Gravity Makes the World Go Around: NFP and Voting
November 19, 2008 § 7 Comments
There seems to be reasonably wide agreement that when one formally cooperates with grave evil in how and why one votes, it is grave matter: the “grave matter” in the triad of conditions for mortal sin, that is, grave matter, knowledge, and deliberate consent.
On the other hand the gravity of various acts of remote material cooperation with grave evil in how and why one votes is more controversial.
I think voting for Obama even if it was [remote material] cooperation was grave matter. Faithful Citizenship says that your proportionate reason to do it must itself be a grave reason, meaning that the vote is grave in the first place.
I think this argument has some force; but it may be worthwhile to consider other situations where the Church has authorized certain practices under a rubric of “grave reasons”:
“But if, according to a rational and just judgement, there are no similar grave reasons of a personal nature or deriving from external circumstances, then the determination to avoid habitually the fecundity of the union while at the same time to continue fully satisfying their sensuality, can be derived only from a false appreciation of life and from reasons having nothing to do with proper ethical laws.” – Pius XII, Apostolate of the Midwife
And yet the same Pope Pius XII later tells us:
“Therefore, in our late allocution on conjugal morality, We affirmed the legitimacy, and at the same time, the limits — in truth very wide — of a regulation of offspring, which, unlike so-called ‘birth control,’ is compatible with the law of God.” – Pius XII, Morality in Marriage (emphasis mine), from Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family, Werth and Mihanovich, 1955
So there is precedent for a Pope in the exercise of his teaching office – let alone the USCCB – to say on the one hand that “grave reasons” are required, and yet that the discretionary limits of action are still “in truth very wide”.
This leads me to the question of gravity when we are talking about remote material cooperation with grave evil. Jeff Culbreath suggested below that the gravity of an act of voting (as remote material cooperation) for a candidate who actively pursues a policy of murdering the innocent probably depends on the reason why one does it, even if that reason is not proportionate in truth. I think that makes a great deal of sense. For the answer to the question “is X a proportionate reason” is not always an unequivocal “yes” or “no”. That is to say, prudence is a scale, not binary: one may act very imprudently, somewhat imprudently, somewhat prudently, or very prudently; or anywhere in between. In addition, everyone’s understanding of the facts will vary to some extent, and one can only act based on facts one actually knows and one’s understanding of how things work. If I believe I am acting prudently that doesn’t mean I am in fact acting prudently, but there is a morally nontrivial difference between willful imprudence, apathetic imprudence, and simply mistaken imprudence.
So I think it is, well, imprudent to assume that every act of voting for Obama (or McCain for that matter) was necessarily grave matter simply because Faithful Citizenship says that reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate must be “grave”. There is precedent for the Magisterium to require grave reasons, on the one hand, and yet say that the acting subject has wide lattitude on the other. In addition I think Jeff Culbreath’s suggestion that the actual reasons why make a significant difference here is eminently reasonable; even if, as an objective matter, the reasons why the voter voted the way he did were not proportionate.