Considerations on the Question of Politics for (American) Catholics

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Several months ago, I started writing a post about how difficult it is to be Catholic during the peak seasons of political campaigns.  Here’s how I started it:

While I’ve admittedly not been paying a great deal of attention to the political ruminations of the GOP, I have noticed the absolutely overwhelming press attention that Donald Trump has been getting lately.  I missed the debate a few weeks ago (this was the first debate of the entire campaign), and I’ve tried not to read too much into any one candidate at this point.  On the other side of the political aisle, everybody’s pointing toward Hillary Clinton as the default candidate and so, that should settle the question, right?  Not so fast!  There’s a growing community of folks rallying behind Bernie Sanders, painting him as the anti-political candidate who will bring sanity to the Democratic party.  They’re even giving us handy graphs to show us the differences, and clearly, Sanders is the way of the future.

I never did finish that post, but I think I can say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Six months ago I never imagined we’d still be talking about Trump.  But I also wasn’t so sure about whether Sanders was going to hang around.

In any event, one thing is clear: when it comes to politics, the press seems to focus on buzzwords, sound bites, glitz, and glam much more than any nuanced discussion or sober analysis.

No matter what your political affiliation or leanings, trying to determine the best person to become President is a very complicated decision, and the way the media covers the process makes it even more difficult.  However, as a Catholic, the process becomes even more convoluted.  Why?  Come, let us reason together.

Catholics are in a particularly difficult spot when it comes to politics because we are decidedly members of a faith which calls us to a both/and, not either/or approach.  For instance, when our tradition reflects on the developments of the modern world, we’re not given the choice of faith or reason, theology or science.  We’re called to embrace both, which is very hard sometimes!  It also gets messy.  So then in politics, it should be no surprise that we have a challenging call: embrace the largest vision of the common good that we possibly can.

So what kind of difficulties does this lead to?  For one, it automatically means we can’t just tie ourselves down to a particular party.  We have to evaluate candidates in a much more considered fashion.  What are their ideals, what is their platform, and what do they have to say about the most important issues?  Further, we are called to pay attention to the web of connections among the various items.

These are the questions and considerations that face us, and I for one am often conflicted about how easy and simple most people in general, and also most Catholics, make things seem overly simple.  It’s easy to say “Well, Democrats officially favor abortion, so we have to vote for Republicans.”  It’s true that abortion rights factor in as a major part of their party’s views.  But it’s not so simple to just decide that one, as a Catholic, has  to vote Republican.

I say it’s not so simple as voting Republican because a major reason for automatically going toward the Republican side is that the Democratic view is decidedly not pro-life. That’s good reasoning, as far as it goes.  But it ignores the complication of other life issues like the death penalty, war, immigration, etc.

Of course, we also can’t pretend that all Republicans are pro-death penalty, love war, or have medieval ideas about immigration policy.  There’s always third party options, right?  Sure!  But none of them are likely to meet all of the goals of the Catholic view on the world.  And, in a certain sense, it might be silly to expect any politician to truly run on 100% Catholic ideals.  If they did so, while it might be super easy to vote for them, it’s almost a surefire fact that they’d never be successful in getting elected, or working within the political establishment to accomplish anything advancing the common good.

Now, with all of this said, many are led to the idea that the best option is to just forget about the whole thing. The most popular vision of this is the “Benedict option” named for St. Benedict who, seeing the writing on the wall of the Roman Empire, decided to withdraw from that society and found a monastery to pursue the fullness of the Catholic faith.  This was a heroic act of virtue in the middle ages and is, obviously, much more difficult to really pursue today.

Yet many Catholics have made notable attempts, and perhaps some modest success, in forming their own communities and removing themselves from the world as much as possible.  They home school, cultivate jobs which allow them to work from home, grow their own food, attend daily Mass, etc.  Let me be clear here: this is a tremendous good, and there is nothing wrong with it.  Without a doubt, many are called to that type of life, and great blessings for the world can flow from that.

Still, there are also clear teachings within the Catholic tradition that we are not required to leave the world behind.  In fact, Vatican II was painfully clear about the way Catholics are called precisely to engage with the world, in order to be salt and leaven:

“They [the laity] live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven…Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.” (Lumen Gentium #31)

From my perspective, it seems that the key for Catholics, lies not in the actual political season itself.  Sure, we need to voice our opinions about the major issues, and we need to make clear what our faith demands.  But more than that, we need to be having conversations of consequence, making the truth beautiful, and showing what it looks like to live the life of the Gospel.  When we do that, and I mean when we all do that, the political arguments will be much easier.  We can only effectively transform a culture by being witnesses, not by winning debates.  And there’s no way to expect Catholics to vote with a well-formed conscience if the only time we’re trying to form consciences is in the few months leading up to an election.  That’s a full-time job.

Luke Arredondo

Luke Arredondo

Luke is a married father of three. He works as the Director of Religious Education at Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, LA and has a Master of Arts in Theology from Notre Dame Seminary. He blogs at Quiet, Dignity, and Grace

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8 thoughts on “Considerations on the Question of Politics for (American) Catholics”

  1. Very well said, Luke! I appreciate how you mention the complexities of the “web of connections,” because it is very easy to over-simplify things. As I told one of my friends, almost everything is a “pro-life” issue, because it all reflects on life in some way. I do think it’s very important to consider the abortion issue, since that issue is so prevalent in our culture, but we do need to critically examine the other issues as well! And, like you put so well, this is a full-time job, not just something that we can expect to throw together a couple months before an election. Thank you for this thoughtful post!

  2. douglas kraeger

    Luke, I liked best the last notion, “But more than that, we need to be having conversations of consequence, making the truth beautiful, and showing what it looks like to live the life of the Gospel.” Conversations of consequence is the key. Having depth, and offering the other person a carefully worded question with the suggestion that, in our opinion, there can only be two answers, A or not A, and not A is clearly not as it should be, it it denies our intrinsic value and makes us no more valuable than a pile of stones. I agree, that sort of question needs thought and is very difficult to come up with on the spot. That is why I like the idea that all ministers of all faiths should be expected to endorse sequences of superbly written questions and offer them to all on their blogs or church websites so that ordinary people can choose a few they like, print them out on slips of paper, and carry them in their wallet or purse so that they have them available whenever they have a discussion of consequence with someone and then they can just hand them the slip of paper (that also has the web address) so the other person can find other questions and seek the one answer that is they know in their heart is the right one, God’s answer. This idea has the intent of cooperating with God and trying to get people to think deeper thoughts and to seek God’s answer to all questions. We offer the questions and trust in God’s answer to all those who sincerely seek it.
    Think of the questions that parents could offer to their spouses, their children, candidates for elected office, ministers of all faiths. Questions we should all be seeking God’s answer to, yet we do not have the expertise to think of on our own.
    Questions that separate the Black and white and grey issues so as to see the basic issue more clearly.
    One of the most important questions, in my opinion, is: Do you agree with the conclusion that all people who claim to believe in God, should be eagerly working in a lifelong commitment, to know and believe whatever it is that God wants everyone to know and believe, just because God wants everyone to know and believe it, and doing whatever they can to help others to do likewise and also to be working to pray ever more perfectly, because for anyone to stop seeking to do so is to at least implicitly be telling God that “they do not really give a damn about what He wants, they are too busy doing what they want to do.”?

    The above idea is “fleshed out” on my blog at eternalvisionfarmer.blogspot.com if anyone is interested.

  3. For those who think they can sup with the devil and walk away, it should be noted that 60 million deaths since Roe v. Wade far outweighs other “life” considerations. Catholics in the past have aligned with one political party on the grounds that, on balance, good resulted. This has not proved the case and, in fact, the Church has been used to promote political views. In return, some clergy have been less that vocal in condemning actions in the political realm that are clearly immoral. I would suggest that it may useful to first cast the beam from our own eyes and then vigorously promote what is right, even at the expense of public approval.

    1. Thanks for your comments! Can I clarify..are you referring to most Catholics being Democrats in the hopes that “on balance, good resulted” or Catholics being Republican based on that hope. In any event, my purpose was more to say that Catholics need to be pushing our values and showing the beauty of the truth All of the time, not just when our major elections are gearing up and we’re trying to figure out the “Catholic” candidate.

      1. I was saying, and I hope clearly, that before we start pushing values and truth, we need to start living them ourselves. It is a bit difficult to expound on the evil of abortion, sexual deviance, religious persecution etc. when sitting next to a politician at a social function who espouses these positions.

  4. Catholics are the single largest group in the Democratic Party. Their name endorsement and support for that organization’s election gives the Democratic Party the ELECTORAL POWER to keep abortion legal. With this authors schooling, I have a question. The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism that it is a mortal sin against the 5th Commandment to discriminate against another person due to their race or religion. In fact, it teaches that it is a mortal sin to JUST JOIN an organization that supports and promotes that, such a the Nazi Party or the KKk. And there are no exonerating conditions absolving you of that mortal sin. That being Catholic teaching, why is in NOT a mortal sin against the 5th Commandment to join an organization that supports and promotes the MURDER of unborn babies? The Democratic Party is the ONLY reason abortion-on-demand remains the law of the land. I would like an answer from the author of this article.

    1. We have a lot of Republican politicians who are not always true to the party’s small government, pro-life, religious liberty, balanced budget, and strong military policy. Rightfully referred to as RINO’s
      We also have millions of Catholics whose political positions are contrary to not only the above but also willingly work hand and glove with avowed abortionists, homosexual activists, same sex marriage proponents, and financially support universities like Notre Dame and others which honor the most anti-Catholic president in history that will not have his HHS/Obamacare stop tormenting and persecuting the Little Sister of the Poor while at the same time exempting all Muslims from the law. Rightfully referred to as CINO’s Catholics In Name Only
      So lets stop,at least politically, referring to these people as Catholics because they have effectively distanced themselves from the Faith and most certainly neutered the Church’s ability to resist the advancement of liberal secularism.

  5. Bernie Sanders, an anti-Christian communist who supports abortion even past the point of birth, the Little Sisters of the Poor being forced to provide abortion coverage, he wrote an article claiming women fantasize about being gang raped, he published on his senate site an article by a pedophile, rationalizing the decriminalization of child molestation. What I see from the author of this article here a fake Catholic employing moral relativism to lead Catholics away from Christ

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