Hello, everyone. OK, so I could write a series of a half-dozen posts on why I will post in a flurry for a while, and then stop entirely for an extended period. But simply put, this is an outlet for me. So many other things take priority over this, and if this needs to fall by the wayside as an obligation, then so be it. Some are called to write a blog for a higher purpose, some of us mainly like to vent and if others happen to follow us along the way for whenever we vent, then I guess that’s fun.
Today’s diatribe is about conscience. Somewhat intriguing to me is the word itself: “con” and “science.” Depending on how you read that, it is either “with science” or “against science.” Or, put otherwise, it’s a mystery within a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma. Or something like that.
I must admit, I have long been frustrated and irritated by the use (or misuse) of the application of conscience. We have boiled this wonderful gift from God down to an utterly perverted version of its intent, and it is now used as a determinant to take whatever action makes us feel good about ourselves, with nary a critical examination of whatever it is we are (or aren’t) doing.
It seems we have long forgotten the precursor to following our conscience: that it be well formed. This is not just a nicety, it is absolutely critical. A malformed conscience is quite easily perfected. First of all, we know from the wisdom of the catechism that sin darkens the intellect. When the intellect is darkened, many things follow. Among those things is a suppression of feelings of guilt. Everyone hates guilt, it seems. It’s been placed alongside “shame”,”sin” and “fault” as archaic religious relics of the past. This is unfortunate. Guilt is a gift from God to pull us back into a right relationship with Him. Sure, it’s true that overly scrupulous individuals can overdo it on the guilt. We need to guard against feeling as if God doesn’t love us anymore, or that we cannot be forgiven. While that needs correction, the answer is not to swing entirely to idea that guilt is a bad thing, and that we should just feel good about everything we are and everything we do. Which is mostly where we tend to find ourselves today.
When my wife an I were undergoing marital instruction, our Priest at the time (an otherwise good many and good priest, from what I can remember about him), informed us that the use of contraception was essentially something left up to us – whatever our conscience dictated. The effect of that was no different than had he just handed us condoms. First, allow me to openly confess that (a) I should have known the teachings of my faith better, and (b) I certainly had no thoughts to look into the matter further – we had been given the green light and that was good enough for me. At least, that’s how I read it. As a result, I used contraception entirely guilt free for the first few years of marriage.
But then we ran into these pesky super-Catholics who informed us that this wasn’t quite right. Thankfully, to cut a long story short, we discussed, learned, and followed our much more informed conscience and now I have 9 kids. There are days when the kids are being really annoying that I jokingly ask God why He had to let me in on this teaching of the Church. I hope He knows that I’m joking… sort of…
But today’s rant is more about this idea of conscience as a Catholic in a public matter, such as voting. We’ve seen key GOP leaders step away from Donald Trump and make a general statement about people voting their conscience. I know very good and well-meaning Catholics and other Christians who are saying they can’t vote for either major candidate based on their conscience, and that they will instead vote for some third party candidate. I’ve even seen some men of the cloth make such statements.
This may sound blunt, but here’s my response: Get real.
Listen, I get the reality of the situation. I was very vocal during the primaries that Trump was NOT my guy. I had numerous reasons for this opinion, which didn’t come down to feelings and emotions nearly as much as a general assessment of abilities and character, and from a strict standpoint of moral positioning I thought many other candidates were stronger. But whether or not it was because the way the system is set up or Trump was intended to be the nominee all along and others don’t see it as I do, the situation has now changed.
Once the primaries are done, you need to do a complete and honest reset. Trump was not my guy. Now he is. Am I utterly enthusiastic? No, not really. Am I committed? Absolutely. There is a difference.
So, let me talk about this whole “conscience” issue with respect to Trump. It is one thing to say that you desire someone who is more upright, Christian, etc. It is another thing to play a part in delivering the country to an even worse fate because of a (I believe) misinformed idea of what applying your conscience really means. Voting your conscience is an act of will, not an emotional response. One can, at once, understand the imperfection of someone they are going to vote for – and even feel not that great emotionally about doing so – while still feeling good about the decision to do so based on the given choice.
Frankly, I know we all wish it would be different that there were viable third party candidates so that a vote for one wasn’t the equivalent of a vote, or at least a half-vote, for the major candidate you oppose more. But wishing it won’t make it reality. And no reasonable person can honestly assess that there is enough of a groundswell of support for a third party candidate to make that person viable. By all means, give it a shot in the next few months, but if it becomes plain and obvious by election day that there is zero shot that your third party candidate has a chance, then in my harsh opinion, you are using your conscience as an excuse to avoid responsibility for electing the very person you are helping to elect by your choice to not vote for the stronger (even if still weak) candidate. It is an irresponsible choice to make, and you are washing your hands of all responsibility because of your “conscience.” Not only do I believe this is wrong and problematic, but I honestly think you may even be held to account.
I guess there is a potential caveat here. If you really, honestly, in your heart of hearts, believe that the two are equally evil and this determination has been made not just on the character of the people, but an honest reflection on what you think they will actually do, then I guess that’s fine. I think you’re bonkers if that is the judgment in this particular case, but that’s just my opinion.
Even worse, in my opinion, are the Catholics and Christians who have utterly convinced themselves through what can only truly be an improperly formed conscience that it is preferable to vote for politicians who hold pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage positions because they have somehow convinced themselves that the issues of education, union rights, and failed welfare state programs are morally equivalent to or even superior to those other issues. The former are disqualifying issues with no moral ambiguity. The other issues are differences of opinion on the right way to go about things. It is not intrinsically moral or immoral to have an opinion on either side of the appropriate level of taxation, or the right level of funding for social programs. It is not intrinsically moral or immoral to have an opinion that the state is inefficient and charity is best left to family, friends, churches and private organizations that specialize in these matters. It is, however, intrinsically immoral to support policy that allows us to kill an infant in the womb. Period.
So, where does that leave us? I argue that:
- Given a well-formed conscience, and
- Given no realistic chance of a viable third party candidate
- And the existence of any difference in moral equivalence between the two major party candidates
- Voting for anyone other than Trump of Clinton is a shirking of responsibility and a perverted sense of what it means to follow one’s conscience
Given that conclusion, I present the following as evidence that a well formed conscience must lead one to support Donald Trump – even if reluctantly and purely as a matter of will. Let’s accept as given that each have many character flaws, that neither are as upstanding or moral as I’d like, and that this is in no way a suggestion that I expect Trump will make the world’s greatest President:
- Trump has repeatedly referenced state’s rights. Even if he personally doesn’t take a stand on an issue to my liking (e.g. transgender law in NC) he at the same time does acknowledge the right of NC to pass such a law and I do not believe he would interfere in any way with their right to do so. Barack Obama, and I also believe Hillary Clinton, uses the threats of the Justice Department and the withdrawal of federal funding to bully states. Further, they broaden the issue at hand in almost every circumstance, doubling down and demanding all public institutions accept whatever the next level of societal degradation is at hand.
- Trump has released a list of what he considers to be a representative sample of the kinds of Supreme Court justices he would appoint. Whatever you might think of Trump personally, what matters much more is what he will actually do as President. His list is impressive, and is very promising. Could he disappoint? of course he could. But all we can go on is what he has said, and what he has said is that he would literally plug the hole in the dam preventing an utterly progressive and left-leaning activist court. There is zero question about the kinds of justices Clinton would appoint. This issue is of such utter importance that if no other issue at all matters to you, or if you are concerned about other aspects of a Trump Presidency, this should override it. That is because this is the once decision that impacts the next entire generation. All other faux pas can be addressed and corrected in the relative near-term. This cannot.
- Trump may not be convincingly pro-life, but he publicly makes the claim that he is. He may be willing to live with exceptions that many of us find problematic. He may have a history of flip-flopping on the issue. All of which isn’t great, but it’s also relative. Compared to Clinton, he is much more favorable to at least giving consideration to pro-life voices. Further, the main impact a President will have on this issue is in the appointment of Supreme Court justices (see #3). I find it simply frustrating that good and well-meaning pro-life people say they can’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t see things as they do without thinking through what that person can actually do about it in the first place. Yes, there is the bully pulpit and there is the face of the country perspective, but in practical reality there are only a handful of things the President can impact through executive order or through the signing of legislation. Do you really think Trump will veto pro-life legislation that makes progress? I doubt he will. I certainly do not think he will take the Little Sisters of the Poor to court to require they cover abortion and contraception. I do not think he will issue Executive Orders expanding abortion rights. He may or may not issue EOs to restrict them. Now contrast in your mind what you think Hillary will do… certain vetoes, likely executive orders, and continued use of HHS and Justice. Trump may or may not defund Planned Parenthood, but I’ll bet if Congress passes a budget without funding Trump will not veto on that basis. You know Hillary will.
The intellect needs to inform the conscience. The conscience cannot simply be a feeling.
Go forth and apply a well-formed conscience to your decision-making.