Don’t fall in trap: ‘Lesser of two evils’ not an option

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 16.

Jesus had a great deal of “ambiguity tolerance.” He was able to deal patiently with messy situations. We see it in his dealings with Zacchaeus, with the Samaritan Woman and the tax collector who went to the Temple to pray. Life is complicated and Jesus was less concerned about looking good in the eyes of others than he was engaging the world as it really is.

Soon we have our national elections, for which we will need a great deal of “ambiguity tolerance.” And yet as citizens, we are obligated to participate in this messy process — even if we don’t like any of the options.

And I’m not going to make it any easier for you: no party has our endorsement, not even the third parties that are out there. There is actually a party that does model itself on Catholic teaching, the American Solidarity Party. You might want to take a look at its platform for future reference, but they won’t be on the ballot in Arkansas this year.

But regarding the options that are available to us this year, all the parties take positions that are contrary to our faith, and in the case of some candidates, there are serious questions of character. For this reason, some people will vote for one party for president and the other for Congress in the hope that they will sort of keep each other in check. But gridlock is itself a big problem.

Regarding our options this year, I often hear people say, “Well, you just have to choose the lesser of two evils,” but that is a trap. We may never choose evil. We can, however, choose the candidate whom we think might do more good than the others, especially if we believe that we might be able to limit the harm we fear through our system of checks and balances. This requires a lot of ambiguity tolerance.

To help us sort out what to do, the bishops of the United States have issued a “Faithful Citizenship” document to help us make a prudential judgment regarding the difficult and confusing choices before us. The document can be downloaded from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. There are seven key themes of Catholic social teaching which we must weigh seriously as we prepare to vote:

  • The right to life and the dignity of the human person, at every stage of life from the first moment of conception to natural death. Abortion is an intrinsic evil which must always be opposed; likewise euthanasia and the destruction of embryos for research.
  • The call to family, community and participation, in particular regarding the sanctity of marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman open to the gift of new life.
  • Rights and responsibilities, including religious liberty whereby we are not forced to act contrary to our conscience (such as the HHS contraceptive mandate) and access to those things needed for human decency, including universal access to health care.
  • The option for the poor and vulnerable, with special concern for the weakest among us.
  • The dignity of work and the rights of workers, including the right to earn a living wage and the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Solidarity, that we work for the common good, not just our own perceived self interest.
  • Care for God’s creation, to be good stewards of the environment now and for the future.

To this I would add a note about medical marijuana, about which people have reason to fear a slippery slope to the disaster of recreational marijuana. From a theological standpoint, the Church has no moral objection to the medical use of marijuana, just like any other drug when used for a genuine medical purpose. Even so, it will be very important — and difficult — to put safeguards in place sufficient to prevent it from falling into non-medical hands — especially the youth whose brains are still developing. Hence, the voters have a prudential decision to make. 

You and I have a lot to pray for between now and election day: especially for a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak and the pursuit of the common good. And, of course, we must also consider each candidate’s integrity, philosophy and performance. We don’t just need “ambiguity tolerance” this election cycle; we need the wisdom of Solomon and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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