The Travails of Voting Print
Monday, 20 October 2008 14:48

Written by JACK

I hope that Sherry and Fr. Mike don't mind that my first return to this blog is to post some serious questions about a most volatile topic these days in the Catholic blogosphere: voting. (By all means, if the conversation on this gets out of hand, take this post down Sherry. My hope is for a productive conversation, but I'm not naive about what may result.)

I post this because I've struggled with whom to vote for in this upcoming election. For the record, I have already decided and cast my ballot (thanks to early voting in my state). So I am going to try and focus on just the Church's teaching on voting without (if that's possible) referencing this current election. It strikes me that many are wedded to their specific candidates and, in the ideological and apocalyptic political culture we have fostered in this country, can't seem to have a reasoned conversation on this subject if candidates' names are invoked. I also post this here because it strikes me that the mission of the Intentional Disciple is to let Christ enter the whole of their life, including their voting.

As I understand it, the Church teaches that it is never permissible for a Catholic (or anyone for that matter) to support a candidate who advocates for intrinsically evil things as a means of supporting those intrinsically evil things. I also understand that the Church teaches that when all candidates support intrinsically evil things, it may be possible to still vote for such candidate if (a) one does so despite their support for the intrinsically evil things (i.e., not in order to advance support for the intrinsically evil things) and (b) if there exists proportional reasons for supporting this candidate despite their support for intrinsically evil things.

All that seems clear enough, until you start to apply it. And this is where the bishops statements seem to not give as much guidance as I'd like.

For example, let's start with the question of what should be the first prong of our analysis. From the Bishops' statement, it would seem to me that the first thing would be to identify all of the candidates and determine whether any of them do not support intrinsically evil things. However, in identifying "all the Candidates", most Catholics these days let the question of electability seep in. Some don't even bother to consider anyone other than a Republican or Democrat in the race. Others consider third-party candidates, but only so long as to deem them unelectable and push them to the side. I understand their reasoning and pragmatism. Yet, I can't help but notice that the Church's teaching doesn't really speak to this and instead speaks to "when all candidates....". So I would love to hear from some moral theologians on what consideration should a Catholic be giving to a candidate who doesn't support intrinsically evil things when he happens to be not one of the two-major party candidates and is deemed to be unlikely to win the election. From my eyes, at best, all I can say is that I don't see a basis in what the Church has taught to support a priori dismissal of this candidate from consideration.

Second, I'd like to ask about proportional reasons. Every time I see the Church's teaching applied, people seem to make an argument that proportional reasons translates into "my chosen candidate supports fewer intrinsically evil things than the other major-party candidate". This just leaves me wanting and seems to reduce what I presume the Church means to be a high hurdle down to not much of anything. I suppose I should be fair -- proponents of this usually couple it with some argument on the level of "... and the other candidate is going to enact so many evil policies that your head will spin and the world will explode." I know some will object to my characterization, but my point is to suggest that, for my eyes, the arguments about the evils another candidate might inflict if elected usually tend to be hyperbolic and not reflecting that the same constraints that might prevent your chosen candidate from doing good might similarly act to restrain another candidate from doing evil. In other words, the magnitude of harm is usually assumed to satisfy the test the Church proposes by the mere presence of support for additional intrinsic evils. Instead, I'd love some clear reflection on what proportional reasons or analysis looks like on this subject in the eyes of the Church.

It strikes me, more this year than any year in the past, that American Catholics are in need of greater clarity regarding the Church's teaching. Maybe my eyes were not open to the issue in the past, but they are now. I hope some might oblige me my request. (By "some" by the way, I mean those who will engage in serious, reasonable and prudent theological reflection, preferably with some training in moral theology. Not those who wish to present circular arguments justifying why they are voting for one candidate or another. There are other blogs on which to do that.)