Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Stupid Season: Reflections on Catholics and the 2020 Elections

[As a preliminary note, while I don’t doubt that people looking at my personal and blog Facebook pages could guess which party I think is the least destructive to America—I’m probably not as subtle as I think I am—this article is intended to be non-partisan in discussing real dangers Catholics need to avoid regardless of party affiliation].

An informed Catholic should recognize that the teachings of the Church are binding on the faithful, and that the bishops—as successors to the apostles—should be listened to barring extraordinary circumstances like acting in opposition to the Pope. Even if we think there might be extraordinary circumstances, we owe it to ourselves to learn before acting lest we turn out to be the rebels.

Keeping that in mind, an informed Catholic should look at their political loyalties as secondary. Whatever we prefer politically must be measured against what the Church teaches. We cannot call a political platform good where it diverges from Church teaching. Nor can we argue that our interpretation of Church teaching takes precedence over those tasked with shepherding the Church.

This leads to what I have been calling the “Silly Season” for years. That’s because Catholics begin acting more irrationally about arguing that their politics are compatible with their faith, despite the witness of the Pope and the bishops against that view. Whenever they say something is morally wrong in nature or circumstance, Catholics from the party in question try to argue that the actual issue is different from the thing condemned. It’s a nonsensical attitude to take because the ones they are debating do have the authority to teach on the subject and we would be wise to adjust our political views to our faith, not vice versa.

But, as we get deeper into the 2020 elections, it seems to me that “silly” isn’t a strong enough word. We’ve reached what I have to call the “stupid season.” That’s where Catholics on both sides of our dualistic divide are not only trying to deflect, they’re arguing that the Church is outright wrong on issues where the Pope and bishops rebuke their political positions for supporting things incompatible with the Christian life, or praise a policy where the preferred party is in opposition. We’re seeing Catholics now proclaim that they will vote for candidate X despite his support for evil because the stakes are “too high.”

This is stupid because such people are effectively saying they are okay with gaining the world but losing their souls (cf. Mark 8:36). They are saying that the issues their party is wrong on are “not important” compared to the issues they support. Then they say they won’t be “single issue voters” as if issues A+B+C (which they either don’t care about or actively support) are not as wrong as issues D+E+F (which they already oppose). When the bishops speak out on A+B+C, they’re outraged at the “partisanship” and say that the bishops should “stay out of politics.” When the bishops speak out on D+E+F, they take it as “proof” that their opponents are on the side of demons and against the Church.

But what they’re ignoring or overlooking is that their opponents are looking at them in exactly the same way: The Church speaking out against A+B+C “proves” the party that favors them is demonic while D+E+F aren’t important. 

These positions are contrary, which means both can’t be right, but both can be wrong. And wrong they are. When the Church speaks out against issues A through F, we don’t get to be the ones who choose which to obey or disobey. That’s cafeteria Catholicism. The Catholic who turns his back on the issue of abortion and the Catholic who turns his back on the treatment of migrants will both have to answer to God for refusing to hear the Church.

That being said, the sincere Catholic might wonder what to do when both parties are wrong on major issues but one will be elected. The minor parties and the voting down ballot are more of an escape pod of conscience than a practical solution.

Obviously, we all have our own views on which party is worse. That is not a sin in itself. But what we do with that vote and our attitudes towards the issues a preferred party is wrong on might be. Let’s put it this way: I see some Catholics argue that Biden is the only Catholic choice. I see some Catholics argue that Trump is the only Catholic choice. But neither group of Catholics eversays what they’ll do about the very real evils—condemned by the Church—that these candidates promise to implement if they get elected. Siding with a party as a Catholic includes the responsibility to reform and rebuke their evils.

If any Catholic thinks that we have to support Party A because the evils of Party B are worse, then their task is not over if Party A gets elected. We have to fight to cleanse our preferred party of that evil. That means working to remove evil party planks and working to raise candidates who do not champion evil causes. They have to stand up and condemn when their candidate supports evil.

Do not automatically look at the failures of Catholics in the other party in that regard. God will look into their hearts and judge their culpability. But He will also judge yours. We can’t control what others do or fail to do. But we do control our own acts and omissions. And that’s exactly what we have to consider. 

Archbishop Chaput, speaking on the question on voting for a pro-abortion candidate, gives good counsel on voting for any candidate who holds a position at odds with the Catholic faith:

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.

If you already oppose abortion, insert another issue where the Church spoke against a position your party holds, like the treatment of migrants. The point is, if you vote for a party that is wrong on an issue, you can’t treat that issue as unimportant and forgettable after the election.

Unfortunately, an alarming number of American Catholics are forgetting this important position and wind up putting loyalties to party over submission to the Church that Christ established. Since that can quite possibly involve grave sin, such party loyalties are stupidly given.

Hence, that’s why I call it “stupid season.”

 

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(†) Non-American readers should remember that the United States has a dualistic political system. Minor parties very seldom get elected to lower offices and never (yet) to the Presidency.

(‡) As a disclosure, I voted for a minor party for President in 2016—for the first time in my life—because I thought both candidates were unfit to serve. I also downvoted on the 2020 primary ballot for the same reason. Unlike most minor party voters, I tend to believe we will continue to have a two-party system until we reach a state where neither major party addresses a burning issue that people want addressed. It is true the Republicans were a minor party that did supplant the Whigs because of the growing opposition to slavery in the 19th century, but I don’t see an equivalent issue firing up the electorate today.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Dangerous Double Standards and Tu Quoque Fallacies

While it’s easy to lose sight of it in the midst of the coronavirus and BLM protest news, we do have an election coming up. This brings up the usual problems with American Catholics acting goofy. Following the news—frequently little more than editorials—I notice a bipartisan problem. That problem is the rush to condemn something only when it shows up in an administration run by the opposing political party, but staying silent on the issue when it’s prevalent in an administration one supports.

That doesn’t mean we need to be silent on both of course. Quite the opposite in fact. If something is an injustice, it needs to be solved regardless of who is in power. But if we only speak out on it when our enemies are in power, and make excuses for when our favored faction ruled, we are hypocrites who are looking for a stick to bash our opponents over, not effect lasting reform.

One of the problems seems to be that we treat politics as a zero-sum game and don’t want to endanger our party’s prospects when an election is on the line by criticism. I say zero-sum because everybody tends to think that if someone does anything to challenge their preferred party, that person is accused of acting to benefit the other side… and all the evils that the other side is associated with. 

So, we tend to kick our own scandals under the table and blame the problem on the other party. But, in pointing out the failures of the other side, we show we are aware that the problem is an evil, and that we were silent when our own party was in power. For example, I’ve seen Catholic Democrats take pleasure in pointing out the fact that—under Republican administrations—abortion hasn’t gone away, while Catholic Republicans point to the fact that we had incompetent handling of epidemics and unjust handling of illegal immigration under the Democrat administrations. Both are right in saying that the other side has a history of injustice and failure.

The problem is, because they overlook their own party’s fault, the hypocrisy is staggering. As Catholics, we have an obligation to do what is right in accordance with the teachings of the Church. Downplaying the evils or making it seem less important than the evils of the other side is an evasion at best. If we know X is morally wrong when our political opponents do it, we have an obligation not to tolerate it in our own party. Reform isn’t simply a matter of voting for the party you see as less of a disaster. It also means reforming your own party when it goes wrong… regardless of whether the other side does the same.

If we will not do that, we are hypocrites and will have to answer for the scandal we cause. I say scandal because, if we give a witness of setting aside those Church teachings that our own party is guilty of, we set an example of letting others do the same for their own party. Whether a Catholic is a Democrat, an independent, a Republican, or a supporter of a Third Party, we cannot turn our backs on evil or injustice while pointing out the problems of the other side. We cannot argue that another Catholic must violate his conscience in order to vote the way we like, just because we fear the consequences of our party losing.

We have to ask ourselves about how we will answer for our evasions and brush-offs at the final judgment. It will do no good to say, “I chose to violate teaching A to promote teaching B.” It will do no good to say “they did it too.” When we knowingly ignore what the Church teaches, we will have to give an account. When we choose not to learn the truth about why the Church speaks against the policy of a politician we support when we easily could have done the research, our ignorance will not be a defense. Invincible ignorance exists when we have no way of knowing we are in the wrong. But when we have a Church speaking against that wrong, we do not have that excuse.

 

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(†) As always, I choose to contrast Democrat-Republican, Left-Right, Conservative-Liberal in alphabetical order to avoid appearance of bias.

(‡) I am using “independent” in the sense of “not affiliated with a party,” not in the sense of the American Independent Party (a third party).

Monday, May 13, 2019

Limiting the Voice of the Church

I was reading a back issue of First Things the other day and came across a curious claim by the author of the essay. This claim was that the Church ought not to speak on every issue that comes along, but should instead limit herself to speaking about crucial issues (such as sexual morality and abortion).

The reason I found this curious was the issues the author thought the Church should hold back on were also issues that the Church has always spoken about: the obligation to aid the poor. It made me reflect though. Catholics have fallen far when they reduce part of the Church teaching (the part at odds with their politics) to “political opinions.”

The teaching of Pope Francis and the bishops today on care for the homeless, the migrant is no different from his predecessors. Rather we overlook the fact that his predecessors spoke on these topics just like we forget that Pope Francis speaks on the moral issues. For example, St. John Paul II said in a June 2, 2000 homily:

Unfortunately, we still encounter in the world a closed-minded attitude and even one of rejection, due to unjustified fears and concern for one’s own interests alone. These forms of discrimination are incompatible with belonging to Christ and to the Church. Indeed, the Christian community is called to spread in the world the leaven of brotherhood, of that fellowship of differences which we can also experience at our meeting today.

If the Pope said this today, we’d have people accusing him of speaking out against today”s American policy in the Middle East or Mexico with people cheering or denouncing him. But he was speaking at a jubilee of migrant and immigrant peoples almost 20 years ago, when our political landscape was different. But with almost 20 years separating the two Popes, the concern of the Church is the same: self-interest and fear is leading Christians to avoid the Christian need to care for those in need. When we say “the Pope should stay out of politics,” we are effectively trying to silence the Church from speaking out on our moral obligation.

It goes the other way too. When the Church speaks out on sexual morality and the right to life, we hear others saying they’re political (or, my personal eyeroll favorite, “getting played” by politicians) even though the Church has always spoken on these things. Just like certain Catholics ignored or accused St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI of being political when they spoke out on social justice, other Catholics ignore Pope Francis when he condemns abortion, same sex “marriage,” and “gender theory.” Thus, the Popes we like are earnest and the ones we dislike are “political.”

But none of these Popes are “being political.” They’re speaking on issues that can affect our souls. Trying to silence the Popes from “being political” is actually trying to silence the Popes from saying what we need—but don’t want—to hear.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Church is NOT a Faction. Thoughts on Cafeteria Catholicism and Political Pharisaism Today

It happens whenever we change administrations in America. Catholics who favor those who are now in power view opposition from the Church as partisan behavior, injecting their opinions into political debates. With Trump, the bishops get opposed for stating the Church teaching on immigration. With Obama, the bishops were opposed for stating the Church teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, religious freedom, and transgender issues. We could certainly go further back—for example the bishops expressing concern about the bellicose arms race under Reagan. In all of these cases, those Catholics who agreed with president of the time attacked the bishops for acting politically, while those who opposed him cheered the bishops for standing up.

The underlying problem here is a dangerous error which holds that the Church has one opinion, the State has another, and I am the judge who determines who is right. This is just another form of “Cafeteria Catholicism” where I choose what I will find and treat the rest as unimportant in God’s eyes. Of course that’s presumption. When God tells us to keep His commandments (John 14:15), and warns us that to reject the Church is to reject Him (Luke 10:16), we should not take their teachings so lightly. 

Of course many will take offense with this. People associate “Cafeteria Catholics” with liberalism, and Pharisaism with conservatism. But the fact is, any faction can play either role. The Cafeteria Catholic decides when to listen to the Church and when to ignore it. The Pharisee determines that whoever does not follow their interpretation of Church teaching is not a good Catholic. I’ve seen liberals and conservatives play both roles.

What we have to remember though is the Church is not a faction with an opinion. She is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). She is the one who binds and looses (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). When our bishops warn us not to be swept up into a popular view, at odds with Church teaching, we should be paying attention, not assuming their words are partisan or uninformed.

This is a lesson easier to see with other countries, and when those of a different ideology do it. We praise Bishop von Galen of Germany and Cardinal Sapieha from Poland for standing up against the Nazis. We praise many who suffered for speaking against the communists. In all of these cases, some people thought they were being political because these people agreed with a policy the Church condemned. We also praised the bishops for standing up for religious freedom against Obama (I’m not trying to say these were equivalent threats, mind you).

But when the bishops stand up against a popular policy, people treat them as if they were particularly uninformed, and ignorant of Church teaching when Church teaching actually says more than is cited. For example, people accuse them of being ignorant of St. Thomas Aquinas (the most popular currently is STh., I-II q.105 a.3, which actually is about evaluating God’s Law in the Old Testament) or the Catechism saying that nations do have a right to regulate immigration but ignoring the full text of ¶2241, which also talks about helping those in need as much as possible).

It’s the same error—treating the successors to the apostles as being merely one faction with an uninformed opinion and oneself as the judge who evaluates it. 

However, this error must not lead us into the opposite error of a political pharisaism. The fact that the Church teaches we are obliged to act in a certain way does not mean we must support political platform X which seems similar to it. The Church has never said we must vote for one party or one specific program. We do have to consider what the Church teaches and try to be faithful. Those Catholics who say “You must vote for this party/proposition” are misappropriating the teaching authority of the Church.

That does not mean we can vote however we like or support whatever we like. We’re obligated to form our political preferences to follow Church teaching. If we decide one Church teaching can be ignored in favor of another, we have malformed our conscience with Cafeteria Catholicism. If we decide whoever does not support the candidate or platform we do is on the side of evil, we have fallen into Political Pharisaism. Both are wrong.

What we need to realize that we should be listening to the Church when she warns us about dangerous mindsets. We should not be thinking of the bishops as idiots when they dare to speak against what we prefer politically. Otherwise, we might find at the last judgment that we have fallen away from the Church without realizing it, and we will hear Our Lord say, to our horror, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:23).

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).