Wednesday, October 1, 2008
For Catholics, the process of voting should not be simple, and it's even worse if you're voting absentee. Casting a vote is simple-just punching a card. Leading up to the card, however, the voting process asks much of the Catholic. (Although this is ideally both, this term means more broadly "catholically minded," instead of sacramentally formed.)
It would be easier if the Church or the Pope would tell everyone which candidate gets the "Catholic vote." Thankfully, this is not how the Church works.
The process would be simpler if Catholics were able to be simple-issue voters. Perhaps, a single issue could consume the whole of their political and ethical decision, irrespective of the totality of their choice. On this subject, the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith writes, "a political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social doctrine does not exhaust one's responsibility towards the common good."
An even easier situation would be if Catholics could simply give the finger to the whole political establishment, saying, "You have done nothing for us; your game is not fair, and we want out."
Catholics can do none of the above. They are "bound to promote the true common good" through "civil authority and laws that uphold moral precepts for the common good," which should constitute an autonomous decision informed by rational scrutiny applied to possible choices. In other words, Catholics can neither hide in political idleness nor in ideaological closures to the reality of affairs.
From their point of view, no candidate seems good enough. In the Bush-Gore election, Gore was ahead by three percent with Catholics. Then in 2004, Bush led among Catholics by seven percent to Catholic John Kerry. Currently, McCain leads among white non-Hispanic Catholics 48 to 41 percent.
Simply put, the Church's teaching does not line up with either party. On one hand, the Church cherishes the right to life, especially unborn life. But also, the Church respects the dignity of the human person, the social implications to avoid war, the responsibility to help the poor and the regulation of working conditions, whether on a personal scale or to the economy as a whole. The Catholic should work for all these things and, when necessary, must seemingly choose one or the other.
Catholic morality says quite candidly, it is wrong to support a candidate or law which entail an intrinsic evil "opposed to the authentic good of persons" such as abortion, euthanasia, torture, racism and ignoring the "moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors."
When both candidates support such a policy the Catholic "may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods." Whether Catholic voters realize it or not, most recent presidential elections fall into this category.
This is what makes Catholics want to write in their dog's name on the ballot. This is why politics seems like a badly formed game. To have to choose the rights of an unborn child over the rights of an innocent victim of an unjust war, is unfair, to say the least.
Not only does the power to participate in the formation of government implicate the Catholic in the direct effects of his or her choice, whether war or peace, prosperity or hardship, but the choice should come from an authentically formed auto-nomy (self-law) and should be an expression of a certain amount of wrestling with issues, candidates and God.
Catholics who vote should go to sleep on the Third of November with some sense of peace, knowing that their decision is neither uninformed nor narrowly informed by one issue. That peace, however, should not overshadow the clear dissonance which is evident when the idealist hope of faith enter the realm of politics.