Friday, October 07, 2011

The Bishops' Guide to Better Voting

Like many in Chicago, I am all too familiar with the infamous S-curve on Lake Shore Drive. You can't miss it. But many do. It has been the scene of so many crashes and other incidents that the concrete walls along the road are covered with traces of paint left by cars scraping by, and the roadway is littered with fragments from head and tail-lights crushed into the gravel.

The S-curve should not be a surprise to any approaching driver. There are any number of signs: "Reduced Speed Ahead," S-curve graphics, a clearly posted speed-limit, horizontal white strips crossing all lanes. But enough drivers rely on their own gut instinct for that curve that the city keeps talking about ripping the road out and reconfiguring that bend permanently. Meanwhile, they keep the signs up.

Something like that happens every election year. The Catholic bishops of the US typically revise and re-release a document to shed the light of Church teaching on issues at play in the election. This year, the document has not been revised, but a new “introductory note” has been added to pre-empt those who would distort the bishops' nuanced positions, and to warn all Catholics not to reduce election year concerns to one or two issues.

According to the bishops, life issues are crucial for Catholic voters (abortion is singled out as an horrendous, “intrinsic evil”), but many life issues are related to key social issues that they also present in the light of Catholic tradition: family life, parental rights, the rights of workers and of immigrants, the environment, questions about the use of force, war, the death penalty... These concerns do not fit neatly into the categories of our two-party system.

In some ways, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” is like that set of road signs on Lake Shore Drive. It offers valuable advice and guidance in a society that is losing the capacity for critical and courteous discourse, but all the evidence indicates that (like Chicago's drivers) Catholic voters tend to trust their gut more than any published sign or document, no matter how carefully thought out.

That can't be a good thing.
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