Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
I have periodically made clear that, for myself, I will not support any candidate who asks me to support grave and intrinsic evil. That, naturally, thins out the field pretty fast, since virtually all our candidates on both sides of the aisle support grave and intrinsic evil, whether it be abortion, torture, or embryonic stem cell research. Many Catholics, animated by the heretical new theory that opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the world, get upset with me when I voice this view. Some ask whether it is a greater mortal sin to vote Democrat or Republican. Others, amazingly, tell me I am a prima donna with impossibly high standards and beg me to go along with them, for fellowship:
I decline to follow these suggestions from folks who insist that, as long as a candidate wears a Precious Feet pin, it does not matter if he advocates other acts of grave intrinsic evil. To be sure, It is not a mortal sin to vote for either a Republican or a Democrat per se. It is not even, as Cdl. Ratzinger points out, a sin to support a candidate who supports grave evil if a voter does so in ignorance or in the hope of achieving some good end and not because one supports the grave evil. So, for instance, if I vote for a pro-abort/pro-torture water commissioner because I think her competent to do the job, I am not supporting abortion or torture.
But if I vote for a candidate who I am morally certain means to use the power of his office to support abortion, torture, or ESCR it is, for me, a mortal sin because I know my vote will help him enact deeds worthy of the fires of hell. I don’t think it much matters which circle of hell I wind up in: the hell of the torturers or the hell of the abortionists. The point is, I’m still in hell because I took the most sacred thing I have to give God, my choice, and said “I want to use my power of choice to support something gravely offensive to you.” That my tiny little act of choice is drowned in a statistical ocean of millions of other voters matters not a jot. I chose to support somebody who I knew would do something hellworthy. I don’t relish trying to explain that to God at the Pearly Gates. So I opt to avoid either circle of hell and vote for somebody (assuming they exist) who doesn’t ask me to support things that are hellworthy.
Stunningly, I am frequently told—by Catholics who ought to know better—that this is the height of fussy arrogance and that I have to be willing to “get my hands dirty” (meaning, “sin mortally”) if I want to win in politics. Not a few have actually had the chutpah to tell me that wishing to avoid hell is “perfectionism”. To them I say: I categorically reject the thesis that wishing to avoid hell is prima donna perfectionism (one of the many insane things that American politics has taught Catholics on both sides of the aisle to say). It is not perfectionism. It’s basic human decency. That so many Catholics are willing to talk as though the desire to attain heaven and avoid hell is some sort of prissy fussiness is a serious indictment of Catholic formation and of our willingness to get our gospel, not from Jesus Christ, but from our favorite political/social/or cultural tribe that has no interest in the gospel. Catholics need to reclaim the wisdom of Joshua and say to all the voices clamoring for our ultimate allegiance, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I hasten to add that, as St. Thomas replied to the bishop above, I condemn no one for how they work out the calculus of their voting. That includes, by the way, not just those who support pro-torture candidates for reasons other than their pro-torture stance, but even those who support pro-abort candidates for reasons other than their support for abortion. I think them objectively wrong to do so, but I have no power to see their souls or their reasoning. I merely ask that those of us who cannot in conscience support any candidate who advocates grave and intrinsic evil not be spoken of as though our desire to avoid hell and attain heaven is ridiculous prima donna sanctimony that makes the perfect the enemy of the good. It is not. It is normal Catholic morality that makes the good the enemy of the evil.