A few years back, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a letter explaining that, in the act of voting, a person might vote for a politician who advocates grave intrinsic evil if he thinks there is a proportional reason for doing so. The letter was, of course, seized upon by certain conservative Catholics as a justification for supporting politicians who support torture. No. Not “enhanced interrogation” or some other bunkum euphemism. Torture. The reasons for the seizure by pro-torture conservatives were often confused since Cardinal Ratzinger’s point was that, in voting for the politician, you were supposed to be voting for them for some other (good) reason despite their support for the grave intrinsic evil of torture, while many conservative Catholic torture defenders saw support for torture as a feature, not a bug, and so were supporting pols *because* they advocated the use of torture (always carefully euphemized as “enhanced interrogation”) not in spite of that fact.
What was funny, though, was that, in the unseemly haste to enlist the Cardinal’s letter as a justification for voting for torture pols, the discussion seldom addressed itself to what the letter actually had in view, which was not torture, but abortion and euthanasia. For what the future Holy Father said was:
A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]
Now, for myself, I can adduce no proportional reason that would justify a vote for a pro-abort politician. Therefore, I will not vote for one, any more than I will vote for a pro-torture one. But saying that is not to say that I do not believe anybody is capable of finding proportional reasons. That is why, while I will argue with anybody who tries to tell me I must vote for a pol who advocates grave evil, I do not assume that it is impossible for anybody to feel themselves in a position where they honestly believe that a vote for a pro-abort or pro-torture candidate (for the proportional reasons Cardlinal Ratzinger describes) is appropriate.
I mention this, because recently, over on Simcha Fisher’s blog, a reader writes a letter which seems to me to be a reasonable specimen of thinking from somebody who, though he makes a very different moral calculus from me, seems to do so honorably. I reprint it here, not with the expectation that anybody agree with it, but with the exhortation to bear in the back of your mind Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter:
Everyone, I hate to put my elbow in your punchbowl, but I think Barack Obama is (and will be remembered as) one of the greatest presidents in American history.
I grew up as the youngest of seven children in a Irish family so noisy our surname should have been “Cacophony.” We lived just down the alley from a enormous Catholic Church and, of course, we all went to the parish school. When I was an eighth grader in 1960, the nuns solemnly assured us that John Kennedy could never be elected President because he was a Catholic. “Remember Al Smith,” the older ones would say, not realizing that 1928 was a bit before our time. Then President Kennedy was elected, and all of us realized that we hadn’t given ourselves enough credit – that our fellow Americans weren’t so low-minded, after all, not to vote for a man because they hated his religion.
Forty eight years later, I was the old fogey who had lost his youthful faith in the American people – I didn’t think that a black man could be elected President for at least another fifty years. And my failure was the same as my elders’ had been in 1960 – I hadn’t given my fellow Americans enough credit. I didn’t believe they would put race aside in making their choice, but they did.
Simcha, I’m the prototype of those you characterize as “Death Eaters, oh pardon me, nuanced, neo-patriotic intellectuals who courageously support a global progressive agenda.” I’m a multi-degreed professional and I do indeed support a global progressive agenda.
If I might, let me tell you a bit about my “nuanced, neo-patriotism.” In 1966 I left my small Catholic men’s college with several of my friends to join the army. We did so because the war in Vietnam had begun and we were comfortable middle-class kids who couldn’t bear the idea of not doing our part in bearing arms for our country. Apparently, rough, tough, hairy chested conservative patriots like Dick Cheney (who patiently explained away his five draft deferments to a reporter by saying that he had “different priorities” during Vietnam than serving in the military), or George Bush, who got his daddy to put him into “The Champaign Flight” of the Texas Air National Guard (along with Lloyd Bentsen’s son) so he’d be safe and sound, or Bill Clinton (a conservative Dixiecrat) who avoided the draft by hiding at Oxford, felt much differently than we did.
I enlisted for four years, rather than the two required by the draft, because I thought I had some unique talents to share with my country. I ended up on a tiny speck in the Bering Sea 166 nautical miles from the Soviet Union, listening day and night for the tiniest slip by the Soviets that might indicate the beginning of a nuclear war – a war in which I’d be the first of millions to die.
When I returned home, I discovered that my wife wasn’t the droll, cheerful girl I’d married three years before. You see, there was something wrong with our baby, something she couldn’t put her finger on. Well, several years and many thousand of dollars later we were told it was autism, a malady so foreign four decades ago that most child psychiatrists hadn’t even heard the word. I returned to school at the University of Minnesota, although my studies were just a sideline. My real job was trying to get help for my son, and it was then that I became involved with some of the most wonderful people in the world. They were psychologists and psychiatrists, speech therapists and psychiatric and county social workers, and, most of all, special education teachers and child care workers.
They moved heaven and earth to help my son and my wife, who was sinking ever deeper into depression. By the way, it was the State of Minnesota and the counties of Anoka, Hennepin and Ramsey who helped my son and others like him. It was government at its very best, government by Republicans and Democrats who believed that they were indeed their brother’s keepers. The government did for me, and my son, and my wife, what we simply could not do for ourselves. Sorry, but I just don’t think we were welfare chiselers or parasites or socialists.
We had to make the decision very early in our son’s life to institutionalize him. That broke our hearts, but it was what had to be done. He’s remained in institutional care, and, in fact, will have been in the same placement for thirty years this July, in a group home founded by the wife of a Methodist Minister who was mentored by a Catholic nun. There’s a woman working there who’s supervised my son for twenty five years and who loves him every bit as much as her own sons. And she’s not an exception to the rule.
As I look at the long parade of people who’ve been involved in my son’s life, I am so grateful that tears stream down my cheeks. They have been, and they are, living saints. I know in the marrow of my bones that the Holy Spirit lives in them and is the source of their boundless compassion. These folks are the Kingdom of God for me and my son, and virtually all draw some sort of a government paycheck, either directly or indirectly.
So I believe that government is part of God’s plan for us all, and that the police officers and firefighters and soldiers and sailors and airmen who risk their lives for us aren’t minions of the devil. Government is indeed the solution, and it’s certainly not the problem. Not at all.
Six years ago next month, I sat in the University of Minnesota Hospital at the bedside of the woman who had been that depressed, hopeless young mother. She was dying of liver disease and was in the final hours of her life. Although she had slipped into a coma two days before, I was reading aloud “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” her favorite book, hoping that it might give her some comfort as she faded away. Although I didn’t know it, a woman two floors above us, who also had Type AB blood and a very healthy liver as well, had just died of a massive aneurysm. Of course, it “just happened” that the University of Minnesota Hospital is one of the premier organ transplant centers in world, and that a team of transplant surgeons were on duty that night.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sure that those events weren’t coincidental. No way. It was God’s will that she live.
She’s alive and very healthy today. Her health insurance and medicaid paid for the millions of dollars in medical bills, money that she and I couldn’t possibly come up with on our own. Government and its resources – from Medical Assistance to a land grant university hospital – saved her life.
I believe in the power of government to enhance people’s lives. That’s why I’m a Democrat.
Now, do I believe in abortion? Of course not! But I don’t – and you don’t as well – have the luxury of a candidate and a party that completely conforms to my conscience. I believe in a culture of life as deeply as you do, a culture of life which is concerned with the born as much as the unborn, a culture of life that mourns the fact that some of our children go to bed hungry each night. My mother, God rest her soul, had eight full term pregnancies in 13 years, and thus had very little time to teach us our religion. In fact, all she really did was repeat endlessly that “Whatever you do for one of these, the least of my Brethren, you do for me.” In my lifetime, it’s been the Democrats who were most concerned, not about George Bush’s base (“the haves and the have-mores”), but about “the least of my Brethren.” I just don’t think that Dorothy Day, one of my favorite Catholic heroes, would be comfortable with the Republicans.
So, I believe that, on balance, President Obama and the Democratic Party are better for this country than Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. And Geraldine, Jonathan and I are probably the only readers of this blog who do.
I’ve scoured the New Testament and I’ve yet to find a requirement for all Catholics to think alike. The Acts of the Apostles record that Christians began to have heated arguments about virtually everything almost as soon as Jesus ascended into heaven. If you know any priests or other religious on a personal level, you know they disagree with each other all the time about theological and pastoral matters. After all, this is the Church of Augustine and Aquinas and of illiterate peasant children like Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Lucia dos Santos as well. No institution on earth can match its immense diversity. For instance, as far as the Magisterium is concerned, just hang around a Department of Theology at a good Catholic school for fifteen minutes and you’ll hear so many different points of view that your head will be spinning. So what?
We’re all Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We don’t have to agree to love one another, to care for one another, to pray with and for one another. We’re all Catholics, and while we may not care to sit together at mass, we are commanded by Christ to love each other “as I have loved you.”
And that means that I don’t get to call you “Fascists” any more than you get to call me “Socialist” or “Communist.” It means that bearing false witness against our neighbor includes sweeping hyperbole such as “Obama taking us on a fast track to atheistic socialism or Romney taking us on a fast track to an amoral oligarchy of hedge fund managers.” The President hasn’t said a single word about seizing guns or overturning the Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution. He’s not trying to destroy the Catholic Church which employs hundreds of thousands of Americans of all religions in its health care institutions by requiring it to provide contraceptive coverage in its health care plans – twenty eight states already require the Church to do so. And the last time I took a look, Republicans – even the Tea Party types – don’t have cloven hooves or tails.
So, please, let’s just dial the invective back and agree to disagree. Okay?
I know. I know. There are points in the letter that are simply factually wrong. I get that. I didn’t say I agree with him on every point. But stop. Deep cleansing breaths. Listen to the guy. Listen to his history. Before responding with cliches and labels, pay attention to the guy’s history. Doesn’t mean a reasoned argument cannot be made against the reader’s positions on certain points. But remember what Cardinal Ratzinger said. Make the effort of imagination to apply to him the patience and willingness to assume good faith that you would apply to a member of your own tribe.
To be clear: this post is not about voting like this guy. This post is about *seeing* this guy: realizing that he is an honorable person who should be engaged with love and respect and not simply dismissed with contempt. He’s made a good faith effort. I think our common faith requires we do the same.