The Proper Place of Politics

With the election tomorrow, people are very much concerned with the result. This is understandably so since whoever we elect will in effect not only be leader of our country by leader of the free world. I have spoken to many devout people, however, who have great reservations about the candidates from both political parties. For them, Election Day is not about choosing the best candidate, but choosing the candidate who is the least bad.
And people put a lot of themselves into their politics. Some people are even defined by their political beliefs. For these people, come Wednesday morning, they may be either incredibly pleased or horribly crushed.

But how is a Catholic to view the election?

First of all, it is important to understand the proper place that politics should have in our lives.
We live in a democratic republic. As such, the responsibility of self-governance falls on us. Because of this freedom we enjoy, we must use that freedom wisely by making informed decisions. This is not merely good citizenship, this is a moral obligation.

The US Catechism says “Catholics must participate in political life and bring to bear upon it – by their voice and their vote – what they have learned about human nature, human destiny, and God’s will for human begins from his self-revelation.” (501-502)

When it comes to how we should vote, the US Catechism says, “Catholics have the duty to vote, to participate in the political arena, and to help shape society in light of Catholic teaching.” (380)

In other words, we have a moral obligation to promote the good and an obligation to not promote the bad. We incur sin on ourselves if we vote for things which are intrinsically evil. For example, if your state put a ballot initiative to legalize euthanasia, you would be committing sin if you voted for that initiative because euthanasia is an intrinsic evil.

But there is a wrinkle when it comes to voting for candidates for public office. It is incredibly unlikely that any candidate will be perfect. The two major political parties both often find themselves on the wrong side of the moral line. Democrats tend to be closer to the Catholic Church’s position on the death penalty but horrible when it comes to the intrinsic evil of abortion. Republican candidates tend to be better regarding the unborn but many are open to allowing torture of terrorist prisoners, also and intrinsic evil.

So what is a Catholic to do? Are you allowed to vote for a candidate who supports and intrinsic evil?

When voting for a candidate, it is important that you do not vote for them because they support something which is clearly wrong. For example, if a candidate is in favor of same-sex “marriages,” I cannot vote for them BECAUSE they support this position. If I did so, it would be the same as if I was directly voting for that agenda, thus incurring sin.

It is also important to check whether or not both candidates support an intrinsic evil. If one does and the other does not, then you are not morally free to support the candidate who is in favor of that intrinsic evil.

But what if both candidates support something intrinsically evil like abortion, euthanasia, torture, and the like?
In cases like these, you are morally free to vote for the candidate that you believe will do the least amount of damage. In this case, you are not voting for them because they support an intrinsic evil but because you are trying to limit the damage that could be done by the worse candidate.

Having said all of that, it is important to remember the limits of politics in our lives. The Scriptures say, “Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save. Who breathing his last, returns to the earth; that day all his planning comes to nothing. Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord, his God,“ (Psalm 146: 3-5)

Being involved with politics is all well and good, just like any other earthly endeavor that seeks some good. But our aim is higher than earth. The political gains and losses of this world are passing things. What is important above all is the salvation of the human soul.

CS Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.“ (The Weight of Glory) In other words, building your hopes on your political fortunes is to build a house of cards on a foundation of sand. Political power or advantage is merely a tool to enrich and sanctify the souls of the people in our world.

To be clear government cannot save our souls. But it can allow for an environment in which that salvation can take place. And when all of the nations of the world eventually turn to dust, the soul of the saved man will be only beginning its time of eternal glory.

And bad governments can make this task more difficult, but it cannot overcome us. Allow me to quote the entire second Psalm:

Why do the nations protest
and the peoples conspire in vain?
Kings on earth rise up
and princes plot together
against the Lord and against his anointed one:
“Let us break their shackles
and cast off their chains from us!”
The one enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord derides them,
Then he speaks to them in his anger,
in his wrath he terrifies them:
“I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the decree of the Lord,
he said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask it of me,
and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
and, as your possession, the ends of the earth.
With an iron rod you will shepherd them,
like a potter’s vessel you will shatter them.”
And now, kings, give heed;
take warning, judges on earth.
Serve the Lord with fear;
exult with trembling,
Accept correction
lest he become angry and you perish along the way
when his anger suddenly blazes up.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him!

So no matter who wins and loses tomorrow, God is still God and the nations of the world tremble before Him. And we are set to the task of making him known know matter who our practical politics pick as president.

© W. L. Grayson, 2016

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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