Catholic Social Teaching Corner: Election 2012

December 1, 2012

A generation that does not know what or why

It is tempting to be sardonic when considering the social values reflected in the recent national election: victories for abortion, marijuana, contraception and gay marriage; but, hey, at least we’re not totally ready to kill grandma yet. Morbid humor may be the best form of coping with these dreadful results. 2012 seems an unfortunate bellwether as to the state of American public morality and social goals in the twenty-first century. The Christian response starts with a frank recognition of the circumstances. First of all, the decay in moral thinking shouldn’t be surprising. When I was a college student twenty-five years ago I had a profound conversion back to my Catholic faith. I think God gave me an insight at the time that has only recently come back to me: there would be a mess when my generation came of age. At the private, secular institution I attended, the culture was hedonistic in tone. It didn’t matter if the students were politically conservative or liberal, there seemed to be little appreciation of the natural law or of the genuine intellectual place of religion in human affairs. When it comes to the truths of human morality and the purpose of our existence, we are a generation that does not know what or why. No wonder, now that we are beginning to rule, that we vote for license and call it freedom. Women’s issues of a certain type seemed to loom large in this election. Of course Christians first of all should stand for the dignity of women. Catholic men, guided by a proper devotion the Blessed Mother, should fight fiercely so that their wives, mothers and daughters be respected in the work place and at home. But we seldom heard about the genuine good of women in the campaign commercials. It was almost always about contraception and abortion. How disgusting! Women’s rights are reduced to women’s degradation. Most commentators missed the irony. As Catholics we need to continue to proclaim the true dignity of women, divorcing the idea from sin and spurious rights. Even though arguments for the Church’s social vision can be presented philosophically to all people of good will, sometimes it’s important to call to mind the simplicity of the prophets. Election 2012 is a revelation of our distance from God. We are less inclined to take our Christian heritage seriously in shaping society. And the so-called religious voters too often denigrate the very aspects of Christian social thought that still have traction in the body politic: peace and social justice. This state of affairs was a long time in coming. Even the comparatively traditional values espoused by politicians a few years ago were perhaps only a cultural vestige – clung to publicly out of fear by those who had privately disavowed them. The solution is the same as it’s ever been: evangelize, but also perhaps suffer. Thus we Catholics will recover two core principles that we may have forgotten in recent years. The Gospel is precious and necessary. There is no alternative to it and we to whom it has been given must share it. And living it fully comes at a cost. We should not always expect praise when we witness to Christ. It is not time to be discouraged but call to mind the words of Jesus more than ever: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” (Matthew 5:13)

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