what the mind can know. These matters are latent in the theory.

The result of this bias was Smith’s false understanding that money is based in silver and gold. The precious metals have nothing to do with the essential nature of money, which, in fact, is based in the nature of those who use it: people. As many other writers have shown, medieval theorists understood money much better than Smith did, and for a simple reason: They did not believe only the material was real.

If we pursue these questions far enough, we will see that MacIntyre is essentially correct and Miller is wrong. But Miller has done a signal service in teasing out the issues, which could be the start of an epochal debate.

Robert Ghelardi

I, too, very much admire Alasdair MacIntyre as a philosopher but agree that his understanding of economics is limited, to say the least. Two authors whom Miller did not cite but who are helpful in further understanding his arguments are Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper. They wrote at a time when many believed in the advantages of the communist society. Today no one wants to revisit communism, but we continually want to find ways to avoid the instability of capitalism. This instability is inherent in the system simply because man has free will and no system can completely predict what he will choose to do. However, Hayek made suggestions that have not been followed that would have averted much of the crisis of the past few years. The need for transparency of risk and stability of currency (with the result of no inflation and for the government to favor no one sector of the economy as it did with the housing market) would have greatly reduced our present difficulties.

Evelyn Mazzucco

Robert T. Miller replies: Regardless of what he thinks of me, I still think Professor MacIntyre is a great philosopher. I am sorry that this disquiets him, but it’s my honest opinion, and I don’t hesitate to repeat it.

The idea of waiting for St. Benedict is probably the most famous idea on which MacIntyre has ever written, and so I understand why he might not see the humor in my saying that he is waiting not for St. Benedict but for St. Vladimir. The point of my little joke was that the small communities MacIntyre thinks are needed to sustain the virtues turn out to be economic communities that significantly curtail human freedom. As far as I can see, he does not deny this key point. It is true that MacIntyre concedes that there is for now no realistic alternative to capitalism (that’s why we’re waiting), but I never said otherwise. As I made clear in the article, I was talking not about what MacIntyre thinks we must now patiently endure but about what he ideally favors.

The arguments I gave against Marx’s theory of surplus value are indeed textbook arguments, but arguments get recorded in textbooks when virtually everyone knowledgeable in the field concludes they are correct. MacIntyre may disagree with these arguments, but he will have to explain why he thinks they fail. In the meantime, he will not convince anyone that the textbook arguments are wrong by pointing out that most knowledgeable people think that they are right.

Finally, MacIntyre is right that many proponents of capitalism have rejected his views in moral philosophy, but this is mostly because they were defending capitalism on philosophical grounds obviously incompatible with virtue theory. It is a logically different question whether capitalism is defensible on virtue-theoretic grounds, and here the relevant point is that virtue theorists generally have not rejected capitalism. The Catholic moral tradition, for example, is based on the virtues, but the Catholic Church has never taught that capitalism is immoral. Thus, in Rerum Novarum Leo XIII reaffirmed the Catholic teaching on the legitimacy of private property, including private ownership of the means of production, and this position has remained foundational in Catholic social teaching to this day.

As to Robert Ghelardi’s arguments, I don’t quite follow them. I see Smith as occupying a place within the tradition of British empiricism, not rationalism. Moreover, that people should be able to engage in voluntary exchanges with a minimum of government interference certainly does not imply that only the material is real. Nor did Smith think that money was “based in gold and silver”; on the contrary, he is generally credited with demolishing that mercantilist view. See The Wealth of Nations , book 1, chapter 5, where he writes, “Labor . . . is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.”

I agree with Evelyn Mazzucco that misguided government policies contributed to the financial crisis, but I resist the more extreme positions of the Austrian economists. Dealing with those, however, would take us too far afield.


I enjoyed George Weigel’s fine article “The End of the Bernardin Era” (February) but must quibble with his assertion that “bishops turned to psychology rather than moral and sacramental theology in the sexual abuse of the young.” They undoubtedly depended too much on psychology and should have more closely consulted moral theology. However, I don’t think sacramental theology has much to contribute in this area.

The main points in sacramental theology that come to mind when dealing with these terrible sins are, first, that the sacraments administered by unworthy priests are valid and, second, that any sin, even the most heinous sin of sexual abuse, can be forgiven by the sacrament of Penance. (This might mean that the penitent would be obliged to renounce any further exercise of his own sacramental ministry as part of his act of reparation.)

The problem was not simply one of poor theology (there were some excellent theologians working during this period) but that the Church relied on the prevailing human wisdom of a woefully mistaken psychology based on a very inadequate anthropology. Those in authority should have instead faithfully implemented the relevant canonical norms, thus bringing the wisdom and experience of the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the Western world to bear in dealing with the sins of the clergy.

Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

George Weigel’s essay reminds me of my Drew University colleague Will Herberg, who noted forty years ago the increasing liberalism of American bishops, concluding that they were “whoring after the Zeitgeist.” Herberg implied that they individually and collectively sought the acceptance and approval of the nation’s secular elites. Having only recently emerged from their Catholic ghettos, they yearned for a place at the table with these elites. In the process, the Bernardin bishops subtly altered and watered down their stance on doctrinal and moral positions so as to make them acceptable to the secularists on the top rungs of America’s social-status ladder.

Alas, the approval never came. When the liberal wing of the episcopacy supported positions favored by the secularists (nuclear disarmament, civil rights, and third-world liberation movements), it was fine and dandy. When they sheepishly spoke on other issues (pro-life concerns, homosexuality, and embryonic stem-cell research), they were quickly put in their place, drawing nothing but wrath and venom from the elites.

Today’s younger, more orthodox bishops are far more secure in their social status in America and far more confident and forceful in enunciating and defending Church teachings in the controversial areas of sexual and other moral teachings. Comfortable in their Americanism, they don’t feel the need to prove national loyalty as perhaps bishops of an earlier era did. They are not overly concerned with what the New York Times and NPR think about their orthodoxy. George Weigel’s prescient article clearly traces the paradigm shift in the episcopacy’s positions.

James M. O’Kane

I encountered remnants of the “Bernardin era” while campaigning as a pro-life volunteer for the McCain/Palin campaign in New Hampshire. I had hoped for a Church-directed “pro-life, rights of families, and traditional marriage” public policy. Instead what I received was a pro-life, needs-of-workers, needs-of-families policy, and the ubiquitous preferential option for the poor. We lost in a landslide, which included the loss of a solidly pro-life senate seat.

It cannot be said that the Church in America did all that it could to stop the election of the now tacitly acknowledged worldwide leader of abortion on demand.

Harry O. Simmons III
skaneateles, new york

Like many Catholics, I paid little attention to the Catholic hierarchy’s merger of Democratic secular politics with Catholic doctrine. I woke up about eight months ago, when I started hearing Prayers of the Faithful mentioning global warming. In addition, I heard about investing in green businesses, shopping locally, and the greedy businessmen who build in the middle of the rainforest. I thought the Sierra Club had taken over the Catholic Church.

But no”worse than that, it was secular social justice posing as Catholic social teaching. Catholic social teaching seems reasonable until the bishops apply its principles to politics. For example, in a recent letter the chancellor of my diocese included the slogan “When God contemplates the world, it is without borders.” The bishops are fostering fear, not peace and trust in God.

Thankfully, we now pray to end abortion and mention other life issues during the Prayers of the Faithful. I have written letters to diocesan leaders and have asked to join the diocesan social-justice advisory committee with the hope of adding my point of view. How silly of me. I felt alone and paralyzed until I read George Weigel’s article.

Maureen Pekar

“The End of the Bernardin Era” was a classic, lovely, erudite piece from the thoughtful and ultimately wrong George Weigel. Bernardin and the millions of Catholics who agreed with him were and are not interested in “finding an agreeable fifty-yard-line,” as Weigel says. They were and are fully aware of Catholicism’s deep, countercultural soul, which demands such unpopular things as an end to the murder of children in wars as well as wombs, and insists that we actually listen when a pope says a war is wrong (as Weigel’s hero, John Paul II, said about the Iraq war).

Bernardin was not after compromise but engagement. He was never interested in “finding accommodation with cultural forces at war with the gospel,” as Weigel intimates, and it’s either a sly or foolish misreading of the man to say otherwise. Unlike many bishops, Bernardin considered it more productive to engage than to enrage and, also unlike many bishops, preferred quiet persuasion to public posturing and hectoring. If Catholicism is being driven to the margins of public-policy debate, as Weigel suggests, it’s not because of Bernardin’s lifelong effort to drive the convictions of the ancient revolutionary faith into the very center of civic life.

It seems to me that Bernardin understood a deep truth about Catholicism”one that, perhaps, Weigel does not: The bishops are not in charge of the Church. Bernardin knew that real change”change that meant fewer murdered babies, fewer murdered teenagers in wars, and fewer murdered innocent prisoners”would come from people slowly awakening other people. No pope, no matter how great, can do that alone; it must be done by Catholics who take seriously their responsibility and mission to bring the extraordinary and revolutionary message of Christ to other people. Bernardin spent his whole episcopacy pushing to engage people. Weigel is very probably right that the late cardinal’s era has ended. If so, what a terrible shame.

Brian Doyle

George Weigel replies: I am grateful to all my correspondents for their thoughtful responses to my article on the Bernardin Era in the Catholic Church in America. Let me add a brief word of further comment on each of these letters.

Father O’Donoghue and I are, I think, more agreed than disagreed about the taxonomy of episcopal misgovernance (and, in some cases, malfeasance) in dealing with clerical sexual abuse. I would suggest, however, that sacramental theology has more to contribute to a reform of the priesthood (and thus prevention of abuse) than he seems to concede. The absence of a proper sacramental theology of the priesthood, in which the ordained priest is understood to be conformed to Christ ontologically (if I may use the term) and not merely imitatively, was no small part in the spike of abuse cases between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, I would suggest. The reclamation of such a “thick” theology of the priesthood is important in se and in building barriers against clerical sexual abuse in the future. Priests who truly understand themselves to live and act in persona Christi are, in my view, far less likely to abuse anyone, sexually or otherwise, than priests who imagine themselves as “enablers” of “community” or somesuch.

Speaking of “quibbles,” though, let me quibble with Professor O’Kane’s characterization of the American bishops’ engagement with the life issues as “sheepish.” That has certainly not been the case in recent years, and, while the bishops are not solely responsible for effectively rebutting the New York Times ’ notorious claim in January 1973 that Roe v. Wade had ended the abortion debate in America, they can justifiably claim a significant part of the credit.

Let me assure Harry Simmons that the appropriate authorities in Rome know of the parlous state of Catholic witness in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, and that help will be on the way in due course. The Bernardin Era is also coming to an end in California, where I hope Maureen Pekar and others of like mind will find what I expect will be the increasingly robust public witness of Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, and Coadjutor Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa a support to their efforts.

Brian Doyle misunderstands me if he imagines that I believe the Church has been driven to the “margins of public-policy debate.” Absent the witness of the bishops, and especially Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Obamacare in its most lethal, anti-life form would have swept through the Congress in 2010. Stopping that juggernaut (which meant taking on a poorly catechized Catholic Speaker of the House of Representatives) was no mean accomplishment; helping to get a far better answer to the tangled question of healthcare reform out of the new Congress than that offered by the form of Obamacare that did pass would, as I indicated in my article, be a genuine contribution for the bishops to make this year and next.

As for the engagement of the laity, Brian Doyle and I are entirely agreed on the imperative of that; but I would argue, and I think the historic record bears me out, that the Bernardin Church, which was deeply (and, in some respects, ruthlessly) clerical despite its nods to the “People of God,” disempowered the laity by making the bishops’ conference a kind of ecclesiastical black hole into which all other Catholic energies were sucked, there to disappear.


Lutheranism, as explained by Gilbert Meilaender (“The Catholic I Am,” February), is not a unified reform movement and evidently does not acknowledge the reforms (correctives) instituted by the Council of Trent to remove the abuses that brought about the Protestant split. This has allowed Lutheranism to create its own identity both spiritually and politically, along with thousands of other independent churches. To non-Christians, this institutional disunity is reason to question the validity of the message and the authority of the Catholic Church as the sole agency Christ founded.

To say being a Lutheran is one way of being catholic is to say that any approach, assuming one believes in Christ, is catholic. Christ prayed that the Church be one, not many. Anyone who knows and believes in Christ does so only because the Catholic Church’s voice first proclaimed it; all other voices are secondary at best and repeat what they have heard and been given.

My prayer is that the author and all Lutherans cross the Tiber back to the One, Holy, Catholic Church.

Carl S. Gagliano

Regarding Gilbert Meilaender’s analysis in “The Catholic I Am,” a necessary condition for the continued possession of one’s cake is that one refrains from eating said cake.

Oren Dixon


Gerald Russello is right to point out in his review of David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom (“The Real Myth,” February) that when the state claims to enforce “neutrality” with regard to religion it too often practices hostility instead. The state claims merely to protect individual choice, but the result is policy designed to keep religion from “contaminating” public life. In the liberal mind, religious expression is a purely private thing, tolerated only so long as it remains behind closed doors.

The California Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Catholic Charities of Sacramento v. Superior Court proves this point. A charitable organ of the Catholic Church was forced to provide contraceptives to its employees through its insurance plan, overtly violating Catholic teaching. Why? Because Catholic Charities dares to operate in the public square as a charitable organization, furthering the social-justice mission of the Church. The state will allow you to run your organization according to your religious principles only if it approves of those principles, or if you run a purely religious outfit. And that increasingly means religious worship, and nothing else.

The goal of “increasing freedom” for individuals by narrowing the sphere of self-government within which religiously affiliated organizations may act is by nature hostile to religion. The view implies that religious conduct and belief are inherently irrational and oppressive and hence should be cabined away from public influence and view. An increasing number of nonbelievers find the mere whiff of religious expression offensive, unless it is exotic and marginal enough to add pleasing diversity without the possibility of public influence.

As Russello points out, the real irony here is that it is only within a broad religious consensus that effective, concrete standards of toleration and mutual respect can be worked out. Sehat’s Liberal Moment destroyed that consensus. And the result, while perhaps liberating for those hostile to religion, has been devastating to people of all faiths, as our government has increasingly marginalized them. Sadly, those enjoying the current, state-enforced sterility of the public square and the ministrations of the social-welfare state will never recognize the destructive power of their “protector” or the damage it has wrought on all forms of civil life.

Bruce P. Frohnen


Heidegger’s critique of modernity’s neglect of the concept of being, as presented in David Bentley Hart’s “A Philosopher in the Twilight” (February), demolishes the atheistic ramblings of writers like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking, given their unwillingness to address the question of being and its fundamental role in philosophy. The mystery of existence also escapes the many highly educated people in control of the mass media who do not have the answers to the ultimate questions and so ignore them. Why does anything exist, and how did it come to be? They do not have the humility to admit that they do not have answers.

Perhaps Heidegger’s life experience, specifically his flirtation with Nazism, might help move secularists toward more humility. The intellectual connection between Nietzsche’s “will to power,” which is based on the nihilistic dismissal of being and subsequent elevation of individual will, and Nazi amorality (its nihilism) should become an obligatory part of the teaching of world history. Where did Nazism and communism’s worst manifestations originate? In the failure to acknowledge the mystery of being”that we humans absolutely do not have the power to bring reality into existence. This fundamentally undercuts the moral defensibility of utilitarianism and individualism, the basically selfish rationale behind same-sex “marriage,” and the production of human life through technology.

Our academic and media elite must acknowledge that wisdom includes humility in the face of an irresolvable mystery.

Frederick J. Kurtz

When in my academic youth I was supposed to be a philosopher, I pored over Sein und Zeit . One day, to my astonishment, I found myself the most junior member of the famous Black Forest seminar when Heidegger warned the theologians to steer clear of philosophy. I still take Einführung in die Metaphysik along for travel reading.

All this by way of leading up to the following: David Hart’s piece is one of the two or three best things I have read on Heidegger. In fact, I cannot remember anything as good.

Robert Jenson


James Nuechterlein writes eloquently and sensitively about black and white race matters in contemporary America (“Race Matters,” February). What I like to think Nuechterlein would have mentioned, had he the room, is the failure of leadership in the black community to follow through on gains made in the days of King. Those leaders all seem to be focused still on the victimization of the black American instead of on his potential, to his all too obvious detriment.

My hope is that the president, when he becomes a private citizen again, will use his considerable talents and energy to provide some real leadership in this regard. Otherwise, I suspect we’re going to see Hispanic Americans overcome difficulties of language and legality to leapfrog African Americans in societal status.

Paul A. Barra


I was troubled by the fact that in her excellent article on her journey “Through Yoga to Christianity” (February), Losana Boyd seemed to “pull her punch” on each point. There are, after all, only two sources of spiritual experiences: God and His messengers and those of evil origins.

Yoga’s focus on self-purification in a never-ending cycle is a ticket to hell. There is no room for God in it. What a clever strategy to keep us away from our created destiny. One can infer all this from Boyd’s presentation, but it needs to be expressed directly.

I can testify from experience that Boyd’s movement from yoga back to Catholicism with such apparent ease is a significant exception to the experience of many. We have ministered to many people involved in yoga and the cornucopia of other New Age offerings. Most of those who have extracted themselves from significant involvement in these deceptive attractions experience spiritual attacks over a substantial period of time, in keeping with the entities they have entertained.

People are not engaged in a simple intellectual journey in yoga. They are playing with fire and malevolent spiritual consequences.

Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). In context, this statement refers to the Crucifixion. But it can be used to distinguish Christian meditation from deceptive practices. To be sure, Catholic meditations seek a quiet state of mind. But they do not empty the mind and relinquish control. Christian meditations through the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Bible study, and many other activities focus our minds on various aspects of our faith that we might receive better insight and edification for our spiritual growth. Each, in its way, lifts up Jesus.

Yoga meditations and other New Age offerings do not lift up Jesus, and never will. That’s how you can tell they are false.

Matthew J. Cramer

When I showed Losana Boyd’s article to a colleague, a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, he observed; “She is too hard on yoga. It did bring her back to Catholicism.” Interesting observation! That is the bottom line and also my starting point.

Boyd clearly understands the essential differences between Eastern and Western religions. I find my students with little religious background are attracted, as young adults, like she was, to the “I can do it myself” mystique of Buddhism. Our positions differ in that I think there is plenty of room for accommodation and that Eastern wisdom can contribute to Catholic thought.

Many years ago, a Benedictine who wrote a book on Christian yoga, Bede Griffiths, OSB, taught that yoga was a meditation device that could add to the lectio divina of St. Benedict. Yoga is only the beginning. For the Christian it is an attempt to focus (as Boyd correctly notes) not on the self, as in Eastern mysticism, but on the Divine Person, who is both transcendent and immanent.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist of Seven Storey Mountain fame, also saw an affinity between Buddhist monasticism and his own Benedictine tradition. His superiors found his pursuit of rapprochement worth encouraging.

So, contra Boyd, I see in yoga an opportunity to deepen my understanding of catholic (small- or large- C ) Christianity by appreciating the wisdom of the Eastern ancients as well as those of the West. Christianity should emerge richer for it.

Walt Weaver

Unlike Losana Boyd, I find that Eastern practices help me understand my faith. Tai chi is an ancient martial art grounded in Taoism. It stresses practicing a regular array of moves in slow motion. Someone doing tai chi seems to be gliding very slowly back and forth. Every motion, however, is a martial-arts move”a punch, a kick, a block, or a throw.

Tai chi is a form of “moving meditation,” and one I think compatible with Christianity. It builds patience. Tai chi practitioners spend years or even their whole lives working on one form”a sequence of stances or moves.

Many novices find this incredibly frustrating. It frustrated me at first. There is also the need to keep my form from degrading. Most of all, I found that there was always more I could do. Things I’d forget, things I hadn’t understood before, things I discovered. I began to understand that repetition wasn’t boring or wasted.

Tai chi taught me that ritual isn’t always empty. And it taught me what the Mass was about. It’s not about something new, something exciting. It’s about not letting what you have gained deteriorate. It’s about not letting yourself deteriorate. It’s about replenishing yourself, your knowledge. It’s about patiently persevering, even when the external signs aren’t visible.

It’s about understanding that you have always fallen short. You have flaws you must correct. There are things you have forgotten and must be reminded of. And there is a lot you can learn. Indeed, there are an infinite number of things you can learn”if you have the patience.

The ritual doesn’t stifle the creative; it nurtures it. Sometimes it just keeps the embers warm; other times it sets the flames roaring. The important thing is to understand that it nurtures the spontaneous. Now, as a tai-chi student, I find I can move more quickly and creatively when I have to. And now I see the Mass as the same: The rite and the repetitions enable me to move more quickly and freely when I have to.

Perhaps at some point I will have to part ways with tai chi, as Boyd did with yoga. But for now I suspect that learning how to move my body in the world will help me move my spirit as well.

James Tynen

Losana Boyd replies:

I appreciate the thoughtful responses. Walt Weaver writes that yoga brought me back to Catholicism. Yoga did not bring me back to the Church, Christ did. All kinds of things can lead us to Christ, but I am curious about which parts of Eastern wisdom Weaver believes Catholicism should accommodate. The perennial philosophy, of which yoga can be considered a part, can show some of the commonalities we sometimes find across spiritual traditions, but the fullness of truth is found only in Christ himself”the first word of creation and the last word in revelation.

Matthew Cramer writes that my movement away from yoga was accomplished with “such apparent ease.” Not entirely, but I agree with him that, when Christ becomes the focus, all else recedes in importance. Yoga’s efforts toward self-improvement seem in many ways another example of our culture’s Pelagianism.

As James Tynen has experienced, yoga and martial arts can be very good exercise, but they are not without risk, nor are they necessary to life in Christ. We have to be careful not to become too impressed with them.


Otto von Bismarck and Will Rogers were both wrong (While We’re At It, February). There is nothing repulsive about making sausage. Come over to my house on Saturday and I will show you. About making laws, I think they were right.

Austin Ruse