Battening Down the Hatches on Election Night and Waking Up Catholic
Christianity is a demanding religion no matter who’s in the White House.
When you expect the world to end at any moment,
you know there is no need to hurry.
— Thomas Merton
Do you have friends panicking about November 9? Maybe you’re plenty anxious yourself.
I’ve seen numerous Facebook posts about this, and all kinds of scenarios are being vetted in the media: Will Trumpers take to the street if their candidate loses? And what if he wins – will Hillary’s supporters run amok?
Maybe it’s too Pollyanna, but I can’t help smiling – remember Y2K? Remember the end-of-the-world alarmism that preceded December 31, 1999, including dire predictions and apocalyptic worst-case scenarios. The truth is, the year 2000 arrived much like every other New Year’s Day. Folks went to work at hospitals and 24/7 Walgreens, and the rest of us either nursed hangovers or got up to make breakfast for the kids – ho-hum. In fact, far from being an Eliotian “bang,” 1/1/00 wasn’t even a whimper – more of a yawn really. Everybody who stockpiled Y2K gold, guns, and generators was a bit sheepish that day.
I admit that I bought into the panic…for a bit. My wife and I stashed some extra canned goods and bottled water, and we hid a bunch of cash in a filing cabinet. We stopped short of the gun thing – it just didn’t make sense for us. I’d never been a gun-owner before, and the threat of widespread pandemonium wasn’t enough to alter my misgivings about firearms around our home. “Besides,” I thought to myself, “what am I going to do if folks come to our door looking for food – shoot them?”
That’s what got me thinking about the whole Y2K phenomenon and a nascent survivalism it exposed. Too many of us became fixated on what might happen, and we were tempted to significantly adjust our habits and values in anticipation. In the end, as usual, the reality turned out to be much less dramatic than our fearful projections, and instead we had to deal with our precipitous panic-planning as a result – like what to do with all those canned vegetables in the basement.
So, back to the present – not exactly a parallel situation, but it does seem like people are anticipating the collapse of civilization depending on how the election goes. There’s a lot at stake, I know, but I think we make a mistake to pin too much to this vote. In fact, I think it’s practically diabolical that we’ve been snookered into caring so much about it – regardless of which side we’re rooting for. As C.S. Lewis notes in The Screwtape Letters, God wants us to focus our attention primarily on eternity (that is, on God himself) and the present – “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”
Once we start obsessing on the future – on what might happen – then both the present and the eternal are eclipsed – pfft! God himself takes a back seat to what we want him to do, and the ordinary demands incumbent on us as disciples of Jesus are skewed by what we are deluded into thinking are urgent expediencies. Sure, we need to plan for tomorrow, even anticipate the challenges of tomorrow (political and otherwise), but we needn’t freak out about it.
If we do, then Hell wins. “We want a man hag-ridden by the Future – haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth,” writes Lewis in the voice of Screwtape, his fictional senior demon. “We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”
Our beatitude, our hope of Heaven, is not dependent on who’s President of the United States come January. Regardless of who it turns out to be, we’ll still have work cut out for us – Christianity is a demanding religion no matter who’s in the White House.
Thus, in the interest of tossing some oil on the troubled waters of our electoral fears, I’d like to suggest the following brief caveats – what I’m calling, “The 5 Non-Negotiables for the Day After”:
1. Don’t gloat over victory, don’t despair over defeat, and be charitable to everyone – especially our political opponents. They’re still our neighbors, after all, and we all know what the Lord said about our neighbors.
2. Don’t panic, regardless of the outcome. “Have no anxiety about anything,” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, and instead, pray for the “peace of God, which passes all understanding.” If we’ve been waiting for an opportune moment to put this exhortation to the test, now’s the time.
3. Stay the Catholic course! Keep going to Mass, keep saying your prayers, keep paying your tithes, keep forming your children in the Faith.
4. Attend to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, particularly when needs present themselves to you in your immediate vicinity. Never wait for government (at any level) to take up our slack.
5. Be open to life – never contracept, no matter what. Babies always represent hope, as does the mere willingness to welcome babies into our midst – and who doesn’t need more hope these days?
Alright, that about covers November 9 and beyond, but what of the Big Night itself? Think about it: What value is there in subjecting yourself and your family to hours of number-crunching, specious speculation, and hysterical hand-wringing?
Here’s an alternative plan that I’m adapting from Norman Cousins’ astounding memoir, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (1979). Cousins had been crippled by a debilitating illness, and he found little relief from traditional medicine. Nevertheless, instead of surrendering to a dismal fate, he availed himself of non-traditional remedies, including laughter – the “best medicine” according to popular wisdom.
Cousins obtained a projector (in the days before DVDs and VCRs) and devoted time to viewing a variety of comedy reels – like episodes of the TV show “Candid Camera” for example, as well as some old Marx Brothers films. “It worked,” Cousins wrote. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”
I think we can all agree that this has been a painful election season, so doesn’t two hours of pain-free sleep sound delicious? Instead of biting our nails as CNN hyperventilates about polling data next Tuesday night, how about grabbing a Marx Brothers movie from the library (Duck Soup, if it’s available) and popping the cork of a decent merlot. Laugh, toast the present and eternity, and hit the hay early. Also, plan on fresh coffee and cinnamon rolls for the a.m., and watch the sunrise as you say your prayers. Really, it'll all be fine – we have God’s word on it. “In the world you have tribulation,” Jesus said, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”