Sunday, February 14, 2016

Can there be moral principles (for a “Catholic choice”) of electoral candidates?

1.       A Vatican “office” with its prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger—that was before he became Pope Benedict XVI—published a “doctrinal note” on the question of engagement in political life. See: CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH—DOCTRINAL NOTE on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 2002. Let me share a few points.
2.       Although civil life witnesses to many improvements in conditions of life there is still the issue of “ethical pluralism”. Ethical pluralism in politics says that there are no moral norms rooted in human nature to which politics submit. All conceptions of what is good have the same value. Each to his or her own morality. In politics, says the doctrinal note, people are made not to base their political participation on common good and on human nature.
3.       The doctrinal note then states that engagement in politics must be based on “true” human-social good. Yes, there is plurality in opinions and forms of engagement. There is plurality in technical management of politics. But they should not be marked by ethical relativism. Democracy, states the doctrinal note, needs true and solid ethical foundations; democracy needs principles that are “non-negotiable”.
4.       Catholics can get themselves involved in many different ways; they must exercise their political rights and duties. Nevertheless, continues the doctrinal note, the variety of involvement should not be confused with pluralism of moral values. All involvement, plural as they may be, should keep intact the Christian moral doctrines. The laity should not deviate from these doctrines in order to make their participation coherent in politics. We can be divergent in our political lines but we are united in our sense of humanity.
5.       If citizens participate in a democracy they need to clarify their participation in terms of a correct notion of humanity. What is a human person? Democracy, states the doctrinal note, stands on fragile ground if it does not stand on the central character of the human person. Is the human person respected? Are human rights observed?
6.       Catholics have the right and duty to intervene in legislation that violates human life. This intervention will also remind the social order about the sense of human life. Those engaged in making laws have the obligation to oppose whatever is against human life. It is not encouraged that Catholics participate in promoting such laws; not supporting such laws is done with the vote, for example.
7.       In case there are laws violating human life that are already in place a legislator should manifest and make known a stand with the effort to limit the effects of that law. The doctrinal note gives the example of opposing abortion which is legal in some countries.
8.       A “well-formed Christian conscience” does not support programs contrary to faith and morals. The Christian must be vigilant in commitment to faith and morals in any and all political involvement.
9.       The doctrinal note then gives a list of principles on which votes and choices can base.

For the Catholic Voter

1.       In Church tradition there is what is called as the “(moral) natural law”. This law states: “Do good; avoid evil”. How do we do good and avoid evil. The natural law offers three principles. First is to preserve and protect life. For the Church “life” means from conception to natural death. Second is to recognize family life and the upbringing and education of the offspring. For the Church this means that the family is grounded on the marriage of a man and a woman. Parents have the right and duty to educate their children. Third is the search for truth and social solidarity. For the Church this means religious freedom, the common good, participation in subsidiarity and solidarity.
2.       If an electoral candidate does not respect these then the Catholic may refuse voting for that candidate. But then the three principles, above, look very limited. The “doctrinal note” of Cardinal Ratzinger can help us.
3.       The document does not claim to give an exhaustive list. It does not present the entire teaching of the Church on this matter. It “intends only to recall some principles proper to the Christian conscience”. The note enumerates some principles.
a.       the right to life from conception to natural death
b.      the respect and protection of the human embryo
c.       the protection and promotion of the human family founded on the man-woman marriage
d.      the guarantee of the freedom of the education of children
e.      the social protection of minors
f.        the right to religious freedom
g.       the development of an economy oriented to the common good
h.      the development of social justice, solidarity and subsidiarity
i.         the assurance of peace

4.       This is a helpful list. This list is clearly relying on the Thomistic “natural law”. If we look closely there is a close link between the wider social life and the principles of right to life, right to family, to upbringing and education of children, and the right to truth and a healthy social life. In the wider social life, for example, a government might opt for privatizing all services—such as health services. There are repercussions here on, say, the right to life. When hospitals become very expensive many will think twice about caring for their ill, thus opening doors to possible (hidden) euthanasia or abortion. The contractualization of labor, for example, can interfere in family life and correct upbringing. The young man or woman in precarious job conditions will stay away from the option of marriage, will raise a family however and be unable to focus to educate their children. The wide social life and the private individual-family life are interconnected. If we watch the socio-economic platforms of candidates we can somehow link that to our very own private lives.
5.       The doctrinal note of Cardinal Ratzinger stands on the basic principle of human dignity and full human integrity. The principles spring from this respect for the person. They are “non-negotiable”. Now, what does  “non-negotiable” mean?
6.       The principles listed are “ethical principles” and not juridical principles, says the note. As ethical principles they orient judgements and choices in political life. Of course the ethical does not remove the consultation made on the fields of, say, the social and legal sciences. Also it should not forget “practical wisdom”. Principles may sound very convincing but their applications “in the concrete” can tell another story. A direct application from general principles to choice of candidate can be naïve too. The principles guide. But we need evaluation on other levels too, such as
a.       the capacity to manage efficiently a government office
b.      the aptitude to make priorities in decisions
c.       the sensitivity and skill to organize governance for the common good
d.      the ability to be non-violent

7.       Ethical principles, especially when “authorized” by the natural law, are “non-negotiable”. A candidate should be a person of those principles. But still, we need to avoid being naïve regarding skills, aptitudes, or what we nowadays call as “competence”.
8.       The doctrinal note of Cardinal Ratzinger is in reaction to moral relativism. Human dignity cannot be relativized. The Weberian “access to” wealth-power-prestige, if we are to take an example, does not determine human dignity. A person’s dignity is not based on which social-economic class that person belong to. As we know dignity is based on the fact of being “image of God”.
9.       Hopefully we can be guided by certain principles. Let us add the principle of respecting the justice of the environment—ecological justice.
10.  The doctrinal note of Cardinal Ratzinger reminds Church members to be coherent with human dignity and integration. We may be opposed against each other due to political lines but we should be united in our sense of human dignity.

Annex notes:

1.   Birth: Each person is unique—and unique in the eyes of God. Christian engagement here is not primarily “dictated” by a moral position. Something more basic is here. The Christian is “dictated upon” by love for life. Hence reject candidates who will open the doors to abortion and death penalty and to any other form of killing. Hence the Christian is called to be vigilant about welcoming and respecting life.

2.   Family: God created the human as man and woman. God raised human relationship to be complementary—biologically and socially. The sexual difference between man and woman is a foundation in structuring for social life and for human integration. The union of man and woman in marriage is the efficient way for generations to welcome children. Children have the right to be raised by a father-man and a mother-woman. The family must be supported economically and protected legally. Through the children that the family raises and educates the future of social stability is at stake. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who will violate family living and will promote family life outside the natural law.

3.   Education: Education is a crucial way of respecting the human person. Education implies the freedom and duty of parents to transmit essential know-how to “socialize” the growing up child. The child needs the education to form a moral conscience. The child needs the education that will allow for respecting the dignity and wonder of human life. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who reduce education to sheer “training for employment”. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who refuse to allow room for moral education.

4.   Youth: Young people must be well integrated in society. Yes, often this integration is not done properly. Families need help in raising and educating their young children. Families need help to bring their children to schools. The youth need formation in career. They need formation in their future founding of their own families. The State must “invest” on the youth in view of social cohesion, integration and peace. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who promote conditions where the youth will not learn and deepen on their lives—such as the too early entrance to the labor market.  

5.   City and town life: Many neighborhoods have become tough to live in, filled with filth, drugs, noise, violence. Many inhabitants in these neighborhoods are “stuck” in there. Efforts are necessary for improving living in city and town neighborhoods; there is need to renew the habitat. Efficient transportation, for example, is one form of renewal. Neighborhood associations can be encouraged, as proposed by the Social Doctrine on “subsidiarity”. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who promote the further coagulation of our cities and do nothing to improve the mobility of citizens.

6.   Environment: Earth is a gift of love from the Creator. Humans live in earth to live well not just as a society but also as fellow creatures with other creatures. When humans were invited to “dominate” earth it did not mean to torture earth. Humans are invited to live respectfully with other creatures. The sciences and technologies are invited to design themselves according to this integration with all cosmos. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who will promote the degradation of the environment; candidates who do not have platform for improving the conditions of the environment.

7.   Economy and justice: Work is basic to human life. Work has dignity. Political economics must offer a perspective for work and employment and in work conditions that have dignity. A political economy that has no room for State intervention protecting labor is anti-human dignity. Public authorities are called to create conditions of justice and equality in economic life, especially for the workers. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who will marginalize workers from the economic field.

8.   International life: The common good of nations prescribes peace and cooperation. Nations are invited to share their wealth and create links that will facilitate the sharing. People have the right to travel and move from one country to another. They also have the right to stay with dignity in their own countries. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who will favor enriching foreign nations at the expense of the locals. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who will force economic migration while neglecting the improvement of dignity of life and work in the country.

9.       Handicap: The handicap must also be integrated in society. People are not screened according to how handicapped they are. The handicap is human and is a human with dignity. We cannot eliminate respect and integration for the handicapped. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who will force marginalization of the handicap.

10.       End of life: Every person keeps dignity at all times. The coming of generations of the aged—such as the “senior citizens”—must be welcomed. The aged should not be abandoned. Hence the Christian is called to reject candidates who will marginalize the aged and refuse them their right to live with dignity till death. Euthanasia, of course, should be rejected. 

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