Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election 2020: Dear Catholics, Where Will We Find Wisdom?

This article does not seek to condemn anyone. It is my reflection on today's U.S. election in light of certain tendencies in our historical period and challenges that I and my fellow Catholics in particular must face. 
My intention is to look at the larger context and raise rhetorical questions that may be helpful for others, for their own consideration, and out of love for Jesus Christ above all and His Catholic Church, for all people, for the world, and for my country. To my Catholic brothers and sisters and to everyone who reads this: I hold you in the greatest esteem. I am not seeking argument but simply sharing my mind because my desire to love Christ compels me to raise these questions. My heart remains open to all of you.

There is no secret to what I think about abortion. 

Anyone who thinks about it at all must acknowledge that an abortion directly kills an innocent human being. 

It is an objectively grave sin. A society that tolerates such killing as a way of solving problems is corrupt. It is failing in its responsibilities in justice and love to protect human life and care for human persons in need. Moreover, the promotion of access to abortion as a human right is a particularly ugly way of asserting that some human beings possess the right to kill other human beings. 

A relationship that by its nature is constituted by a singular intimacy and vulnerability - nothing less than the relationship between a mother and the child in her womb - is desecrated and trampled upon. Legal abortion is a form of institutionalized violence in our society, where all too often the mother is preyed upon by direct or indirect forces that pressure her to have her child killed by professionals, by an entire industry that lies to her and denies that there are any viable options. She is isolated and denied the help she really needs and deserves from the child's father, other family members, the community, and society. 

Abortion reveals the monstrous selfishness, superficiality, harshness, cruelty, and greed that we increasingly are in danger of falling into without even realizing it, as we command vast material powers in the service of even our most ephemeral whims and preferences. These selfish attitudes, these many ways of abdicating our human dignity, are paraded about in our culture as virtues: autonomy, self-sufficiency, empowerment, individualism, control. But even on a self-interested level, we ought not to be fooled. Power, left to its own logic, always ends up in the hands of those who are stronger, who use it to oppress, enslave, and dehumanize the weak. This has nothing to do with freedom.

We should work to make abortion illegal and facilitate opportunities for mothers and their unborn children to be protected and cherished. Period. This is a human imperative. But abortion is not a phenomenon that stands in isolation from all the other evils of the world.

I think it is important for us as Catholic Christians in the USA to be realistic about the country we live in. Legal abortion and all the negligence and hard-heartedness that follow from it did not come out of nowhere. We live in a culture that prioritizes power and things over persons and relationships; abortion is terribly congenial to our enormously self-centered and self-acquiring way of life. And we must remember that both of the current political power groups in the United States serve and promote this way of life. Neither has any interest in being guided by the light that the gospel sheds on temporal realities. 

The dignity of the human person is profoundly obscured in our culture, and this obscurity is the reason why abortion became "legal" and remains "legal" here and throughout the affluent world. In the current political culture, there is no sense of responsibility for the common good of our own people, the whole region of "America" (which belongs to Our Lady of Guadalupe), and the world - including our very fragile planet. The earth today has ecological problems so glaring that it requires a particularly crass ignorance to deny them. There are no facile solutions to any of these things, but it is stupid and childish to pretend they don't exist. We live in a dangerous new world where wisdom must prevail over power.

We need wisdom, even just to live in this world. Where will we find it? 

The political system in the USA presents a serious temptation for Catholic Christians. We are given two options for candidates, from two parties, both of which are driven by the deceit and vanity of the powers of this world. The temptation is to begin by choosing the "less bad" candidate (the one who claims to oppose abortion). But then it is so easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the contest, the superficialities, the bright lights, and the falsehoods. We are in danger of forgetting the political principles and demands of Catholic Social Teaching, and adapting ourselves to the worldly ideology of the power group that has promised us that they will work toward the end of legal abortion. 

The result is that Christ's prophetic voice is muted in USA society, or worse, the worldly power co-opts His voice and claims to represent Him. Today we see the spectacle of so many USA Catholics who cheer and praise Caesar while denouncing the Vicar of Christ when he preaches the faith or gives exhortations in ways that challenge Caesar's worldly aims. 

This behavior does not come from God.

Abortion will never be ended in this way. 

Now it is especially important to be vigilant about what shapes our understanding of the world. On prolife issues, Caesar is "courting us" as never before. Many think that "change is within reach." Whether or not particular legal changes come in the future, we are all going to have to keep thinking, praying, doing penance, and seeking God's will about how to move forward in contributing to the good of our nation and the world.

On election day, everyone gets to make their own prudential judgment about their vote, and also about the attitude they take up (or renew) in relation to the person they vote for. Some Catholics, other Christians, and others of good will may decide to cast their votes as a way of expressing the beginnings of a larger political initiative. 

This is their right

They will need an abundance of patience, persistence, and realism-for-the-long-run, since they have chosen the path of contributing to the building of a new political culture, in part by building a new party that aspires to view the human person - at every stage of life from conception to natural death - in the light of the truth. Christians know that this is ultimately the light that the Gospel sheds on the temporal needs of human persons and societies, even though non-believers can recognize, affirm, and collaborate in seeking these temporal goods as authentic human social and political goods. There are many challenges on this road, however, and many ways of ending up in a ditch. Nevertheless, people who choose to embark upon this path deserve respect. A project like this might seem impossible or quixotic. But nothing will ever happen if some people don't try to begin, however tenuous and flawed that beginning may be.

The USA is a remarkable country, and its political system was the fruit of much thinking about how to build a peaceful society among people of vastly different opinions regarding the most fundamental realities. It has always had a lot of problems, some of which it has been able to overcome, at least in part. Much good has been accomplished in two and a half centuries, overall, but every political system has its limitations and is going to be challenged in new ways.

The USA government has always functioned by ignoring (sometimes even condoning) some evils, but also by certain good presuppositions its people held in common. In the ongoing transition over the past century to the new "global epoch of power," these presuppositions have worn dangerously thin. US people still have many generous sentiments and enormous material wealth. It is a comfortable place to live, but its vision has been corrupted by individualism, consumerist materialism, and the worship of money. We have much freedom, but we don't know what our freedom is for, so we waste it on self-indulgence. 

Will a candidate whose judgment is overwhelmingly shaped by this money-idolizing, self-indulgent mentality stop abortion? 

A nation that wallows in this corrupt vision will never bring an end to abortion. And Catholics who think they can somehow serve both God and mammon with enthusiasm as long as they vote against abortion will never see the end of abortion in their country. Perhaps we should begin to ask ourselves: Have we trusted for too long in the possibility of "winning a war" against the cultural dissolution of the affluent world by using its own weapons: violence in discourse, power politics, and other dehumanizing tactics?

Was this "wisdom"?

I don't know how many Catholics are ready for these hard questions, but they are inescapable. Of course, people should vote according to their conscience, and that might lead them to vote for the candidate who they think will do less harm, but it is a cause of sorrow to see Catholic Christians duped by demagoguery and putting their hopes in false political messiahs. 

We must examine ourselves: Do we think that we can pillage the earth, be gluttonous and slothful and distracted by every vanity while we ignore the cries of the poor, ignore the plight of our neighbors, ignore refugees, ignore all the immense suffering and indignities of humans in need, strut about in our pride and arrogance and call ourselves great, as long as we make abortion illegal? Do we cry "Hail, Caesar" and "Down with the Pope"? 

I humbly submit that we Catholics in the USA are much tempted and in real danger of doing this. I speak as a fool, begging forgiveness for my own sins, trusting in the God who is our Father and loves all of us through Jesus Christ.