Monday, November 02, 2009

Election Day 2009

Tuesday, November 2, 2009, is election day in Virginia, New Jersey, and other places. Although we are not of the world, we are in the world, and ours is a living faith, not something merely philosophical or academic that we take out once a week for an hour or so, and then put back in the closet, where the world thinks it belongs, unseen and unheard. Part of living the faith -- everyday, in all aspects of our lives -- is the question of how to apply the truths of the faith -- and the moral obligation to do so -- most especially the truths of the inherent dignity of the human person, in that part of civil society known as the political and electoral process.

The process of electing, of making choices, has been with us from the very beginning, when the man and the woman were put to the choice of (a) rejecting God and seeking power for themselves by eating the fruit or (b) choosing to embrace God, who is Love and Truth, and rejecting the lie of relativism.

Similarly, in elections today, we are faced with a choice -- do we choose (1) that which is most consistent with authentic love and truth or (2) that which we believe will lead to the most power or personal gain?

The bishops of Virginia have provided some guidance in this area:

We must seek the “mind of Christ” in the voting judgments we make, just as we must when contemplating any other moral decision in our lives. The best way to begin the process of forming our consciences is to open our minds and hearts to the Lord in the Eucharist and in our daily prayer lives.

With prayer as our solid foundation, we can then receive the truth of Catholic moral and social teaching, understand the link between that teaching and many issues affecting the lives and dignity of our brothers and sisters in the human family, and seek to learn the positions candidates take on these issues. Then, and only then, can we cast our votes with the assurance that we are doing so with a well-formed conscience.

Neither the bishops, the Church as a whole, have any desire to tell people specifically whom they should vote for (or vote against). The Church does not seek to make automatons or puppets who do whatever they are told without thought or spiritual reflection. Rather, God and His Church seek for people to be personally and actively engaged so as to freely choose the good, that is, to love others in truth. The purpose of the bishops in providing guidance is to help people form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. Such guidance is especially needed in the face of the effective assertion of some that voting is an occasion for moral relativism and equivalence.

We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.

As [Paragraph 7 of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship] makes clear, the Church’s role is to teach the truth that is revealed to us by Christ in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. This teaching is what we endorse, rather than candidates or political parties. And it is this teaching that should serve as the yardstick by which to measure candidates and party platforms.

Equipped with the Church’s timeless truths, it is the responsibility of each individual to make the best voting decisions that he or she can, with the recognition that we live in a culture that does not fully embrace our values and are faced with flawed party platforms and candidates who do not share all of our policy goals . . . . [T]o correctly form our consciences, we must recognize the importance of all issues affecting human rights and dignity — from the moment of conception until natural death and at every stage in between — and appreciate that such issues are not abstractions but rather realities that determine whether families thrive or struggle, whether individuals are respected or exploited, and even whether people live or die. At the same time, the proper formation of conscience also means discerning the differences in moral gravity among various issues. Disregarding the right to life itself — the foundation upon which all other human rights are based and without which no other right could possibly exist — is more serious than any other human rights violation.

Once our consciences are correctly formed within this consistent and comprehensive moral framework, paragraphs 34 and 35 of the U.S. bishops’ statement serve to provide specific guidance on evaluating candidates and weighing their many policy positions, especially when those positions involve intrinsically evil actions — that is, actions that are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor:

"34. . . . A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

"35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil."

This guidance applies precisely to the question we hear most often from members of our two dioceses: "What if I reject a candidate’s stance in favor of legalized abortion but wish to vote for that candidate for other reasons?" In assessing whether such reasons would justify such a decision, we first observe that such reasons would certainly need to be not only morally grave but also proportionately grave — that is, equally serious or even more serious than abortion. In other words, one would need to compare the gravity of abortion against the gravity of the other considerations. And making that comparison would necessarily involve examining just how serious abortion is in terms of its very nature and in terms of its impact on members of the human family. That means we must appreciate the difference in moral gravity between policies which are intrinsically unjust (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, and the deliberate destruction of human embryos) and policies involving prudential judgments about which people of good will may disagree concerning various means of promoting economic justice, public safety, and fair opportunities for every person. As paragraph 37 of the U.S. bishops’ statement explains, "[T]he moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions." Moreover, we must fully understand that so-called "abortion rights" deny the most fundamental human right (and hence all rights) to an entire class of people, and we must confront the almost incomprehensible fact that abortions extinguish the lives of nearly 4,000 children per day (and well over one million per year) in the United States alone.

As this guidance makes clear, preferring one candidate's position on things like environmental issues or taxation policy cannot overcome and justify voting for that candidate if he or she denies the truth of the inherent dignity of all human life and is an advocate of the pretended right to destroy human life in the womb.


No comments: