in the Building a conscience for a faithful citizenshipThe US bishops argue that “responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (13). They go on to say that political participation is a way of “bearing Christian witness” (13). In a culture often referred to as individualistic and materialistic, these reminders from US bishops help Catholic voters rethink how our political actions (whether simply voting, contributing, or volunteering for a campaign) help the World can just improve. Then Building a conscience for a faithful citizenship quotes the catechism, No. 1913-1915, reminds us that the telos politics is the common good:
“It is necessary that everyone participate, everyone according to their wishes [sic] Position and role in Promotion of the common good. This obligation is inherent in human dignity… Citizens should take an active part in public life whenever possible. ”
As we near Election Day on November 3rd in the US, there is no doubt that partisan rhetoric and campaigning will grab our attention and consume our energy. How can people have these conversations in faith? What virtues do we need to cultivate and what information do we need to carefully process in order to understand the issues at stake in this choice? How can we bring our concern for the common good to prayer?
In a series we call “Conscience at the Polls,” CMT bloggers will write about conscience-building during the US 2020 presidential election. We invite our readers to read our CMT mission statement here, especially if you want to join the dialogue in the comment threads. When I think about my own contribution to this project, I mention my position. I am a white Catholic woman with a college degree. I am a working mom. All of these aspects of my identity shape my being-in-the-world and my moral judgments about political issues. I am a Catholic theologian trying to put my education at the service of the Church, the Academy and the world. Truth-finding, courage, charity and humility must work together. Our series is for readers who are willing to ask difficult questions about their own religious and political views, who want to admit that life is complicated and chaotic, and who are tired of simply answering thorny problems.
As I am introducing this series, here are some things that I think are pretty obvious, yet need to be said from the start:
- Neither political party in the United States fits perfectly with the relevant Catholic doctrines on every issue.
- Catholics shouldn’t be single voters.
- A well-formed conscience must deal with a wide range of data, including not just election promises and current threats to the common good, but the character, virtues, and vices of the politician.
- Your priest cannot tell you how to vote. Every voter has to do the hard work of making decisions by conscience.
- One should always be ready to reassess one’s position in the light of new knowledge.
- Appropriate judgment is required when voting.
I encourage us not to use “political” as a negative, derogatory adjective. It is my own fault if I roll my eyes at “departmental politics” or “church politics”. We certainly know that campaigns often use negative advertising, fear-based rhetoric, and the like in their messages. Attempts to suppress voters and meddle in elections are very real. Many people will say that they “hate politics” because they associate politics with abuse of power, lack of trust and conflict.
But if we remember that the end of politics is always that Common good, We can redefine our attitudes about the value of political engagement and the risk of engagement. Judging the vote should be about what I can Use my voice to serve others. Political participation should be about how I can make my community and my country a better place for everyone.
We hope you find yourself looking for new posts to this series every week. As a community of moral theologians, we look forward to thinking through complex issues together at a very difficult time in US history.
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