When it comes to making decisions in the voting booth, genuinely religious people face a real dilemma. Not that things have are really any different than they have ever been. It's just that perhaps the differences between the two major political parties are becoming clearer than they have been in the past.
For American Catholics—at least if they are paying attention to what their church teaches—the choice could be particularly difficult. In their pastoral letter on "Responsible Citizenship" on November 14, 2007, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops did not single out any particular party's platform, but instead came out with a list of moral or ethical issues that we need to be addressed when we vote. At the top of the list were the usual "pro-life" issues, but these did not simply consist of abortion, euthanasia, biotechnology (stem cell research), but also included questionable (preventive or preemptive) uses of military force, the continued threat posed by the existence of weapons of mass destruction, the continued use of the death penalty, the use of torture, and finding effective countermeasures terrorism and our response to genocide when we see it occurring elsewhere in the world.
Then there are also basic family life issues that must be considered: these being concerned with protection of marriage, the protection and education of children—including the control of the media to prevent their exploitation by consumer and other questionable interests. And of course there are the usual social justice issues that the Church has long championed: the need for jobs that pay just wages, the right of labor to organize, as well as the protection of private property and economic freedoms, and the more recently pressing problems of assuring affordable housing, a reliable food supply through sustainable agriculture practices, and accessible health care for all. Issues concerning immigration and racism must also be faced, not just in terms of domestic policies, but also from a global perspective as well. Nor can America's dominant role, for good or for bad, be overlooked. We have, as the world's leading economic and industrial power, an obligation to finding ways to address the many global problems, including alleviating global poverty, insuring human rights and dealing with global warming and climate change, and to lead the way in solving them.
Granted that there different degrees of certainty regarding the proper responses to all these issues and challenges. Some, such as the need for the protection of innocent human life itself, may not be negotiable in terms of principle. But the real challenge lies in choosing the most effective ways that in practice actually protect these basic human rights.
This is where Pope Benedict's recent address to the United Nations seems to me to be most decisive, for the basic theme of his address was the necessity of seeing human rights as being grounded not just in legal policies, vague appeals to "fairness" or even a utilitarian philosophy based on policies designed to promote the welfare and happiness of the majority, even if this is a step far beyond what is all too often the case. Instead, what is required, in the end, is a religious commitment based on the belief that every human being is created in image and likeness of God. Without this firm conviction—which is also the foundation of the American belief that "all men are created equal"—whatever practical measures are adopted are apt to be weak, ineffective, and inconsistent.
This is where the dilemma faces us. For when push comes to shove, politics almost always involves compromise. Not everyone shares the pope's beliefs, nor ever are all Americans convinced that everyone is "created equal" or, that even if they are in theory (under the law), that this should have no bearing on our economic system or on what people actually are entitled to as citizens or even simply as human beings.
So what can or should we do? If I am reading the bishops' letter correctly, especially in the light of the pope's recent remarks, I think we should vote for the person or party that most seems to share the basic conviction (even if they seem to be confused as to who or what created us) that we all are really "created equal" with inalienable human rights—and then to do our very best to convince them that the logic of their conviction must be extended to each and every human life.
R W Kropf 5/8/08 VotersDilemma.doc