instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, September 03, 2004

Voting guide for the "you can't be serious!" Catholic

Sr. Joan Chittister offers her own voting guide:
If you want to cast a moral vote, print out one of the many comparative lists of the issues espoused by each candidate. Ask yourself the question, "Will this proposal, this position, affect the poor of this country or the world positively, negatively or neither? Ascribe to each of the items in the platform or on the proposed legislative agenda a plus, a minus or a zero. Now count up the pluses. The program that will bring the most aid to the poor is the moral position.
Of course, St. Joan can't be taken seriously as a political observer; she believes the single most important issue of 2004 is the 2000 Florida recount, and her vision of "the rise of a new Christian Taliban" is, shall we say, no credit to her perspicacity.

Then, too, the heuristic she proposes is simply absurd. I mean, I certainly enjoy pretending that mathematical measurement techniques can be rigorously applied to moral reasoning. But I'm pretending. Sr. Joan is not only serious about her idea, she's downright sanctimonious:
That is the way you and I are really expected to vote this year.
How do I know? Easy. You see, what God says to Moses at the burning bush after "And I mean to deliver them" is this: "So I am sending you to pharaoh to say, 'Let my people go.' "
That's the most direct election guidance I've seen so far -- including what we're getting from bishops and campaign committees.
From where I stand, sending that message to pharaoh is the only real reason to vote.
But setting aside the tone and details of the proposal, we're still left with the fundamental and categorical claim, "The program that will bring the most aid to the poor is the moral position."

There's a lot to be said for this claim on behalf of the poor, particularly during a campaign focused on national security and the economy. If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep jobs in America, and sleep well in safety," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?

On the other hand, the chief downside to the claim is that it isn't true. Bringing the most aid to the poor isn't the sole, or even primary, purpose of government. There is a tendency among politically liberal Roman Catholics to confuse the duties of the state with the duties of the individual Christian, and the role of the state with the role of God. (One of my sharpest memories of treppenwitz is being a day late in thinking to reply to a liberal Catholic who said the Magnificat was a sound Socialist manifesto, "Socialists do think the State is God, don't they?")

And of course the claim ignores the risk of doing evil that good may result and the clear teaching of the Church on the primary place of right to life issues in voting.

It's a shame that the truths various commenters have to offer are so often deeply sunk in rubbish. It makes it easy, even tempting, to sink them as deeply in our own rubbish, if we don't simply throw them out altogether.