Many voters have said throughout the campaign that they cannot vote for the nominees of either the Democrat or the Republican Party. They sometimes site the tenet of Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-92), an English Baptist preacher, who said, “Of two evils, choose neither.” Memes of this quotation or variations of it spice social medial.
In one such meme, C.S. Lewis also advises us not to choose either evil, saying that it is a trick of the Devil. Choosing the lesser of two evils, nevertheless, is an old principle that has been applied not only in politics, but also in warfare, medical treatment and other social circumstances in which a choice must be made. In such a case, we speak of a “necessary evil” or a “no-win” situation. Still, Spurgeon and Lewis are correct because choosing evil, however grave or venial, is essentially sinful. Indeed, even choosing the lesser good is malicious when the greater good is possible.
The mistake that voters make is to judge Clinton, Trump or both to be evil. To say that is to say that one or both is absolutely evil, but not even Satan himself is absolutely evil. If he was, then he would be an evil god and the dualists would be right. We are certain, however, that there is only one God, and only he is good. (Mk.10:18) So, it would also be a mistake to say that either candidate is good. They, like every creature, is relatively good.
Even the Devil is good insofar as God keeps him in existence. Being is good. Besides, the Devil serves the purpose of God despite his efforts, as in the case of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ or the death of the martyrs. Clinton and Trump are both sinners like the rest of us. Unless God gives us the gift to read hearts, like Padre Pio, we can only judge candidates objectively by what they say and by the planks of their respective platforms. Basically, our choice, then, is not between the lesser of two evils, but to choose the greater good while bearing the lesser evil. May we do that? Yes, we may.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, established the moral principle of double effect. (II-II.64.7) Four conditions must be met for someone to act righteously despite bad consequences. First, the act itself must be good or at least amoral. One could argue that voting is a good deed or at least morally indifferent. Secondly, the good effect cannot be achieved by means of the bad effect. The Machiavellian policy that the end justifies the means is wrong; nothing justifies sinful methods. Thirdly, one must intend only the good effect. The other is an involuntary repercussion.
To illustrate, physicians routinely prescribe medicines to patients notwithstanding unfortunate side-effects. Finally, the good effect must be proportionately greater than the evil effect. For instance, driving through a red light when there is no traffic in the middle of the night is better than waiting for it to turn green when rushing someone urgently to a hospital.
Every election concerns a multitude of issues. Surely, the economy is important because we need money to survive, but according to the Constitution, Congress has the “power of the purse” whereas the president has the “power of the sword.” How taxes are spent is ultimately the responsibility of legislators. What is far more important for survival is life itself. The Platform of the Democratic Party states explicitly that it favors “legal abortion.”
On the other hand, the Platform of the Republican Party declares, “We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare.” The G.O.P. also acts positively for the sake of life, saying,
“We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for leading the effort to add enforcement to the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act by passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which imposes appropriate civil and criminal penalties on healthcare providers who fail to provide treatment and care to an infant who survives an abortion …”
What good could be greater than human life created in the image of God? Therefore, I will tolerate unintended and unforeseen evils, if they should ensue, to choose the greatest good.
Bravo. Question: What s the fourth principle of double effect according to Aquinas? Sorry if I missed it, but I think I read only 3. Thanks and blessings.
“Finally, the good effect must be proportionately greater than the evil effect.”
If this election were not about candidates but about the option to directly vote for or against individual positions on issues, then it would be clear what we should do. But we are voting for candidates. Prudence demands we consider character, not merely stated intentions. In this election the question of character is so great that until it is dealt with thoroughly then we cannot be expected to discern the effects of our votes.
With a candidate like Trump I have no way to know what he really intends to do. Because of his history of habitual prevarication up to and during this campaign I’m left in the dark. Online statements of policies drafted by others for him, the persons he’s chosen to advise him, his own words don’t appear to me to have much value for determining his intentions. And having the wrong person “on your side” can be more destructive than the attacks from the opposition.
Unfortunately, because we can’t read hearts, we cannot judge someone subjectively, but only objectively. We should never presume to know another person’s intention, but rather stick to the plain facts. Prudence demands caution, but suspicion imagines evil that may not exist.
True. We cannot read hearts but we can observe habitual behaviors. It is one thing to judge negatively against someone to impose a penalty and another to consider habitual behaviors in choosing to hire someone for an important position (an election being a sort of hiring process). Plus, this is not only the consideration of a person as an isolated individual but in relation to many others. Often, by refraining to “judge” one person we are “judging” many others by default through evading our duty towards them as fellow citizens.
I understand the need to protect the unborn, but how do we also acknowledge the protection of those already born? How do we reconcile the prison-industrial complex that incarcerates excessively millions of our African American and Latino brothers and sisters? How do we reconcile the most basic needs of the poor in places like Detroit and Flint where children are living without access to clean water or water at all? Is not life a continuum from conception to elderhood? It seems as quite myopic to only consider a partisan group for their stance on the unborn and not consider at all how their administration would impact the lives of our sisters and brothers in places like Aleppo or even Calcutta where St. Teresa served. we must be willing to engage in a more nuanced and thoughtful understanding of politics and policy to really address the unborn and the living.
As a Bachelor in Business Administration, I learned fiscal responsibility. As a Friar Preacher, I have dedicated my life to poverty and to love the poor. For both reasons, I have always voted Republican.
Rev. Gerard Lessard, OP – I like your response there, though I can only say that I have never voted Democrat.
Poverty by whose definition and what poor? And what does a commitment to either of those have to do with American partisan political loyalty?
What was Biblical poverty? How many households in 1st century Israel had indoor plumbing, television, or internet connections so that they could talk about the poor on blogs and social media? What would they think of the modern USA where obesity is considered a “disease of the poor”?
There is more to poverty than this, I know. Cell phones and reliable internet connections have become near necessities. Job applications are frequently done online now, and payphones are disappearing.
Should a radically secularist government become so powerful as the major broker in wealth redistribution that its economic power can be leveraged to pressure Catholics to support contraception, abortion, and the mainstream “normalization” of psychosexual disorders? Is there an upper limit on the annual percentage of the GDP/GNP of the nation which may justly be taken by governments or should we just assume that it’s all theirs anyways be grateful they let us keep some of their wealth? Are governments themselves, through high tax rates upon businesses, making it much harder for businesses to pay a “living wage”?
Ours is a mixed economy, neither purely socialistic nor capitalistic. Traditionally, Democrats tend toward socialism more and Republicans to capitalism more. Out of compassion, Democrats try to spend fortunes to help the needy, but that is idealistic. Because of the national debt, it’s like buying extravagantly on a credit card without paying the bill. If this continues, a crash would be inevitable.
Personally, I am given a stipend of $120 per month, but most of my expenses are covered by the community. I celebrate Mass for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity for free, but when I get paid for services elsewhere, I give it to the community.
I like the construct of choosing the greater good but I think that you introduce a red herring when you start your transition……
Unless God gives us the gift to read hearts, like Padre Pio, we can only judge candidates objectively by what they say and by the planks of their respective platforms.
I counter with a quote….
The status of the platform reached such a low point that in 2012, at the GOP convention in Tampa, then-House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview: “Have you ever met anybody who read the party platform?”
The other problem I see is your narrowing the choice to 2 people. If we follow the construct of choosing the greater good then I think you would have to put Darrell Castle and the US Constitution platform above Trump or Clinton. Please don’t switch the discussion to voting for winners instead of voting for the greater good cause Mother Theresa wouldn’t appreciate it.
Finally, voting “for” no one can be supported as a vote for the greater good but I won’t take the time to develop that one. I really enjoyed your article and I hope you won’t take this as a rant response.
I am certain that Mother Teresa would vote to win rather than to make a futile statement. We are in a crucial battle. If we lose, what is left of civilization will quickly die. If we win, we have a chance of revival. Trump is the only person in the world that can stop Clinton from winning. It’s no time for pious gestures. Choosing the greater good means choosing a victor who can conquer. I am one of those ministers of the Word who have noticed the similarity between Trump and King Cyrus. He may be somewhat foreign to the People of God, but he will rescue us from our Babylonian Captivity.
There was another ancient king named Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian leader who, decades before Cyrus became king, led his armies to destroy Jerusalem, burn down the temple and send the Jewish people into exile in 586 B.C.
“We are in a crucial battle. If we lose, what is left of civilization will quickly die. If we win, we have a chance of revival”. I’ve heard that crap for 40+ years.
“Choosing the greater good means choosing a victor who can conquer”. Conquer what? His 100 day 8 point plan has no conquering of any moral problem. The only conquering I’ve heard from him is his plan to obliterate any people or nation that gets in his way of “making America great again” Sounds kinda Hitlerian to me. There is no reason to believe that Trump will do anything that you hope and there is a very real possibility that the collective sigh of relief and resultant lack of any action is a fate worse than one where the community rises to action in light of the clear and present danger of a president Hilary. So, ” Go King Trump. Lead us out of our Babylonian Captivity and on to building our wall, boosting the economy while we kill millions of babies and snuff God out of the public sphere” Can’t wait. And no I don’t want Hilary either.
When HHS issued its mandate that threatens the existence of religious schools, hospitals, nursing homes and more, America had never seen such a blatant disregard for the first amendment. Now, with all that is coming to light from the Podesta emails, we see how Soros, Clinton and her ilk have been sponsoring organizations that are Catholic in name only in order to undermine the doctrine of the Church, using social justice as a wedge. She has called us backward and archaic and has said that Christian doctrines must change. So, although I appreciate your passion, your use of Nebuchadnezzar and Hitler as analogies for Trump are about as far off as possible. On the contrary, he has pledge his support of Evangelicals and Catholics. I have no reason to doubt him.
(I am not a native English-speaker, so please forgive my grammar.)
A president of the US cannot compare to Nebuchadnezzar because it is not the president who holds the real power in the US but the Supreme Court. Perhaps it was never intended to be that way, but for now, it is the US Supreme Court that has the last word on controversial issues, especially moral issues that have become politicized.
So look past the character profiles of the candidates (who are both very flawed) and imagine how the Supreme Court would look like if either of them becomes president.
First, let us note that it’s quite possible there will be three or four vacancies to fill in the SC within the next few years. Scalia’s seat is still empty. Ginsburg is suffering from pancreatic cancer and might retire or die. Kennedy and Thomas are both getting on in years and have dropped hints that either or both might retire instead of stay on for life.
What would a Hillary Clinton Supreme Court look like? I’ll venture a guess and bet it would seem like a Soviet politburo where churches and other religious institutions will be forced to “change their deep-seated cultural codes, RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, and structural biases” as she had spelled out in her campaigns. (Do a search on the words in quotes.)
Meanwhile, Trump has compiled a list of legal eagles from which he promised to pick his nominees to the SC and the minor courts. The names have been made public and experts say they are certifiably pro-life, conservative and will defend the constitution instead of legislate from the bench.
It is important that they be pro-life because it encompasses other issues besides abortion, such as euthanasia, stem cell research, organ transplants, transgender surgery, surrogate motherhood, and even environmental regulation on private properties. These issues a Hillary SC will consider to be “human rights” and will have our taxpayers money to pay for them. A Trump SC hopefully will have none of those.
In other words, a Hillary SC is almost a known quantity of evil, based on her politics. A Trump SC is unknown, but at least we’ll have a fighting chance for the good to prevail.
I don’t know about you, but as a Catholic, I’m voting for Trump. Nevertheless, we must keep faith and continue to pray for the good of our society and the world. God bless.
The US Constitution does not so much as mention God and is actively hostile toward the exercise of religion. It was intended to replace the concept that our rights came from God with a political construct that subjects and subordinates religious belief to the general civil law(and that’s a quote from the revered Scalia). The actions of our SCOTUS during our lifetime is a testament this fact and that includes all of the “conservative” justices and the ones everyone hopes Trump would nominate.In the words of one of those “good’ ones Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, wrote the infamous “mystery passage in the 1992 decision of the United States Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe,
and of the mystery of human life.”
You are right in saying a Clinton SC will be evil, but most people don’t understand that all potential justices adhere to the philosophy that religious/moral beliefs are subservient to the prevailing secular law. So let me to the point that the SC itself who said that if Congress had passed the personhood bill then abortion would effectively be outlawed because the legal definition of life would begin at conception. Republican majorities didn’t even put that on the president’s desk- so it’s not all up to SC picks. The whole thing is evil and needs to be dismantled.
By the way, the Nebuchadnezzar reference was just a jab at the good padre trying to compare Trump to Cyrus. Enjoyed conversing with both of you.
Rev. Lessard, What say you now? Look at all the havoc DJT has wreaked in little over a week! And why would you promote someone who has been married 3 times?
Well, he started the process to end Obamacare, the biggest and most inefficient tax in American history, then his secretary of Defense immediately took out around a dozen military units of ISIS and killed a leader if not THE leader. Not only did he save the country nearly half a billion dollars by defunding International Planned Parenthood, but he prevented America from sponsoring abortions around the world, especially Mexico. He has also said many other things that promote the Movement of Life. He put the squeeze on the Endowments for the Arts & Humanities because what is oftentimes called art is either, ugly, pornographic or blaspmemous, and what is considered humanities often includes homosexuality. These organizations must be purged of their leftist slant before they receive American funding. His immigration policy has been very prudent, which also means cautious. That’s a virtue. As for his marital life, Prostestants are not bound by Canon Law. In fact, many do better as they get older. So for what you called wreaked havoc, I praise the Lord as a blessing. +
And this week, lessening cyber-security sanctions on Russia, relaxing Wall Street regulations, still not divesting himself of business interests….stay tuned for more of how he makes America great next week. And weak argument—he’s Protestant (I’m not sure he’s anything) so not bound by Canon Law. How do you reconcile his immigration policy (in light of the fact that it’s on countries that have not sent terrorists as did Saudi Arabia and lately, Egypt and UAE)? How is this ban in the spirit of Jesus’ message?