Voting with the Mind of Christ #3: On the Myth of the Five Non-Negotiables
Josh Billings, as I said yesterday, remarked that the trouble ain’t what people don’t know. It’s what they know that ain’t so.
Case in point, the other day somebody on Facebook was having a conversation about the possibility of voting for Brian Carroll of the American Solidarity Party. A pro-Trump woman chimed in and complained to the poster that he was “sowing disunity”. What she meant was that All Good Catholics had a moral obligation to support Trump and not “rob him of our vote” by voting third party.
I replied that I was unaware that voting for Donald Trump was now one of the Four Marks of the Church.
She replied to me that “the Catechism” teaches that you are morally obliged to vote for the candidate who has a chance of winning, not a third party candidate. I asked her where the Catechism taught that.
After some silence, I went ahead and provided her with everything the Catechism actually says about voting. Here it is:
2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.
The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”
Where did she get her idea from? Internet chatter from MAGA Catholics, of course. She had no idea what the Catechism said about voting, nor that it says so little.
Not that it says nothing about forming our conscience. It says plenty about that. But a lot of the stuff Catholics think the Church teaches it just doesn’t.
And the biggest myth of them all is the “Five Non-Negotiables”.
My guess is that most “faithful conservative Catholics” believe the so-called “Five Non-Negotiables” of voting holds something close to dogmatic status in the Church. This is the contention that five issues–abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning–are The Most Important Moral Issues and that all voting must be done with them as the Top (and, in practice, Only) Priority.
I cannot tell you how many times I heard this from Catholics, coupled with the serene assurance that this is “magisterial teaching.”
The Five Non-Negotiables originates, not from the Magisterium, but from a Voter Guide issued by Catholic Answers in 2004. It is apostolic tradition newer than the Backstreet Boys. It has absolutely no relationship with the teaching office of the Church. It’s just what some Catholics at Catholic Answers want you to do.
My own sense is that the pamphlet was issued with the idea of prioritizing these issues, not with the intention of cancelling all the rest of Catholic moral teaching.
But that, alas, is precisely the effect this pernicious myth has had. Under the influence of the increasingly demented MAGA Qatholic Cult, the notion has taken root that these issues are not merely top priority, but the only things that matter and that all attempts to consider any other moral issues the Church teaches about are actually attacks on the 5NN.
Indeed, under the influence of a demented Republican rite soteriology, the working assumption has increasingly become “Opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the Right.” So Eric Sammons of Catholic Vote urges us to abandon being prolife altogether for the insane reason that any interest in the dignity of any form of human life other than the unborn “dilutes and fractures the brand”.
Such thinking is the culmination of a long process of catechesis designed to detach Catholics from listening to the whole counsel of the Church. It began 35 years ago with the rejection of the perfectly Catholic doctrine of the Seamless Garment. That idea embodies the normative Catholic “both/and” approach to moral questions in which we learn that people can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. You can oppose abortion and torture. You can reject euthanasia and argue for a living wage for workers. You can fight for racial equality and say that unborn children have the right to life. You can reject the death penalty for both criminals and people with Down Syndrome.
The simple principle at work in Catholic moral thinking is that most things are related, not opposed.
The simplistic principle in all heretical thought is that only one thing matters and everything else must be burned to ashes on the altar of that one thing. And the more good and important that one thing is, the more any attempt to see good in anything else is seen as an attack on that one monomaniac good.
This is why Arianism is the archetypal heresy. It took the greatest conceivable Good–God the Father–and weaponized him into a hand grenade against the rest of the Godhead. In the same way, the MAGA “prolife” movement has now done this with the unborn child, turning them into weapons against every form of life the MAGA cult wants to rob, harm, denigrate, and kill.
It began by pitting the unborn against, not relating them to, all the forms of human life that Seamless Garment teaching seeks to defend. Over and over, the trick was simple: any aspect of the Church’s teaching that stood in the way of GOP rapaciousness was “liberal” and therefore was really a mask on the face of “babykillers”. The 27 other things that JPII discussed as issues pertaining to the sanctity of human life in Evangelium Vitae in 1995 got whittled down to the 5NN by 2004. During the Bush era, if you opposed unjust war or torture, it was because you were “secretly pro-abortion”. Likewise any talk of anything from a living wage to abolishing capital punishment to gun control was dismissed as a sneak attack on the 5NN.
Indeed, even the 5NN got whittled down to suit GOP needs. Human cloning vanished as an issue because nobody is doing it. Embryonic stem cell research disappeared with the “prolife” propaganda machine because Bush 43 approved it and McCain wanted it. So this allegedly “non-negotiable” issue simply was removed from the table because it was more important, as ever, that Christians be good soldiers for the GOP than that their alleged “non-negotiable principles” take priority over GOP political demands.
Gay marriage was allegedly a top priority until Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy (who also deeply entrenched our abortion regime in 1992 with the Casey decision) wrote the Obergefell decision and–to the deep relief of the GOP–legalized gay marriage. It too vanished without a trace as some kind of “non-negotiable” and it became fine to vote for Republicans (though not Democrats) who supported it or remained almost entirely mute on the matter.
What really mattered, of course, was GOP power at any cost. So the Good Soldiers again buried their alleged “non-negotiable” principles and soldiered on in the hunger for GOP power.
Euthanasia was next to be sacrificed on the altar of power. The first way the MAGA cult killed it as a “non-negotiable” was by going to war with its hated enemy: Pope Francis. Francis, following the lead of his predecessors JPII and B16, definitively revised the Catechism to call for the abolition of the death penalty, whereby we put undesireables out of our misery. The idea the Church advocates is very simple: don’t kill people if you don’t have to. We don’t have to kill people on death row, so don’t.
But the Cult clings to the idea of killing people as often as it can get away with it. It insists on the false idea that if they are guilty of something, then we get to kill them. Indeed, many of them insist on it so much that they even defend the idea that the murder of victims by police (such as George Floyd) means that we get to kill them if we can find any flimsy pretext:
Because of this notion that we get to kill people if they are guilty of something, the Cult went to war with Francis over capital punishment. And what that inevitably meant in ours, the biggest prison system on planet Earth, where about 4% of those on death row are guilty of no crime and are falsely imprisoned, is that the Cult is willing to euthanize 4 innocents out of 100 death row prisoners as human sacrifices in order to satisfy their blood lust against the 96 other people who do not need to be killed. And that Cult is willing to fight the Church in order to do it.
Note the sleight of hand at work. The cult says that we need to be focusing on the 5NN. But in fact, the time and energy goes not to defending any of those things, but to making war on the Church in order to enact GOP policies in direct contradiction to the Church’s teaching. So we find Opus Dei superstar Bill Barr resuscitating the death penalty the Church condemns while the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (run, in part, by Opus Dei supernumerary Austin Ruse) gives him the Christifidelis Laici (Christ’s Faithful Laity) Award as a prize for taking a dump on the Church’s teaching.
But, of course, the real zeal for euthanasia in the traditional sense–ie. murdering the weak and not just the guilty–has only taken off this year as the MAGA Cult has gotten behind the Trump administration’s push to murder the vulnerable by screaming about “oppression” for having to wear a mask, casually suggesting that granny needs to be sacrificed to Mammon and the economy, and pushing to cram children back into public school petri dishes because the pandemic makes Trump look bad. The MAGA cult is now full-on in favor of euthanasia for all sorts of lebensunwertes leben and pushes for the death panels it once accused its enemies of desiring.
So with the elimination of euthanasia we are basically down to abortion as the core “non-negotiable”. And the central lie the MAGA Qatholic cult is screaming at the top of its lungs this election is that the choice we face is between The Most Prolife President in the History of Ever and a “Pro-Abortion Radical” whose election means…. something never quite specified BUT PRETTY DAMN AWFUL AND YOU WILL HAVE BLOOD ON YOUR APOSTATE HANDS IF YOU VOTE FOR HIM!!!!!
That is, in every detail, a bald-faced lie and no Catholic needs to believe or accept it.
Of which more tomorrow.