God Gave Us the Vote So We Could Make Fools of Ourselves (While His Will Prevails) UPDATED

Which is part of the reason why I don’t spend much time worrying about the sanctity of voting.

Oh sure, I’ve explained how the First Past the Post system works here in the U.S., and I’ve said I get a healthy bit of advice from Chesterton’s Democracy of the Dead. I even said I’ll be voting for Romney, long before the polls made a victory look feasible.

But all this angst about voting, and it’s purported effect on my immortal soul, etc? Balderdash.

And do you know why this anxiety is balderdash? Because you’ve forgotten the hand of God in the election process. Oh, yes you have! Because you think elections are all about you.

Was it all about you when the Apostles had to replace Judas? Did they use the Roman democratic model in place at the time and give every apostle an equal vote? Nope. They basically drew straws and trusted the result to God.

So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.

Two?! Why only two? Did the lesser of two evils win that contest, I wonder?

Which brings me to that shibboleth of a phrase as well. Do you honestly believe that God does not work at all through the political parties, or the process to choose candidates? I’m not saying that parties are a replacement for the Church, but what with 1 in 5 folks being unchurched nowadays, the “churched” need to be involved in the process.

These days, I hear lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth about the sorry state of our political parties evidenced by their picking of these two nabobs we have to choose from. I’m not sure who first had the bright idea of the notion of choosing “the lesser of two evils” (when we have a choice), but I do know that my old friend (and mentor) Thomas à Kempis brought it up in his book The Imitation of Christ. 

It’s right there in the 12th chapter of Book III, which is titled On Inward Consolation (irony alert).  Chapter 12 is laudably titled, Of the Inward Growth of Patience, and of the Struggle against Evil Desires. It’s a conversation between “the Disciple” and Christ, and it starts off with the disciple wisely saying,

PATIENCE, O Lord God, is very necessary for me, I see, because there are many adversities in this life. No matter what plans I make for my own peace, my life cannot be free from struggle and sorrow.

Thomas, in his Christ voice, replies in a way that kills two birds with one stone,

My child, you are right, yet My wish is not that you seek that peace which is free from temptations or meets with no opposition, but rather that you consider yourself as having found peace when you have been tormented with many tribulations and tried with many adversities.

If you say that you cannot suffer much, how will you endure the fire of purgatory? Of two evils, the lesser is always to be chosen. Therefore, in order that you may escape the everlasting punishments to come, try to bear present evils patiently for the sake of God.

You don’t say.

It turns out that Thomas may have borrowed this turn of phrase from Geoffrey Chaucer. It shows up in line 470, Book II of his poem Troilus and Criseyde. What’s my favorite endorsement of Chaucer’s, you ask? These, of course.

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But to get back to the point, most of us these days aren’t involved in the candidate selection process at all, so we just throw stones, and bitch and moan about (seemingly) self-evident truths, while contemplating using our votes for doomed, quixotic, unvetted and unknown,  candidates (or write-ins) and hope that sends a message to the illiterate supercomputer compiling the results somewhere.

Perhaps we should remember how Mattias was chosen instead. I’ve said before that I’m not sure why God deigned to give us popular sovereignty these days, but he has. But I can bet that the Almighty didn’t mean for us to twist ourselves into knots over it. That’s an example of man thinking as man, and not as God, as Qoheleth sagely noted when he wrote,

“God made man simple, but he gets lost in his many thoughts.”

Have we forgotten how to pray and how to trust in God? So it seems. Here’s a better idea.

Pray.Think.Vote. Move on.

Then, continue to pray as you maintain some inward consolation.

Rebecca Hamilton shares a voter’s guide on religious freedom.

John Zmirak (author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide series) has thoughts on voting too.


Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

  • Faith

    Excellent! Also everyone seems so prescient. They already know that Romney will be a terrible president. Maybe he will be, but maybe he won’t. We know he won’t be perfect that’s for sure. I actually like Romney. And I liked him way back when. I know he isn’t perfect, far from it, but I think he’s got some good qualities (like experience with budgets) and I think he is on the correct side of some of the issues. I am voting for him with a clear conscience.

    • Ted Seeber

      EVERY President in my lifetime has been more Godless and less moral than the one previous. That includes “fend off this killer rabbit with an oar” Carter and St. Ronnie.

  • David R

    Your position is that since God’s hand is in the election process, how you vote, which includes the methodology by which you decide for whom to vote, has no impact on your soul. That reduces to God’s providence means that my actions don’t impact my soul. You really think that holds water? Sad.

    • David R

      Oh, and this blatantly rings contrary to Church teaching that is explicit about the immorality, sinfulness, of voting for a candidate precisely because of the evil they support.
      This is by far the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen on your site, which is normally edifying.

      • Frank Weathers

        Taken by itself, as a stand alone post, I can see how that my seem so. However, this isn’t a stand alone post. Follow the links, and then follow your informed conscience. If you can become more involved in the process of helping to choose the candidates too, then by all means do so.

        But keep this in mind too.

      • Frank Weathers

        Follow the links. Oh, and there’s also “The Didache Voter’s Guide” to check into. And this post, from a year ago today.

        • David R

          Worry, anxiety, stress…, those things have nothing to do with what I wrote or what you wrote. The issue of people anxious over how God will judge their vote my have motivated you remarks, but that’s not relevant to the truth or falsity of the remarks.

          I could say more, but I’d just be repeating the same rational explanation for why what you wrote is still patently false and illogical. I’m not advocating for personal torment over the voting issue; I’m merely advocating for logic and truth. Nor do I pretend that voting, politics, and elections are, or ought to be, the central focus of Catholic life–far from it. But nothing excuses one from being apathetic or from perpetuating falsehoods.

  • wineinthewater

    But also consider, the two candidates for Apostle weren’t chosen by the Roman Empire and the local Ba’al cult with the Apostles forced to choose between the two. The community pre-screened two men who were the most worthy – to the best of their ability to discern – and left the final decision to God. The only similarity between that situation and the one we face now is that there are two apparent choices. Neither Apostle candidate failed a basic test of “does he embrace intrinsic evil”? Neither was the lesser of two evils. One may have been better than the other, but neither fell below a line of unacceptability. I do think the analogy falls extremely flat.

    And as to the lesser of two evils, as I see it, the choice isn’t between the two candidates, but between voting for one of two variously unacceptable candidates or voting for someone else. In my own *prudential judgement*, the third-party vote is the lesser of two evils. But we’ve hashed that all out before and I don’t begrudge those who have come to a different conslusion.

    “Pray.Think.Vote. Move on.”

    I think this is excellent advice. Your vote *does* have an impact on your soul. *All* actions do. But that impact is limited, and unless you are voting for a candidate because of the evil they embrace instead of despite it, I don’t think the impact on your soul is great. Pray and think, and I think that you can vote with a clear conscience pretty easily.

    • Frank Weathers

      W in the W, you’re getting into where I live, especially at the end there. In regards to temporal power, which no one has addressed here as yet, I am reminded of the Holy Spirit inspired words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans,

      Obedience in Authority.

      Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.
      Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.

      For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.

      Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience. This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

      Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

      The paradox is, we now (seemingly all of a sudden) think that no one is worthy to rule us. My answers are feeble, but I have more than once stated that more than just whining about this must be done. My suggestion is that folks get involved in a way that perhaps helps bring better candidates forth.

      That said, nowhere in the verses above is the qualifier laid out as to authorities being virtuous in order to be the servant of God. Which, obviously, opens another can of worms. Unformed (or ill-formed) consciences is/are the true antidote for this too, on a personal level.

      • wineinthewater

        I’ve always found that passage perplexing. The reason for this is that in Paul’s time, the statement was patently false. The rulers *were* a cause for fear to the good. The Roman Empire could be pernicious. So with that in mind, what is Paul saying? Is it a bit of double-entendre, somewhat like Jesus’ bit with the Roman coin?

        I think the other important thing is that we are, supposedly, a democratic republic. That means that *we* are the authority, and the officials merely our representatives. They do not rule us, we rule ourselves through them as our proxies. Now to what degree that is really true is debatable, but that is our system. It does certainly complicate the being subject to authority teaching.

        And lastly, in regard to getting better candidates. I think that getting involved is important. But I think that the #1 obstacle to getting better candidates in the future is the simple reality that people vote for bad candidates now. So, I think one of the most important ways for me to get involved in getting better candidates is to stop voting for bad candidates.

  • http://denythecat.blogspot.com Brian Sullivan

    I think where your analogy of the Apostles voting doesn’t work for me is that both Matthias and Joseph/Barsabbas/Justus was that the both met the qualifications equally, so it was a choice between to good candidates.
    What we are faced with in a few weeks is a choice between Hudge and Gudge, two lessers. You’re right about not being anxious about it, trust God. But that it has no effect on your soul? I’m with CS Lewis–all our choices affect our soul.

    • Frank Weathers

      I didn’t mean to imply it never does, but that the impact is limited, as participants are constrained by the limitations of “the system.” It’s sort of like the difference between “all” and “many.” :)

      Also, everyone check out the update with the link to John Zmirak’s post from the Register.


  • Ted Seeber

    “Do you honestly believe that God does not work at all through the political parties, or the process to choose candidates?”

    I’m honestly to the point that I think the Constitution itself was written by freemasons in an attempt to build a society without God- and that BOTH political parties are acting to exclude God or thoughts of God from Government In America (in different ways, of course- the Democrats prefer ignoring sexual sin and encouraging libertine sexual morals; the Republicans prefer ignoring fiscal sin and encouraging libertine fiscal morals- but America is not sinless in accepting the atheist rejection of God).

    Truly religious people like myself have become so disenfranchised from the process that neither we nor God have any say at all in choosing the candidates of political parties. Only the bribes from large corporations choose leaders in America- voting itself is always the choice between slave A and slave B while the relentless, soul destroying search for materialist profit continues.

  • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

    But to get back to the point, most of us these days aren’t involved in the candidate selection process at all, so we just throw stones, and bitch and moan …

    As far as I can see, this is the real problem. We’ve delegated to the parties the process of vetting, supporting, and forming candidates for office. If someone is called to political service, they have to go through The Machine.

    The problem, of course, is that we would need to develop structures to support the citizenry in reasserting their voices at the beginning and throughout the process, not just at the end in the voting booth. We need a more interested citizenry, which is difficult on both an individual and a social level. But it seems to me that we’ll never get better candidates until we break the hold of Big Politics and their funders over the process of forming vocations to political service.

  • Sandy

    I believe government, like the Church, is going to do what it likes to do… and to be honest I don’t see much difference between policies of one side over the other for the past 12 years or so.

    I will vote, and I will ponder… and then I will go serve. Politicians won’t solve society’s ills. But then, that’s why God gave us two hands and a fine brain.

    Go feed the hungry. Take water to someone sitting in the hot sun. Find someone shelter. Pass it on.

    “You may say I’m a dreamer…
    But I’m not the only one….”


  • Sandy

    Oh, almost forgot. Excellent use of Chaucer. Well done.

    • Frank Weathers

      Old and new. ;)

  • Marya

    The way I’m coming to look at the voting decision is this: I start by looking at myself. Where would I rate, as a candidate? Under the terms of the present discussion, and similar discussions, the best I could hope for would be to be rated as the ” lesser of two evils”. Everyone would find at least one thing to dislike about my beliefs and positions. Probably more. I would rather have people viewing me from a positive angle oriented towards looking at my good qualities, rather than a negative angle oriented towards dissecting my bad points, but that’s life. (And why Facebook doesn’t have a “dislike” button.) I would aim to have enough “plusses” to outweigh the “minuses”. Then, I take that same attitude and apply it to the candidates, and pray to God to help me make the best possible choice.

  • bill bannon

    We have an electoral college system in the U.S. and that means you can check maps on the internet that tell you whether your vote counts at all. Church statements about criticality of voting are based on popular vote countries. The swing states are like popular vote countries. Many states are not and the pols spend no money in states whose electoral votes are predictably a given. Catholics in the latter are better off praying that day.

  • http://ImitateChrist.ORG T. Alan Truex

    Thank you for reminding me of this quotation from Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ.

    Personally, I will be careful to consider the context of this sentence. Kempis is comparing the fire of Hell to the present suffering of this life. Neither is pleasant, but the suffering incident to one’s temporary human life is greatly preferred to an eternity in Hell.

    But I don’t assume that choosing the least of two evils applies to every situation. Charles H. Spurgeon put the matter of the “lessor of two evils” a different way: “…Of two evils choose neither. Don’t choose the least, but let all evils alone.”

    T. Alan Truex,
    author of Imitate Christ: A Study Guide and Daily Devotional Based on Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ