Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Voting and Morality I:
Introduction and Disclaimers


Last week, when I said I wanted to write about the heavier issues here, this is precisely what I meant. I’ve been thinking a great deal the last several weeks about the morality involved in one’s voting decision, what role the Church has to play, and what the Church does and doesn’t say about participating in a democratic republic.

This really came to the forefront of my mind with the recent uproar over pro-abortion Catholic politicians and withholding Communion, which is sort of a tangential issue. The most recent impetus, though, is a survey I read in TIME this morning. When self-identified Catholics were polled on the question “Do you think the Catholic Church should be trying to influence the way Catholics vote?”, 70 percent answered “No”. Now, granted, that question may have been interpreted by many as a more extreme one, namely “Should the Catholic Church tell Catholics to vote for a particular candidate or a particular party?” But as posed by TIME Magazine, the question is one I can’t imagine answering “No” to.

Just about every organization that cares about the state of affairs (the NEA, Greenpeace, NRLC, NAACP, etc.) wants to influence the way its members vote. Your beliefs about what events are good or evil, your beliefs about what actions are right and wrong, will influence your voting. A person’s opinion that the war in Iraq was unjust, for example, is based on his or her understanding of justice and the nature of humanity; if the principles that led to his or her opinion were self-evident, then all reasonable people would agree with him or her. This is not the case (despite what Ann Coulter and Michael Moore will tell you, I have met intelligent men and women of good will in both the Democratic and Republican parties), so political beliefs do in fact rest on presuppositions of the most fundamental questions. A Catholic should reflect his or her beliefs in voting as surely as an Objectivist or Marxist would.

The fact that 70% of Catholics could hold what I see as cognitive dissonance tells me that others have been very successful in rhetoric. Those who say that “religious beliefs have no place in politics” know that their own opinions on ethics and the good of humanity affect their votes. “Separation of church and state” does not,not, not mean trying to compartmentalize the way one sees the world. But many pundits have been covering religious issues lately as if Christians have a duty to do just that.

OK, so just what role should religious beliefs play in politics? This, of course, is not entirely an abstract question for me; I have my ideas of the way government and society ought to be run. If I were simply writing what I think about voting, I don’t think it would matter to most people. But instead, I want to explore carefully and thoroughly on this blog what my Church teaches on the ethics of voting. My goal is really to catechize myself in preparation for November (I still don’t know who, if anyone, I will vote for in the Presidential race), and thus your comments and objections are priceless to me. I’m doing this on the blog because I think it’s interesting, because it will motivate me to actually do the research to back up what I think I remember the Church teaches, and because perhaps others are asking these same questions at the same time.

So I begin with a few disclaimers:

1. I am fallible, and my explanation of a Church teaching is not the same as the teaching itself. I may well misinterpret parts of what I read, I may not find what I need to read and understand, I may poorly state what I do comprehend. If I seem to be saying something ridiculous, remember I do not have an imprimatur on this blog.

2. I am taking Catholic theology and tradition as a source of authority. I will try and expound everything in a way that shows it is consistent with reason, and I believe the points are compelling even without the authority of the Church, but I will not in general attempt to prove my conclusions to a non-Catholic.

That said, I intend to make the next few posts a series of preliminaries in ethics: explaining the vital distinction between the good/evil and right/wrong pairs, defining proportionalism and explaining why the Church rejects it, discussing “double effect” and delineating carefully what cases is does and does not apply in.

I won’t make this series the sole content of my blog, but I intend to continue it sporadically through November, or until I don’t have anything more to say (yeah, right).

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