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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

Voting - lesser of two evils?

With the upcoming election, do we vote for the “lesser of the two evils” or do we not vote for either?

     Many are perturbed over the upcoming election for many reasons. Some are concerned simply because of the perception of the struggles of our nation and the urgent need for competent leadership at every level to help stabilize our nation and restore what has become weak or has been lost. Others are more
concerned about the candidates themselves, as they sense that there are no candidates of good character for whom to vote. Finally, there are many who are looking at the issues themselves and shudder over the positions espoused by candidates and their affiliated political parties. It is a messy situation – but one that still is to be carried out as an exercise of lived faith and of stewardship.

     Based upon all of the confusions as generally alluded to above, the plain question that is being asked here regarding the vote for “the lesser of two evils” is one that has also crossed many minds. In principle, since God himself never causes evil, neither can we cause or cooperate with evil. Accordingly, it seems plain that if we have a choice between two evils, we ordinarily ought to look for an alternate way – one that does not contain anything evil. However, when it comes to such actions as choosing those who lead us, it is unfortunate that rarely if ever are there candidates who do not hold any positions or views on policies which do not lead to what is evil. To speak more clearly (since everybody knows this already): it is unfortunate that the two major political parties both hold to some policies that contain evils. Such requires us to prioritize, discerning the greater good and greater evil.

     In our Catholic social teaching, the true common good ALWAYS upholds the God-given life and dignity of every human person. This truth of the dignity of all human persons, no matter what age (from conception to natural death), race, health, etc. can never be treated as an object or a means to an end. This principle being foundational, all acts that deliberately destroy life or use human life as a means to an end must be directly opposed – hence, the “five non-negotiable issues” of
abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual “marriage” must be directly opposed as violations of human dignity. Most of the other issues, such as economics and national security, can have a variety of solutions from which we are invited to discern and choose – but none of these decisions matter if there is no fundamental right to life or upholding of human dignity. (In short:  if the life of all human beings itself is not upheld, all other issues of “how we live our lives” have no purpose.)

     These being the principles, what should we do this year when there is so much confusion and the seeming lack of candidates who fit the above description of how we prioritize? Is it legitimate to choose the “lesser of two evils?” In the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s document “Forming Consciences for Faithful
Citizenship,” paragraph 36 says the following: 
“When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”

     In other words: it sounds as though the U.S. Bishops are willing to say that “yes,” we can vote for the lesser of two evils – voting for “the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position.” On the other hand, it remains necessary to form your conscience in truth and to exercise the right to vote based on truth. Accordingly, if in your own formation in truth you believe that there is no candidate in a given race who rightly respects the dignity of every person (acknowledging that in some races there are three or more candidates), you may be able to choose the no candidate, or choose one who is less likely to commit/propose legislation that causes what is evil.

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