Thursday, November 15, 2007

Politics and Religion

"So, can someone who is Catholic vote for the Liberal Party of Canada anymore"? I was asked this question recently by a neighbor while we were having supper. The truth is that the nature of liberalism has changed considerably in the past number of years. In the past lots of people related to the themes of liberalism found in the "New Deal" of Franklin Roosevelt. It seemed proper to stand up for the poor and to try and find ways to help improve their lives. But it seems to me that other themes have come to dominate liberal agendas. Abortion is one issue that seems to identify liberals now. Gay marriage is another issue that liberals seem to have adopted. So the question asked is a good one. If the Liberal party consistently adopts positions that are contrary to Catholic social teaching does it follow that a Catholic voter should refuse to vote for a Liberal candidate? This issue has drawn a great deal of attention in the US where the support of the Democratic party for abortion has led many conservative Catholics to suggest that voting Democrat should be unthinkable. Recently the Boston Globe quoted the archbishop of Boston on this issue:

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, saying the Democratic Party has been persistently hostile to opponents of abortion rights, asserted yesterday that the support of many Catholics for Democratic candidates "borders on scandal."..."I think the Democratic Party, which has been in many parts of the country traditionally the party which Catholics have supported, has been extremely insensitive to the church's position, on the gospel of life in particular, and on other moral issues," O'Malley said.

A complicating factor here is the nature of democracy. Is the role of the elected representative to follow the "party line" in his voting or is it to follow the wishes of constituents (as nearly as they can be perceived) in voting. It seems to me that the American system tends to more closely follow the second option while more emphasis is placed in Canada on following the party line. This aspect of democracy is what leads some politicians to claim that they are personally opposed to abortion but their votes reflect the wishes of their constituency. Besides, how much influence can one legislator have?

Another issue to consider here is the existence of other important issues besides abortion. So, for example, if candidate A was opposed to abortion but was in favor of using nuclear weapons to deal with the problems in Iran (an American issue, I know) it might be possible to vote for candidate B, even though they favor abortion, because they oppose the nuclear option for Iran.

Generally, then, it should be difficult for a Catholic to vote for a Liberal because of the party policies that are contrary to Catholic social teaching. It might be possible to do so, however, to avoid some kind of greater evil.