Did you know that there’s a presidential election coming up here in the United States? This election has brought people into the discussions who might not normally be very interested in politics, because everyone seems to have very strong feelings about the election is this year. Since it is often the case that the candidate who wins the Catholic vote wins the election, Catholics are being particularly sought after in this election. Both of the major parties know this and are doing whatever they can to convince the majority of Catholics to vote for their respective candidates. Both make convincing arguments for different parts of their platforms that might appeal to Catholics who want to vote based on their Catholic beliefs. Catholic bishops are trying to help people get informed (even turning to avenues that seem to reach out to younger voters, such as offering iPods, loading videos onto YouTube, and using Facebook), and the website CatholicVote.com is meant to help encourage and inform Catholic voters.
So, what does all of this mean for those of us who want to vote as Catholic citizens?
I recently bought the book Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Charles Chaput, because I’ve been struggling with deciding who to vote for and I had been looking forward to reading what Archbishop Chaput had to say about being Catholic and American in political life today. I’ll admit that voting for Obama has never been much of an option for me because I disagree with him on too many issues, most importantly life issues. But does not voting for Obama mean that I should automatically vote for McCain, since I agree with him on more issues? McCain, as far as I know, still supports embryonic stem cell research. And I’m not sure that I want to vote for someone who continues to support such an intrinsic evil. At the same time, though, I happen to live in a swing state where it seems that every day the majority support switches between Obama and McCain. Knowing this, and knowing that I would much prefer Obama not win the election, I can’t help but wonder if it would be better for me just to vote for McCain (instead of a third party) so that Obama doesn’t win the state. (Having Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential pick has definitely made voting for McCain more appealing than it was previously, but McCain is still the one running for president.)
In Render Unto Caesar, Chaput spends some time discussing the more general issue of being Catholic in America, and what our responsibilities are as Catholics. He makes the point that it is absurd to try to separate our Catholic beliefs with how we vote politically. It’s impossible to say and believe in one thing while doing something else without making a mockery of what it is we say we believe. It shouldn’t just be a belief, it should be a way of life. Everything we do, including how we vote, must reflect what we believe. As Catholics, we should believe that all life is sacred and precious, and as Chaput says, “deliberately killing innocent human life, or standing by and allowing it, dwarfs all other social issues.”
I certainly believe other issues are important. We’re facing tough times right now, and this election stands to be one of the more important elections in recent history. I think McCain has a lot of good to offer the country, and I’m fairly certain that if I vote for a third party candidate who agrees with the Church on all the life issues, he wouldn’t win. But, to quote Chaput again, “we’re not called to get results. We’re called to be faithful.” Render Unto Caesar doesn’t say who we should vote for. There is no chapter entitled “Don’t Vote for Obama” or “Vote for This Candidate, and Here’s Why.” The Church can’t tell us who specifically to vote for, and neither can anyone else. There is not a rule that states that if a candidate holds a certain position, we absolutely should or should not vote for that candidate. There are many Catholics who seem to be quite faithful, and still are able to justify voting for Obama. There are also those Catholics who can’t even justify voting for McCain, despite his more pro-life stance, because he still supports things that don’t fit very well with Catholic teaching, and so they’re turning to candidates outside of the two major parties. It is times like this that make it so important for Catholics to have fully-formed (and, hopefully, correctly informed) consciences, so we can make the decisions we need to, on our own.
I’m by no means an expert about politics. Nor am I an expert in Catholic teaching, beyond what I learned growing up, in college theology classes, and learning from those around me who are much more knowledgeable than I am. I read through Chaput’s book rather quickly this first time because I just wanted to get the basics of what he said. A part of me was hoping that at the end he would say that, this election, Catholics should vote for (fill in the blank here). Of course, he didn’t. But his message is unmistakable even in a quick read-through: as Catholics, we can’t compromise our beliefs just to fit in with a majority or to soften Christ’s message to make it more palatable. We have to hold firm to what he commanded, even if it seems hopeless. (And let’s face it, in today’s society, it often seems nearly hopeless more than it doesn’t.) If we all follow Christ, we can each make a difference even if it’s just a small one. If none of us follow Christ’s will, who will be left to change the world?
(By the way, I do highly recommend Render Unto Caesar. It’s not a very big book, and it’s incredibly easy to get into. Archbishop Chaput includes a lot of history, both Catholic and American, which was really helpful to put things into context and showing how other Catholics throughout history have dealt with having to make tough political choices like we do today. I’m planning on reading it again so I can pick up what I missed during my first quick read. There’s so much to take in that I’m sure a more thorough read will have a lot to offer.)
What are your thoughts on the election? Is it better to vote for the “lesser of two evils” while acknowledging that we are not voting to promote those morally objectionable positions that the lesser evil might hold, or should we avoid the evils altogether and find someone else to vote for, even if doing so is seen as a wasted vote by the majority of the country?