A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Is it a sin not to vote? Or a virtue?

A number of Catholics and evangelicals across the political spectrum who have become disillusioned with their usual candidate or with the entire political system are opting out of voting -- despite the longstanding tradition of most churches that voting is a serious duty for Christians. (Voting is a civic sacrament, as Father Hesburgh once said.)My latest piece for Religion News Service rounds up some of the arguments for abstaining, or at least threatening not to vote, or voting for a third party:

Julia Smucker, a contributor to the Vox Nova blog who identifies as a Mennonite Catholic, wrote in July that Obama had disappointed her so much she may not vote for anyone. Meanwhile her colleague Kyle Cupp said he found both campaigns so vacuous that he has almost reached the point of not caring.Similarly, Jana Bennett, a professor of theological ethics at the University of Dayton in battleground Ohio, wrote a column at the Catholic Moral Theology blog saying she is considering voting for a third-party candidate or not at all because neither party adequately represents her beliefs.Something has tipped for me this election and its the way I think Im being asked to rip myself in half, figuratively speaking, by one party or the other, or both, Bennett wrote in early October, lamenting the stupidity of the apparent choice with which I am faced in the election.The stark disparity between the two partys platforms indicates to me that regardless of who wins in November, the net result will be that nothing will continue to get done," she said. "In a two party system, we seem to have only one choice, even if that choice splits us down the middle.Bennetts colleague at the University of Dayton, Kelly Johnson, also advocated not voting, though she framed the decision as a fast in which believers should abstain from some good for the sake of orienting our desires toward a higher good.Abstaining from voting for now would recognize that in this setting and for us, elections can be an occasion of sin and a site for scandal, Johnson wrote last spring. Paul abstained from meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of other Christians; Catholics could abstain from U.S. party politics, for the sake of all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics, who are misled by such efforts.

I can understand the frustration but I have an instinctive reaction against abstaining from voting. You wind up working to elect someone anyway, in a negative way. And personally, I'd rather be guilty for what I do than for what I don't do. Thoughts?

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

I think we have a civic duty to vote. I don't see why there needs to be a moral conflict; if the Democratic and Republican candidates present an occasion for sin, vote for a third party or write-in someone you find morally acceptable. As a liberal, I am extremely frustrated that my "real" choices are between a conservative incumbent and a very conservative challenger. So, Obama is the lesser evil (for me), but I am also wondering if he is lesser-evil-enough. But it wouldn't occur to me not to vote.

Mr. Gibson - excellent question and post.Here is something I posted earlier on the McGovern post:"A good and decent man with a conscience that he acted on. Unfortunately, both his campaign process (chaotic at best) and his decision on his running mate (abandoning him) pushed me in my first presidential vote to lodge a protest vote for Pat Paulsen. (yes, I know, immature and tilting at windmills).McGoverns principled stand against the Vietnam war is what sealed my admiration for him. But, as many say, I dont single issue vote."So, your question resonates with me. As you can see above, made a decision to lodge a protest vote just as I have voted for third party candidates at times.Agree - not voting seems to be too easy and what does it accomplish? Guess part of this is what you do beyond or beside just voting? To that point, have both a son and niece who stated last Sunday that they will not vote because the whole political system appears to them to be a travesty. But, that really is an easy way out - take some responsibility and do something about it. Finally, let's face it - the *lesser of two evils* are choices we make almost every day.

We have a responsibility -- I would not say "duty" -- to vote. The idea of "duty" suggests voting in the rigged plebiscites that dictators are fond of fixing. But we do owe it to each other to weigh in as long as we have the remnants of a democracy here. The responsibility to vote, however, does not include the responsibility to vote for one of the only two candidates who are enjoyed by the media. It might be fulfilled by voting for a third party. That has the value of showing you went to the polls but had low regard for the evils of the two lessers offered by the major parties.Or you can write in Uncle Bob. A beloved family member will never assassinate someone with a drone, and he or she might get a kick out of getting a vote for president.

And rather than fasting from voting, how about those urging such a fast, instead start working on building a democratic movement of Catholics to put together a comprehensive platform that isn't fragmented? and then line up a candidate? We could ourselves be that alternative third party that unifies the Church and provides a positive witness. There's another presidential election in 4 years.

I think we do have a duty as concerned engaged citizens to vote. I might understand not voting if there was no real difference between the candidates, but that isn't so in this instance. Choosing not to vote seems almost like a kind of selfish sulking - I thought Catholics were all about the common good.

Wouldn't ruining a ballot make more sense than not casting one in terms of expressing frustration with the candidates?

Thanks for this post, and the comments above.Here's a related question it provokes in my mind: is refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils an act of complicity with the greater evil? (I'm pretty sure there's not one right answer.)

It makes me sad to think of Catholics not voting. (Is that a win for the Nativists/Know Nothings/APA/etc.?) Sad to think of Catholics not voting. Is it a win for the Nativists/Know Nothings? For the APA? For the Syllabus of Errors? If you don't like Romney or Obama personally, at least think about the Supreme Court. Do you want your children and grandchildren to be ruled by Tea Party appointees? In days of yore, we learned in grade school about the importance of voting. Here's one example from Treasure Chest. (The great Catholic comic book is provided online by CUA.) page 5 for an example of how things haven't changed all that much in 54 years.)

Is the question "not to vote" or "not to vote for President". In my state( Ct) the senate vote is more important than the president.

I remember in high school being shocked that a teacher said that he had never voted for a presidential candidate but only against one of them. I then thought this was rather cynical. I don't think so any more.I don't know that I would regard not voting as an act of virtue, but neither do I think it a sin. In the past I've voted for candidates for some offices and not for others. Apart from deciding in favor of one's own candidate, what do you suggest as an option--on election day--for those who have come to the conclusion that they can't vote for either presidential candidate? The only suggestion above that would appeal to me would be to write in someone else's name. Are write-in votes counted?

Making choices in an imperfect world is something I thought that Catholics, as well as other normal people, did every day. Barring some unforeseeable event, one of two men will be President of the United States for the next four years, and it won't be a third-party candidate or a write-in. It may not be sin, but it is surely not virtue to put pique before principle and refuse to vote because I perceive that neither of these men is perfect. There never has been such a candidate. But if I can see no significant difference between them, and between the policies each will try to implement in office, I am just not trying very hard.

Father Komonchak, yes. write-in votes are counted. They are listed at the end of voting registrars' reports, but I have rarely seen them reported in the newspaper. In 1968, the Kansas City Star did run a list of write-in votes, but that year there was an organized campaign for Eldridge Cleaver in some states, although not in Missouri. As I recall, Dick Gregory got 43 votes in Kansas City.

There's a moral conflict for me in voting for either candidate.They both believe in murdering people.I believe in self defense but what obama is doing is not self defense.Nor is his position on abortion defensible. To vote would be to add my one vote to a culture of murder-legalized murder. Though I prefer obama to romney for other reasons- contributng to this culture of murder with my vote-when i really don't have to, is wrong -i believe. i have to pay taxes, i can't leave the country as that would be too cumbersome at this point in my life[economically and for my family which I have responsibility to] but I CAN not vote.That's easy.The lesser of two evils is one thing-but when we're talking about cold blooded murder -whether abortion or the "war on terror" meaning dropping bombs on the villages of pakistan and afghanistan and targeted assasinations, I can't add my vote to that.

I find this to be a particularly interesting and (obviously) pertinent topic. I do have one reaction to the last point from the original post. David Gibson writes, "I can understand the frustration but I have an instinctive reaction against abstaining from voting. You wind up working to elect someone anyway, in a negative way." I have two points to make here: 1) Because of the electoral college, this only applies to people voting in swing-states. So, the question becomes somewhat arbitrary. How wide does the gap have to be before one's vote is meaningless anyway. I vote in the state of Connecticut and this year I wrote in Daniel Berrigan (mainly because I would love if he were president, and also because the irony of voting for him is too much for me to pass up). Now, there is about the same chances that Berrigan gets the electoral votes from my state as there is that Romney gets them. So, I have avoided voting for anyone from the two major parties, and I'm not certain how that matters from a pragmatic point of view.2) This is the more important point, I think. If one truly does not want to be responsible for either Obama or Romney being elected to the presidency, why should s/he choose one of them? If an individual truly believes that casting either of those votes goes against his or her conscience, it would simply be wrong to cast that vote, even if there may be a "lesser evil."

If one ops out voting as a continuing lifestyle choice I say great. But if a citizen voter throws up his hands at a particular election I say he/she is a bug out. Something like joining the infantry and suddenly say I'm not firing in this engagement because half the German infantry in front of us are fellow Catholics. a little notion and a little late.

Here is the US bishops on this question in "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship":"13. In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, "It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. . . . As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life" (nos. 1913-1915)."14. Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable. The Catholic call to faithful citizenship affirms the importance of political participation and insists that public service is a worthy vocation. As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a better world.[...]"16. As the Holy Father also taught in Deus Caritas Est, "The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful" (no. 29). This duty is more critical than ever in today's political environment, where Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church's comprehensive commitment to the life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death. Yet this is not a time for retreat or discouragement; rather, it is a time for renewed engagement. Forming their consciences in accord with Catholic teaching, Catholic lay women and men can become actively involved: running for office; working within political parties; communicating their concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, community organizations, and other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square. Even those who cannot vote have the right to have their voices heard on issues that affect their lives and the common good."

Count me in John Prior''s camp. And by the way, I find all this "lesser of two evils" talk much too glib. We're voting for someone to fill a political office. So far as I know there has never been a political practice in a large state that could, without qualification, be called good. Flaws, large and small, have affected all such political regimes. Nonetheless, unless we are "political Manichaens" we have good reason to applaud some political regimes as good, not simply as the lesser of evils. Those who lead them deserve praise for having done so. With all the objections that can rightly be raised against a number of Mr. Obama's policies, I find that his overall record is, all things considered, notably better than that of his predecessor and that of his predecessor's father. His predecessor was a disaster, I think, and his father was insufficiently concerned with the safety net. I'll have no qualms about voting for Mr. Obama. In answer to the Romney question: "Are you better off?" my answer is a resounding Yes.

That's a good final point from Faithful Citizenship, I think: that if you can't or won't vote, you have a duty to affect politics in some other way. Voting really is the least burdensome civic responsibility. You go in, pull a couple levers, and you get to complain for the next couple of years. Getting involved is better, though I'd say doing both is best, if you can.

I think not voting, especially when you can write in any name of your choice, is not an act of protest, it's an act of hubris. Not unlike asking someone to stand down, then taking repeated shots at him when you know he won't reply. But I digress.

I remember my priorities 4 years ago: closing Guantanamo, and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought the easiest task by far for the new president would be the closure of the Guantanamo detention center. I was wrong... But I also remember stating that if he achieved even only one of my main goals, I would call myself satisfied. Do others remember what they wanted 4 years ago?

I understand and appreciate the angst involved in decision like this. But, I have come to a point in my life where if I begin to feel that during elections, I need to take a step back and do some serious self (and political) examination. Politics should not be so all consuming nor should we allow any institution or government to have such involvement in our lives that it affects us in emotional ways.We are not voting for spiritual or moral leaders but political leaders who will apply themselves in specific ways to specific problems. Everybody can establish their own criteria and interests and examine the positions of each to see which best fits. Good heavens we are not choosing a spouse or a lifelong commitment. If you don't like it, then make another change in four years or get involved in the local party and advance different candidates.Even in three party systems, you always run in to strategic voting situations (i.e. I would like to vote NDP but that candidate does not have a chance so I will vote Liberal so Conservative will not get in or some variant of that). I always say, vote for the candidate that most represents your interests. It is not a wasted vote that way. But at the same time, I don't think you should do a write in ballot. If you are really dissatisfied, get involved in a third party and help it to grow so that the third party can be on the ballot. If the rules are such that you are only given two choices, I think you are obligated to select one of those two choices until such time as third party can be on the ballot. But one should invest energies in that if one is consistently torn.I think you should vote for the person you most think could positively affect the community and country in positive ways.I am not a fan of purity tests. But then again, I already know which way I would likely vote even though I may not be with the candidate in every respect. The overall trajectory is in the direction, that persuades me.One cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But of course what I think might be good is probably (well likely in this case) different than what the majority here might believe. But that is why we have elections eh!

"Are write-in votes counted?"Yes, Prof. Komonchak, they're counted, but they don't count for much, sad to say.I'm not a diehard Obama fan, but there is absolutely NO way I can support the Republican platform. The thought of Ryan being a heartbeat away from the presidency scares the hell out of me! I suspect the Democrats would better respond to the needs of the poor.

"It may not be sin, but it is surely not virtue to put pique before principle and refuse to vote because I perceive that neither of these men is perfect."It is an insult so to describe those who have a moral conflict in voting for either presidential candidate. Similar condescending comments would not be hard to conjure up for those who have their minds made up. Voters for the two major candidates are not the only responsible ones around.

As I said before, which of these 2 men do you want making the next appointment to the SCOTUS? I know who I want to do that!I personally do NOT want an doctrinnaire religionist for President. We are electing a President of the entire nation with all of its diversity, not a leader of a Judeo/Christian nation (which doesn't exist, anyway).

"Voters for the two major candidates are not the only responsible ones around."I wholeheartedly agree. And we will always be stuck with only two major candidates as long as voters choose to only vote for those two parties. Claire: I wanted the same things you wanted last election. Sojourners has a nice essay which reflects my own values in electing a President:"For Christians, our election choices should always have most to do with protecting the the least of these: low-income individuals and families undocumented people, who are in the biblical category of the stranger children born and unborn those most vulnerable to hunger and disease around the world poor people most impacted by climate change women and children being trafficked and exploited, and those who are victims of violence and the collateral damage of war "'m not hearing very much discussion on any of this from either major candidate.

Jim Pauwels (5:40 p.m. ) Here is a paragraph from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship that you overlooked:"36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, 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."That seems to equate voting for the candidate you hope is the bigger liar with not voting in that race at all, although I am sure that is not what the bishops intended. It does, anyway, give protective fire for Catholics who choose to skip a race.

Joseph A. Komonchak @ 6:22 pm:If it is an insult and a condescending comment, it is directed, as the sentence shows, against myself. Sadly, I have not the exquisite moral sensitivity to understand that this election is a contest between Hitler and Caligula.

I think voting for someone who has absolutely no chance of winning is the same as not voting.In this election, while neither candidate may be stellar on issues of war, in other areas, like the environment, they are worlds apart. A vote for Obama could make a big difference to the environment, and if there's a "least of these" list, I'd think our planet would make the cut.

Perhaps I am a moral midget. I find it very difficult to think that not voting at all or voting for someone who has no reasonable chance of winning to be a very peculiar exercise of citizenship. Unless one can make the case that not voting will be politically effective, i.e. will lead to some likely reform of the political discourse and practice in the society, then it is hard for me to see that one is not just advocating that we write off the entire political process. That may be the only acceptable option in a dictatorship or totalitarian state, but when, as is the case in modern democracies, there is an opportunity to work politically with others to effect policy changes as well as to prevent the dismantling of important programs to alleviate the plight of our fellow citizens, then to opt out is, I think, hard to defend.Note that what I say does not mean that I think that only a vote for Obama is defensible. Though I myself strongly support his reelection, I have to admit that one could plausibly conclude that a vote for Romney would be better for our society. I cannot see how not voting at all could reasonably be regarded as a positive contribution to our political life.

Tom B - how do you know I overlooked it? Maybe I just didn't read that far :-)It's certainly an interesting snippet. Note the formulation, "When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil". Intrinsic. Probably this sentence is the source for some statements by individual bishops that have been criticized here (including from time to time by me) for equating "intrinsic" with "important".Off the top of my head, I'm not aware of an intrinsic evil which both President Obama and Governor Romney support. (Without denying that war can be, and even almost always is, evil, and that it is important, I don't view it as an intrinsic evil; and at any rate, both candidates seem to agree more or less on the current policy toward Iran and Pakistan, and see that path as the path to peace).

I believe a citizen has a responsibility to vote after trying to get informed about the choices. This is the best country I have, for better and for worse. My vote is about 0.00004% of the state total and counts if I use it shrewdly. If I were to walk away, I wouldn't matter in this election. The election is not an examination of consciences or a beatification process. One of the presidential candidates (and his immediate successor in case of calamity) will be elected to carry out a very complicated job in a treacherous future not easily predicted. The daily complexities on national and global scales are not amenable to campaign sound bites and buzz words. A vote is a bet and a hope that the man chosen will do as much as possible as well as possible in the world we are entering. Therefore, the decision of how to vote should be demanding but not the decision on whether to vote. Where I grew up, the more crooked candidate was the preferred choice at times because he knew how to get the job done better with tolerable overhead.

Btw - the Romney campaign just texted me: the Governor's view on this moral conundrum is that progressive Catholics certainly should stay home on election day.

"Where I grew up, the more crooked candidate was the preferred choice at times because he knew how to get the job done better with tolerable overhead."I think I grew up near you. Where I grew up, it was suggested that one vote for the rich guy; if he has enough money of his own, he won't steal yours.

One would think, by way of example, a Republican casting a meaningless vote for President in New York and otherwise not participating in political life or public service cannot be more virtuous than a Democrat in Alabama who abstains from voting while otherwise participating extensively in political life. Furthermore, to the extent someone is willfully abstaining from voting as an act of temperance, for example to ensure emotional attachments do not affect their moral judgements, then to people who view temperance as the greatest virtue, I would expect that person would therefore find that abstention a virtuous exercise of the will.

I can understand not being able to vote for either candidate in good conscience. I've been known to write in the name of our pastor.I hope, though, that not liking either presidential ticket won't dissuade folks from showing up to vote. There are a lot of down-ballot elections that deserve your civic engagement.

MAT brings up an interesting sidebar to this discussion. Several of our WWII generals did not vote in presidential elections to avoid being in the position of having voted against the man who became their commander-in-chief. Anyone have a moral problem with that?Jim Pauwels (8:07), I urge you to consider this: Committing assassination without a declaration of war from Congress OR a judicial determination that the target/victim is who the president says he is and is guilty of what the president says he did OR at least a post-assassination assessment by somebody outside of the president' circle of yes-men, gofers and flunkies. The subject came up fleetingly in the third debate with the moderator assuming the president was for that policy -- since it is his -- and the challenger nodded along happily like a bobblehead doll. I'd call that evil, and I'd call the evil intrinsic.

I think voting for someone who has absolutely no chance of winning is the same as not voting.I don't think so. If you don't vote, no one will know whether it was not imply by indifference or laziness. But if you do vote for a "loser", you're sending a message of protest and expressing some preference for a hypothetical alternative. If a significant number of people do that, then the new president will know that x% of the people feel strongly enough about that alternative to thus throw away their vote on someone with no chance but better ideas: it makes those ideas visible. A politician would be foolish to ignore that! It may also serve as a wake-up call to reform the system.

"Committing assassination without a declaration of war from Congress OR a judicial determination that the target/victim is who the president says he is and is guilty of what the president says he did"I'm very troubled by the regime of assassination. Would a Congressional or judicial imprimatur change its moral status? I'm not sure that it would. But here's a less complicated example: presumably, both candidates (and every major presidential candidate since 1945?) has supported the use of nuclear weapons, which I would argue is an intrinsic evil. Having said that, I think the President doesn't get - or claim - nearly enough credit for reducing nuclear stockpiles. That, and the large increase in food stamp enrollment, should rank every bit as high as Obamacare in the Catholic social teaching honor roll of his accomplishments - and arguably higher than the financial reform or the GM bailout.

In 2000 I believed that it didn't really matter which candidate US citizens would vote for, Bush or Gore. I thought that once in office, they would be so constrained and so inclined to pander to results of polls that it wouldn't make much difference what party they came from. How wrong I was! We're still working on undoing the damage of the disastrous decisions taken by Bush during his presidency. Bush's legacy, I believe, is a powerful incentive to cast an immediately useful vote rather than a protest vote.

In an imperfect world we sometimes have difficult choices to make. But is it right to abstain from choosing when it is possible to-- at least-- minimize future damage by taking into consideration the likely fallout from the election of each candidate and voting for the one who would do the least harm?

In voting for a president we are voting not just for a person who promises to do X or Y but for the person's administration and party. BEcause we are voting for a party, we must look at what the party has done in the rather recent past. In the case of the Republican Party in the last several decades, taken as a whole (including the Republican presidents) the Republican Party has gotten us into two major wars, cut taxes for the rich and not the middle class, and has not met the challenges of energy, education and infrastructure. Further, it has spent vastly more money than the Democratic Party, even though it used to have the reputation as fiscally conservative. Further, during the Obama administration it willfully obstructed his every initiative, even when the initiatives had first been proposed by a Republican!!True, the Democrats are rather bad on abortion, but the Republicans have actually not done much better even when they were in power. The abortion problem can't be solved until the populace wants it to be solved, and that means persuading people to change their thinking. Changing presidents won't do it.So vote early and vote often, folks. I don't have to say how.

And how could I forget -- the financial crisis was largely due to the lack of regulation of the financial sector by the Republican administrations, and the current Republican candidate is all for eliminating the regulatory laws that Obama managed to get passed. Some people never learn.

I consider financial reform a huge failure of the Obama administration. There was ample political will for real reform and it never happened. But what else could we expect when the President surrounded himself with the Tim Geithners, Bill Daleys and Lawrence Summers of the world I guess, when you're bankrolled and beholden to corporate America, it is difficult to regulate it.

It's rather simple for me this time. I'm voting to save Obamacare.

Ann's particulars are precisely the sort of things that tip the scales for me. And...could anyone imagine the Republican party to be less " bankrolled and beholden to corporate America" than the Democrats?

'could anyone imagine the Republican party to be less bankrolled and beholden to corporate America than the Democrats?"No, the Republicans would be just as bought and paid for as the Democrats are.

In just 4 short years, we've gone from the lofty rallying cry of "hope and change" to..."No, the Republicans would be just as bought and paid for as the Democrats are."Why even bother voting?

This is an interesting post. For those who like a little history, here is an excerpt from an October 5, 1916 editorial by Joseph Matt for Der Wanderer, when it was still a German-Catholic newspaper, counseling readers not to vote, since both Wilson and his Republican challenger Justice Hughes would both lead the United States into war, despite their promises to the contrary. Matt, by the way, while counseling readers to abstain from voting for president, did urge his readers to vote for Democrat House candidates because he feared Republican internationalism. Here is the excerpt:"American election campaigns have never enjoyed the reputation of promoting the education of the people in high ideals. For the most part, they were dedicated to self interest, eloquence, demagoguery. Pessimists generally came out ahead when they claimed to find their dour expectations realized in our political life. But those who sought comfort in the politician who repeated the phrase: 'My son, you have no idea how much nonsense is spoken in world governance'these were not on the short end either. "It is hard to say what is the dominant characteristic of the current campaign: is it a tragedy of a people undoubtedly called to high tasks which sets about building its future devoid of all planning and setting of goals and lacking any kind of solid principles or is it a comedy in which its political leaders articulate soothing, multivalent phrases behind which an ego-trip stands as a categorical imperative. Thus, the anointed leaders set about extolling each other.."Our people, the ruling party, the leaders of the parties have the splendid opportunity to make their mark on world history and assure for the American republic lasting gratitude from all the peoples now suffering from the catastrophe of a world war. It makes no difference which political party is in power in this difficult time. For the basic root of the malaise affecting our American political life lies in the fact that there is no really constructive party, no party whose program is anchored in eternally valid ethical principles. On the contrary, any party in control allows itself to be swayed by considerations of momentary advantage, and it is from this standpoint that judgments about right or wrong are formed."As the situation looks now the most useful strategy lies in the direction of abstaining from voting in the presidential election...."

Paul L, interesting bit of history, thanks. I believe Dorothy Day could not bring herself to vote for president either, no? Good discussion here, thanks.I try not to be too cynical about it all, and I think there are real differences and also much at stake for others than myself. So I feel a duty to participate. Similarly, many can become cynical about the state of the hierarchy, which seems to be no better than our domestic politics. But I still vote for bishop. Oh. Wait...

david, i couldn't agree with you more. not voting isn't an effective act of protest. it's a passive act that undermines our system, which is unarguably flawed, but yet has its merits. what irene said at the top of this thread is true, it is our civic duty to vote. plus, to my mind, if you don't vote, you lose your right to complain about how bad things are. here's to voting.

Bishop McElroy in SF, who has a doctorate in political science, seems to make sense:

Contrary to what some believe, said the bishop, the church does not teach that Catholics must cast their votes based solely on a candidates stand on abortion. While that issue should be considered pre-eminent, the other issues can also be taken into consideration.This is really the hard call for us as Christians, Bishop McElroy told the group.Catholics should also consider if a candidate can or will do what they promise, he said.

Unless one is concerned about giving an aura of legitimacy to a totalitarian farce, not voting seems to be giving into despair.

@Mark Proska (10/26, 9:18 am) Actually, as you've most likely noticed, the Obama campaign has gone from its 2008 slogans of "Change We Can Believe In" (primaries) and "Change We Need" (general election) to "Forward.", the slogan it has used for the past several months.It may be less inspiring, but it (most likely) more accurately reflects this moment in time---the president's administration has spent the past four years dealing with the worst economic crisis in 80 years and with trying to end the two wars it inherited. After making significant progress on both those fronts, and on some of candidate Obama's top priorities (e.g., passing Obamacare), the challenge now (if you're a supporter of the president) is to keep moving forward, and not go back to the kinds of policies that got us into trouble in the first place (policies embraced by Romney and Ryan).

Related, but only tangentially:In the latest issue of Commonweal, Paul Griffiths has published "Fellow Travellers? Four Atheists Who Don't Hate Religion." Most of this piece is both interesting and informative, but the concluding section makes me wonder what he is saying. Each of the four authors he discusses longs for some version of what Griffiths calls political theology. Griffiths concludes by saying that unlike their "churches without Christ," the "Church WITH Christ acts upon its acolytes because he is there....The Church without Christ is better than no church at all, but it is a poor substitute for the church of Christ." Is Griffiths implying that a Christian, precisely by being a Christian, is better equipped to make a positive contribution to his or her spciety's political life than nonbelievers are? Is the sincere Christian one who recognizes the truth of Simon Critchley's view that "all theology is directly or indirectly political....[T]here's no theology without politics, and no politics without politics."Without much work, I could gun up an interpretation of this claim that is perhaps true but utterly devoid of practical import. I could equally easily gin up an interpretation that would make this claim patently false. I take it that a bright person like Griffiths has something more substantial in mind. Can Grant or Matthew or Mollie or anyone else help me make sense of what Griffiths means here?

Bernard --As I read Griffiths he is saying that a political body needs its citizens to be motivated to die for each other , but without religion there is no such guarantee. Without religious belief we can end up like Ayn Rand -- in it for ourselves and ourselves only. A populace motivated by self only cannot sustain a community. It's the old "individualism" v. "collectivism" or "community".By the way, I think that the GOP spinners current use of the word "collectivism" in place of "community" and even in places where "the common good" would be appropriate is the most cynical bit of political spinning so far. What they're doing is a great example of semantic manipulation. The Democrats need to take lessons from them.

Masochistic as it sounds, I think it would be a good thing if we had more presidential campaigns like Bush v. Gore, where the winner of the popular vote fails to gain 270 electoral votes. Maybe then, at long last, the American people will be so fed up with the Electoral College that they'll demand it be abolished.

"Several of our WWII generals did not vote in presidential elections..."The tradition goes back further to the beginning of representative democracy. However, of the era you refer to, most worthy of note is Gen. Marshall, who really couldn't exist in post-Vietnam America. Perhaps someone like Sen. Webb of Virginia who is mildly disliked by both sides but not really hated is the best we can do although the way one of his signature policy themes was politically polarized during the last Presidential debates makes me think perhaps not. Another interesting case is Gen. Petraeus. I recall from reading a defense industry rag a while back that when OIF began to become politically polarized he stopped voting to try to satiate concerns of his enemies that he was becoming too popular. He seems to have survived that period although I reckon after the election Mr. Axelrod will use the events of 11 Sep 12 to ensure his career in public service is cut short.

Thanks, Ann, for your comment. My concern is with the apparent claim that without religious belief there is insufficient motivation for citizens to die for the common good. I think that this is a poor reading of history. On the other hand, it's not clear to me that religious belief, precisely as religious belief can be counted on to provide this kind of need, especially for a pluralistic society. Archbishop Chaput is supposed to have said recently that we are Catholics first and only thereafter Americans. I recognize that there is something right about what he is reported to have said, though I hardly think that it suggests that we Catholics are more likely to die for our fellow citizens than our non-believing fellow citizens. So far as I can see, history would hardly bear out such a claim.

Luke--With respect to "Forward", do you think the President has been honest, forthright and transparent with you on Lybia? If you can't reply with an immediate and resounding "yes" to that question, how can you think we've moved forward?As an aside, am I the only commenter who's noticed the dearth of threads on the Lybian debacle on this blog?

"As an aside, am I the only commenter whos noticed the dearth of threads on the Lybian debacle on this blog?"Maybe it's because I don't watch FOX News.

Bernard --Your criticsm of Griffiths theory is well taken, but I think he's right that religious people are more likely to feel obliged to die for others in some circumstances and selfish ones are not so-inclined. It't the reason that some people like deBotton, an atheist, are starting to see the value of religion for the society as a whole. deBotton himself is an example of a generous atheist -- he's terribly rich and has started a foundation in England to help non-believers deal with their lack of religious values.

Religious faith may help some people to be more selfless than they would otherwise be, but self-sacrifice even unto death is far older than anything we would consider to be religion, even older than anything we would consider to be human. It exists among social insects, troops of baboons, hunting packs, schools of fish, flocks of birds, and more or less among any population of animals that cannot survive as individuals. We have rationalized and sanctified it, or tried to, but its roots are deep in our animal past.

TANGENT --What will happen if the electricity goes out in the Northeast for two or three weeks and the election there is impossible? Is there any legal precedent for such circumstances?(Coastal folks and those inland, you are in our prayers.)

What will happen if the electricity goes out in the Northeast for two or three weeks and the election there is impossible?Some of the ballots of the early voters are already in. As to the others, if they are unable to vote, then clearly it is something that God intended to happen. As Ryan would say.

A sign of the times. With an unprecedented natural disaster arriving here in about 18 hours, the longest line in town by far is not for bread, milk, toilet paper, and batteries but at the village early-voting center.

Jack B. --Has anybody said what will happen if the electricity is out on election day? And what about people who are ordered to evacuate and can't get back? Now the weather bureau is saying there will be an 11 foot surge in the NYC area:-(Let us pray.

I wonder whether the undeniable fact that a second megastorm is hitting the U. S. just seven years after Katrina will impress the people who insist that global warming is just a myth concocted by the liberal academics. (It's against the old odds that megastorms would hit so frequently.) If so, I wonder if the storm will influence how they vote.

This is the masterpiece of voter suppressionjust look at all that blue in the Northeast on the electoral mapand clear proof that some folks have the Almighty's ear. I guess I should be more than normally worried, living practically on the San Andreas Fault.

Ann O. -- Today's very busy early-voting center becomes a county shelter at noon tomorrow. (Bring meds, sleeping bags, etc.) Widespread power outage will occur, much caused by trees and flooding, not just branches. Repair crews cannot even begin until after 2-3 storm days. Significant outages through Nov 6 won't surprise me at all. Helpful county communications deal with higher, more immediate priorities at present, but I'm sure someone is agonizing over the election questions you bring up. Tens of millions of voters in a swath about 800 miles wide are exposed to the storm effects. (Note especially East Coast Blue.)

The worst systems failures in Katrina were the levees, of course, followed by the various communications systems (city, state, military). They couldn't talk easily to each other. After the storm a great deal of work was done on the communications systems, and many, many municipalities have taken advantage of our experiences and improved their own systems. But it hasn't ended yet. My nephew, a program designer, works for a company that is doing a huge program for the Navy. It will keep track of where in nearby states all sorts of needed equipment like ambulances, trucks, food supplies, etc., are at any given time so they can be made available quickly. (I wonder if Mitt is going to cut that program.) Don't you all forget to get your meds refilled. You can't do that easily if you're out of town for days. (After Katrina, I couldn't come back for 6 weeks, and that was early.)God bless you all.

John Prior: we should compare ZIP codes. I probably live as close (maybe closer) to the Hayward fault as you do to the San Andreas fault. Ed Gleason is right in their in "fault" country, too.But it sure beats dealing with hurricanes and floods. I was raised in tornado country and will take 'quakeville anytime.

John Prior -- Keep an eye on the fault. That Magnitude 7.7 off Vancouver last night looked like either a near miss or a practice stroke. The Holy Spirit may be advising on David G.'s electoral sin/virtue issue with particular attention to coastal Blues. I am trying to figure out whether local cancellation of early voting tomorrow reassures those who choose to abstain from voting or deprives them of an opportunity to make their point.

A big drop-off in voting in the Northeast is unlikely to change the electoral vote count, but it increases the chance of a "split" decision: Obama winning the Electoral College and the Presidency, and Romney winning the popular vote, which would give his opponents one more argument that Obama is not a legitimate president. Of course, if it's not that, it will be something else.This is not, I swear and affirm and aver, a hope or prayer for a counterbalancing election-eve meteor strike on any red state, bless them all.

The NY Times had an article on how our political parties are losing control of the political dialogue thanks to the big money donors.

"What will happen if the electricity goes out in the Northeast for two or three weeks and the election there is impossible?"As a practical, tactical sort of thing: I'd hope that they have a disaster plan that includes low-tech voting. Punch cards or paper and pen are all that is really needed to vote, if the logistics of getting low-tech ballots and voting booths out to the precincts can be accomplished. If it takes weeks rather than minutes to tally the results - then it does.I am praying for Commonweal and its staff, and the many contributors, commenters, subscribers and readers at dotCom who are on the East Coast and even inland.

"A big drop-off in voting in the Northeast is unlikely to change the electoral vote count, but it increases the chance of a split decision: Obama winning the Electoral College and the Presidency, and Romney winning the popular vote, which would give his opponents one more argument that Obama is not a legitimate president. Of course, if its not that, it will be something else."I've been thinking a bit about the chances of a Constitutional crisis emerging from this election. I think we denizens of dotCom should take a unity pledge that we will not fan the flames of such a crisis, regardless of which way the election comes out.

Here's some madness from Romney. He said in one of the debates that FEMA should be cut and the powers given to the individual states. "During a CNN debate at the height of the GOP primary, Mitt Romney was asked, in the context of the Joplin disaster and FEMA's cash crunch, whether the agency should be shuttered so that states can individually take over responsibility for disaster response."Absolutely," he said. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?""Can you see the state militias trying to coordinate their actions now? And the local foodbanks in 15 states? I've finally concluded that the man is literally mad -- he has what the French call a "manie", an obsession, and it's the federal government, as if the feds were Satan himself..

Two pieces from Salon: the progressive case for and against Obama:

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment