Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Theocratic Voter's Guide

In today’s USA TODAY a group called Catholic Answers Action published a Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics, complete with a list of Five Non-Negotiable Issues that should determine your vote in next Tuesday's election. I found it very troubling. Here are some excerpts and my thoughts on them.

A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law that contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. No system of faith and morality is universal. For example, Judaism holds that the life of a pregnant mother always comes before the life of her unborn child, and Judaism considers abortion to save the life of the mother morally obligatory. Does Catholic morality trump Jewish morality?

Some things are always wrong, and no one may deliberately vote in favor of them. Citizens support these evils indirectly if they vote in favor of candidates who propose to advance them. I agree, and one of these always wrong things is torture, yet torture isn’t mentioned in the list of the Five Non-Negotiable Issues. Neither is racism, slavery, sex trafficking, anti-Semitism, genocide, destruction of the earth’s capacity to sustain life, and a host of other issues I would consider nonnegotiable. Am I to understand that torture is negotiable? Is the Church still defending the Inquisition?

Catholics must avoid voting for any candidate who intends to support programs or laws that are intrinsically evil. I agree. No one should vote for evil. But we cannot seem to agree on what evil is. I can't vote for anyone who would willfully kill an innocent mother simply to save the life of her unborn child. I can't vote for anyone who endorses torture, and promotes racism, and fosters hatred of one American for another, and for Americans against other human beings. But the Guide doesn't even mention these things!

When all of the candidates endorse morally harmful policies, citizens must vote in a way that will limit the harm likely to be done. I agree. So which is worse: embryoinic stem cell research that might save hundreds of thousands of lives or torture, destruction of the environment, undermining science and our capacity to enter what President Bush dismissed as the “reality based community”?

The Guide lists abortion as one if five non-negotiables, and defines abortion as the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide, and refuses to allow for abortion in any situation. I understand the moral ambiguity of aborting in cases of rape and incest—the unborn is innocent— but to decide that the life of the mother is worth less than the life of the unborn makes no moral sense. It is not based on anything other than theology: the mother has had her chance to accept Jesus as Christ, the unborn has not. Is it morally right to intentionally and directly kill an innocent mother by forcing her to carry her baby to term even though it will cost her her life? It may well be for Catholics, but what about the rest of us?

The Guide says of euthanasia that true compassion cannot include intentionally doing something intrinsically evil to another person. So “Five Non-Negotiable Issues listed in this Guide. What the Guide says is that Catholic voters cannot vote their conscience. They cannot think for themselves. That they must vote for those ideas and ideals and laws and lawmakers closest to the Catholic Church’s position on morality. This is not democracy but backdoor theocracy.

Of course Catholic Americans can vote anyway they wish, and if they feel compelled to vote the way their Church tells them to vote, so be it. But what about Catholic law makers and judges, and the five Catholic Supreme Court Justices. Who are these people obligated to: the Constitution of the United States or the Catholic Church? I am willing and excited about judges debating the meaning of the Constitution, I am horrified at the thought that they are morally obligated to bend the Constitution to the will of the Catholic Church.

I am shocked to find myself saying these things. They are so biased, so reminiscent of anti-Catholic fears that used to be systemic in this country. And yet I cannot help worrying that when the Church issues non-negotiable positions and hints that violating them might well place your eternal soul at risk of damnation we are placing our Catholic citizens in an untenable position, and perhaps placing our freedoms at risk.

I vote my values and want everyone to vote theirs, but I think it is wrong and dangerous to try to limit our voting by making these Christian-right obsessions the be-all and end-all of morality when there are other, equally if not more vital moral issues on the table.

Religion scares me more each day.

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