Showing posts with label partisanship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label partisanship. Show all posts

Monday, November 14, 2022

It’s Iimi! A Large Serving of Mammon

 It started out with the youth group discussing last week’s elections. It then moved on to the moral considerations Catholics must keep in mind if they want to put God first. Then, when Iimi admits she sometimes she gets perplexed by the Pope, the others are shocked. Is she having doubts about the Church? (TL:DR—No). These discussions come up as the country orders… A Large Serving of Mammon!

Pre-Comic Notes:
The Blog editor I'm using has some broken code. So, this comic had to be posted with the browser editor. Hopefully, some coding added to the site will make it look normal.

This comic was finalized before control of the Senate was finalized. The House is still not finalized. But, since this focuses on the Catholic moral concerns, that would not have impacted the final results.

I am very grateful to a webpage by Alkymyst that provided the needed code to post the pictures in a way that fits within the margins with no loss of quality  

Monday, October 10, 2022

It’s Iimi! Schwerpunkt!

When Ms. Machen brings up the topics of dictatorship and political factions, the questions seem targeted only in one direction and against one person. Can Iimi explain why her views are different than she is accused of? Or will she fall prey to being the focal point of the…  Schwerpunkt!



Preliminary Notes: Schwerpunkt is a German military term that doesn’t carry across fully in an English translation. Roughly it means center of gravity, crucial, focal point, or point of main effort. In the context I’ve seen, it seems to give a sense of “everybody, attack this point until it collapses!” As the regular reader of the comic knows, the Schwerpunkt target of the comic is Iimi.


I suppose I could have just used the English phrase but, just as things sound more profound in Latin, they sound more menacing in German…

Post Comic Notes:


The trick in writing Otios and Machen is to accurately represent the modern anti-Christian attitudes that seem prevalent in secular society without making them seem one-dimensional. They truly believe what they accuse us of, but have only a superficial understanding at best, and often miss the point. 


The Cover art was originally conceived of with Ms. Machen giving a Nazi salute. I decided to change it to her pointing because I wanted to avoid giving people the impression of “her side are the real fascists.” Remember, Iimi’s point is, unless everyone starts following the Christian concept of justice and the golden rule, either faction is fully capable of becoming tyrannical through self-interest. They won’t think they are, of course. But trying to limit your rivals by doing what you refuse to accept for yourself is a short road to that destination.


Saturday, August 28, 2021

It’s Iimi! The Fake Tricks

Sean Marcus wants to ask Iimi about the eviction moratorium being ruled unconstitutional and how it can be reconciled with being pro-life. Iimi points out that Sean needs to consider much more than “good guys” and “bad guys.” Will he consider her points? Or will he take the Blue Pill?

Monday, January 11, 2021

Convenient or Not

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. [2 Timothy 4:1–5 (NABRE)]


As we try to come to terms with the attack on the Capitol building, American Christianity is in a difficult place. The fact is, some of our long taught moral beliefs are associated with the politics of President Trump. As he is now disgraced, some people try to take advantage of his disgrace to discredit our beliefs. It is made worse by the fact that some groups of Christians elevated Trump to a near idolatrous status and made excuses for his behavior. Yes, I pointed out that tying our beliefs to the extremists is the fallacy of composition, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people are unable to separate what we believe from how some Christians created a bad witness. It is stereotyping, but we have to deal with it by considering our individual behavior and seeing if we have contributed to the contempt our Faith is currently held in.


This is not an article about the mob attack, or Trump per se. This is an article about how these events bring home the need to be consistent in teaching the Faith regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in, neither compromising with the hostility of the world, nor justifying evil because of the temporary benefits we might gain*


Unfortunately, both sides in our dualistic political system are very skilled at spotting hypocrisy on the other side and terrible at spotting their own. The result is people tend to think that the problems only exist because of the “other side” and, if that side was permanently defeated, the problems would be gone too.


I think we need to behave in a manner that witnesses to what we believe and, to do so, we must put what we believe first over any other motivations, sacrificing the latter when it conflicts. The world attributes partisan motivations to our beliefs. As a result, they reject our beliefs as partisan. Tragically, some Christians do act in a partisan manner and it provides critics with excuses to reject what is vitally important. Now some is not all, but if we want to put an end to this, we need to speak out for what is authentically Christian and reject whatever tries to hijack it for political gain. While we cannot control how others see us, we can control whether that perception is just or unjust. 


We must also be open to correction. It is a disgrace that Catholics on both side of the American political divide see the rebuke from the Pope or our bishops—when it goes against our politics—as partisan behavior instead of something to heed. But, when the bishops say something that we agree with, we treat it as proof that the other side is the side of Darkness. Whether on abortion or immigration, Church teaching has long preceded the founding of America… or the arrival of the first Europeans in the Americas for that matter. When a country—especially when Catholics within that country adopt that behavior—behaves in a way contrary to the Gospel, the bishops must speak out against that behavior.


Another tragedy of this is the error of Whataboutism. This is the logical fallacy called tu quoque. It is an attempt to deny a valid rebuke one sees as directed against them. Regardless of whether the bishop of a diocese should have spoken out against a different example of wrongdoing earlier, this does not change the fact that we need to listen to what they speak against now. So, we see, in the case of the Pope speaking against the storming and sacking of the Capitol building, some Catholics saying that he should have mentioned other incidents by name. Personally, I think this is a fallacy of false analogy (the differences outweigh the similarities). But these critics forget the key point: What the Pope said about violence is true and we should make it our own:


Dear brothers and sisters, I offer an affectionate greeting to the people of the United States of America, shaken by the recent siege at the Congress. I pray for those who lost their life—five— they lost it in those dramatic moments. I reiterate that violence is always self-destructive. Nothing is earned with violence and so much is lost. I exhort the government authorities and the entire population to maintain a deep sense of responsibility, in order to calm souls, to promote national reconciliation and to protect the democratic values rooted in American society. May the Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of the United States of America, help keep alive the culture of encounter, the culture of care, as the royal road to build together the common good; and I do so with all those who live in that land.


The person who thinks that prayer is partisan, or error needs a remedial course in Catholicism 101.


Here I want to bring up another point. If you, the reader, are thinking angrily or triumphantly about the evils of the other side, you are part of the problem. Conservative vs. Liberal; Democrat vs. Republican… these movements and parties all run afoul of the teachings of the Church in one way or another. If we are to be Catholic first, then we must be the vanguard of opposing the evils of the party we belong to, not explaining it away because “the stakes are too high.” If you are a Catholic who votes Democrat, YOU have a responsibility to lead the way in opposing the party support of abortion and other evils that the Church condemns. If you are a Catholic who votes Republican, YOU have the responsibility to lead the way in opposing unjust immigration policies and other evils that the Church condemns§. And all of us need to remember: If out party gets elected; we must bear witness to what we believe by speaking against those wrongs.


Yes, some things are eviler than others. But the deadliest sin for us is not the one that we are never tempted to commit. The deadliest sins are the grave sins we blind ourselves to. As Gaudium et Spes #16 warns us:


Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.


If we will keep these things in mind, and act on them, we might be able to change how we are perceived. But even if the world will not change their views, we will be able to make sure that our witness shows their accusations are false.


But if we refuse to hear our Church—which teaches with God’s authority and protection—then we should consider the words of Lumen Gentium #14 (referencing Luke 12:48):


All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.


We profess belief that the Catholic Church was established by Christ to teach with His authority and protection. So, we are without excuse if we place our Catholic faith below our partisan concerns and cause scandal in others by leading them to believe our moral beliefs are no more than partisan concerns.




(*) I think we should keep in mind Roman Emperor Commodus: A morally bad man whose policies brought a temporary (if coincidental) respite from the official persecution of Christianity. That temporary benefit was good, but it does not mean Christians approved of the evils in his reign.


(†) We need to realize that the storming and sacking of the Capitol shocked the world. Regardless of how people viewed our varied political administrations, America was, up to this point, seen as a stable democratic Republic. For this to happen shows that we are just as susceptible to extremist movements as they were. Given the serious consequences of such movements in history, such alarm is understandable.


(‡) As always, I alphabetize these dichotomies to avoid any accusations of putting more emphasis on one side than the other.


(§) Yes, this applies to Catholics in minor parties too.



Friday, November 6, 2020

Our Obligations Begin Now

So it seems clear to me that we need to realize that the missions are not far away in Africa and Asia.  The mission is right here.  Our neighbors, our families are the mission field.  God desires the salvation of His people, and has sent us to carry it out.

Regardless of what government policies may be enacted in the next four years, the next eight years, the next generation… we have a mission to re-evangelize America.

—From my own blog after the 2012 elections.

What we cannot do is let our partisan values supersede our Catholic faith. We have to bear witness in Democratic administrations and in Republican administrations, regardless of whether it seems to be convenient or not (see 2 Timothy 4:2).

So my recommendation over the next four to eight years of this administration is to remember our Catholic faith and let it shape our response, neither giving our next President a free pass nor unremitting hostility based on our personal politics. Let us pray for our country, and that those who govern us may govern justly.

—From my own blog, after the 2016 elections.

As I sit down to write this article, we in the United States do not have an official call on who will be our next President. However, barring any stunning reversals in the final counts, and setting aside all the bizarre conspiracy theories, we can make a safe assumption on who it will be. And like 2016, we will have to face up to our Catholic obligations.

This is where we must move from infighting to standing up for our Catholic Faith and morals. We cannot speak out when the other party is in power and stay silent when our own is running the show. But here is something we cannot avoid. Those Catholics whose votes helped bring our President into power have a special obligation to stand up against those presidential acts that go against our Catholic teaching. Why? Because, regardless of what party the President is from, we need to realize that criticisms from Catholics in the other party do tend to be written off as political attacks. So, Catholic Democrats need to lead the way in challenging a Democratic President while Catholic Republicans need to lead the way in challenging a Republican President. That obligation exists even if the “other side” failed to do it in the previous administration. The fact that person X sins by omission does not excuse person Y from acting rightly.

What is more, if we fail to do what we demanded that others do, we show ourselves to be hypocrites and cause scandal by leading people to think our moral beliefs are merely partisan behavior and therefore something to dismiss.

Put in a syllogism, we might say:

1.      All [violations of Catholic moral teaching] are [that which must be opposed by Catholics] (All B is a part of A)

2.      [Policy X] is a [violation of Catholic moral teaching] (C is a part of B)

3.      Therefore [Policy X] is [that which must be opposed by Catholics] (Therefore C is a part of A).

So, when the Church condemns policy X, no Catholic can justify supporting it. During elections, one might say we must give a higher level of priority to opposing policy Y than policy X—if policy Y is also a violation of Catholic moral teaching—but we can never absolve ourselves from opposing policy X.

But, once the election is over, we will have a clearer position as to which Catholic teachings will be under fire from the political policies of the winning party. We will have an obligation to defend those teachings, not explain them away or ignore them.

And, if someone voted for the party which winds up out of power, the obligation to change things is not limited to political sniping at the other party, while saying “that is all I can do.” The reform of one’s own party remains an obligation. Those who voted for the other candidate have the obligation to work to influence their party to be closer to the Catholic position. This is the time to work to change planks in a platform and vote for midterm candidates who are closer to the Catholic position on all issues§.

But, regardless of how we voted, and regardless of the result, we do have an obligation to oppose abortion and euthanasia; to work for social justice; to defend marriage. Where a party is in the wrong, we have the obligation to say no. On the other hand, where a party does something in line with our beliefs, we should not play “dog in the manger” and oppose it because of the source, or that it isn’t in line with our preferred party platform.

As Catholics, we are obligated to work for the good of our nation, recognizing that what our Church teaches does promote that good. If we should put party above Church, or confuse our party preference for Church teaching, what we do is worthless and potentially damning. So, regardless of how we voted and how our party did, our obligations begins now.


(†) While I was blogging in 2008, and did have a post-election reflection then too, those articles existed only on the now defunct Xanga site and are lost to time (I haven’t been able to find them on any of the internet archive sites). Of course, given how bad my writing was back then, that is probably a good thing.

(‡) Since C is entirely contained in B and B is entirely contained in A,  opposition to C is mandatory.

(§) Yes, those who voted for the party that takes control of the Presidency also have this obligation. But I am focusing on those Catholics who might think that their obligation stops at voting.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Are We Making a Shipwreck of Our Faith?

I entrust this charge to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophetic words once spoken about you. Through them may you fight a good fight by having faith and a good conscience. Some, by rejecting conscience, have made a shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:18-19a)


I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2).


With the Presidential Election happening in two days, the most alarming thing is not that Candidate X (X being the candidate you dislike) might win. It’s that American Catholics are so entrenched in party politics that they think that only the other party is in the wrong vis a vis Catholic teaching and if the Bishops should dare speak out on an issue where their own party is in the wrong, it is seen as “proof” that they favor the other party. It is not unusual to see partisan Catholics of both factions in social media simultaneously accuse the bishops of being pro-Democrat and pro-Republican, while denouncing fellow Catholics for doing exactly what they do themselves: Excuse the evil in their own party as being less important than the evil in the other party.


You have probably heard the counter-slogans already. Those who intend to vote for Biden will stress racism and immigration. Those intending to vote for Trump will stress the issue of abortion. Both will act as if only the other side’s voting for a party supporting evil is intolerable while their own is a justifiable sacrifice. Some even go so far as to make excuses for their party and their personal failure to oppose the evils within. Both sides are confident that they stand on the side of Christ and equally confident that those they disagree with are deliberately, and with full knowledge, choosing evil. 


I say this makes a shipwreck of faith because all of us need to constantly ask ourselves where we have done wrong and work to turn back to God. We need to bring the world to Christ, not to our political party. If we call ourselves Catholic Christians but make excuses instead of work to change the evils within our own party, we are conforming to the world instead of transforming it… which is a perversion of our calling.


Yes, we can find both Catholic Democrats and Republicans alike who are morally concerned about our country. Yes, both belong to one party because they are appalled by the platform of the other. But it is never enough to stop at condemning the other side for doing something you personally are appalled by. If we are not also appalled by the evils within our own party, we are no better than those we condemn. 


Yes, some evils are worse than others. But that does not mean that the others are morally acceptable. Gaudium et Spes (#27) gives us a litany of evils that indicts both Democrats and Republicans for their silence on them:


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.


I do understand the temptation to fear the consequences of calling our own party out. I used to think that way. We fear that calling out our own party means weakening our party or even being forced to vote for the other party. But nowadays I think it we should think of it in a “You break it, you bought it” way. If you identify with a political party, then—win or lose—you “bought” the responsibility to work to change that party when it goes against Catholic teaching. If you vote for a candidate who is at odds with the Catholic teaching and he gets elected, you “bought” the responsibility to oppose him on those issues. You do not get to shirk responsibility for living out and making known Church teaching just because you voted a certain way. You do not get to be silent on, explain away, or downplay those evils that are inconvenient to your own party just because you think other evils are worse. That is called being corrupt, and the cost is greater than the gain.


Corruption is everywhere: for two pence many people sell their soul, sell their happiness, sell their life, sell everything. (Pope Francis, “Holy Mass Celebrated for the Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State. Saturday, 3 October 2015)


For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world.… But for Wales! (Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition).


When the Church teaches against an evil that we have grown accustomed to, one that strikes at the human institutions we have put our trust in, we need to change how we think. We must stop thinking of that teaching as a “threat” or “capitulation” to the other side. If we feel fearful or resentful of the Pope or a bishop speaking out, we should ask ourselves why we are taking sides againstthose given the authority to interpret God’s teaching and guide us and bind us on what we must do or avoid if we hope to be saved.


If we are tempted to say that we are not the ones taking sides, but they are, we should ask ourselves why we are so sure of our own understanding of the Church teaching while the Pope and bishops consistently go “wrong.” It is easy for corrupt culture to blind us to the evil of their practices after all. It’s easy to be so accustomed to our vicious customs that we grow blind to the fact that something is evil, and we think the attempts to overturn it are themselves evil.


We should remember that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church with the intention to teach with His authority and with His protection. If we are so certain that we, not they, are in the right, that is a sure sign we are making a shipwreck of our faith.




(†) As always, I put candidates, ideologies, and parties in alphabetical order to avoid accusations of bias.


(‡) I will not say how I voted. Yes, I think one party is worse than the other. But that does not make the other party “good.” All I will say is I looked at both parties and decided which I thought would do the most harm to living a Catholic life. From there I voted with an intention to block it. But, no matter who wins, I will oppose the evil they stand for. If the reader immediately assumes that I ignored the evils on “the other side,” it’s kind of proving the point of my article.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

What is a Proportionate Reason? A Reflection


A reader on my blog page asked me for a clarification on what a Proportionate Reason was when it comes to moral theology and the abortion issue. It reminded me that sometimes what think is clear, the average reader might see as technical jargon. So, I apologize for not being clear and will try to explain it without sounding too technical or patronizing. (I suspect I may have to apologize in advance for not succeeding there).

Some Basic Things to Remember.

When dealing with evil and what enables it, we need to make a few basic statements. 

First. We are absolutely forbidden to do an evil act so good may come of it.

Second. To have a morally good act, the action itself must be morally good or neutral (no intrinsically evil acts [that is, the act itself is bad regardless of conditions] can ever be made good), the intention is good (doing something good or neutral for an evil reason makes the act evil), and the circumstances must be good (giving a Snickers bar to a starving child who turns out to have a peanut allergy is bad, even if no harm was intended).

Third. The conditions that make up a mortal sin require committing a serious (grave) evil, knowing it was evil and freely choosing to do it anyway.

Fourth. If it’s impossible to know something (for example, Native Americans in pre-Colombian times absolutely could not have known of the need to accept Christ) and the person acted wrongly, thinking what they did was good, God will not hold a person responsible for that ignorance, even though wrong is done. We call this invincible ignorance. But, if the ignorance was something that could have been learned if the person bothered to look but was negligent, that isn’t excusable. We call this vincible ignorance.

Fifth. The person who knows they have committed a grave sin need to go to Confession before receiving communion (Canon 916). Notorious and unrepentant sinners who choose to go receive Communion anyway can be barred (Canon 915).

So, we could sum this up and say, since we may not do an evil act so good may come of it, we have an obligation to learn what the Church teaches and live it. We are without excuse if we reject the Church teaching and do evil, and we are without excuse if we do evil through ignorance that we could have cleared up if we bothered to look. We could wind up in a state of mortal sin if all conditions are present.

We can never deliberately choose to do evil or to freely and knowingly assist in that evil. (For example, you can never have a morally good rape or a morally good lynching). Even if a Catholic should dissent from Church teaching, they are not excused from obeying it. Otherwise “I disagree” could be an iron clad defense for geocide or murder. If anybody does take part in assisting evil knowingly and willingly, they are responsible for having done evil. So, in the Ratzinger Memorandum, he mentions voting for someone because they are pro-abortion as an example of being obligated to stay away from receiving the Eucharist.

But What About Acts that Aren’t Intrinsically Evil

So, let’s move on. Keeping the above things in mind, let’s move on to Proportionate Reasons that justify an act that is not intrinsically evil in itself, but still makes the evil act possible. 

The immediately relevant part of the Ratzinger Memorandum, the part that gets dragged out every four years, is the section on voting. Voting in itself a civic duty, not an intrinsic evil. Therefore, any sin involved comes from the intention or the consequences.

While deliberate evil in a vote exists if one deliberately chose to vote to support something the Church condemned as evil, we still need to consider the consequences of voting for something that will have an evil consequence, even if unintended. This isn’t a “moral calculus” where we decide X amount of evil is tolerable, while X+1 is not. Instead we have to consider whether the person who enabled the evil had a reason that took away culpability.

If the person knows that voting for a candidate who publicly states his support for something the Church labels evil would enable this bad result (and not being aware indicates a defect in knowledge of Church teaching or the politician’s position), the greater the evil enabled means the greater the reason is needed proportionate to the harm done (there’s where we get the term proportionate reason) is needed to justify the participation in the act.

I’ve pointed out elsewhere that the Catholic Church has (in Gaudium et Spes #27) listed abortion next to murder and genocide in talking about evils. So, we cannot simply treat abortion as one issue among many any more than we can treat murder or genocide as one issue among many. 

This is where the Catholic risks stepping into a trap. It is easy for any concerned Catholic—who has sympathies for one party at odds with the Church in some way—to confuse the reasons they dislike the other party for proportionate reasons. Since the Church does speak so strongly against abortion, unless they can offer a proportionate reason for voting for a pro-abortion candidate that they would accept if used by a Catholic trying to justify voting for murder, genocide, or torture, I honestly don’t think they can defend their vote. This is why I think the insight from Archbishop Chaput is so important: 

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.

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

So, the Catholic who says “I am justified in supporting a pro-abortion candidate because of the evils in the other candidate,” must be able to face God and the victims of the policy that this evil invoked at the final judgment and say, “Yes this was more urgent.”

I would like to conclude by bringing up another issue frequently forgotten when people debate proportionate reasons. That is, the same moral obligations that bind the Catholic considering voting for a pro-abortion candidate also apply for the Catholic considering a vote for his opponent. If that Catholic votes for the other candidate because of his support of the evil position, that voter is also culpable for that evilly intended vote. And, yes, the requirement for a proportionate reason applies to his vote for the opponent with a morally wrong platform too.

None of us are exempted from the obligation of looking to the Church to understand our moral obligations in being a Christian and following them to the best of our understanding and ability to form our consciences. None of this can be set aside because “the stakes are too high” in this election. While we must not be scrupulous in seeking to do right, we must not be lax either. So, when a candidate proudly states they will support something we know is evil, we do have an obligation to oppose it in a moral way.

And, if we should ever become convinced that we have failed to do this, let us remember that we have a Sacrament that reconciles us with God and His Church. Let us avail ourselves of that Sacrament, making a firm purpose of amendment to strive to live according to God’s commandments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Lazarus is at Your (Political) Door

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. (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship)

* * *

You pose me a question where you describe a difficult choice, because, according to you, you have difficulty in one and you have difficulty in the other. (Pope Francis on the 2016 election)


Over the last two days, I was involved in a Facebook discussion with two Catholics over the upcoming elections. One was absolutely convinced that Biden§ was the only moral choice for the Catholics voters. Another was equally adamant that Trump was the only moral choice. Both of them thought that their interpretation was correct and both of them thought that the issues their candidate supported was more important than the issues they were at odds with the Church over. Both of them miscited Church teaching and made false claims—I suspect unintentionally—about the orthodoxy of certain things (one insisting that the Seamless Garment was doctrine, the other that it had been condemned). 

Both of them were absolutely convinced—no doubt in my mind that they sincerely believed this—that they were properly applying the teachings of the Church and the other was wrong. But both of them pointed fingers at the other about tolerating an evil that the Church had condemned while ignoring the fact they were doing the same thing.

That’s a serious problem in Catholic social media debates, and it’s exacerbated in election years when we confuse our political wants and fears with what the Church actually teaches. We become so polarized that we think any deviation from what we want is aiding “the enemy.”

Part of the problem is, our political system is so damaged that the only political parties with any chance of getting elected areseriously at odds with one part of Catholic moral teaching or another. Tragically, many Catholics are willing to call those teachings their party is in the wrong over as “less important.” That term strikes me as a weasel word, that seeks to avoid outright calling those teachings unimportant (which would be denying the authority of the Church) but also imply that Catholics who are morally disturbed by them are focusing on the wrong issues.

Let’s be clear here. When the Church teaches that something is morally wrong—whether intrinsically, in intention, or in consequence—we don’t get to say that it doesn’t matter compared to someone else. We might have to struggle with an election of bad choices, where all candidates support moral wrongs and our only hope is to lessen the impact of the coming harm. But when we act, we must act in a way that lessens the impact as much as possible, not one that kicks the can down the road for four to eight years.

We also see Catholics misuse Church documents to justify what they were planning to do in the first place. For example, the oft-cited and oft-miscited‡ Ratzinger Memorandum. In speaking on the issues raised in the 2004 election, he wrote in part:

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

The memorandum, which was intended to help people understand whether they were acting for the right reasons, led to people misusing it, trying to prove their vote was proportionate (if they supported the pro-abortion candidate) or arguing it was a mortal sin to vote for the pro-abortion candidate (if they supported the other side). 

Moreover, certain Catholics like to use the term “single-issue voter” in a false sense. It is meant to say, we cannot argue that as long as a candidate is in favor of X, it’s okay to vote for him regardless of every other position. That’s true of course. If X was “law and order” (for example) but the rest of the party platform was totalitarian injustice, voting for the candidate over X would be grossly out of line with Catholic teaching. But if a Catholic were to treat it as saying “I can ignore X and vote for my candidate because of these other issues,” that is a mistaken—possibly dishonest—reading of this warning.

Let’s face it. St. John Paul II spoke clearly on the issue of life being first. In Christifideles Laici, he pointed out that some other social justice issues—while important—can never replace the right to life:

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, 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.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: “All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator” (137).

Note that the Church equates abortion with murder, genocide, and euthanasia. So, one cannot argue that they can end abortion by “other means” any more than he or she can argue that they can end genocide by other means. But the Church also makes clear that subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment and unjust deportation are to be condemned. So, we cannot write them off as “less important” either.

This is why the Catholic who argues that Party X is the only moral way to vote is grossly misguided. Both parties are against life. Catholic Democrats say that Republicans are pro-birth, not pro-life. Catholic Republicans say that Democrats only care about children that survive to birth. Both are mere slogans that hide their own complicity through tu quoque fallacies.

This is why I have been saying that the Catholic who sides with one party or the other must be clear about how they will fight the evil within their own party. Are you a Catholic Democrat? What will you do to stop the promotion of abortion, same sex marriage, and the attacks on religious freedom? Are you a Catholic Republican? What will you do about the unjust treatment of migrants and economic injustice? You do not get a free pass for turning your back on those evils just because you vote against the party you dislike more. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the Rich Man went to hell for neglecting the plight of Lazarus at his door. For Democrats, Lazarus might be represented by the unborn. For Republicans, Lazarus might be represented by the plight of the migrants. 

Regardless of what party you think will do less harm, Lazarus is at your door. If you ignore him because you think the other issues are “more important,” you will need to answer for it before God. 

Remember that, and do not be so quick to assume you are righteous because you ticked the box you think is right on your ballot.



(§) As always, candidate and party names, as well as ideologies are put in alphabetical order to avoid accusations of bias.

(†) Breaking the dualistic political model might benefit America. But I don’t really see any third party as having a chance unless it should address an issue neither major party addresses.

(‡) I wrote about it HERE in 2016.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Unholy Politics

The other day I saw a Catholic blogger pushing the slogan Vote Blue, No Matter Who§. A week before, I wrote about another Catholic advocating voting according to conviction, not conscience to condemn Catholics who felt morally obligated to reject both major parties. Both slogans are reminders that Catholics are just as susceptible to putting unholy views of politics above higher values as any other person. They both advocate setting aside moral obligations to benefit the political party that certain ideological Catholics favor. Meanwhile, they don’t show the slightest bit of shame for condemning Catholics from the other major party doing the same. 

I call it unholy because both of our major political parties are at odds with Catholic teaching in serious matters, but Catholics who fall into the ideological trap do downplay those matters when their own party is at risk of losing votes over that evil.

Let’s face it: promoting abortion, coercing contraception, redefining marriage and gender are evils that must be condemned. So is the inhumane treatment of migrants. But an alarming number of American Catholics are willing to make excuses for the evils of their own party and attack the bishops—even the Pope—for standing up and saying, “this is evil.” Effectively, we are giving our souls, not for the whole world, but for our political party being in control for a few years more.  

In these times of increased polarization, ideological Catholics decide that this election is too important to risk losing, so we “must” focus on stopping the greater evil… which is always defined in a way to condemn the other side. These Catholics, curiously, never seem to work on opposing the evils in their own party after this election is over, but they are quite happy to point out the fact that the other party is guilty of this. They forget that Our Lord warned:
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3–5)
If we want to live in a holy manner, we need to stop acting like the Pharisee who looks contemptuously at another sinner who sins differently (cf. Luke 18:9-14). Yes, it’s wrong when Catholics in the other party ignore, or even support an evil in their platform. But by recognizing that it is wrong for them to do it, we show that we are not ignorant about the moral obligation in general and we are without an excuse if we commit that same act ourselves.

Yes, finding a moral choice in the past few elections is difficult. Every Catholic faces a choice that should be difficult. Each party supports one or more evils that are incompatible with the Catholic Faith. Each American Catholic will need to form their conscience in a way that recognizes these evils exist and strives to respond in a Christian way. 

In doing so, we need to remember that Jesus did not let Himself in dualistic thinking. He showed that the different factions of his time (Pharisee v. Sadducee, Pharisee v. Herodian, Hillel v. Shammai) were wrong in some aspects and the right approach sometimes meant rejecting both sides of dualistic thought.

We have to remember that Christ comes first, and that the Catholic Church teaches with His authority and protection. So, however we vote or act, it must take this into account. We can never “set aside” a teaching because this election is “too important.” If we think we have to vote for a certain party, despite their particular evil, we had better be prepared to also work to reform that party and not give that evil a free pass.

Otherwise, we will not be working for Christ. We will be working for unholy politics, regardless of what others may or may not be guilty of.


(§) For my non-American readers, “Blue” is the color currently associated with the Democrats. “Red” is associated with the Republicans. Yes, there are other political parties. But barring some sort of act that outrages the electorate in a way that catapults a minor party into a major one while a major party collapses (it happened once when the issue of slavery destroyed the Whig party and launched the Republicans). Unfortunately, dualistic thinking is the norm here.