Here’s my first question for you guys to discuss. Let me try to unpack the probably poorly-articulated question.
I don’t mean, “Is it too unrealistically oriented toward a greater good that can never be achieved?” No. I mean – is Catholic politico-talk, particularly in the present moment, as most of us are engaging in it, taking place essentially on the level of vague assertions, associations and concepts? And – are we avoiding and ignoring the way that government and political processes actually work?
In my mind, at least two aspects of this stick out:
One of the smartest Catholic political-blogging bloggers out there is Erin Manning of Red Cardigan. Anyone who’s not discovered her – I encourage you to go read. However, one of the pithiest, most intelligent statements on her blog in the past few months wasn’t actually written by Erin, but by a commenter on this post, who wrote:
“We need to realize that politics is a practical science – oriented toward result. A vote is a vote for the RESULT, not any particular candidate.
For instance, it would be a completely moral action for me to vote for Hillary in a primary if she’s a weaker candidate in the general election, in order for a RESULT, which is, that that the ethically superior candidate might win. A vote is not your stamp of approval for any one person. It is not a marriage, or a contract, or a vow to a particular individual. It is a tool for a result.
It seems to me that much of what I’m reading out there comes from a completely different perspective: that my vote for a presidential candidate signifies that I belief this candidate to be a perfect embodiment of the finest humanity has to offer as well as an individual who embodies every value which I hold dear. Much sturm und drang, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments results. It’s one thing to agonize because you are torn between two candidates whose victories might result in positive or negative consequences of proportionate value, or because your vote might (realistically) contribute to a particular moral or immoral result, but to treat this as if we’re voting on a canonization case, your vote on which somehow shows the world something about you is silly.
2. Government and civic life.
Can we read St. Augustine, please? City of God and City of Man and all that?
It seems to me that some of our conversations about political life in Catholic circles ask far more from government than it is able to give (I’ll touch on this more in a later post, as well – probably several. It is a core issue, I think.), not only because of the proper scope of government but because of the limitations and VAGARIES of political, social and economic life. I do think conversations about health care are a perfect example of this, but I do want to do a separate post on this, so you might want to save your specifics for later.
I don’t want to suggest cynicism or hopelessness. I’m also not definitely suggesting that the law, for example, is useless or pointless in shaping our lives and choices. That’s just silly. I’m just sort of groping for a way towards a more realistic engagement between the way politics and government actually works and the way that we talk about it as Catholics, citizens of both Cities, at the moment.
All the comments so far have been good, but I want to highlight Liam’s, which says what I was trying to say far more knowledgeably:
The problem is that much Church teaching still indirectly assumes the idea of the single-willed sovereign in the political organism. And that notion simply doesn’t obtain in modern representative democracy with a panoply of checks and balances that are precisely designed to frustrate the application of any single will to political effectiveness. Someday, the Church may catch up on this, but it has only done so at the surface and at the level of very general goals.
One thing that may have to evolve is our understanding of the conditions for grave sin. We have a long-standing teaching about consent that still implies a single actor capable of having sufficient knowledge. In representative government, there are many actors, partial knowledge, and consent cannot necessarily be presumed to omissions because the array of consequences of omissions are too numerous to take into account. I do wonder if there are any serious moral theologians out there who are considering this aspect of the problem.
Finally, one always has the classic Catholic problem of moralism/ethicalism vs sanctification/theosis: that is, the tendency (dating to the time of Jesus own preaching, as testified in the Gospels) to settle for avoiding vice/cultivating virtue instead of the much riskier proposition of making room for God in our souls the way God wants for us, which often does not neatly align with a vices/virtue checklist.