Voting and the principle of double effect
Catholics are faced with difficult choices in the coming presidential elections. Here are some ways to weigh the choices.
On Thursday, August 15 2012, BlogTalk Radio had a program called Salve Regina. I’ve never listened to it before, but decided to do so when I learned that Michael Voris of ChurchMilitantTV would be a guest and that Catholics in political life would be discussed. The podcast is here; please listen here.
I agree with him that there has been much degradation in society today, that our departure from our Christian roots has been extensive and pervasive. I don’t share his opinion that the spiral is irreversible (stated at the 17:00 mark). It will be if we adopt this opinion as our own for then we will be engaged with what can be called a “self-fulfilling prophesy”. At the 17:20 mark he starts to ask the question, “where do we go from here?”.
I don’t want to spend too much time on that point. I bring it up only to illustrate what may be the philosophical back-drop to his thinking (and that of many other good people) to the question of whether or not a Catholic may licitly vote for Mitt Romney. They voice much distaste for the “choice of the lesser of two evils”. But might they be confusing that admittedly faulty premise with the Principle of Double Effect? See this link for a definition of the principle, as well as a history of its development. This principle grew out of Catholic moral theology and is a method of discerning a course of action when that action will have multiple effects, some good and some bad. As we all know, this often happens in life.
Such is the case, I believe, with this 2012 presidential election. We have two candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. We all know that Obama’s record to date has been abysmal. I needn’t rehash here the dire threat his reelection would pose to innocent people and society. Moreover, he’s out front and proud about it, promising (or threatening) more of the same. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has had a rather chequered history himself, although he now is professing pro-life convictions. That said, let’s accept one key fact right here and now. Come November 7th, one of these two men will be president-elect. There are no other alternatives. Period.
Let’s get back to the Voris podcast. At the 23:20 mark, Voris states that he may abstain from voting in the presidential race. At the 24:10 mark, he states that he would never pull the lever for Obama. For faithful Catholics (and other moral people) who understand the moral issues involved, it’s a given that no one would ever in good conscience actively cast a vote for Obama. The choices then boil down to two options: 1) voting for Romney/Ryan or 2) abstaining from that vote. Then at 24:50, he states that from a Catholic perspective, “there’s problems”, citing Romney’s rather recent pro-life conversion and statements about “gay civil unions” and wondering if he’s pandering for votes.
After some more discussion the hostess, Rebecca Diserio, opened the show up to outside callers. There were three callers. The last call, at 55:05, was from me. I could not let go unchallenged the statements of both Voris and Diserio that they might abstain from casting votes in the presidential race, knowing that hundreds could be detrimentally influenced. I pointed out that it is morally licit to vote against someone (in this case, Obama) as well as it is licit to vote for someone. Moreover, I pointed out that not voting for Romney would result in an unmatched vote for Obama. I asked them who would be less detrimental for the country and which president would be more amenable to a relatively pro-life Congress (hinting, of course, that we must make sure we get the right Congress in there). At the 56:20 mark, Voris stated that Romney is the “lesser of two evils”. He complains that social conservatives have been taken for a ride by RINOs. Of course I agree with him, but must counter that with how the rabid Democrats have treated us, going so far as to call the Tea Party activists “tea baggers”, which is a none-too-veiled reference to a perverted sexual practice.
He finished (at 58:37) by stating what he believes his moral quandary to be: “Do I go in this election and vote against Obama, realizing at the same time that I do it, that I’m casting a vote for, even though I don’t intend it to be, this is what the result will be, for more of just kind of the average same old, you know, ‘here you are, social conservatives, here’s a couple of crumbs from the table now go away while we continue with our country club politics’”. Diserio (at 59:05) revisited my point about the mathematical advantage to Obama that would result from the abstention that Voris is considering. Voris seems to concede that point. Then he spoke about conscience regarding pulling the lever for same old status quo to get the “crumb or two from the table”.
Now all during this time that they were responding to my comments, I was trying to elaborate more. When they kept talking, I realized that my microphone had been disconnected and that I would be unable to offer rebuttal. One of the points I wanted to raise is that we should be looking at this matter of voting from the prism of the Principle of Double Effect. If you read the link that I cited in the third paragraph, you’ll notice that there are four components to that principle. I’ll rehearse them and try to apply them to the current situation with the presidential election. Mind you, I make no pretense of being a moral theologian, but I think some attempt to bring moral theology to bear in this matter needs to be made. So here goes. To reiterate: we are evaluating a choice between two acts: voting Romney/Ryan or not voting at all. Let’s examine the first alternative
The first component is that the act in question must not be inherently evil. The purpose of an act can determine its morality, provided the act itself (in this case, voting in an election) is morally good or at least neutral. In voting for a particular ticket, one can have two ends in mind: they can either be: 1) actually voting for those candidates or 2) voting against the opposing ticket. Both are morally licit purposes and have been done in the past (remember Ross Perot?). If a Catholic votes for Romney to oppose Obama, he/she places an act that is inherently good.
The second component is that the evil effect(s) and the good effect(s) must proceed at least equally from the act. At this point it may be beneficial to consider the various effects of a vote for Romney. Here are the lists that I derive (realizing that readers will likely be able to add more to either list). Here they are:
· Evil effects
o Reinforcement of RINO influence
o Election of a candidate who is somewhat sympathetic to gay rights
o An author of Romneycare
o All-too-recent “convert” to pro-life position, so recent as to leave room for doubt
· Good effects
o Defeat of Obama, who has shown himself to be utterly inimical to Judeo-Christian values and innocent human life
o Reduction of government and of the tyranny inherently incumbent with large centralized governments
o Can be more easily worked with by a relatively decent Congress (whom we hopefully will elect this November)
o Repeal of Obamacare and HHS mandates
o Supreme Court justices (and lower-level federal justices) – at least they won’t be radical leftists (again we need to elect a decent Senate)
A corollary to this statement is that the good effects cannot in any way proceed from the evil effects. Clearly that’s not the case as they all will equally proceed from the election.
The third component is that the intention of the agent (that is, we the faithful Catholic voters) must be good; we may not will the evil effects. Need I really elaborate on this? Who amongst us really wills the election of someone who’s mushy on the moral issues? I advocate a vote for him precisely because he isn’t hard-nosed about grinding Christianity into the ground.
The fourth component is that there must be a proportionately grave reason for tolerating the indirect evil effect. With regard to this election, this is a “no-brainer”. If Romney doesn’t defeat Obama, we’ll see the direct attacks on the Church and innocent babies multiply in both numbers and intensity. I daresay that Western Civilization may be irreparably crippled if Obama retains the White House. The resultant catastrophes will be much more damaging than would be the evil effects of Romney’s election.
Now let’s look at the alternative action contemplated by Michael Voris and some others. Probably “inaction” would be the more accurate term. This analysis will be much more brief, in light of what was written above. We can look at it just in terms of the effects. So what are the evil effects? One is that Obama’s chances of retaining the White House are greatly enhanced. With that will come new assaults against innocent life and Christianity that will now be unbridled by re-election concerns. Our republic may well not survive such assault.
Now what are the good effects of abstaining from voting? Honestly, I’m at a loss to dream up a single good effect of so doing. I know some might believe that at least they didn’t bow to the RINOs. Well, so what? Is that a tangible, objective good, or just “cutting off the nose to spite the face”? Where is the real benefit to that if the country gets flushed down the crapper in the process? In the presidential election of 1960, John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by a margin of less than one vote per precinct. Does any sane person wish Obama to win like that? How would that sit with the “consciences” of those who abstained from voting?
Every Catholic is obliged to take a thorough look at the candidates and their stances on the issues, and to evaluate them via rigorous applications of Catholic moral teachings. It will not be acceptable to base any vote on “gut feelings” or “following the heart”. Too much is at stake – including the eternal salvation of millions.
Janet Baker blogs at RestoreDC-Catholocism and is a member of the Catholic Media Coalition.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.
Common Core curricula would force a one-size-fits-all approach to educating all children in the U.S., in both private and public schools. Based on Marxist dialectic theory, it appears opposed to liberty and religion.
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