Contra Anti-voting

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I have read in places where live the wise and the thoughtful a variety of opinions about the efficacy and necessity of voting, and I have always questioned the wisdom of those who hold that one vote, my vote, or any single vote, really doesn't matter or make a difference to the outcome of an election. I must confess that mathematically such a proposition is really indisputable. In an election involving millions, my single vote will not decide the election.

However, in a spiritual and a societal sense, this form of thinking seems nearly suicidal. The action of voting, of placing that mathematically meaningless vote, if done in accord with a conscience informed by the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church has spiritual repercussions that cannot possibly be calculated. It is true of any action taken in accord with God's will, and it remains true in the exercise of the franchise.

from Render Unto Caesar
Archbishop Charles Chaput

In one of their early confrontations, King Henry VIII taunted Bishop John Fisher, the great bishop-martyr of the English Reformation who remained faithful to Rome and opposed Henry's marriage to Anne Bolyen, with this remark: "Well, well, it shall make no matter. . . for you are but one man." Catholics face the world's same taunting today: the temptation to think that society is too far gone, that our problems are too complex for any of us to make a difference. But one person can always make a difference--if that person believe in Jesus Christ and seeks to do his will. We're not called to get results. We're called to be faithful.

Next time we are tempted to think that our vote doesn't matter or doesn't make a difference or doesn't effect the outcome--it would be good to remind ourselves that a vote carelessly made is a grain of sand dropped into a pond, but a vote made after prayer, communion with God, and in accord with a well-formed conscience is like dropping a boulder into a pool. We may not get our candidate elected, but we will have made a difference and we can continue to agitate and act, become the thorn in the side for those who rode to election on the careless votes of others. We become then, for the world, the constant "agenbite of inwit," an irreconcilable and relentless reminder of the duty of our officials to serve the common good even if they will not willingly serve God.

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My understanding of Zippy's point in this regard was that it was exactly this. That voting changes very little (nothing) with regard to the election but it does change the voter. Therefore, by voting continually for "the lesser of evils", one grows accustomed to voting for evil.

Dear Brandon,

In framing this, I was not thinking of a particular blogger but more a frame of mind that I have seen in blogs from time to time. It is true that Zippy has been known to mouth the preamble to this post regarding the meaningfulness of voting; however, this was really aimed more at those who would use the mathematical argument as a justification for not voting. I have not seen anyone who has espoused the mathematical principle go on to say that, "therefore one ought not to vote." However, I have seen followers simply quote and say, "Therefore I'm not voting."

I think the crux of Archbishop Chaput's message is that all choices matter and matter eternally.

And while this response may be a little off your point, I did want to make sure to take the opportunity to note that I am not trying to say anything against places where I've seen the argument outlined above articulated. As I've said, they were never so stated to the end that "therefore voting is utterly meaningless."

I just wanted to put in my two cents--participation in the franchise, even if all one does is to conscientiously withhold a vote from an unworthy candidate, is not optional--it is an obligation. Chaput would remind us that all choices are eternal choices and the despair implicit in the mathematical argument is not a viable option for one practicing the Catholic Faith.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write.




I didn't presume that you were replying to Zippy's reasoning. I was rather pointing out (since he isn't here among us at the present time to comment himself) that his line of reasoning -- which lead him to encourage people to conscientiously withhold their votes for unworthy candidates -- is consistent with your quote here. I see from the next excerpt that you post that the good Archbishop makes exactly that point.

I think I may need to read this book. It's good to see that people are still thinking about the elections before the heat of the moment.


Dear Brandon,

Thank you. While I was responding to you, I was also looking over my shoulder to reflect on the fact that what I had written might inadvertently offend, and I was attempting to ward that off at the same time. I'm sorry if as a result of the confused intentions, I imputed to you the wrong intent in your original comment.

Also, I would highly recommend the book, because while it is a sustained argument for Catholic involvement in the political realm, being a good Bishop he uses every opportunity to help guide his people the Sheep of His (Jesus) flock.

Thank you for you note, and again, my apologies.



I would say that the act of casting a vote -- which some speak of in reverential, almost sacramental, terms -- is in itself (and necessarily, per the mathematics) a grain of sand. The boulder is the process of prayer, communion with God, and forming your conscience.

So perhaps casting a vote is an end for which we act as a means to its means.

My fear regarding Archbishop Chaput's book is that, as with everything else, it will be taken to be a voter's guide, rather than a citizen's guide.

Excellent post Steven. I read the book also and found it similarly compelling. Our church designated it as our summer read (even to the point of providing free copies) and in September we'll be meeting and discussing. Wish you were in Columbus then in order to attend!

Dear Tom K.,

Of course, it is possible to misuse anything, but I think this would be an extraordinarily difficult to text to usurp in the way you suggest considering that Archbishop Chaput even provides some justification for conscience guiding people to vote for a pro-choice candidate, and takes a pretty strong stand against Church as voter guide. He points out that is why the guidance the Church gives before entering the polls is so vague. However, your point is well-taken--it is possible to misuse even the most sage teaching.

Dear TSO,

I wish I could be there as well. I have consistently said that those who voted for Obama "in conscience" now have on their conscience the necessity to protest and vociferously opposed the policies leading to the death of the unborn.

Another sobering phrase Archbishop Chaput uses in describing the reasons and reasoning behind supporting a vote for an otherwise unacceptable candidate (proportional reasoning) is that it should be a reason you would be ready to advance to the murdered child upon meeting him/her in the eternal life. I should think that that would give one considerable pause, if one took it seriously.

To both of you, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.



FWIW, I agree that the book was very far from a voter's guide and it doesn't "satisfy" in a voter's guide sort of way. And yet nevertheless after reading it I wanted to re-read it!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 21, 2009 8:01 AM.

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