Texas election time is right around the corner and this constantly brings up the old debate about voting your conscience. The Church teaches that it is one of the highest obligations for an individual to follow his/her conscience. But first and foremost, one has the prior obligation to form one's own conscience, so that when you follow it, you are not only being true to yourself, but to God.
Truth is not really a tricky thing, although 2,000 years ago an abusive and whiney tyrant named Pontius Pilate asked a particular bearded Savior "What is truth?" It would seem that politicians will try anything to escape accountability, even if it means denying that truth itself exists! ("what is 'is'?")
All I am asking of Catholics this election is that we place first things first.
Pro-life means just that, we are for life. We are not against it. We ought not to fight abortion and ignore euthanasia. We ought not to fight the death penalty, but avoid ending warfare. Each and every person has the right to life because of what/who they are substantially, not accidentally. Each of these four areas represent the way the culture of death has triumphed over us: abortion, euthanasia, death penalty and warfare. Let's take it back starting now.
Substantially, you are a human person. You are a distinct, biological organism that we call "Human" or "Homo Sapiens". Personhood means that you possess an interior life, that you are a subject and not only an object. To be a person means you are, as Boethius said, an individual substance of a rational nature. You are an individual substance, unique, unrepeatable and non-transferable. No one else can will for you, think for you, act for you. Only you can communicate yourself because you are a subject. You are also rational, which means you have the capacity to grasp the truth, knowledge and understanding. It is your nature. As Chesterton once said, "The human brain is a machine made for coming to conclusions." And there's only one like it!
What you are speaks to your human nature. Who you are speaks to your personhood. You are a rational animal that has never existed nor will ever exist again, whose unique existence is capable of knowing the truth and choosing the good. You are a spiritual and a material creature. That is your dignity.
Accidentally, you may be a lot of things. You may be black or white. You may have been born on this or that side of a river, mountain or ocean. You be in the womb or outside the womb. You may belong to this or that country, religion or ethnic group. You may be rich or the poorest of the poor. You may or may not be married or employed, walking or bedridden. You could like broccoli or maybe you don't.
These "accidents" are certainly important, but they are not what gives you dignity. Sure, they factor into a lot of things and may radically alter the way people treat you or behave around you. But they are what the Scholastic theologians and philosophers would call "accidents", following Aristotle.
The thing is, campaign season is almost all about the accidents and never about the essentials. As troops, enemies and civilians are dying in overseas wars, almost no mention is made about them in these elections. Americans are done with war in Afghanistan, but not enough to do anything about it in streets or at the election box. Politicians aren't even talking about it. Torture, which is a moral evil always to be condemned, is now frequently taking place without significant pro-life leadership speaking up, probably out of fear of being labeled a "Leftist" or someone "on the side of the terrorists".
A culture of death is one that looses sight of the substance of men and women and exploits the accidents in order to advance its own power. Make no mistake, people are getting rich and are acquiring more power thanks to this growing culture of death. It affects us all. It's robbing us of our human dignity. It is de-humanizing the vulnerable so that it can destroy them for profit or power.
We need to represent a consistent ethic of life where we do not compromise our shared Catholic moral beliefs when combatting the culture of death. Life needs our vote. Innocent babies who are separated from us only by the accident of birth need our vote. The elderly and the ill need our vote, as well as the doctor and the hospital pressured to kill. Tariq Aziz on death row needs our vote. And every American soldier, as well as the poor peoples of whatever nation we are currently in, need our vote.
Maybe you are feeling disenfranchised from the whole democratic process because of the dominance of this malignant culture of death. Maybe your conscience is telling you, "The lesser of two evils is still evil." Maybe you think this year God might want you to stop participating in the same system that's taking lives in exchange for campaign dollars, prestige and arrogance. Maybe all those arguments about being "a responsible citizen" is really about giving legitimacy to something you, in your core, reject and despise.
I can't reason for you. I can't will for you. But definitely I think the time has come, and may well have passed for America, to bring politicians a little taste of what they desperately avoid: RESPONSIBILITY.