Several years ago, I was told by a veteran Catholic observer of all things political that criticizing one candidate necessarily meant I was endorsing the other. He also said that writing in a candidate for president was a failure of my moral obligation to vote. More recently, I was told by several Catholics that not voting for their favorite candidate was a vote for the other candidate. All these positions, widely held by many Catholics on both sides of the political aisle are nonsense and have to stop being part of Catholic conversations. Here are five reasons why.
First: We are not robots who function in a binary world.
“Are you a 1 or a 0?” asks Mr. Robot from the show of the same name. He tells Eliot that either you’re with us or you’re against us. You’re a yes or a no. If you’re not working for our side, you are therefore working for the other.
Friends, this is the argument of an adolescent. If you don’t give me the keys to the car, daddy, you don’t want me to be happy. I’m either free to pierce my whatever, or you’re ruining my life. Either you agree with my worldview and provide me a safe space in which I cannot be challenged, or you’re an aggressor who triggers my fears and so needs to be silenced. This is how children think. Increasingly, this is how we let our college kids think. This is not how adults think.
Yes, there are two major parties. But there are other parties as well. We could actually start our own party based on the principles of free bacon for all, abolishing burnt coffee and the dream of making America Chuck Norris again. The options before us are endless with enough political will. What we need to stop doing is giving into the lie that we are only allowed to vote for one of the two major candidates.
Second: Not doing something is not the same thing as doing something.
Follow me on this one, fellow Catholics: A = A. Not doing something is not doing something. When people accuse couples that practice Natural Family Planning (NFP) of contracepting, they argue that not having sex with my wife when she’s fertile is the same thing as having sex while wearing a condom. Um, no it’s not.
Yes, couples can practice NFP with a contraceptive mentality. Sure. But using a condom or being on the pill is doing something. It’s an act, a positive move toward a specific end using a specific means. Not having sex is NOT doing something. It’s a non act. It’s un-action. It’s the absence of acting. Sans the sexual act, it’s not zero or one, and it’s certainly not all the way to eleven. It’s not on the dial.
Please stop saying that not voting for your candidate is a vote for the other. No it’s not, not in fact or implication or inference or any other way. Not doing something is not doing something. The only way it would be doing something is if we lived in a binary world. We don’t, see point number one above.
Third: The lesser of two evils is still evil.
Somewhere along the line Catholics went from saying that voting for the lesser of two evils is allowed, to now arguing that voting for the lesser of two evils is somehow a moral obligation. They make fun of our “lily white hands” and “oh-so-delicate consciences” while they tell us that no candidate is perfect and the other candidate is as evil as Hitler. No wait, they’re demonic. And so not voting for their imperfect candidate is the same thing as a sin of omission since I’m morally obliged to try to block as much evil as I can.
Look, by voting for the lesser of two evils I’m still voting for an evil. Even if I don’t intend it, I’m still advancing evil. Sometimes that allowed. Sometimes not. But arguing that this translates into a moral obligation to vote for a candidate who advocates an intrinsic evil is beyond the pale. Don’t badger your fellow Catholics into voting for someone who supports an intrinsic evil. That’s not fine.
Fourth: Candidates and parties don’t have a right to your vote.
Just because I might agree with some parts of your candidate’s platform, doesn’t mean that they have a right to my vote. That’s not how any of this democracy stuff works. Look, less than half of Americans who can vote actually do so in any given election. If your favorite candidate doesn’t get my vote, there are literally millions of other people they could work hard to reach in order to get elected. That they don’t bother to do so is not my fault, it’s theirs.
What’s more, if I give them my vote, why would they ever reconsider their evil positions? How else are we as Catholics supposed to effect change in our candidate’s positions unless, you know, we don’t actually keep handing them power?
Fifth: The point of voting isn’t winning.
We’ve so readily adopted the binary system in our society because we tend to think of things in terms of winners and losers, ones and zeros. That’s what our media wants us to think too since its good for ratings. The fact is though that the moral act of voting is not about winning. It’s about being faithful to God and to neighbor. It’s about standing up for justice and mercy as those are understood by God, not by a singular political power. Voting is participation in the plan of God for creation and for the salvation of souls. That’s the perspective, the paradigm we ought to adopt.
Don’t tell me that my vote for someone who cannot win is pointless. Don’t tell me I have to accept the choice of two evils. Don’t call my fidelity into question because I choose to stand up against the failures of both sides. We’re not robots. We’re not cogs in a political and media machine. We’re not competitors on the pitch. We’re Catholics. We’re citizens of heaven in exile. And we’ll behave that way before, during and after this election.
Now let’s work on the free bacon thing.