Showing posts with label lesser of two evils. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lesser of two evils. Show all posts

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Let's Talk Elections—More Specifically Let's Talk About Our Behavior in Them

I’ve said elsewhere I don’t want my blog to be a vehicle for my political opinions. I especially don’t want my blog to misrepresent my political opinions as being Catholic moral theology. While we’re forbidden certain actions, we can reach different decisions about how to best be faithful to Church teachings. We must avoid rationalizing the forbidden choices through pick-and-choose quoting Church teaching in order to justify what we were planning to do anyway. We have to apply Church teaching to every aspect of our lives, promoting good and opposing evil to the best of our ability. That includes our political preferences. When one candidate openly supports an evil condemned by the Church, we’re not supposed to support that candidate without a reason that outweighs the harm done. 

I don’t think I am violating my blog editorial policy by saying this election is particularly bleak for Catholics and other Christians seeking the right thing. In ordinary times any one of these candidates would disqualify themselves as the greater evil. This time, we’re going decide between two dismal choices. Donald Trump fails because of his violations of social justice teaching. The Democrats (at this time I can’t figure out who’s going to get the nomination though, at the time of my writing this, Hillary Clinton seems favored to win) fail because of their open support of moral evils. Some people enthusiastically support one of these candidates. Many are reluctantly choosing one on the basis of reducing the harm done to the nation. A few are championing a Third Party in general, write-in, or not voting at all. (My post on all these concerns is HERE). The problem with that movement is, while these people are clear on who they oppose, they cannot agree on who to support.

When we analyze these choices, we need to remember that the right to life takes top priority. We can’t take a number of lesser concerns and claim that, put together, they outweigh the right to life. St. John Paul II called support for these other concerns “false and illusory” (Christifideles Laici #38) without support for the right to life. But, when no credible candidate supports the right to life, we can vote to shrink the damage done by voting for the candidate we think is less extreme in their support for evil. We don’t support that candidate’s evil, and we have an obligation to oppose it. We can’t just wash our hands of it on Wednesday, November 9th and say “Not my problem."

That’s standard teaching on Catholic ethics in voting. People faithfully obeying Church teaching can reach different decisions on what their conscience will allow. The question we have to answer is, What defense will we offer at the last judgment for our vote? In other words, we will have to answer to God for our actions so we need to take our decision seriously.

What leaves me with election burnout are those Catholics who have embraced one of the choices—usually for reasons I find unconvincing—and go out of their way to condemn people who reach a different decision as being bad Catholics. Each of these factions will contrast the evils of the other choices with Church teaching, but when they compare their own choices with Catholic teaching, I find that reasoning shallow and, as a result, the accusation of being a bad Catholic for disagreeing with them to be offensive.

We all have the obligation between now and November of being open to new discoveries of truth that might impact how we need to vote. Truth is a key word here. Many throw unproven allegations—often based on what they think the words mean—across social media. We have the obligation to investigate them—NOT assume they must be true because we dislike this candidate—in light of our obligation to promote good and oppose evil. We may discover one candidate grows progressively worse than we thought, or we may discover allegations against a candidate are false. In these cases, we have to reevaluate our decision to see if it is still in keeping with Church teaching.

Certainly we can still hold opinions on the best way to vote, and we can debate each other about these opinions. That’s a good way to learn more about the consequences of our opinion and whether we still want to hold them. But we can’t commit rash judgment in doing so. Trump supporters and third party supporters (the biggest civil war I see between Catholics on social media[†]) can’t accuse each other of being bad Catholics when their consciences forbid them to vote the other way.

Dialogue is certainly welcome to help people reach the right decisions. But in doing so, we should keep in mind something said by GK Chesterton. “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.[*]” We must not condemn faithful Catholics who make a legitimate choice different from ours. Nor can we refuse considering if we somehow went wrong in our own reasoning.

If I was making a single point about what to watch out for, I’d say the danger is pride. Nobody wants to be in the wrong. Being a practicing Catholic means trying to live according God’s teaching and the teaching of His Church. So when someone says “I think that’s wrong,” anger is easy to come by. But even practicing Catholics are sinners. We don’t have the papal charism of infallibility. We can make mistakes. That’s why it’s important to constantly reevaluate our views and respond to differing views with patience and charity. If we don't, the results could be serious...

JW3

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[†] Generally speaking, I haven’t found Catholics who support Hillary Clinton and few who support Bernie Sanders because they openly support things as “rights” which the Church calls intrinsically evil (always evil regardless of intention or circumstance). I have met some third party supporters who would support Clinton or Sanders over Trump if they didn’t have a 3rd party to consider, because they believe Trump is lying about opposing abortion and/or fear Trump would cause great harm in nuclear or conventional war. “Abortion vs. World War III” is the common rhetoric used here.

[*] Chesterton said this in the context of providing reasons for why one is Catholic, and not coming across like an uninformed bigot. I think his words can apply to other disputes as well.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Catholic America: Civil War

20 You sit and speak against your brother, 

slandering your mother’s son. 

21 When you do these things should I be silent? 

Do you think that I am like you? 

I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes.  (Ps 50:20–21).

My policy on this blog and the attached Facebook page is I won’t write articles promoting my personal political preferences. I have this policy because I don’t want people to think I am portraying my personal preferences as official Church Teaching. Sure, maybe I’ll get careless and someone will deduce my political positions from the evidence I let slip by. But the point is, I believe that a blog aimed at promoting the Catholic perspective should not pervert that perspective with personal political preferences.  Other Catholics who blog may have a different focus, and will advocate their political positions. That’s their call, and I won’t say they do wrong, so long as they make clear that these are opinions, not Church teaching.

But there is a civil war going on between two factions of Catholics I find on the internet. One favors voting for Donald Trump as the least evil choice for 2016. The other believes one can only justify a third party vote. (See HERE for my pre-primary evaluation of the pitfalls of major party vs. third party). Both groups agree that the Democrats running for office openly embrace intrinsic evil and they cannot support such a candidate. But where they disagree is over whether Trump is equally as bad.

These two groups are battling on Facebook, forums and blogs, accusing each other of bad will, even to the point of denying the other is “really” Catholic. That is harmful and usurps the teaching authority of the Church. I say harmful because both groups are seeking the best way to be Catholic. I say “usurps” because such people make a declaration which the Church has not made. The end result is turning Catholics against each other when they should instead be uncovering the truths we must consider to make a good Catholic decision. When you see one faction accusing pro-life organizations “selling their souls to Trump” on one hand and another faction accuse people who can’t support Trump in good conscience as “really being pro-Hillary,” you know Catholic factions have replaced being "co-workers in the truth” (3 John 1:8) with savaging each other.  

I believe before these factions continue to bash each other, we should consider something Archbishop Chaput wrote in 2008 when Catholics were making their decisions on that election:

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.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 230-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Between now and November, Catholics will be trying to decide what is the best choice they can make. In doing so, we need to remember that the Church clearly teaches that we cannot sacrifice a graver issue for a lesser one. As St. John Paul II wrote:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds 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).

If two Catholics with this proper understanding of Catholic teaching, in good faith discern two different decisions on the best way to apply Catholic teaching on voting, one cannot say the other is doing evil in such a case. Each Catholic might be sincere in thinking their way is the best way, but there is a point where we have no perfect choice and we have to make a decision which is one of several possible in being faithful to Church teaching. When that happens, we have no right to question the other’s fidelity.

Let us keep this in mind for the coming months that our actions and our reasoning may be just and charitable, avoiding treating each others as heretics over political opinions.