how the world goes

Voting is hard for me. My ethical orientation is best described as a version of the consistent life ethic, or “seamless garment” ethic, articulated most forcefully and cogently by certain Catholic thinkers. But (a) there has never been nor is there ever likely to be a political candidate at a level above dogcatcher who embodies that stance, and (b) I have some serious libertarianish reservations about whether the government — especially in a pluralistic society — is the institution best suited to implementing such an ethic. As I understand my situation, all this means that I, as a Christian who owes allegiance to the church, am necessarily something of a resident alien in any country and in any polity; and I think it also means that almost any vote I make needs to be something of a protest vote — a protest against a society which simply does not support a consistently pro-life ethic.

I don’t understand my fellow Christians who are enthusiastic Republicans; I don’t understand the ones who are enthusiastic Democrats either. When I try to talk to either group about the ways their preferred party upholds — indeed, even celebrates — policies that simply cannot be reconciled with Christian teaching, I get the same shrug. Yes, they are certainly more “realistic” than I am; they may have a better understanding of what it means to live in a fallen and broken world. But they are all too sanguine for me. They aren’t sad enough. There aren’t enough — I recently taught the Aeneid, which brings this line to mind — there aren’t enough lachrimae rerum, tears for how the world goes.

In previous election seasons my distress largely focused on Christians who voted Republican; this time it’s Christians who are voting Democratic — most of the Christians I know, it seems. “I’m voting for Obama — but I’m still pro-life! I still think abortion is a great moral evil!” they tell me, and I just want to ask, “How?” I know that some could give me a good answer, but most can't: for them it’s just a performative utterance — “If I say I’m pro-life, that counts as being pro-life.” But it doesn’t cost you anything, does it? You still get to sit at the table with the other cool kids who voted for Obama.

Now, seriously, I understand the core claim: Obama supports abortion, but he will implement policies X Y and Z that by reducing poverty will reduce the frequency of abortions; plus he will save lives by getting us out of Iraq. Fair enough. But you’re voting for someone who strongly supports eliminating every legal impediment to something that you think is a great moral evil. Doesn’t that make you somewhat uncomfortable? Don’t you feel the paradox of that?

I voted for Bob Barr for President, by the way, something I probably wouldn’t have done if he had any chance to win. A strange way to vote, I’m sure, but it’s the only way I can manage it. Could be cowardly, a way to avoid responsibility — whoever wins, I can say, “hey, not my guy” — I don't know. I’m just sad about the whole situation. Sunt lachrimae rerum indeed.

UPDATE: Russell Arben Fox gets the paradox I was talking about. John Schwenkler agrees.