Friday, November 9, 2012

Election afterthoughts

So.  Pretty edge-of-your-seat election, hm?  I wasn't surprised by the result, but there were some tense moments, watching the results come in and wondering in particular how Florida would go.  (How does Florida get such a disproportionate influence?  I hear it was very frustrating living in Florida last week.  Heck, it was frustrating living here -- every time I would get the baby about ready for sleep, the phone would ring again with yet another recorded message from the candidates or another poll.  To say nothing of the bucketloads of junk mail.)

The night before the election, I felt down in the dumps.  I had been considering not voting at all, because I was so depressed about the whole thing and not really that excited about any candidate.  John asked me if I was planning to vote.  "Yeah," I said.  "I don't think it will make any difference, but I feel like I should."

That night, I lay awake for awhile.  (Considering how Michael's been sleeping, this will show you I was VERY bothered ... because me + bed - kids = instant snooze.)  I thought of how terrible a condition this country is in.  Most of all, I thought of Iran, which has been so close to my thoughts and prayers lately.  I recently read that even a "surgical" strike on just its nuclear facilities would kill hundreds of thousands due to nuclear fallout.  That's innocent people, dying, right there ... and I didn't have a candidate to vote for who had any chance of making sure that didn't happen.

A song popped into my head, which is also a Bible verse, but I know it as a song from church:
Put not your trust in princes,
In those in whom there's no salvation.
When their spirits depart they turn to dust:
On that day their plans die.

That line gave me the comfort to roll over and go to sleep.  I sang it on the way to the polling place and on the way back.  I kept thinking, "Obama's or Romney's plan for America is just an advertising gimmick.  I doubt that either of them will fulfill many of their promises.  But on the other hand, God's plan is real and true, and he WILL fulfill his promises."

By Wednesday, I was seeing dozens of Facebook and blog posts bemoaning the results.  But I felt encouraged too, because finally, after months of being told what my position as a Catholic must be, what my political duty was, I was at last seeing people admit what I have long believed -- that salvation does not come from a certain set of political policies, but from faith.  The Church has survived under Richelieu and under Nero.  (In fact, I daresay it survived much better under Nero.)  Whereas if Romney had won, I'd be told constantly how good we had it, how thank goodness "we" won and oh, how pro-life everything is now ... and I'd be feeling a lot of dissonance because a Romney win would not seem like much of a success to me.

I want to save souls, to bring Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him.  But I don't believe the law can do that for me.  I don't think I can outsource my evangelization with a couple of laws than I believe than I can outsource my charitable works through a few taxes and programs.  The work of God is something that has to be done by individuals, not governments.

On Facebook, my godmother asked for people's opinion on how to get people to think better of the Church.  Lord knows we've been painted as the bad guy for a long time, and as she pointed out, people used to have more respect for Catholics.  This is what I said:

First - charity. Next - charity. After that, charity. Last of all, try charity.

No one is immune to charity. Everyone in the world, despite any other wrong idea they have, respects charity. Look how people looked up to Mother Teresa despite her "backward" opinions. Everyone wants to blame "the world" for not loving us. They can't love us unless we love them first. They don't have Christ to show them how to love like we do.

I honestly don't think people would have abandoned the faith in such droves if they were finding true charity there. Without charity, the Catholic Church looks like a backward bunch of old men who pry into everyone's sex life. Which is, surprise, surprise, exactly how they see us.

Let people start exclaiming again, "See how they love one another!" Let them say, "Gee, I keep hearing Catholics are hateful, but every single one I know treats me with genuine respect and always lends a listening ear before judging." And, "That Catholic doctrine sounded crazy, but when I hear it explained with gentleness by someone who's been a true friend to me for a long time, it doesn't sound so nutty."

Sure, study theology, come to bible study, but if we have not charity, we're nowhere. And I'm sad to say the Church in America often acts as though charity were just an afterthought. It isn't. It's the only thought. Every other teaching of the Church can be divided into "here is how Christ loved you" and "here is how you, then, ought to love."

 Was this campaign a stellar example of Christian charity, especially from Catholics?  No it was not.  There was a lot of nastiness going around.  Democrats were painted as "selfish people who just want a handout and lots of free condoms."  Third party voters were called traitors or worse.  There was a lot of triumphalism when the bishops said things that kind of sounded like they were endorsing Romney: "FINALLY!  Bishops with spine!  Tell those liberals where to get off!  Hope they realize they're going to be excommunicated if they vote for that *#$@."

Not so Christlike.

And I'm sad to see that it's still going on.  I have seen several posts lately suggesting that every Catholic who voted for Obama should be excommunicated or that they will burn in hell.  I stepped forward (stupidly) to suggest that they probably had good intentions, and weren't voting for abortion, but for things like programs for the poor and a candidate perceived as less hawkish overseas, and was told, "No way these people had good intentions.  They knew perfectly well what they were doing.  There is no good reason to vote for that monster."

Well okay then!  They must have voted just for the sake of being evil, then.  That totally explains why a majority of Catholics would do such a thing.  We all know most Catholics love being evil.

Sarcasm aside, I honestly don't believe it would be a sin to vote for Obama.  I was told that it is a sin to vote for any pro-choice candidate, but I don't believe that's Church teaching.  We shouldn't support abortion, but we could support keeping the government out of it and dealing with it on other levels (if we honestly thought we could save more lives that way), or we could support candidates who might not be pro-life but who aren't going to increase abortion.  For instance: what if, on your town council, there were two candidates running.  One is pro-life but believes in throwing widows and orphans out on the street and defrauding laborers of their just wages (both of which are sins which cry out to God for vengeance).  The other is pro-choice but much more just to the poor.  And as an added complication, the position they're running for would have nothing to do with abortion, but would be responsible for government housing projects and paychecks.  Shouldn't you vote for the latter guy?  Also keep in mind that not every anti-abortion law actually saves any lives.  The partial birth abortion ban didn't.  All it did was make people use other methods, which they do now.  Would I be a sinner if I voted against such a law?  I don't think so.

Since, after 40 years of trying, we've never managed to overturn Roe v. Wade, I'm kind of thinking another strategy might be needed.  That's a matter for prudence.  The goal is the same -- save unborn babies -- but the method varies.  Now, if you are Catholic and vote for Obama because he is pro-choice and you want to make sure you can get an abortion if you want one -- you might be sinning.  Otherwise, you probably aren't.

In any event, I think it's counterproductive to spend time placing blame and trying to excommunicate your opponents.  Now would be a good time to pull together, to say, "Well, the political angle doesn't seem to have worked.  Maybe if we try explaining our views better?  Or giving better example of what a Catholic is?  Maybe we could find some common ground with others and talk about some issues that have nothing to do with sex."

In any event, I think we could use to turn inward, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and say, "What can I do, as an individual, to make this country a better place?"  You could pray.  Share an idea with someone else.  Write a blog.  Grow a garden.  Kiss your child when you feel like yelling at him.  Volunteer to babysit for a single mom for free or reduced rates.  (Because, as I keep reading, getting a free crib from a pregnancy center isn't enough to make it affordable to have that baby instead of an abortion.  But free babysitting?  It could make a real difference!  Takes more effort from you, though, of course.)  Help out someone in need.  (Winter is coming and heat is expensive.  Did you know many utility companies will allow you to pay someone else's bill along with your own?  Call and ask yours.  Or give to a local charity.  My local diocese has programs to pay for heat for the poor, as well as many other services that really do make a difference in people's lives.)  Teach ESL.  Teach a skill.  Start a business and give a chunk to charity.  (I have a neat little something in mind, which will be appearing here if I ever perfect my product.)  Write a book.  Sponsor an orphan.  Next time you pass that homeless guy, ask him over for dinner tonight.  Yes, tonight.  Smile at your mailman or bagger.  Pay someone else's tab.  Offer a ride to a neighbor who doesn't own a car.  Visit a friend with kids, and tell her to hop in the shower or take a nap, you and the kids will be at the park if she wants you.  Go to your local church, community center, or charity, and tell them, "I have a free Saturday.  How can I do the most good?"

Seriously, people.  Why is there so much pressure to vote for X or Y guy who, even if he is perfect, is only one person trying to solve a million problems for three hundred million people -- and no pressure to help out in your own dang hometown?

I don't think we need to use the words "Democrat" or "Republican" again for the next two years at least.  Let's leave them aside.  I'm tired of recriminations, and I'm not interested in hearing anyone gloat either.  I want to try loving my neighbor a little more.  Maybe you would like to do that too.


some guy on the street said...

Charity, certainly, but also joy!

Certainly there is plenty of sorrow in the world, but that's no reason to forget the Joy of the Resurrection. Even if we're very fountains of material charity and philosophical charity, no-one else will want to be Christian if we always seem to be unnaturally grumpy.

But God is good, and wants us to be happy; let us live as if we believe that, too!

(I, btw, do not think you seem unnaturally grumpy. Not even John seems unnaturally grumpy, to me)

Sheila said...

Ah, that's very true! Joy comes more easily to me than to most people, I think. But since everything in my life crumbles around me when I'm unhappy, I do actively cultivate joy too.

Lauren Wayne said...

What a balanced, nuanced, and gracious position. Clearly you were not meant to be a politician. ;)

I've had similar conversations in my church, where one topic in particular (abortion) gets all the airplay, and all the other aspects of government are forgotten. It seems unbalanced and, frankly, naive.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Sheila said...

Why thank you. I am so flattered to be a lousy politician.

pat polichetti said...

Sheila, this was the BEST. POST. EVER. I especially loved the part about what a person could do to make this country a better place. For sure, you have to start with the person in the mirror. And, yes you would make a terrible politician. :)

Sheila said...

Thanks, Pat! Miss you!

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