Saturday, October 18, 2008

Politics and the Election, Revisited

I am writing this post in response to both the MacIntyre article that has been copiously posted on Facebook, as well as a post by Joey. They can be found in links below.

Why I Must Vote for John McCain

The Only Vote Worth Casting in November

I think there are problems with both positions, Joey’s and MacIntyre’s, neither of which truly represent the Catholic position.

First, regarding Joey’s post:
The problem with this kind of look at the election is that it is just where the pro-abortion activists want the debate to be perpetuated: in the realm of ideology. We will not, at least at the point we are at right now (and I would venture to say never), be able to stop abortion. What would that even entail? The real problem is that most people do not value life. This is the real problem. Even many anti-abortion activists, deep down, do not value life. An ideology, in the sense that Giussani uses the word in The Religious Sense, cannot value life; every ideology is an idol, a part of reality exalted to the status of totality. I am NOT primarily anti-abortion. Let me say it like this: being anti-abortion is not what motivates me in politics; it is not a label that I want. I am pro-life. That means, the ones who die in the war, those who are euthanized, those who are murdered, those who are on death row, those who cannot afford housing or food, those who are immigrants, are just as valuable as the unborn. To say that these issues take the backburner to abortion is an ideology, a dangerous one. Life is life. As my friend Steve puts it, “People always bring up the sheer number of children killed in abortion and use that to justify the fact that it is more morally imperative than any other anti-life position. Honestly, this is not a Catholic moral argument. What is one life or one million in front of the infinite? In the end, we don't respect the dignity of a lot of human lives, but EACH human life. That's a 1:1 ratio.”

If we were to approach the election with a single-mindedness, focused only on abortion death tolls and numbers, it would not be reasonable to vote at all, to engage in such a utilitarian and futile exercise. Really, where is the unrealistic expectation of perfection that Joey refers to? I would say it lies in this single-issue mentality of the anti-abortion activists just as much as it is in those who maintain that the best way to vote is not to vote. This brings me to the MacIntyre article.

I agree with what Joey said in his post, that it does not help anything to disengage from politics with so much at stake. But I have to confess that I am tempted and fascinated by MacIntyre’s proposal. It is certainly eye-opening, to say the least. At this point I agree with certain points of his argument, but disagree with his application of it to American politics (a tenuous rejection, but I am leaning more and more towards rejecting it.) I agree with MacIntyre in the sense that he does not see any value in engaging in ideological debates that censure position as Catholics. It does not make sense to perpetuate a system that does not care about us, that throws us bones labeled “pro-life” or “anti-poverty” to keep us coming back to the polls. Then what do we do? Forget our original reason for our involvement in politics? Play the numbers game? This isn't engaging in politics, but giving way to enemies that are burning ground before us as we retreat.

If we do engage, and in the arena of abortion decide to play the numbers game, (which is how the pro-choice advocates want the battle to be fought) we can talk about numbers all day and never get to the real question concerning the value of life. The problem is this: “do you recognize the fetus as a person?”…I would add, in the same breath, “do you recognize the weary immigrant crossing the border in search of a better life as a person? Do recognize criminals as persons? Do you recognize the women seeking abortions as persons?” This further question is required, namely, what does it mean to be a person? I want my political question to be that one. Do you recognize the fetus and the immigrant to be equally important because they are the kind of thing that has the potential for happiness? THAT HAS A DESIRE FOR HAPPINESS THAT YOU CANNOT ANSWER, OR EVEN STIFLE, NO MATTER HOW MUCH POWER YOU POSSESS?

With that as the starting point, to be pro-life is not to be anti-abortion, but rather to be an advocate of the common good via the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. Subsidiarity, because life consists of individuals and their communities (not ideas and issues), and people should not be deprived of their ability to tend to the needs to which they are able to attend without the interference of government. And solidarity, because solidarity is the mutual discovery of the desire for that happiness that we all seek, which I mentioned above, which facilitates education and the building of true culture. Succinctly put, I will vote for the candidate who allows me, and the Church, freedom. That is, the one that allows for the education and building of society and culture, foundational blocks without which our problems will never be addressed, regardless of our prevention of 6 abortions or 6 million.

The political situation may be bad, but, when in Rome, we should do as the Christians did; testify to the beginnings of a new world and a new freedom that cannot be granted by any political institution. The Romans feared the Christians because they were free. I think we need to seriously ask ourselves if we are free in facing this election. This is what changed my outlook on going to the polls in November, and it is why I ultimately disagree with MacIntyre. Would you describe yourself as free in this election? Why or why not? What is freedom? If we don't live with an experience of freedom, that is, the taste of fulfillment, given to us by Christ through the Church, really, let's not waste our time to go vote and think that anything is actually going to change. Unless we recognize this, MacIntyre is dead right and we can expect our retreat to continue.

For those who haven’t encountered Christ, it might seem to make sense to vote for Obama, the “messiah” as a last desperate grasp at salvation. But salvation does not come from politics. I will vote for John McCain not because he is anti-abortion, but because I believe he doesn’t look at me as someone in need of being saved by politics. (I have not given enough specific examples here, but this is not a post about the candidates.)

Pope Benedict, regarding one of his first encounters with Fr. Giussani and the movement Communion and Liberation, said that he was surprised to find a group of people “for” something rather than “against” something. Let’s be “for” something in this election; let’s not play down to the abortion activists and engage in the numbers game, and let's not just be "against" the whole system because we are dissatisfied. My friend Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete once said that our primary (in the sense of essential or ultimate) responsibility in politics is not to end abortion or the war but to build the Church. "To build the Church is the task of the saints, and that is not a bad party to belong to."

By the way, Albacete will soon be running on his own ticket as the leader of the Mystical Party. Contact me for more information, I am one of his grassroots members.


Fred said...

Francis, thank you for this judgment which refuses to yield to polarization and the corruption of language. May I repost this at the blog Cahiers Peguy? Let me know!

Fred Kaffenberger

kRad said...

In your post you list the following as persons:
Fetus [sic]
The weary immigrant crossing the boarder in search of a better life
Women seeking abortions

Which group is currently not recognized as a person by US law? If you truly believe that all persons deserve equal treatment under the law as humans you might want to trim your candidate list down by removing those who would disagree with you about the fetus thing. Please remember that with the issues you've spoken of only abortion each and every time involves an intrinsically evil act of amurder.

Francis said...

krad -

i am sorry to respond with such an exaggerated and inaccurate comparison. thank you for the correction. like i said, i agree with you, but i don't think our opponents do. thus, my only point is that we need to come to the table with more than just the numbers on abortion. do you agree? And, if you do, I would like to know if you think that repealing Roe v. Wade should be our sole concern and motivation to vote. Because, if that is the case, if the system has forced us to that point where we are stuck in the cut our losses war, then I don't see a reason for voting. What motivates me, what gives me hope in front of the election, is my encounter with Christ through the Church, and I hold this most dear when I go to the polls, not a utopian project. If this is true, then I can no longer be in politics to be "against" abortion, but I have to be "for" life. And that means, above all, in defense of the freedom I encounter in the Church.

i apologize once again for the stupidity.

Stephen said...

Ok, Francis, you weren't stupid. Your intuition was correct. It's time for a lesson in moral theology.

According to CCC 1755, "A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together." If any of these three is lacking, the act will be evil.

Intrinsically evil acts are those acts in which the object itself is bad. 1755 goes on to say "The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts - such as fornication - that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil."

Fornication is intrinsically evil, just like abortion. Mistreating an immigrant is intrinsically evil, just like abortion. Abusing a woman is intrinsically evil, just like abortion. Lying, calumny, condemning an innocent person, masturbation, gay sex, unjust war . . . all intrinsically evil.

None of those things can ever be morally licit because the objective nature of those actions is a moral evil.

Krad, you seem to suggest that intrinsic evil is a degree of gravity. It is not.

I don't think that there is an argument here that somehow abortion should not matter. Nor does Francis seem to be saying that abortion isn't important (even the most important thing). Rather, what he seems to be questioning is whether the repeal of Roe V. Wade is the most important [political] goal with respect to defense of the unborn.

I agree with Francis that in voting for someone, I would like to vote "for" someone rather than "against" an issue. The problem with the whole conversation on voting is that it is reduced to whether the voter is committing a moral act in casting their vote for someone. Absurd.

There is more to voting than the correct application of moral principles. Catholic morality is about the adherence to an event, a person in a concrete experience.

Francis said...

Thanks Steve, that was really helpful. I said that if we are just to be anti-abortion then it makes sense, if we push the limits of our logic, to end up being extremists and to blow up abortion clinics, because we will be preventing more murder in the end. I deleted both that comment and krad's response. I don't know if you would agree with this, but I wrote it yesterday afternoon and then deleted it last night because I thought it was a little harsh and stretched too far what krad said.

Francis said...

Here are the comments that I deleted:

Krad -

Thanks for your comment. I understand your concern, and I agree 100% that abortion is murder. The problem I see is that we assume that our opponent grants this when we come to the table with our concerns. But this is not the case. So what we need is to gain back the title "pro-life" so a person like Obama cannot possibly claim it as his own. This can only happen, as far as I see, if we stop being principally single-issue voters, and engage in politics with the demand for freedom, religious freedom specifically, and the capacity to create initiatives at the local level to help educate others to the value of every life (we don't have to worry, because the politicians who believe this are usually anti-abortion).

Answer to your question: fetuses, those that die of starvation, those that die in unjust wars, and inmates on death row. I don't care what the law says; that is the short list of people not recognized as people. By your rationale, it seems like it is okay for an extremist to blow up an abortion clinic. A couple hundred workers die, but they are recognized as persons by the law, and in the process you prevent the death of maybe thousands of children. Is that what you suggest we do? If we are to be single issue voters, that seems to make sense to me.

I am for McCain, as I said, because I think he has more faith in me and my Church to help with the building of society and culture (a society where we are able to educate others to the value of life). Whereas Obama thinks he knows how to save me. Good one, Obama.

Is that what I would suggest? Are you kidding me? Did you even read my post? It stated quite clearly that murder is intrinsically evil. It did not qualify that statement in any way. What I am suggesting - Work on you rationale interpretation skills. Your question shows those skill are lacking in reason and charity.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I think you do a masterful job of getting us over the twin humps of pragmatism and utilitarianism on abortion. Neither of these approaches are constitutuve of true morality. Like you, I am pro-life. This also extends to marriage. I am not anti-gay. I refuse to let anyone reduce themselves to mere sexuality. I am pro-marriage even though I do think homosexual activity is immoral, just as I think heterosexual activity outside of marriage is immoral, and contraceptive sexual activity inside marriage is immoral. Here, too, we very often make abstract arguments that do not appeal to human desire, that do not resonate with experience. Giussani is right, we need to start from a positive hypothesis.

I also think you're correct when you say that by playing the numbers game with abortion we play into the hands of those who are pro-choice. The reason for this is that we concede compassion. While it is a bit like pointing out to somebody who is in rehab for the umpteenth time that disease is "dis- ease," compassion means to suffer with. It doesn't mean offering the the cure, it doesn't mean removing all the bad, it means to be loving enough to suffer with someone who is hurting, scared, etc.

"The political situation may be bad, but, when in Rome, we should do as the Christians did."

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

Looking at the entire thread, it is important to note that we are not disagreeing, at least as it pertains to ends, to what is ultimate. The question, it seems to me, is about how we engage reality. We must not assert ourselves against reality.

Let's take contraception, which is immoral. The vast majority of practicing Catholic married couples use contraception of some form or another. What is the best way to engage this reality? Is it to rail and assert myself against them? No! That is not starting from a positive hypothesis. Contraception is a symptom, an effect caused by something else, though immoral in-and-of-itself. What is the cause? When I begin to think this way I begin to think about what it means to be educated and about educating. Here I can begin from a positive hypothesis, namely that the human person is a direct relationship with the Mystery and that freedom is constitutive of the human person. Now I am getting somewhere.

I would disagree with the assertion that the only pepple who support Sen Obama do so out of a desire to be saved through politics. True, many Obama supporters, too many, see him as a political messiah, but not all. I believe one can vote Sen Obama in good conscience.

kRad said...

Accepted. Please accept my apology as well - for being just a tad thin skinned. :)

I think we are all mostly on the same page.

I do think that Roe needs to be repealed. The ruling allows for actions to be taken (abortion, cloning, embryo stem cells, etc) that would not be allowed if humanity is recognized. Is it the only thing? No. I do think it is part of the primary or cornerstone issue - life.

An attempt to clarify my original comment on your post...

If a criminal is say put in prison for say a crime that they did commit - that is not an intrinsically evil act if just law is followed. Incarceration is not in and of itself (by it's very nature) evil.

When a hard working immigrant is treated poorly say by the new country by say being deported because the country thinks the immigration is not legal. The treatment may be morally wrong in one, some, or most all cases but that does not make every act of deportation by its nature intrinsically evil. Deportation (for example) is not in its nature evil.

The difference in the groups I listed is that the other groups can be treated humanly and the laws at least assume a human is involved. So it is possible. I'm not making a statement that it in fact always happens. We know that it doesn't. But abortion is intrinsically evil (by its very nature) it can never be a good act because of its very nature.

One note to Stephen's good points...

Voting is a moral act. I'll give Germany's 1932 election as an example.

Belmont Abbey College has I think a good voter's guide.

Francis and Stephen, thank you for your time and thoughts and letting random strangers post on your blog. Please pray for God's will be done in this election and all things.