Friday, July 16, 2004

The Perils of Religious Voting 

by Dave
I stumbled across an interesting set of directives to Catholic voters entitled A Brief Catechism for Catholic Voters. It's written by a Catholic clergyman with a PhD and it's posted on a website that looks pretty darned Catholic, so I'll take it as a fair expression of conservative Catholic thinking on this tricky issue of church and state. Mormons, too, like to mix religion with their politics, but sometimes we see our own difficulties more clearly by viewing someone else's. So here are some highlights (quotes in italics, my comments afterwards) from the fourteen numbered paragraphs in the article.

3. If a political candidate supported abortion, or any other moral evil, such as assisted suicide and euthanasia, for that matter, it would not be morally permissible for you to vote for that person. This is because, in voting for such a person, you would become an accomplice in the moral evil at issue. No, voting for a pro-abortion candidate is not morally equivalent to choosing or assisting with an abortion. If it were, then so would a lot of things be too: fixing the car of a pro-abortion person, selling a house to a pro-abortion person, coaching their kids in Little League, even just saying "Good morning" as opposed to "One day you will burn in hell" or some similar benediction could be "assisting." Making abortion a controlling litmus test for voting debases voting and undermines the polity.

7. A candidate for office who says that he is personally opposed to abortion but actually votes in favor of it is either fooling himself or trying to fool you. . . . If you vote for such a candidate, you would be an accomplice in advancing the moral evil of abortion. Therefore, it is not morally permissible to vote for such a candidate for office. This attempts to deny Catholic politicians the possibility of separating their political sense of duty from their personal sense of religious obligation. Didn't Catholics figure this out with Kennedy in 1960? He said (in no uncertain terms) that as President he wouldn't take orders from the Vatican--would he have been elected if he had said the contrary? We expect politicians to represent all voters and act with an eye to the diverse views of their constituents and the public good, not simply enact their own personal moral agenda.

In paragraph 10, the author opines that if the choice is between two (or several) candidates who are all pro-abortion, one need not withhold one's vote, but should instead vote for the candidate who "would do the least moral harm." That seems like a better and more general principle to follow in every case: vote for the guy who will do the least (moral) harm. In paragraph 14, the author holds out that knowingly voting for a pro-abortion candidate is a mortal sin (in Catholic theology, a sin which kills the spiritual life of the soul and deprives a person of salvation, unless he repents). All this Catholic angst over voting is a reminder of how authoritarian and how thoroughly opposed to political liberalism was Catholicism in the 19th century. Echoes persist.

So are there any pitfalls here that LDS leaders and voters can avoid? I'll note that LDS leaders have consistently worked hard to avoid endorsing specific candidates or getting embroiled in political disputes. Yet, it feels like the Church is becoming more politicized recently. The times they are a-changing. What think ye?
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