Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Politics: Serious Catholic Voting

TORONTO, ONTARIO - When I visited the Cathedral of St. Paul in September, I picked up a pamphlet entitled "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics." This document is available on-line and makes an interesting read.

There's some really good advice in this pamphlet, especially in the "How Not to Vote" section. Take these items, and if you prefer, insert your favorite identity instead of "Catholic" and "Christian":
(1) Do not just vote based on your political party affiliation, your earlier voting habits, or your family's voting tradition... You need to look at the stands each candidate takes. This means that you may end up casting votes from more than one party.
(2) Do not cast your vote based on candidates' appearance, personality, or "media savvy." Some attractive, engaging, and "sound-bite-capable" candidates endorse intrinsic evils, while other candidates, who may be plain-looking, uninspiring, and ill at ease in front of cameras, endorse legislation in accord with basic Christian principles.
(3) Do not vote for candidates just because they declare themselves Catholic. Unfortunately, many self-described Catholic candidates reject basic Catholic teaching.
(4) Do not choose among candidates based on "What's in it for me?" Make your decision based on which candidates seem most likely to promote the common good even if you will not benefit directly or immediately form the legislation they propose.

The Catholic Church is telling voters to actually look carefully at what the candidates' actual positions are and evaluate them not on what is best for the voter, but for society. If only every voter actually did this!

However, I started to diverge from the advice on the fifth item:
(5) Do not vote for candidates who are right on lesser issues but who will vote wrongly on key moral issues.

Prioritization is fair enough. But what does the guide prioritize? It identifies five non-negotiable issues, actions "that are intrinsically evil and must never be promoted by the law." These are abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual "marriage". The guide advises determining which candidates have a "real--even if unlikely" chance of winning, evaluating which has a stand most consistent with avoiding the above five actions, and voting for that candidate.

I found it quite interesting that none of these five issues are in the ten commandments. Furthermore, four of the five aren't really contemplated in the Bible at all in any sort of direct way. I think Jesus only touched on the one exception, that being homosexuality, and the concept of homosexual marriage was so far beyond anything being contemplated in that era that it would really be stretching things to say that Jesus said anything about homosexual marriage. All that means is that these issues are modern, and there's nothing inherently wrong with any group deciding where they stand on modern issues.

Where did these issues come from? The explanation comes in the appendix:
These were selected because they involve principles that never admit of exceptions and because they are currently being debated in U.S. politics.

But what about war? What about the death penalty?
Though the Church urges caution regarding both of these issues, it acknowledges that the state has the right to employ them in some circumstances.

What about helping the poor? What about providing education, health care, and retirement security?
Catholics may legitimately take different approaches to these issues.

What about stopping genocide?
Unlike the five non-negotiables listed in the main part of this guide, Catholic voters generally do not have the ability to influence these issues through the lawmakers they elect because of the lack of debate among politicians.
Interestingly, contraception is listed in this same section along with stopping genocide.

So, basically, this guide is saying that issues that have clarity are automatically more important than all other issues. Never mind if there's an issue that might threaten the very existence of the society--say, terrorism, nuclear war, or climate change. If this guide is taken seriously, none of those issues are as important as making certain that no human cloning occurs!

That's stunning. According to this guide, it would be appropriate to vote for a politician who wants to involve one's country in a devastating and illegitimate war and who wants to execute all criminals, as long as he or she is against abortion and euthanasia. How is that consistent with concern for human life?

I do not question the Catholic Church's right (or the right of any other group, for that matter) to offer advice to voters in whatever form they feel is appropriate. Much of the advice in this Voter's Guide is quite useful, and would foster voters really engaging in the electoral process. However, I am quite disappointed with the reasoning behind the priorities chosen by the church for its voters, and am not even certain these priorities are consistent with core Catholic beliefs--at least as I learned about them in school.

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