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Base Presidential vote on facts, not purely faith

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, February 3, 2004

I would like to thank Bill Rinner for his effort to inform – and instruct – the Catholic voting populace. Unfortunately, however, I did not understand some of his argument. For instance, he asserts that Bush “facilitated what Catholic social teaching considers an unjust war in Iraq.” I have seen this claim made many times, but I have yet to see it defended. I wish Bill Rinner had bothered to explain in exactly what way or ways the war in Iraq has violated clear Catholic social teaching. There has been plenty of disagreement over this issue among serious Catholic thinkers, so I find it odd for him to make it sound like a matter of accepted fact. The war was declared by competent authority, other means had been exhausted, and the good done has clearly outweighed the harm. Help us out here, Bill; we are not all as fluent in Catholic social teaching as you.

Even if the war was unjust, though, one could hardly claim that unjust war is a core Republican value. Indeed, numerous prominent Republicans have questioned the war, including Senator Hagel, who may well be a strong contender for the nomination in 2008. The world will end, though, before a Democrat is nominated who would support any restrictions on abortion whatsoever. Abortion is the very heart of the Democratic platform; dissent from party policy on other issues can be tolerated, but not on abortion. That is why Senator Bayh, according to some reports, was not chosen to run with Al Gore, though Bayh would have helped the ticket much more than Senator Lieberman did.

It is true, neither party is a perfect example of Catholic values, but that does not mean one is not far worse than the other. I cannot think of a single Republican plank that runs plainly contrary to Catholic teaching. You may suggest the death penalty, or free enterprise, but these are not categorically opposed to Church doctrine.

What is really disturbing is that Rinner seems to be aggressively arguing that how we vote does not matter anyway. “No single vote will ever make you more or less of a Catholic,” he claims. What if I vote for a skinhead? What of German Catholics who knowingly supported the Third Reich? An extreme example maybe, but relevant.

The hostility Rinner shows toward people who consult their faith in moments of uncertainty is also alarming. Heaven forbid we should ask ourselves what God would want us to do, when we cannot figure out what to do otherwise. “Listen to your conscience regarding political issues, not your religion,” Rinner pontificates. Well, yes, sir! What if, however, our intellect has convinced us that Christ is who He claimed to be, and that the Church is what it claims to be – would we not then be obligated to respect His teachings, as delivered by the Church, over our own views?

Finally, Rinner commands us not to vote based on some “utopian religious view of how America should be that is inconsistent with the reality of the modern world.” This seems to be an excellent recipe for not improving the world at all. If civil rights leaders had adopted that attitude, perhaps we should still have lynching.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves how we vote, as we have to decide how we act in general; and we will be judged for all we do. The Church recognizes this, and provides us with guidelines, for our benefit. We can accept or reject them as we wish. For people like Bill Rinner to insist, though, that it is wrong for the Church to provide such guidelines, or for individual Catholics to consult them, borders on the very closed-minded intolerance he seems to condemn.

Jack RemmertAlumniClass of 2000Feb. 2