Why I Cannot Vote For Bush in Conscience

Wednesday, January 28, 2004



A reader commented on the rhetoric I use to bash G.W. Bush on the war in Iraq, and particularly my appeal to the teaching of the magisterium's teaching on just war. The feeling of the reader is that I contradict myself since I argue for withholding assent on such issues as contraception, homosexuality, and women's ordination, and yet I appeal to the magisterium's authority for the issue of war in Iraq.

Let me be honest and state that there is a pragmatic or political use of the appeal to the magisterium on the war in Iraq. Yet, there is a also a more principled reason for doing this.

The political or pragmatic argument has to do with the fact that conservative Catholics claim that Catholic politicians who are pro-choice or favor civil unions for gays should be excommunicated or denied communion. Furthermore, such Catholics also argue that people who vote for such candidates either sin, or excommunicate themselves.

There are Catholic politicians who feel that they have a moral duty to represent their constituents, even if their constituents hold views the politician finds morally ambiguous. Thus, some Catholic politicians feel morally bound to represent their pro-choice constituents even though they are personally opposed to abortion. This is a reasonable position, even if it's a different approach than we pro-lifers hope.

On the issue of civil unions between gays, many believers see this as an issue of separation of Church and state, where equal protection under the law should prevail over denomominational creed. Furthermore, there is even internal dissent among prominent Catholic theologians whether Scripture and Sacred Tradition really condemn gay unions as we understand the issues today.

My argument is simply that if we can and should excommunicate politicians over these issues, we need to be consistent. This means that any politician who supports or supported the war in Iraq also should be excommunicated.

Conservative Catholics seek not only to see the politicians excommunicated, but they argue that anyone who votes for such a candidate should consider herself or himself excommunicated (or at least in sin).

Again, I would argue that if this is true, in order to be consistent, the same logic says that any voter who supports a candidate who supports or did support the war in Iraq should also consider themselves excommunicated (or at least in sin).

This would leave every Roman Catholic in the United States without an electable candidate. Bush is adamantly pro-war in Iraq, even though the entire U.S.C.C.B., Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and most other Cardinals, and the Holy Father, himself strongly opposed the war! A vote for Bush puts one in sin or excommunication by conservative standards!

Yet, one cannot support Kerry, Dean, Edwards, or the other Democratic candidates either because they all support choice and civil unions between gays and lesbians.

If conservative Catholics are right in the way they argue, Catholics must either very quickly find a candidate who is pro-life, pro-traditional family, and anti-war and anti-death-penalty, or we must opt out of the political process.

This is the pragmatic or "political" use of the authority of the magisterium. It is basically nothing more than demanding that conservative Catholics be consistent in their application of the argument from authority and the threat of excommunication. I confess that I do not really like this argument, because appeal to authority is the weakest form of argument, and I think it could be very rashly judgmental to say another person is in sin because they vote differently than I.

There is a more principled reason why I believe that a vote for Bush would force me to violate my own conscience, and place me in mortal sin. I am not judging anyone else. I am simply stating that I cannot personally vote for Bush in good conscience, and because conscience is a judgment of reason according to the CCC, I should be able to explain what I am "hearing" in the voice of conscience, and I probably have a duty to make my reasons clear to others.

It is my belief that the state should not legislate certain forms of personal morality. For example, we should not have a law forcing people to go to Mass on Sunday, since not all Americans are Catholic. We should not have laws against contraception, even if we believe contraception is a sin, because not all married Americans believe contraception is sinful. We do not have laws against masturbation or adultery, even though these actions may very well be sinful. Jesus recognized that a community should not enforce the moral code when he let an adulterous woman off the hook.

When it comes to personal moral choices, making a right choice is more meaningful to God when it is done freely and without coercion.

Furthermore, if religious believers voluntarily refrain from legislating personal morality, we can demand that other religions and the state not force their morality on us. For example, none of us would want a Muslim President forcing women to cover their heads, or a Jewish President forcing us to eat kosher, or an atheist President forbidding that we go to Mass.

Some morality does need to be legislated because it deals with the rights of the victim of sin. Theft is a sin, and it is also illegal because it violates the property rights of the victim of theft. Assault and battery is a sin, and it is illegal because we have a right to live without fear of physical threats. Murder is a sin, and it is also illegal because we have a right to life.

The pro-life position in politics maintains that the unborn are human beings who have the same right to life as others. I agree with this position and I consider it when I vote. However, not every American agrees that human life and personhood begins at conception. This is unfortunate, and I wish to be part of changing this mind-set. However, we should not use threats of excommunication to do it, and here is why:

Even though I view abortion as ultimately being a form of murder, as long as I voice my opposition to abortion to my legislators, I am not personally complicit in the act. While the rights of the unborn child may be violated, it remains a small group of individuals in each circumstance acting on their own to violate these rights with no specific government endorsement. Even in permitting this, the state is not exercising a collective will to kill that particular child. Should the mother choose not to abort, the state continues to protect that child.

The state is not forcing others to participate in the sin of abortion. Rather, the state is merely permitting it.

Likewise, on the issue of civil unions for gays, it is nearly impossible to build an argument that if the state allowed such unions, the state is thereby forcing people into sin.

On the other hand, with the case of an unjust war, my government is deeming that certain people deserve to die. Even if I voice opposition, I am in some ways complicit in the act. My government, as my representative, is not merely allowing a person to sin, but is committing the sin in my name!

Of course, there will be those who build the argument that abortion is the higher priority because the unborn represent innocent human life, while nobody in their right mind would argue that Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime were wholly innocent victims. I would respond to this argument in two ways.

First, the war in Iraq killed innocent people who did not support Saddam. While these deaths may have been wholly unintentional, these people died nonetheless.

Second, regardless of the fact that Saddam Hussein was a despotic dictator, there remain very strict criteria in just war doctrine about when and how to use force. None of these criteria were followed in the United States' war of aggression against Iraq. Two wrongs do not make a right, and the ends do not justify the means. The war in Iraq was wrong, and was done in my name with my tax dollars.

This raises another important issue to pro-lifers. Those who are most adamantly pro-choice, including several Democratic politicians, insist on federally funding abortions. When this is done, the same argument I am using against supporters of the war can be turned back on those who vote for a pro-choice candidate.

My response to this is that I am pro-life, and in an ideal world, I want a candidate who opposes the war and opposes abortion. Democrats and other progressives should take heed that there are many "swing voters" who have "liberal hearts" and have gone to the Republican camp over the past decade or so on this issue. If the Democrats do not make room for a pro-life candidate, or a more moderate stance for choice than most candidates demonstrate, we will continue to lose potential votes on other important issues.

Forced to decide between bad options all the way around, I am looking for a candidate who opposes the war in Iraq, and will at least not support federal funding of abortion, even if he or she otherwise supports the pro-choice cause. I am arguing that such a position seems to me to be the more moral option than voting for an unjust war in order to win on abortion.

Of course, there are those pro-lifers who are not convinced that the war in Iraq was unjust. This article will not convince these Catholics that a vote for Bush is an immoral choice, and it goes beyond the scope of what I am trying to explain to re-hash the arguments why the war in Iraq is wrong. See my article, Why the War in Iraq Was Unjust for detail on this issue.

Given the moral complexity of this debate, I believe that it is wrong for conservative Catholics to try to use excommunication as a threat to coerce votes for GW Bush. It is even wrong to use such threats to divide opposition to GW Bush to a bunch of "write in" candidates.

What I am arguing is that if a person deems in conscience that it would be a mortal sin as an individual to vote for Bush, that person's conscience must be respected, and that person should have a moral and religious right to vote without threat of excommunication for the candidate most likely to beat Bush - even if such a candidate is not anti-abortion!

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 10:16 AM

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