Democracy and Catholic Teaching

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Tom provides, perhaps inadvertantly, much food for thought for those of us subject to a certain scrupulosity. He states that in voting for a candidate we cooperate either formally or materially with ALL of that candidate's positions. In such a case, there is no candidate on Earth for whom I could possibly vote except for myself as there is no one with whom I would agree on all positions and that agreement would be materially on the substance of the question--is this moral or not; therefore, the conclusion seems to be that a person of properly formed conscience should absent him- or her-self from the voting booth. While this formal or material coooperation is proportionate to the whole spectrum of views a person may hold--the underlying theme is always--"you may not do evil that good may result." If I vote for someone who favors an explicitly immoral stand on one or more issues--say Gay Marriage, then I have committed an evil act.

Yes, the more I hear about the whole thing, the more confused, befuddled and uncertain I become about the morality of participating in such a system at all. It would seem to me that the Mennonites and Amish have it about right--being involved with the government in almost any way is an invitation to sin.

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This is not unlike the arguments of certain anarchists (e.g. Robert Paul Wolff) who maintain that voting (except in cases of unanimous direct democracy) amounts to forfeiting one's moral autonomy. Certainly is a counter-intuitive conclusion to come to!

Disagreement on a position doesn't automatically imply *moral* disagreement. Supposing a candidate is in favor of increasing defense spending by 2%, and I am not, I can still legitimately (in many circumstances) still choose to vote for him. On some positions, Catholics can legitimately disagree, while maintaining a belief that neither is acting imorally. (Unless the position is on the legality of abortion, etc.)

Dear Paul,

Of course you are correct. My point is, however, that if I must support EVERY position or if my vote is a support of EVERY position, then there will be some positions on which diagreement is not merely a difference of amount but a difference in kind. This I have seen in every candidate I have looked at with any close scrutiny. Eventually I see a point at which my conscience does not allow me to aid and abet what is essentially an antagonistic position.



"..there will be some positions on which diagreement is not merely a difference of amount but a difference in kind."

That's not *necessarily* true, however much it has been your experience. Tom's diagram shows that both proximate and remote material cooperation (e.g. by voting) have the possibility of being moral, depending on the exact circumstances. So the statement 'there is no candidate on Earth for whom I could possibly vote' is operating under a different set of assumptions than the one Tom's diagram illustrates.

In addition, it would be necessary to distinguish between subjective and objective thinking. E.g. if I thought that it would be wrong to reduce the minimum wage, I can't conclude that it is morally wrong for any candidate to advocate reducing the minumum (since e.g. a candidate might reason that it would overall actually benefit society, because many jobs would be created). So I could vote for such a candidate if other parts of his platform were sufficiently acceptable.

If we follow Ratzinger's latest statements, it is possible to vote for a candidate who we disagree morally with on some issues, *provided* there are proportionate reasons for doing so (e.g. if the candidate's other positions are exceptionally significant). In the current historical circumstances it is pretty clear that the Church does not think that (e.g.) abortion is outweighed by any other considerations. Which would suggest that one could not morally vote for a candidate who did not support restricting abortion.

Paul: what Ratzinger states sounds similar to the certainty of doctrine.

Let me explain. There are of course different levels of certainty when you know something; we know some things with more certainty with others. This also applies to the Church's teaching.

For example. I once heard Cardinal Avery Dulles speak at a seminary, and when he was done, someone asked him the question: Is there anything about the current Curia that he doesn't like?

To this he replied [paraphrase from memory, obviously] In the "bad old days" before Vatican II, theologians took a lot of care to distinguish levels of certainty of doctrine: articles of faith, dogmas, doctrines we know with moral certainty, uncertain doctrines, etc. (for example, see Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.) He continued, My one complaint would be this: today's Curia has done nothing to illuminate the certainty we have about doctrinal statements.

A newly-ordained priest who had been educated in Rome also explained something similar to me in terms of contraception. In layman's terms, what he said was that while the Catholic teaching on the morality of artificial birth control does not possess the same certainty as those things that are revealed directly, it follows so naturally from what is revealed that its certainty is very, very high.

I don't know enough to judge this myself; I can only report what they said.

So, when I read that Ratzinger is saying (in Paul's words) that it is possible to vote for a candidate who we disagree morally with on some issues, *provided* there are proportionate reasons for doing so, I wonder if this might show the beginnings of a resurrection of this sort delineation of the certainty of doctrine.

Nevertheless, this rush on the part of Catholic and Jewish Democrats to accomodate what is, in essence, pagan barbarism, apalls me.

I see your dilemma, but is it then moral not to vote? I haven't put any thought into it, but that seems to be the next question.

Dear Steve,

The way I see it, voting is absolutely morally neutral. That is there is strong encouragement to participate in the style of government but certainly no strict doctrinal statement that it MUST occur.

Thus, it is entirely moral not to vote if, in conscience you can find no one to vote for. In this sense, not voting is participating in government because you withhold approval of any candidate or any platform, and in my case, you explicitly state why that approval is withheld. It is, in a sense, a protest against the conditions.

If I am to believe half of what is posted on various blogs any way, it little matters whether I or any other person votes. I think this is rather like Zeno's paradoxes and don't buy it for a moment--I believe a false dichotomy is set up by positing this, because ultimately I do believe it matters. If I did not, then making a choice not to do so would be neither a point of consideration nor difficult.

Long answer, but I believe the response is, "Yes, it is licit not to vote when voting would lend support, material three times removed or otherwise to what is morally repugnant." (By the way, I simply don't buy the argument that it is ever morally licit to materially cooperate with evil in the matter of voting. Other examples, yes--riding a bus that is partially funded by a corporation that donates money to the United Way campaign that in turn donates money to the local planned parenthood is one thing; voting for a person who is a leading bastion of the culture of death is not so remote a cooperation as we would like to think.



Catechism 2240: Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country:

Dear Paul,

My wonderful, lengthy response did not make it here. Suffice to say that proper submission to authority requires an authority to whom it is at least morally neutral to submit. (For example, the Catechism would probably balk at the idea of cooperating with the Nazi regime in the round up and extermination of people, although that would constitute submission to authority.)

So too, where conscience dictates that voting for one person or another would constitute a morally offensive act, we would be obliged NOT to vote. I think that obligation carries with it a further obligation to make clear to those around us why we cannot vote. Further, I see this as an exercise of the right. In this case I am withholding my vote from two unworthy candidates. I intend to vote for NOTA--give me another option. I believe this fulfills both the spirit of the Cathechetical teaching and a strict obedience to the moral imperative that I have heard through the voices here and through the teaching of Christ Himself. I hope someday to see NOTA enshrined within the constitution to offer all of us who have been disenfranchised by the American Political system a true choice.



"So too, where conscience dictates that voting for one person or another would constitute a morally offensive act, we would be obliged NOT to vote."

Certainly, since conscience must always be followed, But the more important issue is what a correctly formed conscience should tell us -- which we must get from Church teachings.

"I think that obligation carries with it a further obligation to make clear to those around us why we cannot vote. Further, I see this as an exercise of the right."

That's certainly a relevant step to take. Another step in the right direction would be to arrange for there to be a moral candidate available -- up to and including running ourselves.

"In this case I am withholding my vote from two unworthy candidates."

I'm not convinced that no candidate is available. In Evangelium Vitae the Pope gives an example of circumstances where a legislator may legitimately vote for legislation which only partially eliminates abortion. If similar circumstances held, one could see the same thing holding when voting for a not-wholly-correct candidate.

Dear Paul,

I'm not convinced that no candidate is available.

I think sometimes people misinterpret my aim in posting some of these things. In this case in particular, I am not trying to persuade anyone else not to vote for one or the other candidates. I am simply holding out the prospect for those who are as conflicted as I am that it would be legitimate not to vote.

As the Church teaches that we should under most circumstances vote, and as other people do not see the issues in the way that I do, I completely understand those who have chosen to vote one way or the other. (I better understand and appreciate the reasoning behind voting for Bush than I do for Kerry--but that's another matter entirely.)

It would be incorrect for anyone to simply follow my lead. In all matters of this gravity one must be led by Church teaching and by informed conscience. I see abortion as the major issue, but I also find that I cannot trust the current president in the way I once thought I could. I do not think he better serves the forces of light despite his one good stand on abortion. So, Kerry was very easy to eliminate from the competition, but over time I've come to the reluctant conclusion that Mr. Bush does not serve the interests of life or of justice any better. I cannot continue to support him in his economic and foreign policies, but I certainly can't support Kerry.

That does not mean, however, that I seek to persuade anyone else to my position. Mine is a position arrived at after long thought and much trial, and I assume that most people have invested thought and time in considering what the right thing to do is. As I said, my aim is not to persuade you or anyone else not to vote. My aim is to say that one can in good conscience and as a faithful Catholic choose not to support either of two morally repugnant candidates (albeit the repugnance springs from somewhat different roots.) Hence my opinion that the Amish and Mennonites may have chosen the better part in some of these things.

Others will arrive at different conclusions, conclusions that I respect as considered and stemming from who they are as a person and how they see these issues. I do think that there is room for large disagreements. Many think Mr. Bush's Iraq war is a "just war." I have very grave doubts about it. Many like his economic policies--to avoid inciting a riot, I will not say precisely what I think of them save that I find them distinctly unsatisfactory. Given this, I will arrive at different conclusions from others. I can respect these differences and I respect the persons having them. As I said before, I have much greater difficulty understanding those who support Kerry, but if I look at it as a choice between the two and a vote of Kerry is not so much for Kerry as against Bush, then it begins to make sense. After all, that is how I voted in the last election. I didn't much care for Mr. Bush even then, but I certainly could not countenance the continued reigns of Herod the Great and Herod Antipas. At this point my dissatisfaction has grown with the resultant fact that there is no one for whom I may legitimately vote who would allow me to register my "vote against." Given this, I arrive at the conclusions I have outlined here. I offer them for those who find themselves similarly disenfranchised by an entrenched two-party system that doesn't really allow us much in the way of choice.

Thank you for continuing this discussion. It is thought provoking and challenging and I very much appreciate the tone in which you have presented your points. I think they will be very helpful to all of those who are vacillating or undecided about what to do. I suspect that encompasses relatively few in St. Blogs; nevertheless, I do think that people who understand these issues and reason well on them perform an invaluable service to all when they present what they know as well as you have. Thank you.



Dear Paul,

Please forgive the length of the previous response. To quote Pascal, "Had I more time I would have written a shorter letter."





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