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Voting In November and The Role of Moral Discernment: Why Romney and Ryan Get The Nod
By F. K. Bartels
September 9th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
In authentically exercising the privilege to vote is required careful and reasoned moral discernment, which must always be guided by the light of faith and governed by a properly formed conscience. In this process of discernment, we must always remain faithful to the teaching of the Church on the full truth of the human person, which leads us to oppose intrinsic evils with maximum determination.
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) -- There was never a time in the U.S. when the privilege of voting was to be taken lightly. Through the democratic process of electing political leaders, the citizens of our nation take an active role in shaping not only America's future, but even its character. That is, the citizenry by its vote has a say in what America is about, what it means to live within her borders, and what our nation stands for as a people. The choices we make this November in the voting booth will in some way form America, and, additionally, they may even, perhaps to a very large degree, form our children in the future.
To say that voting choices will form our children, is not to refer only to economic, public debt, or tax burden concerns. As important as these are, they pale in comparison to the manner in which our children may be morally formed, either in a positive or negative way, as a direct consequence of our vote. The fact is, society acts as a moral teacher. What is legal is often deemed moral, whether it is or not. Accepted practices become the norm. The virtues and vices of a society imprint themselves upon the people who live within it. Whether a particular civil law is in sync with what is right and good or not, whether cultural norms are in accordance with the divine law and the natural law or not, is often inadequately considered by individuals until they have already fallen under their influence. The obvious example of such a tragic situation is legalized abortion.
The political opponents for the offices of President and Vice President in the election of 2012 stand in diametric opposition on crucial moral issues -- namely intrinsic evils. While it is true that both the Democrat and Republican candidates speak in some form or other of providing a positive socio-economic influence on the nation, their personal moral philosophies concerning human life and the dignity and truth about the human person could hardly be more radically divided.
President Barack Obama's position on critical moral issues facing our nation is well known. These include: legalized abortion; embryonic stem-cell research (embryo-destructive experiments); homosexual unions (so-called marriage equivalency); the continued dismantling of the institution of marriage; and the attacks on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience through the unjust HHS mandate. Obama's adamant and consistent support of these gravely immoral practices, most of which involve intrinsic evils, is so well documented as to be without question.
Vice President Joe Biden has repeatedly distanced himself from the Christian fold and damaged his communion with the Church through his tenacious support of legalized abortion, homosexual unions, and embryonic stem-cell experimentation. For Catholics, these intrinsic evils can never be supported, nor permitted nor condoned under any circumstances. They are entirely contrary to the Gospel, Christian discipleship, and the true Christian religion transmitted in its fullness by the Church. Nevertheless, Biden has publicly made his position of dissent clear on numerous occasions.
One the other hand, presidential and vice presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan oppose these intrinsic evils. Whatever one may think of their views on how to balance the budget, shore up the economy, solve the health care dilemma, combat terrorist attacks, and so forth, there is an essential difference in the moral character of these two men in contrast to their political opponents. The question is, does it matter? As disciples of Christ, the moral character of those we place in positions of authority must always be of primary concern.
Nevertheless, there are a number of Catholics who are taking swings at Ryan. The claim is that his proposed policies fail to conform to their understanding of "social justice." Unfortunately, some Catholics advocate a social justice that is detached from the principle of subsidiarity, which skews the whole meaning of the doctrine. Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" plan, which focuses on debt reduction, most often comes under fire. However, Ryan is a faithful Catholic who is dedicated to implementing the principles of Catholic social justice doctrine properly understood. He is by no means unconcerned with helping the poor. On the contrary, in a column he wrote in 2011 for "Our Sunday Visitor," he stated that his budget plan "helps the poor, first and foremost, by promoting urgently needed economic growth and job creation." It is obvious that the U.S. cannot continue to amass public debt without eventually incurring serious and widespread consequences. If we think the poor are suffering now, bear in mind their indigent circumstances will be far worse in the event of a total economic collapse. Ryan maintains that his plan, in the long run, will be of the most benefit to all.
In 2008 Pope Benedict said, "Trying to solve the problem of poverty solely by redistribution of existing wealth is an illusion. Wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long run." If America wants to help the poor at home and abroad in the most effective manner possible, it is necessary to foster a healthy economy. Shackling Americans, wealthy or otherwise, with oppressive tax burdens and outlandish, unsustainable public debt does just the opposite.
Pitfalls In The Moral Discernment Process
Deciding who will get our vote involves careful and reasoned moral discernment, guided always by the light of faith, governed by a properly formed conscience. Here a number of potential errors can come into play. Let's briefly look at some of the most common. First, there is often a failure to make the distinction between moral and physical evils. The former far outweighs the latter in gravity. For instance, legalized abortion is an intrinsic moral evil, a heinous crime against the dignity of the human person and humanity collectively, which is incommensurably more harmful than physical evils, such as the potential suffering which can be brought about by high unemployment or a reduction in entitlement programs. While high unemployment, rising health care costs, oppressive public debt, and the like are serious and unfortunate and should be addressed, they are not of the same magnitude as the direct and intentional killing of human beings.
Pope John Paul II wrote: "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination" (Christifideles Laici 38).
One of the reasons moral evil is far more serious than physical evil, is that those who willfully consent to grave (mortal) sin with full knowledge risk eternal damnation (see CCC 1861). Moral evil can have unending consequences of a truly horrifying nature. Further, the sin of moral evil tends to perpetuate itself and move through society as a plague. For instance, when children and young adults grow up in an abortive culture of death, one in which the sanctity of life and the full truth of the human person is rejected, they can be adversely morally formed by such an atmosphere, absorbing its faulty and immoral ideologies as their own, which can have tragic and lasting physical and spiritual consequences.
Some well meaning Catholics and other Christians are under the impression that they can vote for anti-life political candidates with the provision that they disagree with those policies which do not conform to the natural moral law. However, the U.S. bishops warn against a "moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed" (FC 28). In simple terms, there is a hierarchy among evils which must not be ignored.
In writing for "The Catholic Answer" magazine about what priority people should assign to the issues at hand, Russell Shaw pointed out that "The Bishops don't lay down a hard-and-fast rule, but "Forming Consciences" makes it clear that issues with a direct bearing upon the life and dignity of human persons necessarily come first" (Sep/Oct 2012, p. 15).
Participating In The Construction of The City of God
Further, we must be mindful of the fact that in choosing moral evil is involved a disorder in the human will. Not only do political leaders who support the advancement of intrinsic evils infect countless others in society with an impoverished understanding of the truth about the human person, but they often continue to make choices which are directly opposed to divine law, the natural law, the reality of the human person, and the common good.
St. Augustine wrote in City of God: "Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, 'Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.'"
The Church is careful not to tell us who we must vote for; rather, she informs us of the guiding moral principles upon which our vote must be based. The Church is about the truth, and she directs her children to live in accordance with it. It is the duty of the laity to authentically and correctly apply these principles in society and the world. After careful moral discernment, I am convinced the only safe way to proceed in good conscience is to give the nod to those politicians who support the inviolable sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, who stand firmly in accordance with the full truth about the human person, and who affirm the natural moral law. I think the choice is obvious.
In exercising my vote, I refuse to lend credence to an earthly city constructed according to love of self, at the exclusion of God and the full truth of the human person, under the pretense of concern for the poor. I will not cooperate in the continued perpetuation of intrinsic evils which attack the foundation of every human right, including life itself, and which turn everything toward darkness, death and destruction. I stand for life and I love Life Itself: my God for Whom my heart aches. The city I desire is the Holy City, in which "the glory of God is its light" (Rev. 21:23), where God is all in all (cf. Col. 1:17) and reigns forever, for all generations to come (Ps. 146:10).
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at joyintruth.com
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