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Don’t appeal to Catholicism in election

Bill Rinner | Sunday, February 1, 2004

Speculating whether a more Catholic voter should choose a Republican or Democrat is an exercise in both absurdity and intellectual insecurity. Anyone who requires the comfort of knowing that God will approve of his vote to either retain or oust George W. Bush is bound to be disappointed and should reevaluate the purpose of voting.No matter how much you are influenced by Catholic social teaching, it’s no surprise that the distribution of issues across the party platforms makes neither Democrats or Republicans truly shine from a purely Catholic perspective.Democrats would never nominate a candidate who would sign a ban on abortion or nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn “Roe v. Wade,” and the incumbent Republican facilitated what Catholic social teaching considers an unjust war in Iraq. There you have it; now get over it.The reality of the modern political arena is that no candidate will ever espouse every social tenet of Catholicism, so many try to find comfort in the ability to weigh certain Catholic issues and vote for the lesser of two evils. It is an unfortunate position for any voter to find himself in, but I take issue with anyone who allows such a strong religious bias into their voting preferences.No single vote will ever make you more or less of a Catholic, and those who seek divine inspiration for their voting patterns will likely end up at the polling booth trumpeting a skewed notion of God’s will. To even suggest that Catholics should only vote for a single candidate is an insult to the church’s endorsement of free will as God’s greatest gift to humanity.If a priest mentions in his homily that you, as a good Catholic, should vote for a specific candidate, then you are not hearing the voice of a mediator between the human and the divine, but rather a human who is abusing his office and has the same political biases as the rest of us. The Church, or any member of it, should never make our voting decisions for us, and to suggest otherwise is to sanction a severe injustice.So why would someone conceivably appeal to his religious faith as justification for his political preferences?Simply put, the answer is insecurity. We live in an era where complete deconstruction of political figures is now as American as apple pie. During our lifetimes, the prestigious role of the president has eroded significantly after countless scandals and a media that revels in inflating every minor shortcoming or misspeak for the sake of higher ratings. I don’t challenge or bemoan this development, which is the product of a free society, but I can understand that those with only moderate political views would feel insecure choosing between two flawed candidates.As a natural but unfortunate consequence, those who grew up in a wholly Catholic atmosphere and consider their faith to be crucial to most aspects of their lifestyles will gravitate toward the realm of religious reasoning during each election cycle. It happens all the time. You couldn’t decide if you preferred Bush or Gore during the 2000 election; neither had a character or platform that was a perfect match for your personal views, so you looked at your “W.W.J.D?” wristband for some sign of inspiration.Oh, the folly of man.The solution I offer to this tendency is purely a challenge: Grow beyond the bonds of your religious background and develop your vision, foremost, for which candidate would best serve the country. Reevaluate your reasoning for political views and how you would express them in elections.Listen to your conscience regarding political issues, not your religion. If you can’t distinguish the two, then make sure you have arrived at those conclusions through a reasoned analysis of your opinion, not just because it makes sense within the confines of your religious views. The loudest voice in your head should be your own intellect, not what you heard at Mass this weekend.Better yet, when you finally decide for whom to vote in the upcoming election, make sure that you support the party you believe offers the best vision for the future of America based on the current domestic and international climate, not some utopian religious view of how America “should” be that is inconsistent with the reality of the modern world.We don’t ask God how to run our country, nor does He directly influence any election, which is a testament to the free will of mankind. Claiming that a true Catholic should only vote in one direction is only a flawed way to alleviate a troubled conscience, and this mindset is unhealthy for the nation as a whole.

Bill Rinner is a junior economics major studying abroad at the London School of Economics. He’s a religious introvert who promised himself never to write about religion but changed his mind. He can be contacted at wrinner@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.