Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Qorban-ite Maneuver: Fidelity to and Evasion of Our Responsibilities

Alas you phariseesYet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”' (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother [Mark 7:11-12].


With the major candidates in what looks like a race to find how far one can go in moral decline and still get elected, and the largest minor parties saying, “We can be more extreme than the major parties,” the Catholic has major problems finding a candidate who fits the obligation to promote good and limit evil. No matter who we vote for, the candidate who becomes president will, in some way, endorses an intrinsic evil that would normally disqualify them in favor of a sane candidate. While some have made up their minds how to vote and have no problems telling everybody who disagrees that they are wrong. Others see the race as a moral quagmire and can’t find a choice that doesn’t trouble their conscience.

The Common Good

Personally I think the 2016 elections are not an easy choice, and there are serious moral concerns regardless of whether one supports a major party or a minor one. So, when I see someone quickly and confidently embracing a candidate as the “Catholic choice,” I wonder whether they’ve carefully considered the problems with him or her. Since we, as Catholics, must promote the teachings of Our Lord to the world and to seek out the true good of our society, we have to consider what these teachings are and how to apply them properly.

Promoting the common good includes all Catholics, and we can’t opt out of playing our part. According to the Catechism, just societies and just leaders need to address three key points:

1907 First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its members to fulfill his vocation. In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as “the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard … privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion.”

1908 Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.

1909 Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defence. 

When we think about what candidates to support or initiatives to support, we have to keep these things in mind. We can’t decide to ignore the parts of political platforms we don’t like or choosing what parts of the Church to obey. So, respect for the person means we can’t support positions which violate the right to life or the freedom to follow a properly formed conscience. We can’t choose to support policies that treat some people as less important than others (for example, the born over the unborn). So, when we vote, or endorse a party platform, we have to make sure that what we endorse—or reluctantly choose as causing less harm—reflects accepting Church teaching as she understands it. We can’t change the rules to benefit us.

The Qōrbān-ite Maneuver [†]

Balok puppetNo . . . not Corbomite Maneuver...

In Mark 7:11, Jesus denounces the Pharisees for a human tradition used to evade God’s commands. This involved declaring something a “gift to God” through a vow (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 12 and 14 are examples of what was properly qorban) which meant one couldn’t use it for other things. Usually, qorban involved gifts to the Temple and for ending a Nazirite vow. Fulfilling a vow to God was not sinful, and was not what Our Lord condemned.

What He denounced was evading the commandments through using whatever was for the care of parents to pay for obligations to God. The piety behind it claimed that one’s obedience to God superseded one’s duty to parents. The reality was using this piety as an excuse to avoid spending extra money by deliberately setting two obligations commanded by God (vows and honoring parents) in conflict and deciding the obligation to God won out. In short, it was an evasion which benefitted the person under a pretense of piety.

So, what does this have to do with the Catholic moral obligation? There is a temptation to misuse Church teaching to justify what one wants, without getting hindered by another moral obligation. This sacrifices one in the name of the other while pretending (or perhaps being sincere in their error) to be more focussed on God in doing so. When the Church teaches on our obligations, we can’t look at it as a hindrance to get around. We need to look at this as guidance on shaping our behaviors to do right in the sight of God.

Doing Right, Not Doing What Benefits Us, Means Difficult Choices

So, when the Church defines the right to life as always opposing abortion and euthanasia, we don’t support a pro-abortion candidate and claim we are doing so to follow Church teaching on respect for the human person. Nor do we support a pro-torture candidate and claim we’re faithful to Church teaching on respect for the human person. Ditto the candidate who violates our religious freedom. If we cast our vote for such a candidate, it is only legitimate in trying to limit a greater evil. This is a matter of discerning Church teaching, not of interpreting things to benefit us.

So we never “sacrifice” one part of Church teaching (which we “coincidentally” think is less important) in favor of another (which "just happens" to be one we strongly agree with). Since we’re faced with a slate of major party candidates who endorse different evils, we have to decide whether to reject both and support a minor party or whether we try blocking the candidate who supports the greater evil and oppose the evils of the less extreme candidate if elected. Of course, voting for a candidate because he supports an evil is a sin. It’s not an easy choice, as the Church is vehement against abortion and torture both and somebody is going to get elected who supports one or more of these evils. 

Offering my own opinion (which is NOT intended as an endorsement of any candidate), I believe we should vote to block the candidates we think will do the most harm to the nation according to Catholic moral values (not our own preferences), and plan to fight the evils endorsed by whoever gets elected—even if it puts us at odds with our preferred political party. We must not think that our job is over on November 9th 2016. If our president-elect supports abortion and violates religious freedom, prepare to fight on those grounds. If our president-elect supports torture and unjust immigration policies, prepare to fight on those grounds. That’s true regardless of whether one votes for a major candidate or a minor party. And of course, as Christians, Our Lord’s teaching on charity means we have to give aid to those in need regardless of what party gets elected and what policies they enact.

As I said, this is a hard decision. It involves trying to limit the harm to our nation, but knowing some harm will happen no matter what. We should pray for the nation and soberly reflect on what Church teaching forms our conscience to do, and then be faithful to that decision, knowing God will judge our intentions and our actions.


[†] Yes, I love bad puns and am a bit of a geek. So, yes, I did a play on words with a Star Trek episode. No, the wordplay doesn’t have anything to do with that episode. The Hebrew term is also spelled Corban or Korban.

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