Thursday, January 3, 2008

Prudential Judgments

The blog, Catholics For Ron Paul, took a bit of a break today from their candidacy advocacy to address the question of whether Catholics must vote. The question was spurred by a news article quoting a bishop that seemed to imply that the principle of voting for "the lesser of two evils" is a moral obligation rather than a statement of what might be morally permissible.

I'll assume for the moment that the Bishop has been correctly understood. If that's the case, I think he has made an error. But it raised for me some thoughts I have long mulled about the odd way in which we tend to approach the prudential judgments of the Church. Some like to use their prudential character as an excuse to dismiss them. But others, and this to me seems to go with less scrutiny, univeralize that prudential judgment into a rule. It provoked the following comment from me:
As a follow-up, this is something that has troubled me for so long about how Catholics approach matters of prudential judgment. When the Church speaks in its prudential wisdom on a point, it should of course be listened to and given serious attention. But, as it is precisely a matter of prudential judgment, I think it is patently wrong for Catholics to take the statement of the Church's prudential wisdom and universalize it into a rule. I suppose I'd prefer they do that than universalize another judgment into a rule, as I have a greater confidence in the approach and seriousness that the Church brings to these matters than most. But that still should be recognized as a mistake. Because the church can't, by offering up its prudential judgment, remove from the question its prudential nature. Meaning, we still must exercise our own judgment. No one can take away from us the responsibility to stand before a situation, look at it as it really is, and with all our wisdom and good counsel, respond. In some cases, that might consist of verifying whether a given circumstance fits the reasons offered up by the Church and whether the Church's conclusions about those reasons are true. But we cannot escape the need to take responsibility to verify and render judgments. As much as so many would like, consciously or subconsciously. I don't care how good the schema is, it's still a schema and not exercise of actual judgment. Frankly, I fear this is one of the things Catholics would understand better if they understood that this responsibility extends to the faith itself, that the Church only proposes and invites us to verify the claims it makes about Christ and our lives.

This is in part what I was getting at in my prior post. I think too many people are looking for a schema; something that will help them avoid actually having to exercise judgment about their situation. And unfortunately, in their effort to offer guidance, sometimes the Bishops present things (or the people take them and run with them) in a way that distorts them into a schema.

Unfortunately, I think that's part of what has happened here. A syllogism was created. We have a co-responsibility for the common good and voting is a way to exercise it. Therefore not voting is a failure to exercise our co-responsibility for the common good. Problem is, logically, that doesn't follow. It may be that not voting is a failure to exercise our co-responsibility for the common good and, when speaking about apathy, I think that's right. But it is not inherently so that not voting is always a failure to exercise our co-responsibility for the common good. Facts matter. A contextual judgment needs to be made.

That's life. Unfortunately, many would prefer something simpler than life.

I'd be interested in others thoughts.

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