Showing posts with label intrinsic evil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label intrinsic evil. Show all posts

Friday, June 7, 2019

Thoughts on Gradualism, Defeatism, and Overcoming Intrinsic Evil

gradualism
■ noun a policy or theory of gradual rather than sudden change.

Introduction

I’ve encountered some pro-lifers who are objecting to the recent laws strictly restricting abortion. From my reading, they seem to make two arguments.
  1. That many opponents of abortion are not willing to go so far as to give up exceptions for incest, rape, and “life of the mother.” If we alienate them, the fear is they will go to the pro-abortion camp.
  2. That laws that strict are more likely to be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, thus locking in abortion as a right.
Therefore, they argue, we should start with a lower goal and work our way up. These people seem sincere about being pro-life but, in all honesty, I think they’re wrong in their reasoning that leads to their conclusion. St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (#73), wrote about politicians trying to limit the effects of abortion laws:

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.

Note, this is not about reducing the effectiveness of a law to improve popularity among people. This is about “half a loaf is better than none” in cases where a pro-abortion law is inevitable. In such a case, putting whatever restrictions one can achieve into such a law is better than no restrictions at all. But that isn’t the case here. Here, we have legislators who believe we have the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade and other unjust abortion rulings.

Case #1: Alienating Supporters

With this in mind, how does the first argument fit in with Catholic teaching? Badly—it’s practically an inversion of Church teaching. In this case, it’s not about “limiting the harm done by such a law” because the law is passed and signed already. It’s about “limiting the law in the name of public opinion” by keeping people who have an imperfect understanding of the defense of life from jumping ship by creating exceptions. 

As I see it, if these people object to not allowing exceptions now, why should they accept eliminating these exceptions later? I think it’s more likely that when we move to eliminate those exceptions later, these people will think we’re guilty of “bait and switch” and resist our actions anyway. The difference is they’ll also think we’re liars.

One person who used the “alienating supporters” argument suggested to me that after doing the more limited law, we can work on education. To which I say we should have already been doing that and we should still do it for those who are sincerely pro-life but misled regardless of the status of laws.

Such people of misdirected good will need to understand that:
  • “One may never do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC #1789)
  • Abortion—which is deliberate termination of pregnancy by killing the unborn child (Catechism, Glossary)—is an evil act 
  • Therefore, one may never commit abortion so good may come of it.
This is not intended to be a logical form. Rather I’m showing that two of principles that one must hold to be pro-life lead to the third principle. This third principle excludes exceptions for rape, incest, and “life of the mother.” Rejecting these principles means one is mistaken about what being pro-life means.

Let’s apply the principle of St. John Paul to this: we can say that while abortion laws that only allow it for rape, incest, and life of the mother are less evil than laws allowing unrestricted abortion and can be tolerated if those are the only two options. But if the option exists to ban all abortion in a state legitimately exists, we cannot choose the exceptions option instead.

Think of it this way. Imagine a person who opposes slavery or segregation in most cases, but wants exceptions in case they need it. Such a person would not be pro-freedom, no matter how sincere they were about opposing 99% of the cases of slavery [#]. We would not include that 1% exception in our attempts to abolish slavery if the option to abolish it entirely existed. Abortion is the same case: something that is always evil and the exceptions are still evil acts.

Case #2: The “unconstitutional” fear

This leads us to the second objection: that a total abortion ban might get thrown out, enshrining abortion forever, while a law with some exceptions might be upheld. My response to that is: the Supreme Court judge who would vote to rule a total ban unconstitutional, would also rule the abortion ban with exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother to be unconstitutional. As long as we have any Supreme Court judges who think abortion is a human right, instead of a human rights violation, there is a danger that any restrictions at all will be thrown out.

I find that there is a defeatist attitude about passing laws restricting abortion. I’ve seen some go as far as to say Roe v. Wade will never be overturned, so we should spend our time instead making abortion less “necessary” instead of opposing it. Some have also said that people will just seek illegal abortions, so even if we do overturn it, we’ll never end it [%]. That attitude betrays a false understanding of Christian obligation. St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae #73, also reminds us:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.

Capitulation that accepts abortion as inevitable is incompatible with our call to change injustice. We cannot put our faith in a corner. We have obligations here. As the Vatican II document, Apostolicam actuositatem (#5), puts it:

Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders.

Refusing to fight injustice is to fail in our obligation. Moreover, it is ironic that people who take this defeatist attitude don’t take it with other injustices. They’re quick to invoke the Seamless Garment on other issues. But they forget another teaching of St. John Paul II in Christifideles Laici, #38:

“Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

Remember, Gaudium et Spes #51 [§] equated abortion with murder, genocide, torture and other evils these people normally oppose. If we think that a person is wrong to oppose subhuman living conditions while saying we’ll never get rid of genocide, we should think the person who opposes subhuman living conditions while saying we’ll never get rid of abortion is equally wrong [~].

Since we recognize these other things are evil, we must treat abortion with the same gravity.

Conclusion 

An intrinsic evil is something which is always wrong by nature and can never be turned into a good act by circumstances or intention. Saying we should create unnecessary exceptions to banning the evil, or refusing to fight it are incompatible with our Catholic calling. Abortion is one of these intrinsic evils, and the proposed “necessary” exceptions and “focusing on other areas” is therefore also incompatible with our Catholic calling. We need to be on our guard not to allow these attitudes to enter our thinking. Otherwise, regardless of our intentions, we are not really pro-life.

True, there are different ideas on how best to fight the evil of abortion. But not fighting it is not an option.


__________________

[#] Remember, the three exceptions demanded for abortion are less than 1% of all abortions.

[%] This is the “argument from consequences” fallacy, trying to argue that banning abortion is wrong because of negative consequences. But replace “abortion” with “murder” or “rape.” Is the argument reasonable? No, and using it for abortion is equally unsound.

[§] The relevant text of Gaudium et Spes #51 is:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

[~] While I support the Seamless Garment as properly understood, the problem I have with the late Cardinal Bernadin’s speech on the seamless garment is it can be misunderstood as saying X+Y+Z > abortion. I don’t believe the Cardinal meant that, but people have twisted it to argue exactly that.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Trolley Games and Other Forced Conclusions

[Edit: a reader pointed out that what I wrote about was never the original intention of the trolley problem. He’s correct. I should have been more clear that I was talking about the modern abuse on social media. Please keep that distinction in mind when reading.]

There’s a common concept on the internet that runs along these lines: A runaway trolley is heading towards X people tied to the track. If you pull the switch, the trolley will only hit Y people tied to another track. Do you pull the switch? The idea is to present a dilemma which claims to show what a person really believes, often to discredit a moral stance or play on sympathy to decide it’s better to do a lesser evil (defined by the person presenting the dilemma).

But it’s not merely done through memes. During the war on terror and the 2016 elections, we were fed constant hypotheticals by Catholics who should know better about whether one should torture a terrorist if it was the only way to discover a nuclear weapon set to detonate—the intention being to redefine an intrinsic evil as sometimes justified. The proponent of torture would sneeringly ask, “so, would you let millions of people die just so your hands wouldn’t get dirty?” [§]

In another example, a pro-abortion advocate offered a dilemma over whether a pro-lifer would choose to save a child or an embryo from a fire—the intention being to discredit the pro-life position by showing the person holding it to be insincere (if they save the child) or inhuman (if they save the embryo).

The problem is, these dilemmas are artificial. They don’t consider the possibility that if this were a real situation, people would be trying to do any number of things to save all the people. Like try to turn the switch part way to derail the trolley, trying to board it to jam on the brakes, trying to stop it in some way other than choosing to kill someone. The torture scenario overlooks the fact that by capturing the terrorist in the first place implies that law enforcement has a number of clues to go by. The child v. embryo scenario ignores too many factors on what we actually believe. If these things were real, our reaction would not be the smooth decision these hypothetical situations demand.

While there can be multiple choices besides the one that the questioner tries to force, there is one option that is forbidden us. We cannot do evil so good may come of it. If something is intrinsically evil (always wrong, regardless of circumstances). If it comes to choosing between suffering evil or inflicting it, we do moral wrong if we choose to inflict it.

We know this, generally. Think of all the shows on television where the villains tortures a supporting character while telling the main character that it is their fault for not revealing the information that causes greater evil. But when it’s our own dilemma, we tend to choose whatever favors us, regardless of the harm it causes others.

Whatever the moral dilemma, if we choose to directly do something we know is evil, then it is an evil and unjustified action. But if our action does not intend evil, the evil is less than the good, and we would avoid the evil if possible (this is called “double effect”), then we do not do evil.

Unfortunately, too many confuse the two (or feign ignorance). If a woman chooses to have an abortion (deliberately kill the unborn child), that is an indefensible evil. But if a woman needs an emergency hyrestectomy even though she is pregnant, that is not evil. The intention is to remove the damaged organ to save a life. If it were possible to deliver the baby, saving his or her life, the woman would take that option.

The trolley game and other false dilemmas are never about double effect. They are about choosing to hypothetically perform an evil act. In real life we always have the choice to suffer evil rather than do evil. But we do not have the moral right to choose to do evil.

_________________

[§] During election years, there’s a tendency to use those arguments to bully someone into voting a certain way. These people effectively use a trolley game to say “if you don’t vote for my [evil] candidate, you’ll be responsible for the evil the other person does!”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Determining Moral Acts in Politics

These are ugly times. Most Catholics know that the stakes are high in this election, but disagree on what to do about it. The problem is not that they disagree on what to do about it, but that many are savaging others for not reaching the same decision. For example, in my personal Facebook feed, I see some Catholics vehemently stating that voting for one candidate is the only way we can escape from more of the evil and harassment we received over the last eight years. Others are just as vocal in insisting this person is the worst choice. While some of my fellow Catholics are charitable in their disagreement over how to vote. Others hurl anathemas against each other, accusing each other of supporting the evils associated with the choice.

Part of the problem is the fact that all the candidates (Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Republican) who might get elected support an intrinsic evil that would disqualify them from consideration. As the USCCB teaches in their voting guide:

42. As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet if a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.

 

 USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2015

People can point to this list to say the other candidates don’t qualify and we can’t vote for them. The problem is, one of them is going to get elected, and we will be facing intrinsic evil. So we need to seek out what we must do when there are no good choices.

The first thing we need to do is distinguish between choosing to do evil and seeking to limit evil—a distinction some Catholics are losing sight of. Choosing to do evil means we choose to do something condemned as wrong by our Church. Limiting evil means trying to lessen the impact of an unavoidable evil. St. John Paul II gave us an example of the latter in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae:

[#73] 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.

In his example, the Pope describes a lawmaker who cannot stop the evil of a law that supports abortion and points out that such a person can vote to limit the harm done by the law. This is not cooperating with evil. Unfortunately, some Catholics have lost sight of that in 2016. Determining the goodness of an act depends on three things:

  1. The action chosen
  2. The intended reason the person has for doing the action
  3. The circumstances that affect the action

Unless all three are good, we cannot call the action good. For example, if we choose a bad action, our intention cannot make the act good because the ends do not justify the means. Or if we do a good action like giving a snack to a child with a good intention, but the child has a peanut allergy and dies as a result, the end result is bad. Nine times out of ten, there might be nothing wrong with that act. But in this one case, it does matter and a serious evil resulted. The person may or may not be to blame for the circumstances depending on what they did know and what they reasonably could find out (“is it OK if I give your child peanuts?”).

In terms of voting, we have to assess the action we choose, the reason we choose to do it and whether the circumstances increases or decreases the harm done. The standard is not our relative preferences but the Church teaching on good and evil. Does our freely chosen act allow good or evil? Do we choose to do it for a good or evil end? Do the circumstances around our choice make things better or worse compared to our other choices?

This means we have to be clear on what the Church teaches about moral acts and apply them to candidates and party platforms. We have to be clear that we’re voting to defend the Catholic faith, trying to oppose evil or at least limit it if blocking it is impossible. We need to consider the consequences of our vote and stand ready to oppose the evils our candidate does support if he or she should get elected.

But we have to beware of the advice we receive. I have seen Catholics deny that we must oppose intrinsic evils passed into law or enshrined in a Supreme Court ruling. They take the words of Catholic saints out of context and argue that we can’t outlaw all sins (misusing St. Thomas Aquinas), so we don’t have to worry about politicians supporting things like the legality of abortion. But St. John Paul II called that out as garbage:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fĂ­nds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

We need to remember it is the Church who interprets right and wrong. Not someone on Facebook or Twitter. The Pope and the bishops have this authority to tell us how to apply Church teaching. When someone argues a sin is not a sin, we know we cannot trust them. But when we follow the Church and do not evade what she says, we can reach different decisions in good faith. When this happens, judging these things as heresy or supporting evil is false.

If we’re not sure if a person has properly understood Church teaching, we can ask how they understand it. But if they do understand it properly, then we should remember what Archbishop Chaput offered as his opinion (which I happen to share):

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

The point we must never forget is this: We need to keep fighting for the sanctity of the human person, starting with the unborn child and extending throughout life. We abandon our vocation as Catholics if we give up; if we either drop out of political issues altogether or knuckle under to America’s growing callousness toward human dignity.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Our choice for president must reflect Church teaching, and not seek to explain it away. If others draw a different conclusion, but their choice also reflects Church teaching, we cannot condemn it. It is true some might distort what the Church says to justify voting wrongly. But in that case, we should remember that God will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. St. Paul’s warned the Galatians:

Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9).

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Speaking Truth and Avoiding Falsehood and Rash Judgment

Regular readers of mine probably know my favorite quotation of Aristotle, his definition of truth by heart, but it’s time to cite it again:

To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.

 

 Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vols.17, 18, Translated by Hugh Tredennick. (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1933, 1989).

What brings up this citation this time is my seeing a growing number of people on the internet willing to impute motives to people based on their own interpretation of the quoted words, without concern as to whether the author intends those interpretations or not. It’s an important thing to keep in mind. If we want to speak truthfully about a person, we must make sure that our interpretation of his or her words are what the author intends before we praise or criticize the author/speaker in question. If we don’t do this, then we speak falsely about the person and our criticism is either wrong or, if it’s right, it’s only right by coincidence. 

This is especially a problem when personal preferences and beliefs color the meaning of words. For example, I have had to defend St. John Paul II when he used the word “feminism” from detractors who assumed he was using it in the sense of the American meaning of radical feminism. From this interpretation, his detractors accused him of being faithless to the Church. Or for a more recent example, millions of people still think that Pope Francis was endorsing “same sex marriage” on account of an out of context quote, “Who am I to judge.” (See HERE for context). Such people do not speak the truth when they claim/accuse the Pope of changing Church teaching.

Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft demonstrated why this is a problem in one of his Socratic dialogues he wrote (they’re all worth reading):

Socrates: I think you are confusing belief with interpretation.

Flatland: No, I'm just saying we have to interpret a book in light of our beliefs.

Socrates: And I'm saying we must not do that.

Flatland: Why not?

Socrates: If you wrote a book to tell other people what your beliefs were, and I read it and interpreted it in light of my beliefs, which were different from yours, would you be happy?

Flatland: If you disagreed with me? Why not? You're free to make up your own mind.

Socrates: No, I said interpreted the book in light of my beliefs. For instance, if you wrote a book against miracles and I believed in miracles, and I interpreted your book as a defense of miracles, would you be happy?

Flatland: Of course not. That's misinterpretation.

Socrates: Even if it were my honest belief?

Flatland: Oh, I see. We have to interpret a book in light of the author's beliefs, and criticize it in light of our own.

Socrates: Precisely. Otherwise we are imposing our views on another. And that is certainly not charitable, but arrogant.

Peter Kreeft. Socrates Meets Jesus: History's Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ (Kindle Locations 749-755). Kindle Edition.

So if I interpret the meaning of something based on my personal beliefs, and not according to the intention the speaker/author had, then I miss the point. Moreover, if my criticism is based on this misinterpretation, I do injustice and quite possibly do moral wrong to the person I criticize. Speaking falsely can be a sin if we know it is false, or if we can research the statement and see the true content, but simply don’t bother to (vincible ignorance). But even in a case where the person who speaks falsely has no way of learning that his/her criticism is false (invincible ignorance), wrong is still done. Invincible ignorance simply means that the person has no way of finding out that they speak or act wrongly.

Nor can we hide our speaking rashly behind the excuse of “So-and-so needs to speak more clearly” (which is an excuse which is very popular among the detractors of Pope Francis). If you think a person speaks unclearly, then you have the obligation to act on that belief to be extra careful in avoiding misinterpretation and false accusation.

All of us have the moral obligation to speak truthfully. If we know we speak falsely when we speak against someone, then we outright lie. If we just assume that an accusation must be true without verifying that the speaker/writer intended to say what we accuse them of, then we are guilty of rash judgment.

This doesn’t apply only to other people committing rash judgment against Popes. It also applies to the people we dislike. A person can find Obama, Bush, Clinton, Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Wayne LaPierre (among others, I’m just culling the boogeymen most hated by Left and Right) to be offensive and supporting offensive policies. But that offense we take does not give us leave to spread whatever hostile interpretations we think sound good. We still have the same obligation to make sure that what we say is true and that we have made an accurate interpretation of our foes. In other words, even if the person that you oppose is a total bastard, that doesn’t give you the right to speak falsely against him or her.

I think this is especially important in an election year. Issues will be thrust forward, and candidates will take both sides. There will be attempts made to put the preferred idea in a positive light, and claim bad will for the opposed idea. We are not allowed to take part in misrepresentation, whether this misrepresentation tries to make an evil plan sound good or morally neutral, or to make a good or morally neutral idea seem evil. If we speak in favor of something or someone, we must do so honestly, and if we speak in opposition to some person or policy, we must be sure we accurately understand it first, and not distort it.

Otherwise we bear false witness and do wrong, whether we do so deliberately or through careless indifference.

Friday, June 26, 2015

They Will Hate Us

Zechariah Stoned(The Stoning of Zechariah)

 

The Supreme Court has ruled today legalizing “same sex marriage” in a very poorly reasoned decision. This is something a Christian cannot support in good faith. Of course we believe that we are called to treat each individual with all the love and respect that is due a human person. But that love we are called to does not mean that we are required to recognize a morally bad act as if it were good. Therefore we deny that our actions are motivated by hatred when we say that homosexual acts are wrong. However, people will accuse us of hatred anyway. 

Because those political and cultural elites have decided that the only moral wrong is “hatred,” and because they decide that any action or belief they dislike is “hatred,” it stands to reason that we will become social pariahs in society. I fully expect that families will be divided as Our Lord warned in Matthew:

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. 35 For I have come to set 

a man ‘against his father, 

a daughter against her mother, 

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 

36 and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’  (Matthew 10:34-36)

So, when those of us who believe that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman encounter those who believe that any sexual relationship can become a “marriage,” they will accuse us of bigotry, hatred, homophobia and so on. They will falsely compare themselves with the Civil Rights movement and equate us with being Klansmen. To bolster their claim, they will trot out every extremist who comes along and equate them with being the “typical” example of Christian opposition.

This is false of course. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes quite clear that, despite moral opposition to same sex sexual acts, we are not to treat people with such an inclination with hatred or do harm to them:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347) [Emphasis added]

Of course this hostility in the face of rejecting society’s values in favor of Our Lord’s values. Is nothing new. The pagan Romans viewed the early Christians as “enemies of humanity” and a danger to society because we rejected the vicious (in the sense of “vice filled”) practices they accepted as normal. Any government which finds our moral stance to be a barrier to what they want to do will find a way to label us as an enemy of the state, being cheered along by the crowds.

Christians to the lions

Of course, we must make sure our behavior as Christians is worthy of Our Lord. We have to love and bless those who hate us, and rebuke those extremists who confuse the teaching of what is right with the hatred of those who do wrong. And there will be extremists out there. When something offensive is done, there will always be a small percentage among the offended who think an unjust response is acceptable—and the greater the offense, the larger the amount offended and a corresponding larger number of extremists. We must urge them to remember that we may not do evil to those who wrong us.

So, we will no do evil, but, we will not surrender doing what is right before God either, because we must obey God, rather than men. We cannot "burn the pinch of incense” that society demands to get along. So, just as we did after Roe v. Wade, we will refuse to accept the validity of the Supreme Court decision. We will work to bring a fallen society back to Christ. In doing so, we will reject the charge of “hatred” towards those who hate us. We may be fired, fined, sued or imprisoned. We may find the Supreme Court will invent a “workaround” to evade the First Amendment and justify direct attacks on denominations they despise. But despite that, we will continue to love those we are called to teach the truth about how God calls us to live.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Making Excuses: What Part of Intrinsic Evil Don't You Understand?

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The defenders of torture are still at it, offering all sorts of scenarios as to what sort of circumstances might justify it. "What if someone kidnapped your child? What if someone was going to target a nursery school? Don’t tell me you’d just let them get away with it?” Some of them are more elaborate than that, of course, but it’s making use of the appeal to fear fallacy—you’re invited to imagine the scenario that a loved one was in danger of death, to encourage you to change your mind. But just because we may suffer when we stick to what is right, that is not a sufficient reason for going against what we believe is right.

The problem with these arguments is that they ignore the main issue: That the Church is teaching that torture is intrinsically evil. Intrinsic evil basically means that a certain act is evil by its very nature and can’t be justified by any motivation or circumstance. Torture, Abortion, Contraception, Same sex sexual activity, rape, idolatry, abandoning the faith etc. are all intrinsically evil. The Catholic, properly educated in his or her faith, realizes that these things can never be justified for any reason whatsoever.

The justification of torture is similar to the justification of abortion. Proponents of both appeal to the motive of relieving suffering as if that was the only factor to be considered. But that’s not the only factor. There are actually three factors:

Catholic teaching holds that, to have a good act, we must have the following:

  1. The Act itself must be good.
  2. The motive for the act must be good.
  3. The circumstances surrounding the act must be good.
If one of these are lacking, we cannot call the act good. (Think of a tripod. Then imagine removing a leg. The remaining structure won’t stand up). For example. Donating money to the poor is good. But if my motive is bad (I want to impress a woman so she’ll sleep with me) or the circumstances are bad (the money will be used to buy drugs or alcohol instead of food), the act isn’t good, even if good comes from it.

The irony is that the Catholics seeking to justify torture with exceptions actually reject those exceptions on other issues. For example, they recognize that hardship is not a legitimate reason to justify abortion because it violates the humanity of the unborn child and the mother. They would recognize that an ancient Christian who chose to sacrifice before an idol to avoid being killed would not be justified. (The reverse is true too—some Catholics who recognize torture is wrong for these reasons seem to fail to make the connection when it comes to abortion).

That’s the ultimate problem here. People seem to either be unaware or unwilling to accept that in some things, there is no but what if?  “But isn’t torture justified if a terrorist is going to fly a 747 into a nursery school?” “But isn’t abortion justified if the unborn child was conceived of rape?” “But isn’t apostasy justified if I have ten children who will starve if I get executed for being a Christian?"

The answer is “No.” There are some things that are so important that we cannot sacrifice them at any cost to ourselves. We may never do evil so good may come of it (CCC #1789). We must love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourself (Matt 7:12) and love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48).

Now there may be times when a person gets into a terrible situation. It may be our own fault. It may not be our fault. But in such a situation, the choice will be that we either accept the suffering as the sacrifice we need to make to remain faithful to God or to sacrifice our faithfulness to God in order to avoid the harm. If we love God with our whole heart, we know that we must choose in such a way that puts Him first in our life.

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Another attempt to defend intrinsic evil is the appeal to a misapplication of double effect. Double Effect, properly understood, recognizes that situations exist where an action has a good intention, but a bad effect that is not intended, and would be avoided if possible. Not Intended is the key provision. If the evil effect is impossible to avoid AND does not outweigh the good effect, then the guilt of doing evil is not considered deliberate and therefore not considered to be sin.

But, if the evil effect is deliberately intended (such as committing torture or abortion), or if the evil effect happens through negligence (for example killing a pedestrian while driving drunk) then we CANNOT claim double effect. The guilt remains for the act and it must be condemned. So, that’s why the removal of the fallopian tube in the case of an ectopic pregnancy is not considered an abortion. The removal of the fallopian tube will cause the death of the unborn child, because there is no medical procedure that can save the child. If it was possible to save the life of the child, that option would be taken. But if the woman and doctors deliberately chose to perform an abortion to save the mother’s life, that would not be double effect. It would be deliberately choosing evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says on responsibility and acts:

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts. (1036; 1804)

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors. (597)

1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author: (2568)

Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: “What is this that you have done?”29 He asked Cain the same question.30 The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.31

An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.

1737 An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother’s exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver. (2263)

This demonstrates the flaw in the defense of things like torture or abortion by appealing to double effect. If the act was willed, or if it was foreseen as a possibility we could avoid by taking the right steps, then we don’t get to claim double effect—we did wrong, either directly, or by being negligent.

Nobody can reasonably blame a person for an accident of course. But torture and abortion and other intrinsically evil acts don’t happen by accident. They happen by a person choosing to take part in it. Once again, we are forbidden to choose an act which the Church decrees is evil, and choosing to do that act is to choose something as higher in importance than God.

Our choice is this: Either we choose God in our actions or we reject God in our actions. When God directly, or through His Church says we must not do an action, then there is never any circumstance or motive that makes it permissible.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TFTD: The Chilling Imposition of Ideology

I came across an article today: "Catholic profs told to report opposition to 'gay marriage' as harassment :: Catholic News Agency (CNA),” that is troubling in one sense, and downright chilling in another sense. The troubling sense of the article is that a Catholic university (Marquette) has had a training session which tells them to report opposition to so-called “same sex marriage” as “harassment.”  The article reports a spokesman from Marquette as saying:

Brian Dorrington, senior director of communications at Marquette University, told CNA Nov. 21 that the university requires all employees, faculty, staff and student employees, to complete an anti-harassment module “in accordance with federal law and university policy,” He added that harassment training “includes the latest changes in law, and workplace diversity training reflects developing regulations.”

He said the presentation uses “hypothetical scenarios” are “teaching tools do not necessarily equate to university policy.”

Given that the Church condemns sexual acts outside of the marriage of one man and one woman as morally wrong, the fact that a Catholic university has given such a training session to be morally troubling.

However, while troubling (a Catholic university should bear witness to the truth despite what people say), this is not what makes it chilling.

What makes it chilling is the fact that this university believes it has to do this to be in compliance with EEOC regulations and court decisions that decree that the belief in marriage being between one man and one woman is “discriminatory.” Apparently, the government sees this belief, expressed publicly, is considered harassment. In other words, to publicly express that a thing is morally wrong is speech which can be targeted. As the program states:

“Although employees have free speech rights under the United States Constitution, in academic and other workplaces those rights are limited when they infringe upon another person’s right to work in an environment free of unlawful harassment.”

Of course, the person who thinks they should be allowed to work without having their religious beliefs attacked aren’t covered. The rights of the atheist to mock Christianity in a university is widespread. But the rights of the Christian to say, “This is wrong,” are blocked.

So, it’s a “right” that is similar to the sentiment expressed in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

if someone dislikes what you have to say, you can’t say it—so long as what you say goes against the favored ideologies. So, you’re free to bash religion in public, but presumably a Catholic in a Catholic institution could be accused of harassment for quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it states:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

Our teaching says we cannot mistreat a person—treat him or her as less than human—just because he or she has a same-sex inclination, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept such behavior as morally indifferent. But apparently, speaking out on what is right counts as “unlawful harassment."

What it boils down to is that we no longer have the freedoms of the First Amendment. We have preferred ideologies which are free to say what they want, and unpopular beliefs which will not be tolerated when they speak against the preferred ideology.

That’s kind of troubling. One thinks of how Brendan Eich was forced out of Mozilla because he privately supported the defense of marriage against redefinition by a donation. Mozilla suffered no repercussions for their action, even though Eich’s action was in no way a violation of Mozilla policy. But, on the other hand, a Catholic parish is being sued because they terminated an employee for publicly flaunting their defiance of Church teaching. One wonders if, by 2016, Google (which runs the Blogger sites) might decide that the blogs which speak in a way they disapprove of can be removed because they promote “discrimination.” Perhaps not, but it is part of the same principle—if speech our political and social elites dislike can be labelled “unlawful harassment,” then the limits to what they can get away with are few.

That’s a real problem. Such policies violate freedom—which America is supposed to be based on—in several different ways, but because the targets are unpopular with the cultural elites, they can get away with it..

In terms of the Freedom of Religion, Catholics believe that the Church is given the mission by Christ to preach the Gospel to all nations. This includes teaching about sin and the need for repentance. We cannot be forced to do what we think is evil and we cannot be forced by the government to teach only what they want us to teach. The Constitution, in this respect, recognizes that the government does not have the right to make such demands on a person. But more and more often, we are seeing the government decree (or permit lawsuits) that do make such demands, while denying the rights of the Christians to live as they believe they ought—particularly if they run a business.

In terms of Freedom of Speech, we are seeing amazing hypocrisy. Christians in America are constantly being told that if we don’t like something, just ignore it. But when others hear Christians say or do things they dislike, we’re told to cease and desist. There’s no freedom of speech there. At a bare minimum, we can say, either give us the same freedoms that our critics possess or give them the same restrictions they give us. Otherwise, there is no freedom.

Our rights to petition the government peaceably for grievances are being denied. When we enact laws which promote the shared values of a majority of citizens, the result is unelected courts overturning the laws they dislike—not by a blind equality for both sides, but by an unequal favoritism towards some views.

Now, it is disappointing that Marquette went along with this policy, instead of standing up for what was right. But let’s remember that the symptom of Marquette reflects the real problem—that publicly expressing what we believe is right means we can suffer legal penalties for being obedient to Christ in a way that even the most indifferent person should recognize is a right the Constitution promises and the government ignores.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Propaganda and Lies: You Homophobe!

Introduction

The term homophobia is a popular one to use when confronting people who believe that homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong (wrong by their very nature).  Whether the confrontation is with the continuous teaching of the Catholic Church, or with an individual, the response is the same: “You’re a Homophobe!”

Since the term is used so broadly, I thought it would be helpful to study what the term means.  Since the term is based on “phobia” (an extreme or irrational fear of something that causes someone to want to avoid it at all costs) it is clear that it must have a medical definition, like claustrophobia or agoraphobia, which we can look up, to see whether it is applied accurately.

No Medical Definition

The problem is, it doesn’t have a medical definition.  “Homophobia” is not any sort of a medical term to be found in a medical dictionary.  It is nothing more than a pejorative label which covers any person or group which rejects homosexual acts as wrong.

In other words, the Westboro Baptist Church, with their reprehensible “God Hates F*gs” signs (I think this kid had the right response) is classified in the same way as Catholic teaching, which holds:

This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358)

So the term “homophobia” is so broad that it lumps together people who have actual irrational hatred with those who condemn such hatred.

That sounds fishy, doesn’t it?

The Assumed Principles of the “Homophobia” Label

It should sound fishy.  It indicates that the label of “homophobia” is based on certain assumptions that cannot be questioned.

First of all, it assumes that there are no moral problems with homosexual acts.  Either they are morally neutral or just as morally acceptable as heterosexual acts.

Second, it assumes that any person or group who does have a moral problem with certain sexual acts is doing so out of bigotry – even if the person or group deny such a motive or condemn such motives.

In other words, the term argues: If you don’t agree with us, you’re a bigot!

That’s nothing more than propaganda and an ad hominem attack.  It demonstrates a mindset which is fixated on a certain point of view with the inability to consider any other points of view or motives for that point of view.

The Sinister Tactic

What we have is a label which is used to vilify all persons who disagrees with any other view.  Such behavior has happened many times in American history by one faction to attempt to shame or otherwise silence people who think differently.  The right winger who called a liberal a “Communist;” the Southern racist who labels a supporter of civil rights as “a N*gger Lover” and so on, are examples of this tactic.  Today, these terms seem archaic and offensive.  But back in those days, they were seen as acceptable – or at least by those who used the terms.

It argues, “Either you agree with us or you are a vile person!”  It tries to make people accept their view as right, and the opposing view as being held out of malice.  Actually, it is the person who is using this tactic is doing nothing more than name calling.

The Term is a Lie and a Stereotype

The term homophobia is not a phobia as recognized by any credible medical source.  It merely assumes all opposition is irrational, refusing to hear any arguments.  It points to a group of extremists and tries to paint all who believe homosexuality is wrong as if they shared the extremist view.

That’s remarkably similar to assuming all Muslims are terrorists, just because some are.  Or similar to those who assume all Blacks or Hispanics must be criminals just because some are.

We call that a stereotype, assuming the whole must be this way based on the behavior of a few.

It is certainly a lie to label all people as having a hatred of homosexual persons simply on the grounds that they believe that certain sexual acts are always wrong and that people who have an inclination towards such acts need to practice chastity.

The Dilemma: Who’s Really Intolerant?

Let’s look at the two views – the Catholic view that says homosexual acts are wrong and the pro-homosexual view which says people morally opposed to homophobia are “homophobes.” 

The Catholic view says that even though the homosexual act and inclination is disordered, persons with this affliction must be treated with love and respect on account of the fact that they are still persons.  Any Catholic who does not treat the homosexual person with love and compassion, while opposing such acts against what the Church requires of the faithful.

Now let’s assume that homophobia is a real phobia.  That would make those who display hostility to those with homophobia as reprehensible as those who display hostility to other phobias.

The late comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once said:

Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only one you can get yelled at for having. Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic. Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupis... one of those two doesn't sound right.”

It’s a good point.  If alcoholism is a disease, then to abuse people for having the disease is wrong.  Likewise, if “homophobia” is truly a “an intense aversion to homosexuality and homosexuals” (according to the OED), then to abuse people for having the “condition” would also be wrong.

I think we can rephrase it this way to demonstrate the point.

If Homophobia is a mental illness, it’s the only one they can hate you for having.  “You claustrophobics disgust me.”  “You homophobes disgust me!”  Something doesn’t sound right.

The problem is, if homophobia was truly a mental illness (as opposed to a derogatory term) like other phobias then the person who was abusive to the “homophobic” would be just as reprehensible as the person who was abusive to the claustrophobic – it would be discrimination.

That leads us to the dilemma.  If “homophobia” is a real illness, then the person who is hostile to the “homophobic” is a bigot.  If “homophobia” is nothing more than a label used to attack people who think differently, then the person who labels his opponents “homophobic” is a bigot.

The only way to avoid the bigot label is not to behave in a bigoted manner.  That means ending the abuse and hatred towards those who believe homosexuality is wrong.  Yes, there are people who do wrong in their opposition (violence, verbal abuse) and they can be opposed civilly and in a law abiding manner because of the wrong behavior, and they should be opposed – especially by Christians who recognize homosexuality is wrong.

However, to abuse and harass people simply because they recognize homosexual acts are always wrong is not a defense of tolerance.  It is the practice of intolerance.

Conclusion

Really, it is time for people to recognize that this term is nothing more than a slur, and shows intolerance for those with a different point of view.  People of good will, even if they should disagree with the Catholic teachings on the subject should not use such terms, but rather engage in civil dialogue with those they disagree.

We should recognize that the term “homophobic” is as repugnant as the term “f*g” or “n*gger” or any other intolerant slur.  It should no longer be used, and we should recognize that the person who uses it is intolerant, behaving hypocritically – using intolerance while claiming to champion tolerance.

(edited 7/6/12 to make a point more clear)

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

Introduction

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.

Caveat

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."