The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Elections, Politics and Faith

I think I can safely say that among many religious people there's a tendency to step away, sometimes far away, from the political process. But their hesitancy to get involved, or even to vote, seems to have less to do with the process itself than with the politicians who manipulate it. Given the continued degradation of political discourse in our nation, an increasing number of folks seem to be saying, "A pox on both your houses." 

I can certainly understand such attitudes since similar words have occasionally slipped off my tongue while watching the evening news. And with the mid-term elections only a few weeks away, political advertising has ramped up to an almost frenzied pace. Sadly, although the frequency of these ads has risen, their tone and content have sunk to an almost unprecedented level. When it comes to political ad production, the rule of thumb seems to be, "If your take on the issues is unpopular, distract the voters by launching personal attacks on your opponent. And don't worry about the truth; if you repeat the big lie often enough, people will come to believe it." More often than not, the object of such ads believes he or she has no choice but to respond in kind and we poor citizens are subjected to an ever-escalating cacophony of public name-calling that really has little to do with the issues confronting the nation.

Here in Florida, for example, one of our US representatives launched an attack ad in which he compared his pro-life opponent to the Taliban! Now, I'm certainly no expert on electioneering and campaigning, but I suspect such an ad will appeal only to pro-abortion extremists, really a rather small minority. I also think it will likely mobilize pro-life voters and, because of its shrill tone and inherent unfairness, might actually affect the votes of those who are normally indifferent to life issues. I may well be wrong but I still have faith that the average citizen wants to make what my brother, Jeff, used to call a "Superman vote"; that is, for "truth, justice, and the American way." I suppose we'll find out on November 2nd.

Anyway, I hope our fellow church-going citizens will all go to the polls next month and cast their votes intelligently and with faith. I won't presume to tell you for whom you should vote, but I will share some of the criteria I rely on when I step into the privacy of the voting booth.

First, I am a pro-life voter. In fact, I have never been able to cast a vote for anyone who supports abortion, the great evil of our time. Fifty million murdered babies in 37 years is, for me, simply too much for any so-called "pro-choice"candidate to overcome. In Massachusetts, where we lived for several decades, and where Democrats and Republicans often differ only on fiscal issues, I frequently cast no vote or wrote-in another name. Many of my more politically active acquaintances have criticized me for this, telling me I should vote for the "lesser of two evils." But I simply can't bring myself to do it; an evil is an evil. As a Christian and a Catholic I'm called to live my faith, not compartmentalize it. And as a sinner, well, I already carry enough excess baggage through life without adding more.

Second, I look for a candidate who possesses at least some degree of humility. A humble politician may sound like a contradiction in terms, but believe me there are some out there. Of course, almost every politician talks a humble line in public: I'm just a public servant...a plain ol' country lawyer...a man of the people...etc., etc... And I suppose most of us accept these comments at face value. But I'm always suspicious of those who actually talk about their humility. As my father used to say, "Humility's a strange commodity. Once you know you have it, you just lost it."

And so I tend to ignore most of what politician's say and focus instead on what they do. In this my criterion stems directly from the Gospel when Jesus told the Pharisees, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" [Mt 22:21]. No politician who blatantly usurps God's role in the world by denying His authority in such areas as life, marriage, the family, etc., can hardly be called "humble." How did the serpent phrase it on his last visit to Eden? " will be like gods." And so I look for a candidate whose actions show humility in God's presence and in the presence of God's people.

Third, I disapprove of the idea of politics as a life-long career choice. Lord Acton's famous words about power corrupting come to mind when I encounter one of these career politicians who seems to believe that we, the hoi polloi, owe him his career and exalted place in society. All else being equal, if I'm presented with a choice between a career politician and a newbie, I'll always choose the latter. Experience in politics is greatly overrated. Too often the more experienced pol has just learned more ways, at best, to ensure his reelection and, at worst, to enrich himself. It's always refreshing to encounter a politician who agrees to self-imposed term limits and then actually sticks to them.

James Madison in Federalist #51 wrote, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Since we are, however, far from angelic, we not only need a government, but we also need controls on that government, reminders that the people, not the politicians, are sovereign. This is what our votes are intended to do. Don't waste yours.

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