Our votes belong to God.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 04, 2015

I’ve been thinking again about the very large number of Catholics who vote for pro-abortion (and now pro-gay marriage) politicians. A great many of these simply support the fashions of popular culture against the clear teaching of the Church. But some who recognize the truth of Catholic teaching still justify such voting patterns.

The argument they usually give is that singular evils like abortion are already settled in our society (and gay marriage is unstoppable in the light of the modern conception of freedom). They do not think they can effect a change in governmental treatment of such evils, so they have moved on to prudential issues which are more amenable to voter influence, like how much help to give to the poor, or how much protection to the marginalized. Of course, I suspect the real reasons people vote one way or another tend to be more psychological. Very often we vote for candidates we “like” or “are comfortable with”, and to a surprising degree this feeling is shaped by deeper values we will not admit to when arguing with those who raise moral questions about our goals.

Nonetheless, when such people argue that it is morally permissible, under certain circumstances, to vote for a pro-abortion candidate (for example) as long as one is not voting for him because he is pro-abortion, they do score a legitimate point. Ultimately, we are supposed to vote in whatever way maximizes the common good. That analysis includes a consideration of what issues really are in play (and which ones are totally beyond our influence in a particular election).

If the issues we can actually influence are handled better by candidate X, despite that candidate’s moral failure on issues which we cannot influence, then (loath as I am to admit it even for a moment) there is a legitimate argument for voting for candidate X.

But here is where that argument breaks down. In practice, the people we elect spend very little time pursuing the objectives for which they were elected. Most of the time, they spend days and months and years doing two things: Using their own talents and values to develop governmental strategies for dealing with the issues that are pressed upon them; and in so doing creating the moral and psychological climate within which government operates.

It seems to me that moral progress in politics is not possible unless we elect politicians who are capable, by virtue of their fundamental values and intelligence, of distinguishing right from wrong when it comes to the natural law. Broadly speaking, it is government’s province to protect and enhance the common good within the moral framework of the natural law. The inability to perceive that framework and act within it is a huge disqualifier.

I don’t trust the perceptions and goals of those who are thus disqualified even if they might sometimes (accidentally, as it were) favor some prudential policy in a debatable matter that seems good to me. If such a person has a particular expertise, I might consult him or her on a practical point in a program otherwise designed by truly moral minds. But these are not the people I want choosing the ends for which government is supposed to rule, or the means by which it may rule.

For this, we need minds conformed either to the natural law or to that brilliant shortcut, the teachings of the Church. Otherwise, we end up with political cultures characterized by the rule fashion, with no advertence whatsoever to that grasp of reality which we call truth.

It is not a critical election season at the moment, but it seems to me that these factors ought to nearly always trump the argument that, yes, if you look hard enough, you can morally vote for somebody you find congenial in non-essentials, even though the person is intellectually and morally bankrupt. But when we look that hard, I suspect we are often rationalizing. We are lying to ourselves about our real values, and forgetting that even our votes belong to God.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: john.n.akiko7522 - Sep. 05, 2015 11:58 AM ET USA

    This is so insightful and true! Especially about not trusting "the perceptions and goals of those who are thus disqualified even if they might sometimes (accidentally, as it were) favor some prudential policy in a debatable matter that seems good to me." Years ago, my daughter's Catholic school showed Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth". The teacher said there was nothing against Church teaching, but I replied that given Al Gore was so wrong on abortion, he could not be trusted on anything.