I am a long-time reader and admirer of the work of Wendell Berry. On April 23, I was privileged to be among those in attendance at the Kennedy Center to hear his 2012 Jefferson Lecture. With Berry nearing the end of his career, I had not expected to hear anything particularly new from him that evening. His talk met these modest expectations, though I must concede that the lecture fell short of most of his published expressions of his commitment to the virtues of family farming and small-scale community life. I must also confess that I was surprised by his decision to address these perennial themes through what appeared to be a very personal dual between his tobacco-farming grandfather and tobacco baron, James B. Duke, president of the American Tobacco Company (and major patron of Duke University). I was more surprised still by the venomous attack on Berry’s address by Matthew J. Franck on the website of First Things. Berry clearly touched a raw nerve (or the guilty conscience) of a certain kind of Catholic and a certain kind of American. Where one stands on Berry says a lot about where one stands on Catholicism and America, or more precisely on Catholicism in America.
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