Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Great Temptation

As I've been discussing the question of morality and voting with Zippy Catholic over at Mark Shea's blog, and specifically the question of whether voting for a pro-abort or pro-ESCR candidate involves the mediate remote material cooperation with evil without a proportionate reason to justify it and is therefore objectively sinful, I must admit that I find it nearly impossible to weigh this possibility dispassionately.

I want it to be true, for my own selfish reasons.

I want it to be true, because then I can turn my back on this thing called "voting" for the foreseeable future, and retain the moral purity of never, ever, ever voting for anybody again in either major party (because we know that neither major party will ever, ever run a 100% pro-life candidate who eschews all abortions including in cases of rape, incest, life of the mother; all abortifacient contraception; all aborted-fetal-cell stem lines in government funded vaccines, and all use of ESCR).

I could then feel free to rain down bipartisan imprecations on both parties with the equanimity of someone who is beyond such mortal foolishness. I could sit in my lofty tower of moral abstraction and say, when the candidates get more and more pro-abortion with each succeeding election, that it's the fault of all those benighted fools who keep voting when our government has clearly moved to such a level of bloodthirsty support of child-killing that we ought never to give them the slightest stamp of approval, not even when one candidate pledges to end most abortions and the other pledges to make abortion a near-mandatory rite-of-passage for teen girls. I could have "Don't Blame Me" engraved on our car's bumper, and I could write witty aphorisms like "Don't Vote; It Only Encourages Them" and then design and sell merchandise at Cafe Press for the select few wise enough to keep company with me. I could write lengthy, cantankerous letters or e-mails to my congresspeople to express my dissatisfaction with their willingness to overlook the abortion holocaust, giving specifics, and then rest in the comfortable certainty that at least I've done something.

I could then, no matter who is elected, express my deep dissatisfaction with all of their policies without ever having to answer the question, "Did you vote for him?" in the affirmative. I could denounce the government on Monday for failing to protect our allies in "A," chastise them on Tuesday for threatening to go to war with "B" to protect "A," call them cowards on Wednesday if the saber-rattling dies down, and by Thursday have two essays prepared, one of which will excoriate them for idealistic non-interventionism, and the other of which wittily yet soberly compares the spread of Democracy to the spread of a rash, so that whatever happens over the weekend I'll be ready on Monday to say whatever needs to be said.

And I won't have to apologize for "our guys," because there no longer will be any "our guys." Sure, there might be some professional presidential candidate living in his mother's basement between elections who espouses policies of dazzling moral purity with only the slightest whiff of kookery in the details whom I can humorously call "my guy," but everyone will know that I don't mean it in any truly vulgar partisan sense.

I know this about myself. I'm not necessarily pleased to admit it, but there it is: the desire to be an above-it-all postpartisan snob has always been within me, and it was never strongest than when I cast votes for various third-party candidates with the supercilious glance of pity on my way out of the polling booth to that obvious gloomy Democrat over there, or that equally obvious jingoistic Republican speeding through the touchscreen menu as if he were ordering fast food (which, by the look of him, he did too often, poor man).

Mystery writer Dame Agatha Christie knew human nature pretty darned well, and she once had a character express the idea that the beginning of evil came with the thought "I am not like other men," because in one blow the person thinking such a sinful thought had lost two of the chief virtues: humility and brotherhood. So against the mediate remote material cooperation with evil that a vote for McCain might be, I have to wonder: is the potential damage to my soul from voting third-party, or sitting home in quiet contemplative comfort of the foolishness of the American voter on election day, a proportionate reason for me to vote for McCain? Would this reason also apply to people like me who would find this same great temptation a seductive reason to drop out of the political process altogether?

It's an honest question. I'm not looking for reasons or excuses to vote for McCain or not vote for him, or even not to vote at all. But I have to admit that my first thought in realizing that I might not have to show up and vote this time around was a kind of relief, a sense that for once I could skip the folly of the polling-station without committing the sin of apathy out of prideful indifference.


Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

I cannot help but think that it must be a shame, if not a sin, for someone as wise as yourself not to participate in the vote.

I think the question to ask yourself is, "who best deserves my vote?"

As you mentioned, there are no perfect candidates.

But the candidates, for all they are fallen men, and at least partially evil, are not equally evil.

I could not fault you for voting for a third party candidate, if you honestly believe that there is a third party who is better than all other candidates.

I think your conscience is well-formed. I think it is your civic duty to vote. As voters in a Republic, we are the sovereigns; it is not our right to choose not to decide the important questions entrusted to us.

So that only leave you to answer the question, which one is best?

Obviously, I have an opinion on that question too, but it's not the one you asked for opinions on.

Daddio said...

Great post. That's kind of what I was trying to say in my comments earlier this week. Vote for McCain since he's less evil, or vote for a third party kook to make a statement, or vote for Obama to punish the Republicans for picking the wrong guy. But a sense of duty makes me believe it is simply not an option to sit back on our holy high horse and refuse to participate. A lot of people have sacrificed to give you that measly little worthless single vote of yours. Don't you feel obligated to use it?

lois in Indy said...

I always heard if you don't vote, you can't gripe later. But, that aside, it seems to me if you're going to put yourself morally above even what the Church teaches, and not vote for the lesser evil to thwart the greater evil, you're like Pontius Pilate, "I wash my hands of this and whatever happens is not my fault". And Zippy's gobbledygook about individual votes don't count is anathema to me. Yet both positions seems to be drawing some people to follow suit. With all the votes the Dems are buying with socialist programs and the "higher ground" of caring for the poor and needy (as long as they're not in utero)is drawing a lot of support in my area of the country among Catholics (even nuns and I would imagine priests) and Protestants and blacks and old folks who always vote Dem and teachers and people fed up with the Republicans and on and on. It's going to take a lot of those little "useless" votes to counter the groundswell of support for the other side. I, for one, am going to cast my vote for the lesser evil, take part in the 40 Days for Life campaign and keep praying hard that this Nation will turn back to the moral values the 60's threw out when they literally threw the baby out with the bath water. lois

Donald R. McClarey said...

Those who think they are removing themselves from committing sin by opting out of the political process I think may be deceiving themselves. The words at Mass are "For what I have done, and what I have failed to do." If a country commits grave evil through evil leadership and is a Democracy when the leaders are elected, I wonder if God is going to be satisfied with the mantra, "Don't blame me Lord, I didn't vote for him." Not voting, under the proper circumstances, can be just as morally perilous as voting. I intend to vote for McCain because Obama is pledged to do everything in his power to enshrine abortion on demand forever as the law of the land. For me, everything else pales to insignificance, in light of that stark fact. I believe I would be committing sin if I stood by and helped through my inaction a dedicated enemy of the unborn ascend to the highest office in the land. I think 45,000,000 souls agree with me who never lived to see the light of day.

Jeff Miller said...

You have nailed what I have been thinking lately and have put it so much more eloquently than my own muddled mind.

There is a kind of relief in the idea of a pox on both houses mentality. It is quite tempting especially when you take moral questions seriously and don't want to minimize evil in any way.

But the fact is one of two men is going to be president and it is a sort of relativism to think both candidates are on the same moral playing field and that one supporting the evil of ESCR makes it the same as the other supporting abortion, ESCR, cloning, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

I know in my own mind it was tempting to sit it out or vote 3rd party but when it comes down to it I knew that my preference was that I hoped McCain would win over Obama to limit evil. So in my own case I thought it was hypocritical if I had this preference but sat it out so I could distance myself - an act of political purity.

But voting is hard and remote material cooperation with evil is still remote material cooperation with evil so I can totally understand people not voting for McCain, though I can't understand any serious Catholic voting for Obama.

zippy said...

One thing to consider, if you do decide to sit out, is to spend an hour or two in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying for the common good instead. I don't think it is a good idea to skip out on voting and then do nothing to replace it, for precisely the reasons you state here.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks to all who've commented here.

Zippy, I just want to take the opportunity to say that though we may, in the end, disagree about the best course of action I believe you to be motivated by the sincerest and most Christian charity, a charity which you display in your willingness to explain your ideas courteously even when they're attacked, and in your patience toward people like me who may not be entirely sure we understand fully or agree fully and pepper you with requests for further explanation.

Some of these specific thorny real-world questions may remain mysterious to some of us individually in this life, though they will become clear in the next. But God's desire that we bear with each other patiently and cheerfully is not all that hard to understand, and it's always a blessing to encounter a good example of this cheerful patience in this most cantankerous of formats, the Internet combox; your charity is much appreciated.

zippy said...

Likewise, Red. Pax.

Babs said...

Red - you might want to make voting easier on yourself and family by trying EARLY voting. It is quiet, orderly and peaceful... just you and the old folks and all the other stay-at-homes.

In my town it is a pleasant experience. I like to show my kids that I am concerned about my town and civics in general, show them how to mark a ballot, have them put it in the box and get a sticker (whoo hoo)!

Seeing you vote is a powerful example of you taking control and attempting to make the world better... what we have a little control over we don't fear.