politics

Who Cares What's Behind the Curtain?

The 597-day nightmare is over. The rancid taste in our mouths is still there, but at least we can spit it out and not have it spit back at us.  I mean, of course, the 2016 presidential election is finished, and Donald Trump has won. It’s time to wake up and figure out what the hell happened. How did we allow this? How did we end up with a woman who represents the worst of government and a man that represents the worst of culture as our nominees? Where did this madness come from?

Remember watching The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and Toto and the whole gang go on a quest to petition the Great Oz for aid. They seek him for he is all-powerful. They go through annoying apple trees, flying monkeys, and poppies. At the end, they are met with someone who, in reality, has so little to do with the the happenings of the world, he’s essentially a fraud. The yellow brick road from peaceful Munchkin Land to the big Emerald City didn’t end in disappointment, but it did end in a very simple truth: those in far away lands have very little to do with you.

This is the truth that we must accept as we reflect upon the election. Every four years, but especially this sequence, we lose our minds over who is going to be president. I have fallen victim for such circus shows. The horror in presidential elections isn’t that we elect this bad person or whatever. It’s that we repeat a ritualistic insanity of tribalistic fever over something with such minimal impact on us. Somehow, we buy into the lie that our candidate has to win or else evil triumphs. We find some reason to make this election the most important of our lives, that winning is vital to overturning abortion (even though most Republican appointees, with rare exception, result in miserably disappointing consequences for the unborn). We do all this despite the fact that so much of what we frantically, even disturbingly, obsess over has so little to do with our lives. We have such a paranoid lust for conflict in far away lands, while having a profound lack of concern for our own communities.

With exceptions, the national government touches your life in the such unseen and minimal ways (like, how many particulates of insect parts are allowed in your can of soup), that your opinion on federal regulations most likely doesn’t even exist. The presidency, in all its trappings, rarely affects you directly. It appoints justices who rule on matters you’ve never even conceived, and the appointees often don’t turn out as you expect. The budgets that come from the White House must first get through Congress, as with appointees and treaties. The only real power the presidency has is the ability to launch military action (which, if just formally, is also checked by Congress). So, unless you can orchestrate a large enough petition or can hire a lobbyist, there’s very little you can do to modify federal regulations (that you didn’t even knew existed) much less modify drone warfare (which Congress has difficulty addressing).  Between the lack of relevance of federal regulations and the lack of control of the president, it’s bizarre we stress over the national government so much.

A couple years ago, though, I realized that what’s most important is right in front of me. The thought came to me as I learned more about the principle of subsidiarity, that whatever can be done at the most intimate level of authority should not be done by a more centralized authority. The concept was immediately appealing to me, and as I continued to learn more about St. John Paul II and public policy at city and state levels, the more the idea bloomed. So many of our most pressing problems can be more easily addressed by local levels of government. But we’re so close to those levels they’re often sitting right under our noses.

It is right and good for you to fulfill your civic duty, to be informed and vote. I welcome those that do. What I do not welcome, and God knows I can be guilty of my own observations, is hyperventilation politics, where something so distant has such a demand on your heart.

We should be more concerned about the mill levy about to be raised for the construction of a new school building. The new zoning and assessing policies the county is about to vote on. Or the increased tax necessary to update an illegal sewer system in your city. Or even the state’s proposed legislation to enable grocery stores to sell alcohol at regular ABV levels. Education, property, utilities, BEER. These are the things that make a difference in your lives, and the lives of those you love.

Tip O’Neill once said all politics is local. That all the important things that even Congress members are concerned about is pertinent to matters affecting the local level--the districts, counties, cities. Alexander Hamilton confirmed this in Federalist Paper No. 17

It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.

Man is predisposed to finding importance in those things closer to him, like family, neighborhood, and town. Those things far away may entice his imagination, but the concerns directly in front of him command his attention. And, because of incredible ability to vote often in his local community, man has the power to have a real impact on the path forward.

For all you CBCers who value the intimacy of community, I advise you reconsider the importance you may place on the national government. This isn’t a little challenge I casually throw at you. I’m saying get informed, go to school board meetings, and vote. And I would highly recommend using all the money you put to use for buses for the March for Life go toward more local things, like protest at city hall over the building permit of a Planned Parenthood, or even a march to the state capitol building. Less people? Sure. Not as glamorous? Sure. Will it have a greater impact? You better believe it.

 

 

Election Day Survival Kit

 

Election Day is tomorrow! It’s so exciting!! Are you excited??

 

Ehhhh… well, not really.

 

As Catholics, we tend to be pretty serious folk a times, and that definitely applies when it comes time to fulfill our civic duties. It can be difficult to get excited about an election like this, and even harder to maintain peace and harmony among ourselves and those we disagree with.

Ok. Don’t get me wrong. It’s totally OK to take voting seriously. In fact, it’s commended. But if you take it so seriously that a) you don’t sleep at night, b) you’re losing friends, c) your family hates you, or d) life totally sucks, then it’s time to take a TIME OUT. Go sit in the corner for a little bit and laugh about something. People might think you’re crazy, but it’s ok.

And while you’re over there, think about what G.K. Chesterton said about seriousness,

Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by force of gravity.
— G.K. Chesterton

 

 

Seriousness is fine and good. Take your vote seriously. I hope you do your research and vote your conscience, but at the end of the day, I hope you can laugh a bit too, and realize that you’re not in charge of all this.

And don’t stress. We’ve got ya covered. Survive Election Day with the CBC Premium Election Day Survival Kit!

 

This Years Kit Includes: 

1) A Red, White and Blue Rosary, because #imwithher

rwb rosary.jpeg

 

2) A Book on the Saints, they exist afterall. Though they all look a bit sad, don't they? #sadsaints

 

3) Holy Water. You'll want to wash your hands of all this at some point. #squeakyclean

4) An invitation to a Bible study. Because we're #strongertogether

5) Premium Prayer Candles, because it's getting kind of dark out there.

6) A St. Michael the Archangel medal. #fightforus

7) A membership at your local soup kitchen. Because #lovetrumpshate #praiseJesus

At the Heart of Assisted Suicide

    Colorado will vote on Proposition 106 in November. Prop 106 is modeled after the Oregon law that began permitting assisted suicide in the 90s. Colorado Public Radio reported that the Archdiocese of Denver put forward $1,000,000.00 to defeat Prop 106. Though I don’t relish the task of voting on it or writing about it, it ought to be defeated.

    The principal opposition bases its message on flaws in the text itself, hanging its hat on practical arguments against the law. Such flaws being highlighted include a lack of required mental health exams for those wishing to take their lives, the risk of doctors making mistakes about whether patients are terminally ill and may thus take their own lives, and the risk that patients will make a mistake when administering the life-ending “medication” to themselves.

    These are real flaws leading to real concerns. I understand that polling was conducted and found that concerns such as the above resonate with voters. As a result, the primary public message of the opposition including, to my understanding and experience, that opposition being put forward by the Archdiocese, is that the text is flawed.

    This is a mistake. Support for assisted suicide comes from a moral position toward suffering, life, and freedom. Only a moral position toward the same can counter it.

    The heart of this law is a judgment that some lives are not worth living, much less protecting or elevating. This law presumes that someone of sound mind could choose freely to pursue suicide despite our natural tendency toward survival. This law implicitly accepts that it is better for some human burdens on society or families to be eliminated than loved. Above all, the law spurns, or at least distorts, love that bears all things, hopes all things.

    The truth that can resonate with voters is one that cuts through the practical bologna and asks them to affirm the goodness of something, the goodness of life. Without that affirmation, the practical arguments aren’t terribly important. Without value for my life, I don’t care about various practical arguments in support of it, such as those telling me to exercise or avoid carbs. The heart must be spoken to.

    Flawed text arguments also set up a problem when the flaws are resolved. If Prop 106 is defeated, you can bet something similar will be on the ballot again. And if it was defeated because of poor drafting, you can also bet that the drafting errors will be corrected. What will we say then, after all of our stated concerns are answered and more “safeguards” are included?

    I do not oppose Prop 106 because of poor drafting. I oppose Prop106 because I value my suffering neighbor’s life, because I love my neighbor. This is enough. This truth is enough. If it’s not enough, then this truth is the starting point and practical this and that can serve an ancillary role. An appeal to love, which requires more than our words, isn’t as easy as a pragmatic approach, so it probably doesn’t poll well. But it is more effective when dealing with humans.

    When my friends and colleagues ask me about Prop 106, I will start with love.

 

Dealing with Trump on the Brain

Several times here on my Bahamian honeymoon, my wife saw my wheels turning and asked, "What are you thinking about?" Donald Trump became a regular answer. Second only to "Nothing, why?"

There isn’t a great “Catholic” option running for president in 2016. Neither was there in 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000, etc. Though this year the lack of a “good” option is more pungent, it isn’t new. One of many, I’m frustrated that we are being given an apple and an orange and asked to decide which is more of a fruit while at the same time being distracted by rot. Some offer kiwi as a third choice. I may like kiwi more than I used to.

 

We are right to be frustrated. But having to make a difficult decision isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I’m grateful this year that my normal political criteria are insufficient. It was very easy for me to vote for my presidential picks in the past, but this year my way of deciding hasn’t fully opened the door for me to vote for anyone yet. I have to look at things in a new way.

However I vote this year will require more compromise than past years. Hence the discomfort; politics is no longer easy for me. Some compromise is always necessary in voting. I’ve been OK with this because I understand that compromise is often, as Alan Greenspan wrote, “the price of civilized society, not an abrogation of principal.” But how much compromise remains an inherently difficult and largely personal question. It’s a question to suffer.

Rather than facing the question, it’s tempting to cope by surrounding myself with satire. But satire doesn’t add as much value to anything as Jon Stewart hopes you believe. Much less does another temptation: Whining. They both pick and gnaw until the whole system looks absurd and the participation of a lot of intelligent people is curbed. A lot of the material I consume is whiny or gratuitous satire. And this is when my Trump-obsession becomes unhealthy and self-gratifying.

But depending on the nature of the thought-pattern, so much Trump on the brain may be good sign: I’m taking politics more seriously than I used to because this year’s arrangement is so jarring. And taking politics seriously is part of my vocation because it is a principal way of engaging the culture I’m given to live in. This task is challenging and the Church allows it to be so.

Despite however many, even helpful, articles about whom a Catholic can or cannot vote for I read, the Church does not provide a conclusion. Instead she assists us by providing criteria for deciding, a way of looking at politics that allows us to make a decision proper to ourselves. That is, informed by our values, experiences, assumptions about the world, and, above all, the Love we have encountered. All done, of course, in good faith.

I’m grateful that I belong to a Church that respects my freedom enough not to give me an answer in the November election, but that instead assists me in making the best decision I reasonably can. It’s interesting to me that she does this, because she asks me to abandon no part of me but my sin in the decision, knowing that everything that makes “me” will have to be in play for the decision to be free, human, and mine. I think this means Catholics will (and can) vote in different ways.

I don’t yet know which candidate will get my vote. I’m still hoping and looking for someone to vote for. But my vote will come from a decision that is suffered, somewhat uncertain, and more fully human. I hope that I become more human in this process of deciding, more aware of what I value and need. This suffered decision is a gift to the world that God has given to me. It may end up the “wrong” decision as history plays out, but it will be given with the best of thought, prayer, and attention. It will be a good decision.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Have you ever read, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”? If you haven’t, it’s a children’s book about a mouse that, after receiving a cookie, wants a glass of milk. After a series of more rodential requests, the mouse requests once more a glass of milk, and then another cookie to go with the milk. It’s a classic example of a slippery slope, the idea that a relatively small first step will lead to a chain of events ending in a negative, disastrous result. Slippery slope arguments are often fallacious, but not necessarily. Today, I will be presenting an argument that good-intentioned Catholics should not seek government assistance in eradicating evil, and should instead embrace a more liberated approach.

What is the purpose of civil government? If you were to ask King Henry VIII of England, the government can do anything from raising taxes and waging war, to legislating morality and regulating the religion of a geographic area. I’m not terribly fond of this idea, considering what followed from Henry’s takeover of the Church of England (executions due to perjury and seizing of property, including monasteries), Others suggest the government should provide for the basic needs of its people, including defense and health, or that the purpose is to ensure that our money, resources, products, or even lifestyles are protected from severe loss or discrimination. These are not terrible ambitions, and we should want some of these things for ourselves. The issue I struggle with—and one the Founding Fathers did, too— is if this is the proper domain of government.

The Framers, through the Preamble of the Constitution, wrote that the proper function of government is to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Here’s what that means, in order:

  1. 1. Arbitrate between opposing interests
  2. 2. Maintain some means (typically police) of continued civil peace
  3. 3. Raise an adequate fighting force for national defense
  4. 4. Preserve the overall benefit of the nation
  5. 5. Safeguard man’s natural rights

All of these are the essential functions that governments have had to fulfill for nearly any civilization. Almost every government has had some form of courts, police, military, and they generally like to make sure their people are well-off, by laying roads, building hospitals, etc. Governments, however, have not always recognized natural-born rights. This was a unique concept the Founders enshrined in the Declaration of Independence; that the rights of man are not granted by the state, but endowed by the Creator, and that the state’s function is merely to secure those rights.

There are three essential rights according to the Declaration: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Committee of Five, who wrote the Declaration, took these from John Locke, an English philosopher. What do they mean? Life: your life or person, as an individual in civil society, is yours, to do with as you please, excluding any action that infringes upon the rights of any other. No one can take it from you (murder) or damage it (injury). Liberty: you are free to engage in any activity you see fit, providing, again, that you do not infringe upon the rights of others. Murder, fraud, and slavery are not allowed. The last right can be property, your property, and that theft from and by any person or institution is forbidden. The pursuit of happiness is similar: you are free to engage in a lifestyle that would lead to what you consider happiness, providing it does not infringe upon the rights of others. This includes the purchase, ownership, and sale of property, among a number of other things. It is broader.

These are the rights the Fathers resolutely believed that we, as individuals, are born with, rights that could not be taken away from anyone or by any institution, including—especially—the government. In fact, it is important to note that the state has no natural rights. It can be granted powers and privileges by those with sovereign power (a king or a people), but there is nothing inherent to a government that gives it a natural right. It derives all of its existence from the organizing power—individuals.

As such, the government must give way to individual liberty, to our trivium of rights, which are intimately connected. Each relies upon the other to be strong. Let me provide a common example that shows how important they are to each other and to our everyday life. These rights allow us to:

  • Go to a bar
  • That someone owns
  • On a Saturday night
  • In a car
  • Designed by an automotive expert
  • Built by a laborer
  • Sold by a salesman
  • In order to drink sinful amounts of beer
  • That someone made
  • And was sold and bought
  • And then the next day be able to go to Confession
  • Worship in the Mass
  • In a building constructed by a parish

I could go on and on. There’s an almost infinite amount of free choices we make that rely upon life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. This is the American Dream, that we have liberty to be good and joyful people. Yet, it also means we have the liberty to be bad and vicious people. That’s not attractive, though, and that’s the problem. 

We can’t stand the ugliness that comes with freedom. We can’t stand the fact that some people throw their lives away, are racist, or are irresponsible with their choices. We can’t accept that freedom means a businessman can build up an empire while many go homeless. Or that a kid excels in school because he lives in a “good” neighborhood, but another fails because he’s in the inner city. We shouldn’t like these things; they are not what we should want, and we should strive to solve them. But, we cannot invoke the state and its power of force to change these things. To invite the state to meddle with society’s ills and fortunes is to court a developing tyranny, which has no ambition other than to maintain power. The change and improvement to our communities must come from within, from the efforts of individuals freely engaging each other.

If it’s not already clear, I’m advocating for a society that limits how much the government can do and regulate. I want it limited so that the good man can be free to be good, even if it means the bad man is free to be bad. There is precedent for my position. St. Thomas Aquinas believed the Eternal Law, the wisdom of God that guides the universe, is not fully known by man. The Natural Law is man’s participation in the Eternal Law, is inscribed on his heart, and can be known fully through reason. The Human Law, the civil law, or sometimes custom, is narrower in scope, and though it should not contradict the Natural Law, it should not be identical, either.

It is impossible to regulate all human action. Human Law, according to Aquinas, though it must not promote evil, should nevertheless permit evil actions in order to prevent greater evils, like civil unrest. Evil actions can occur so long as they do not threaten societal stability or the natural rights of others, such as life and property. Aquinas’ tolerance of evil is not a complicit support of sin, far from it. Aquinas did not want people to sin, but he also did not want human law to interfere where it need not interfere. We can draw a parallel of tolerance in the Eternal Law. God is all-powerful, but allows certain evils to take place in the universe, though he can prevent them. Why? Because God respects and values our free will so much that he would permit the damnation of all men in order to preserve it.

Of course, free will and the Founder’s notion of liberty are not exactly the same. Liberty as the Founders saw it was freedom from obligation; freedom as the Church sees it is enslavement to Christ. We can, however, reflect God in our own human law through the preservation of liberty. Liberty allows for terrible things, but it also allows us as citizens to shun terrible things, to criticize charitably, and to offer guidance. It puts the burden of moral responsibility upon our individual shoulders, and not the collective state’s.

But shouldn’t the government promote the virtue of traditional marriage, or discourage the vice of online pornography? Those are good things to do, but they exceed the basic, outlined interests of the state. The state should be limited in specialized interests, lest we risk endangering our rights. One day it’s welfare programs directed at assisting married families and bans on pornographic websites. The next day the government expands the programs to include polygamy to increase the population, and establishes a prohibition on “questionable” websites. Before you know it, there’s a bureaucratic agency set up to ensure “the genetically defective” are not procreating, and any type of website that “upsets the established peace” is removed and their owners arrested. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. If you give the government authority, it’s going to take your freedom.

When we put up with evil in civil law, though we are burdened with eradicating evil as a community, we are free to do just that. If the civil law does not tolerate such evil, it becomes exceedingly likely that the civil law will not tolerate the truth, either. It will not tolerate freedom. We can grant power for a singular purpose, but it is impossible to grant it in a singular fashion. Power is a neutral tool, that, once accumulated, can be manipulated for far different purposes than originally intended. We should instead restrain our passions and desires to help others to our own initiative, as individuals and communities of individuals. I urge you not to risk your freedom to preach the Gospel by legally silencing evil. The less we give to the government and the more we embrace liberty, the freer we are to do God’s good work.