Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke both recently characterized voting as a moral act with spiritual consequences.
The pope said that “decriminalizing abortion is a betrayal to democracy,” since he believes the procedure denies rights to the unborn. Burke called voting a “serious moral obligation” and added that Catholics “can never vote for someone who favors absolutely what’s called the ‘right to choice.'”
If Catholics largely disregard the church’s teaching (the 2008 Catholic vote for president went to pro-choice Obama), does what the pope says matter? Is voting a religious act or purely political?
I don’t often agree with the Pope. But when he recently characterized voting as “a moral act with spiritual consequences”, I have to agree with him–although I could hardly disagree more with his vision of morality.
I vote because my Pagan spirituality is rooted in this world and my morality is about defending a broad definition of life. I respect that others have views that differ from mine, and acknowledge that just and moral candidates can be found in every party and every end of the political spectrum. But in this election, we also see many campaigns and issues that pose clear moral choices. Bill Mollison, one of the founders of the permaculture movement, defines evil as “stupidity, rigorously applied”, and never has that definition seemed so apt as now.
Here’s how my moral compass is set:
I believe lying and hate-mongering are immoral.
I believe distorting the truth to protect one’s own interests is wrong.
I believe exploiting other people for one’s own benefit is immoral.
I believe that profiting from the destruction of nature is utterly, stupidly and short-sightedly wrong.
Right now the life-support systems of the planet are under assault from climate change, from oil spills and toxic spills and unbridled greed.
I live in California, where out-of-state oil billionaires are pushing Proposition 23, which would repeal the ground-breaking, positive steps we are taking to curb carbon emissions. I intend to vote No on 23, on its sister Proposition 26, which would have the effect of preventing polluters from being fined or held accountable.
In 2008, we as a nation took a giant step away from the prejudice and racism that have dogged our history. Since then, racism has raised its carping voice on a thousand cable shows and nipped the heels of progress. In this election, we see attempts to suppress the Latino vote and the black vote, to gain power by whipping up anti-immigrant frenzy, to poison our public discourse with lies and hate. I vote because I want those efforts to fail. I want the unlikely voters to stand up, confound the pundits, and show that we are a people who do truly believe in justice for all, not just those who look like us.
This year the Supreme Court struck down campaign finance reform laws and allowed a flood of corporate money to support candidates and buy unprecedented air time for their interests. We see billionaire candidates with no real qualifications for office other than wealth touting policies that would safeguard their privilege. I vote because I want them to lose. I want to see public servants in office who care about the public and who safeguard the interests of the poor and the middle-class. I want to see policies that I believe will best support a true democracy–one not ruled by money but by the real values of mutual aid and widespread opportunity. I want us to stop squandering our wealth on weapons and killing and start funding the things that actually make people’s lives better–health care, education, safety, research and infrastructure that will help us make the transition to a low-carbon, balanced world. Even though few candidates embody my own values completely, if I don’t vote I may hand over power by default to those whose values I abhor.
Yes, voting in this election is a spiritual act with profound moral consequences. Will we hand yet more power to the ultra-rich, to the voices of hate and bitterness, will we buttress the oil interests and the corporations at the expense of the earth and the rest of us, or will we surprise ourselves by showing up, standing up and asserting our fundamental decency?
This is the season of Samhain, of Halloween, the time when Witches say the veils between the worlds are thin and the ancestors come close and whisper in our ears. I’ll vote tomorrow, remembering what they spoke to me on Samhain night. I heard them say, “Hope is something that must be eternally renewed.”