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.

Commenter msb at Catholic and Enjoying It made the following interesting argument:

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.

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§ 7 Responses to Gravity Makes the World Go Around: NFP and Voting

  • Anonymous says:

    Please read at The Curt Jester:By Guillermo Bustamante on November 18, 2008 8:57 PM PP complains: “can’t afford” to extend the 2.4 million girls maimed to 15 million yearly.Obscene Profits:“In April 2008, the annual report for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, revealed that the abortion giant had a total income of $1.02 billion — with reported profits of nearly $115 million. Taxpayers kick in more than $336 million worth of government grants and contracts at both the state and federal levels. That’s a third of Planned Parenthood’s budget.”The Infanticide Candidate can’t wait to give them MOOOOOORE tax dollars. OF COURSE: the USCCB still allows the butcher-lawmakers… to self denominate “Catholic”. History? Laugh big.If USCCB is not purged NOW, all will be wishful-pious-self-complacent babble.

  • msb says:

    Well, on this particular question I think Faithful Citizenship is more directly helpful than the analogy to justifications for NFP. They say, in English,“There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptableposition may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not toadvance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamentalmoral evil.” They really emphasize how grave such a vote is. They say it twice and add a truly. And in this context, we know they that by “grave” they mean the level of evil involved in abortion. In Humanae Vitae there are disputes about what the Latin “grave” means, and whether it is better translated “serious”. More importantly, abstaining during fertile times isn’t truly grave cooperation in a moral evil. The problem with it is that it could be contraceptive in intent, and therefore grave evil, if there aren’t sufficiently serious reasons to do it. Those reasons, I think, don’t function to proportionally offset or outweigh the double effect of evil that occurs by abstaining. The reasons just themselves show that there is no contraceptive mentality. If you have serious reasons to abstain, you’re not left with an evil effect that you cooperated in but reluctantly accept. Whereas, in a vote that remotely materially cooperates in abortion, the vote is itself effecting a grave evil, though unintentionally, and can only be justified by something at least as grave on the other side of the scale. The grave reasons don’t take away the evil effect–it is still present and you caused it, but it is both unintended and outweighed.Also, an even more specific question on Mark’s blog was whether we could call a vote for Obama grave matter. That vote happened to be in a circumstance where gravity was piled upon gravity–the base “truly grave” evil involved in RM cooperation, plus the fact that Obama is such a pro-abortion lunatic and propsoed to do so many heinous things that McCain would not have done. In that extreme circumstance, I think it is very much within bounds for a pastor to say that a vote for Obama was in itself grave and had no proportionate reason, and therefore was morally grave matter to be resolved in confession. Note also that Bishop Finn said basically this before the election, so Fr. Newman is not out on a limb.

  • zippy says:

    <>Those reasons, I think, don’t function to proportionally offset or outweigh the double effect of evil that occurs by abstaining. The reasons just themselves show that there is no contraceptive mentality. If you have serious reasons to abstain, you’re not left with an evil effect that you cooperated in but reluctantly accept.<>Well, I agree that this pertains to <>intentions<>. But the actual material effect of one’s vote on the election outcome and thus the gravely evil policies with which one cooperates is extremely remote; so it seems reasonable to me that (setting aside outcome-independent material effects) intentions would play the larger role here too. It isn’t just a matter of how language is used by the Magisterium, but rather is about moral gravity as introduced by intentions; though I agree that the correspondence is not one-to-one.I think a Catholic in Bishop Finn’s diocese is in a tougher position simply because of how his Bishop spoke about the matter. But I was using <>Faithful Citizenship<> as the backdrop of the post, since it was what you invoked in your argument.Still, I haven’t come down on one side or another, or on some third way for that matter. I think the whole subject matter is interesting and largely unexplored. Thanks for throwing an interesting argument on the griddle.

  • Anonymous says:

    “But the actual material effect of one’s vote on the election outcome and thus the gravely evil policies with which one cooperates is extremely remote; so it seems reasonable to me that (setting aside outcome-independent material effects) intentions would play the larger role here too.”Whatever happened to an act being an act cooperating with evil regardless of intentions?Also, I find it incredible that you would actually deem those who brought Hitler to power, knowing of his agenda to kill off the Jews, are guilty of nothing more than a <>white lie<>!If Vox Nova is “Debate Club at Auschwitz”, you’re nothing other than “ZIPPY FOR HITLER”!You’re better than this Zippy!

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:I’m an eager fan of your NICKNAMING-irking the lukewarm (Vox-Nova, InsideCatholic, and many close contestants) as AUSCHITZ DEBATE CLUBS (see laughable mannerly letter on how to sell themselves to the Obaminator).Jokes apart, the point now is to leave behind the INTENTIONS debate, and face the impending $$$$$$ tax dollars… ready to feed the abortion chambers.To do this, let’s clarify the USCCB mumbo-jumbo VS the CLEAR JPII:Wuerl (“doctrine” honcho of USCCB!), YESSS the one who refuses to take responsibility of the Eucharistic MEGA-SCANDAL in DC, represents the fog machine going full blast.Said Wuerl:“‘Faithful Citizenship’ says, are the life issues. I believe that’s what we’re going to be judged by historically, down the road. I think one hundred years from now, people are going to look back To do this, let’s and wonder how it was possible that we could have had a culture that builds into it the wholesale destruction of unborn life”.WOW! Does he 'look back & wonder', or is asking forgiveness? It takes a very hardened face to pontificate anew this, after YEARS PASSED BY eluding responsibility to teach and enforce JP II's Encyclical EVANGELIUM VITAE:“The serious demographic, social and family problems which weigh upon many of the world's peoples and which require responsible and effective attention from national and international bodies, are left open to false and deceptive solutions, opposed to the truth and the good of persons and nations.The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life”.CordiallyGuillermo Bustamante

  • zippy says:

    <>Whatever happened to an act being an act cooperating with evil regardless of intentions?<>Nothing “happened” to that. Material cooperation with evil is material cooperation with evil independent of the acting subject’s intentions. The subject of this post (and a matter about which I do not have a well-formed intellectually defensible position) is precisely when remote material cooperation with evil without a proportionate reason is <>grave matter<>.

  • Obpoet says:

    In the spirit of Aquinas:If a proportionate reason exists to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate, then a reason must exist against which there could never be a protionate reason to oppose it. What would that reason be, if not abortion?

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