Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reductio ad absurdum: Latin, English and Spanish at Mass

(Preliminary Note: This article is not written to take a doctrinal stand on anything.  Rather it is a reflection for people to consider what our motives are when we express dislikes over certain things.)

I've encountered in the region I live in a certain group of people who object to Spanish being used at Mass to reach out to the Hispanic members of the community.  They say things like, "We're in America.  They should speak English."

Many people of this group also champion the use of the 1962 missal, and saying that the Mass should be said in Latin.

Very well.

If we accept as a given their claim that the Latin is the best language for the Mass, we can argue the following:

Major Premise: The closer the Mass is to Latin, the better it is.

Minor Premise: Spanish is closer to Latin than English is.

Conclusion: Therefore, a Spanish Mass is better than an English Mass.

Now I am sure that nobody (I sure don't) would accept the conclusion of this argument.  But this is the point of a reductio ad absurdum.  It points out the problematic conclusions one could draw if one accepted an argument at face value.

Now, I'm not going to accuse these individuals who dislike Spanish within the Mass as being racist.  God knows what is in their hearts.  I don't.  However, I do believe that these individuals are dogmatizing what is mere preference for them.  They prefer the old Latin Mass because that is comfortable for them.  They prefer English over Spanish because that is comfortable for them.

Such individuals need to remember that those who speak a different language than we do are just as much members of the Catholic Church as we are, and they take comfort in hearing the Mass in their own language just as much as we do.

I don't write this to condemn any individual.  I merely ask every person to consider in their heart whether their attitudes show love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is Voting 'None of the Above' the Least Evil Choice for 2012?

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Why, then, the war would come to you!
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets another fight for his cause
Should take care:
He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle will not avoid battle.
Since not to fight for your own cause
Really means
Fighting on behalf of your enemy's cause

—Bertolt Brecht


In my last article I wrote about my revised maxim of voting based on what seems to reasonably follow from Church teaching.  My conclusion was that we needed to discern which was the least evil before deciding to vote for the opposition party vs. not voting or voting for a Third Party.  That article was more of a general principle to consider.  This time, especially in light of recent evidence of hostility to the Church, I think it is time to ask whether it is true that voting for a third party/no party is in fact the least evil.

I started off with this controversial poem because I believe it does illustrate the issue which must be considered when choosing how to vote in 2012.  I am not saying that whoever votes for a third party or declines to vote is guilty of refusing to fight.  Rather, I am saying we must consider whether such a vote will result in a greater evil.

Catholics always need to remember that a mindset of always voting for Party [X] is not a proper attitude.  Party views change over time and must always be reevaluated in light of the unchanging truths given to us by Christ.


This kind of article runs the risk of being perceived as being motivated by partisanship because it will judge the reality of the Political Parties.  Nowadays, labels of conservative or liberal are slapped on everything as a substitute to thinking.  However, this article is an attempt to work philosophically using the reality of the political situation and the teachings of the Church in search of an answer.

I am NOT trying to claim that the conclusion I reach is one which is binding under the pain of sin however.  Rather it is a case of, "Given what we know, what seems to be the least evil?"

Also, please keep in mind I am primarily thinking of the Presidential election.  Some Congressional and local elections may have the same considerations.  Others may have candidates who differ from the norm of each political party (There are Pro-Life Democrats out there and Pro-Abortion Republicans for example).

Depending on who the Republicans nominate (it seems a foregone conclusion that Obama will again be the Democratic nominee), the situation may change from what I am exploring in 2011, as there will be a specific candidate to evaluate.

Ultimately this article will conclude with a statement that I do not know what is the least evil (so that will save you some time wading through it) but it is my hope that when it comes to making such a decision, this article will give the person some things to consider.

And, as always, this blog should never be interpreted in a way that is in opposition to the Magisterium of the Church.  The reader who wants to use this article to refute Bishop X uses this article wrongly.

Four Voting Choices for 2012

For Catholics in 2012, we essentially have four options for the Presidential elections.  These are:

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Hopefully we shall add some clarity as to how we should consider them as options.

The Reality of the Two Party System

The United States is effectively a two-party system.  Yes we do have minor parties, and yes we did have a situation where one political party became extinct and was replaced by another once.  However, barring a major upheaval, the person elected to the presidency in 2012 will either be a Democrat or a Republican.  Not a member of the Reform Party, Green Party, American Independent Party or a Libertarian.  This is because far too few American voters will vote for a third party.

Therefore a vote for a minor party or not voting will not change the outcome without massive dissatisfaction with the system which does not appear to be present at this time.

However, a third party vote can play a "spoiler" role.  In the 2000 elections, Ralph Nader running on the Green party ticket split the Democratic party vote.  If those 97,488 Green Party votes in Florida had gone to Al Gore instead of to Ralph Nader, Al Gore would have been elected regardless of issues with hanging chads and butterfly ballots (Gore lost Florida by 537 votes).

What we can learn from this is that so long as we have a two-party system, a liberal voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Republicans and a conservative voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Democrats.  An undecided voting for a third party or not voting will merely reduce the voting pool by 1.

So, to sum up:

  1. The US is essentially a two party system
  2. We will continue to be a two party system unless there is such a wide level of disgust against both parties that a third party seems to be a good alternative.
  3. Voting for a third party or not voting will not change the fact that, unless there is a (currently non existent) wide level of disgust with both parties, either a Democrat or a Republican will be elected to the presidency in 2012.

The Lesser of TWO Evils

We can see from this that the statement "lesser of two evils" is still true even if one should vote for a third party.  We need then to look at the positions of the two parties in relation to Church teaching.  It seems to me there are four basic positions a party can have.  This list is done from the perspective of best to worst.

  1. The party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.
  2. The party agrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but not lesser issues.
  3. The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on lesser issues.
  4. The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.

Now there can be differing degrees of agreement (from lukewarm to fervent) and disagreement (from indifference to hostility).  So if both parties were in category #1, a fervent support would be superior to a lukewarm support and if both were in category #4, indifference would be a lesser evil than outright hostility.

Now, I think we can agree that neither party falls into category #1 (party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  Nor does either party fall into category #4 (The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  So it seems that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party will either fall into category #2 or #3.  Category #2 is superior to #3 – not because the "lesser" issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that to fail to be with the Church is disastrous for the nation.

What are the Intrinsic Issues?

The Church teaches the following are vital, and cannot be denied without dehumanizing people and creating an evil society (evil meaning a severe lack moving away from the good):

  1. The fundamental right to life from conception to natural death.
  2. The recognition of the heterosexual family as the building block of society.
  3. The freedom to practice one's faith free from government coercion.

To deny #1 would be to claim that one person has the right to arbitrarily end the right to life of another person and that some lives are worth less than others.  To deny #2 is to weaken the basic building block on which society is based.  To deny #3 is to claim that the government has the right to coerce a person to act against what they believe is right.

So, in practical terms, a party which supported abortion on demand, euthanasia and the like would be violating #1.  A party which sought to give the same standing to homosexual "marriage" and other non-family sexual relationships as to the traditional family would be violating #2.  The party which sought to interfere with institutions run by a religious group or to institute policies which force a person to choose between his beliefs and his livelihood would be violating #3.

With this in mind, we can look at the two big political parties and see where each party falls.

This is Where the Risk of Being Accused of Being Partisan Comes into Play

(Again, I want to make this clear: It is not that other issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that they cannot be ignored or made out to seem less important than, say, immigration or health care reform).

I think this is where a person who dislikes what I have to say will find an excuse to accuse me of partisanship, so let me again clarify that I am not writing with the perspective that disagreeing with me is sinful.  I am writing from the position that based on Church teaching, while there is not a good and a bad, there is a worst and a less bad when it comes to the positions of the two parties, and we need to acknowledge this to make an informed decision on how we should vote.

I think it is obvious that the Obama administration is not only opposed to the Church on these intrinsic issues, but is actually hostile to the Church on these issues.  In the four categories I mentioned earlier, the Democratic Party, so far as national office goes, seems to be defined as #3: The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on some lesser issues.

So how does the Republican Party fare on the issues?  They generally seem to be anywhere from lukewarm to moderate in favor of the Church position on these issues.  Yes, their support is far less than it should be, and they seem to be half-hearted about defending these issues.  In some states (New York for example), the party is actually in opposition to the Church on these issues.  However, we can be sure that the Republicans will not introduce new legislation which increases these evils.

The Republican candidates do seem to be in opposition of varied levels to some of the social teachings of the Church.  I was certainly appalled watching the Republican debate hearing the major candidates seeming to take positions which were against the Church understanding on justice.  However, on the intrinsic issues, the Republican Party at least gives them token support in contrast to the hostility of the Democratic Party.  So, we would most probably put them right on the edge of group #2.  Their support is not so low as to claim they are opposed to the Church teaching on intrinsic issues, but they are not fervent supporters.

This leaves us with this assessment of the two parties:

  • The Democratic Party is strongly hostile towards the teaching of the Catholic Church on intrinsic issue and agrees with the Church on some lesser issues.
  • The Republican Party gives lukewarm support for the Catholic teaching on intrinsic issues and tends to disagree on some lesser issues.

Lukewarm support is better than active hostility, so it seems that of the two parties, the Democratic Party is the greatest evil in the 2012 Presidential elections at least.

Therefore one choice is eliminated as being acceptable for Catholic voters. 

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Now we must ask about the remaining three choices.

Is the Third Party or Not Voting An Acceptable Choice?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

—Attributed to Edmund Burke

Again, like it was with the Bertolt Brecht poem, I am not saying that the Third Party vote or declining to vote is the equivalent of good men doing nothing.  Rather I am saying all must consider the consequences of their vote and form their conscience with the teaching of the Church.

So if we recognize that a party which is expressly hostile to the Catholic Church on these issues is the greater evil, and if we recognize that the third party or non-vote will not change the fact that the 2012 elections will either put a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, it seems that the Catholic pondering such a vote must consider whether his vote will promote the least evil or whether it will help enable the greater evil to be elected.

Now of course, the person does not intend the bad end of allowing the greater end of allowing the worst candidate to be elected.  If they did will such an end, that would be sinful indeed.

But to be honest, it truly is a hard call in making a decision for 2012.  The American political scene is truly wretched for Catholics.  There is no "good" party to vote for.  Rather we merely have the choice of which is the least offensive choice – which is the least harmful to the state of souls in America.

As a personal opinion, I believe the option to decline to vote is not acceptable to Catholics.  That is essentially a state of good men doing nothing.  This would leave us with either the option of voting for a third party or voting for the lesser of two evils.  This eliminates another choice and leaves us with two.

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Some Considerations in Voting for a Third Party (Personal Opinions to follow)

One argued reason to vote for a third party, in light of the fact that it tends to benefit the opposition seems to be to send a warning to the party that it must change its ways or lose support.  I think (again, personal opinion here) that such a response is valid on those occasions when a candidate adopts a position which is in opposition to Church teaching (in California, we've had elections where both parties were pro-abortion and I've felt obligated to vote for a third party).  When this is not the case I think (personal opinion) we need to be very cautious in taking this route.

It's long been a dream of mine that for one election, all Catholics refuse to vote for the two main parties to send them a warning that our vote counts.  However a priest I once knew gave a response which reflects the sad truth of American Catholics.  To paraphrase, he said Catholics aren't a bloc.  They're as divided as the rest of the country so this could never happen.

Sadly, I think he was right.  So the idea of sending a message to a party will likely never be effective barring an unforeseen upheaval in this nation.

So ultimately, I believe there is only one valid reason to vote for a third party in 2012, and that is the reason of conscience.  For some people, conscience simply forbids them to vote for the Republicans.  If an individual's conscience convicts them that they would do evil in voting for either party, then they must follow their conscience rather than do what they think is evil… but they must be sure their conscience is formed in harmony with Church teaching (this last part is not personal opinion).

The Catholic Task is Not Done on November 6th 2012

However, whether one chooses the Republican Party as the least evil choice or whether one feels they cannot vote for either major party in good conscience, our task is not over on November 6th 2012 (Election Day).  Whichever party wins in 2012, we are obligated to stand and speak out about what the nation must do and must reject.  If the victorious party goes the wrong way on an issue, we are obligated to voice our objections and not merely say, "Hey I voted, that's enough."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised for 2012

Preliminary Note: I never claim binding authority for myself.  I believe my original maxim and this updated one reasonably follow from Church teaching and reflect things we are called by the Magisterium to keep in mind when forming our decisions.  Of course this article mainly applies to a situation like America's (effectively) two-party system.  A nation with multiple parties and coalitions would probably have a different set of criteria to consider.


Back in the 2008 elections, I wrote an article dealing with an attitude among some Catholics which invoked conscience to vote for the party they preferred even though that party promoted policies explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church.  That maxim was, I believe, what reasonably followed from the Catholic obligation to obey the Church and the Catholic obligation to never disobey our conscience when it condemns something.  To sum up, I had said that if one political party holds a view which the Church condemns and the other holds views which an individual's conscience cannot allow them to vote for the other, then in order to reconcile these views, one could vote for a third party or decline to vote but could not vote for the party promoting views the Church condemned.

It made sense for the time.  In 2008, the dispute was essentially based on whether or not the Catholic could vote for the pro-abortion, fetal stem cell research, gay "marriage" party.  I think it still applies for voters who are choosing between these two parties.

A New Situation

However, in 2011, we see a few Catholic bloggers who oppose both parties as equally rotten and argue that the proper attitude is to vote for a third party or not at all.  We also see some opponents of these bloggers who claim that to act this way is to throw the election over to those who support the greater evil by taking away votes from the only party with a chance to oppose them.

It was this new perspective which leads me to reconsider the former maxim I drafted to take into account this new dispute.

The Issue of Double Effect

In considering the two sides of this dispute, we need to consider the principle of Double Effect.

Briefly, Double Effect deals with the situation where an action intends a good result but has an unintended and undesired negative effect which cannot be avoided.  Catholic teaching holds that the negative effect must be unintended and that the intended good must outweigh the unintended bad.  This is why the Church permits a hysterectomy (removing a diseased or damaged uterus which cannot safely undergo pregnancy) with the unintended bad effect of removing the woman's fertility but condemns the sterilization of the woman (directly intending to remove the woman's fertility).  The first views the loss of fertility as an undesired effect which would be avoided if possible.  The second directly intends the loss of fertility.

In terms of the debate of not voting for one of the major parties vs. the risk of allowing the greater evil to become elected is essentially a dispute over Double Effect.


  1. The intended good is to obey conscience by not voting for candidates who are considered to have immoral positions.
  2. The unintended bad effect is that the greater of two evils may benefit from a split votes.

The moral dilemma is then to balance out the obligation to follow conscience vs. the preventing the greater evil from taking effect.

Voting and Morality

Voting is not a neutral act.  It is a moral act in which we are obligated to use to achieve a greater good or oppose a greater evil.  We need to consider the ends our vote is intended to achieve and whether the unintended negative consequence outweighs that intended good.  Certain actions are intrinsically (by their very nature) evil and can never be done.  The Church authoritatively teaches abortion is a grave evil:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. 'Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action' (Evangelium vitae #57)

So it seems to follow that not only are we never to vote for a candidate who supports this grave evil, we cannot permit the grave evil to become possible by our inaction either.

On the other hand, since we are never to support evil actions, what are we to do if the other party also seems to support evil?  Especially since they seem lukewarm on the issues of Life?  After all, Blessed John Paul II also pointed out:

Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. (ibid #74).

An Attempt to Find a Solution to the Impasse

Conscience is not infallible.  It must be formed with the teaching of the Church in mind and it requires us to inform ourselves to the facts to avoid making an error by wrongly interpreting the situation or how the Church teaching is to be applied.

There are times when Catholics must vote for a lesser evil to avoid the greater evil.  Blessed John Paul II gave an example:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. (ibid #73)

In this case, we can see that voting with the intent of limiting the evil of abortion is not a cooperation with evil.  If we can't abrogate an abortion law, we can certainly vote to limit its effects.  Lukewarm opposition to abortion is superior to no opposition.

Finding the Least Evil

So it seems to follow that when it comes to voting for a third party or not voting, we are obligated to consider the consequences of such an action.  Is it, in fact, the least evil?

That is the hard decision to be made.  Since we may never do what our conscience condemns and may never refuse to do what our conscience commands, we are obligated to inform our conscience through the teachings of the Church and to educate ourselves on the consequences of our action or inaction.  Conscience is not sentiment.  It is not a matter of like and dislike.  Conscience is the interior voice which says I must or must not do.

The Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised

So with these points in mind, I would reformulate the maxim on voting as follows:

  1. We must never vote for a candidate who openly supports a position condemned by the Church if an alternative exists.
  2. We must never vote in violation of our conscience.
  3. We must always form our conscience to be in line with the teaching of the Church.
  4. We must be informed so as to recognize the greatest evil and the least evil and act accordingly in casting our vote.
  5. Finally, whomever is elected, we must not ignore their lesser evils but instead make it known to them the importance of rejecting those evils.

Final Caveat

Again, I do not claim binding religious authority for this maxim.  Rather I write this as what I believe is a summary of Church obligation on this subject.  I certainly submit to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church and nothing I write should be given an interpretation against the lawful teaching authority of the Church.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TFTD: What Might the Saints Think About Those Who Defy The Bishops in the Name of the Faith?

St. Ignatius of Antioch speaks about the importance of the bishop and the relation of the faithful with him:


See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.


Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. Let all things, then, abound to you through grace, for ye are worthy. Ye have refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ [shall refresh] you. Ye have loved me when absent as well as when present. May God recompense you, for whose sake, while ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him.


—Ignatius of Antioch [50-117 AD] Epistle to the Smyraeans

It makes me wonder how this early Martyr for the faith and disciple of St. John the Apostle would react to the open contempt some Catholics are showing to the Bishops, while claiming to be authentically Catholic.

Are there bishops who have disappointed in their service?  To be sure.  Even so, when the bishop acts in his role as a bishop and not offering a private opinion, he is acting as a successor of the apostles.

We should certainly keep in mind what Christ has said concerning those whom He has sent:

Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

(Luke 10:16)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

TFTD: Bigotry By The 'Tolerant'

Anyone ever notice that the most intolerant people out there are the people who champion tolerance? 

When it comes to dealing with views they dislike, they are perfectly willing to spew invective demonizing their opponents and seeking to prevent themselves from operating any sort of "public" ministry (such as hospitals and orphanages) because of their "intolerance," even though tolerate itself means:

1 allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.

2 endure (someone or something unpleasant) with forbearance.

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

We have a denial that there are any sort of absolute moral right and wrong.  Therefore opposition to certain acts are claimed to be arbitrary and imposing beliefs on others – which is seen as morally wrong….

Wait… what?

If there is no sort of moral absolute in terms of right or wrong, then there is nothing right about being tolerant and nothing wrong about being intolerant.  Indeed, under the rhetoric of "tolerance," and protecting people from those who are "pushing their views on others," they are in fact intolerant and pushing their views on others.

America should wake up and realize that a major religion which has often praised America for the religious freedom which allowed her to practice her faith unhindered now feels she must prepare for a growing wave of religious intolerance in America.  This growing wave is not from fundamentalist anti-Catholics, but from the policies of the United States government.

Archbishop Dolan writes:

The federal Department of Justice has ratcheted up its attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an act of bigotry.  As you know, in March, the Department stopped defending DOMA against constitutional challenges, and the Conference spoke out against that decision.  But in July, the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice.  If the label of ―bigot sticks to us—especially in court—because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.

So let's cut to the chase here.  If tolerance is the rule of the game, you'll tolerate us as we try to bring to the attention of the world the teachings of Christ making sober, reasoned appeals as to why our view is correct.  If you believe we are morally wrong in our stance, then you are just as obligated to show the objective basis for your position as we are for ours.

The person who refuses to do either is certainly behaving hypocritically.  The government which refuses to do either is behaving in a tyrannical manner.