Religion of the Lesser Evil

by Dr. Ed Berry

EXB150In Part 1, Logic of the Lesser Evil, we showed the Tea Party voting Mantra, “A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil”, is logically invalid.

Mantra voters who consider Republicans “the lesser evil” do “hate voting” for third-parties to punish Republicans, knowing they will thereby elect “the greater evil” Democrats. This is why Montana elected Democrats Jon Tester as US Senator and Steve Bullock as Governor in 2012. In 2014, Mantra voters may determine the balance of power in the US Senate.

In this Part 2, we review the tea party voting Mantra from the viewpoint of the major religions in America. The discussion shows an important twist to the Mantra that changes one’s outlook on voting, namely, focus on achieving the greater good rather than avoiding the lesser evil. View the glass as half full rather than half empty.

Historically, some very qualified philosophers have weighed in on the Mantra. Let’s see what they wrote about it.

Catholic position

The Catholic Church position is well documented in the works of their philosophers, Popes, Catechism, and authorized commentators.

Thomas á Kempis (ca. 1380–1471) wrote in his The Imitation of Christ, Third Book, Chapter 12:

  1. “Of two evils we should always choose the less.”

Dan Graves writes of Kempis in his “Lesser of Two Evils”:

In the twelfth chapter of the Imitation, á Kempis admonishes his readers to master their passions here and now, regardless of any suffering this entails. Our goal must not be to escape trials, but to be strong in them, he says. He has Christ say to the soul, “If you say that you cannot suffer much, how will you endure the fire of purgatory?

Of two evils, the lesser is always to be chosen. Therefore, in order that you may escape the everlasting punishments to come, try to bear present evils patiently for the sake of God.”

St. Thomas Aquinas enunciated this principle in his Summa Theologica where he reversed the negative view into a positive view and he directs one’s focus on the result of an action (ST I-II q13, a5):

Reply Obj. 1: Consequently the perfect act of the will is in respect of something that is good for one to do. Now this cannot be something impossible. Wherefore the complete act of the will is only in respect of what is possible and good for him that wills.

Reply Obj. 2: Since the object of the will is the apprehended good, we must judge of the object of the will according as it is apprehended.

Thomas Aquinas advised us to focus on achieving the possible good rather than upon preventing a lesser evil. He says our moral duty is to achieve as much good as possible from every situation, including our vote. He says we cannot achieve good by acting on something that is impossible, like voting for a third-party candidate.

Blessed Pope John Paul II applied this principle in his Evangelium Vitae (73) (The Encyclicals of John Paul II and The Genius of John Paul II) where he says it is legitimate for a legislator to vote for a more restrictive law regarding abortion over a less restrictive law. He wrote:

“This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects, in order to prevent worse legislation from being adopted.”

Pope John Paul said circumstances can create a compelling reason to vote for the so-called lesser of two evils if we can help prevent worse evils from occurring.

Colin Donovan writes in the National Catholic Register, Is there a Lesser of Two Evils?:

This was not a new teaching by John Paul or applicable solely to legislators, but the application of long-standing principles of moral theology.

Jesuit moralist Father Henry Davis wrote in the 1930s,

“It is sinful to vote for the enemies of religion or liberty, except to exclude a worse candidate, or unless compelled by fear of great personal harm, relatively greater than the public harm at stake.”

Donovan describes when it is both moral and necessary to vote for a “lesser of two evils”:

A persistent question arises every election cycle among Catholics: Is it ever justified to vote for the lesser of two evils, that is, for a candidate who does not hold the Church’s teaching on abortion, but whose position is less extreme than another candidate’s?

The controversial, but authentic, answer is: Yes, you may so vote.

Confusion first arises from the common name used for the moral principle at play: the lesser of two evils. This often-used name suggests something true: that in voting for the candidate with the less extreme position there is clearly the appearance of voting for the evil that he or she would allow.

Donovan agrees with our Logic of the Lesser Evil when he writes:

The lesser-of-two-evils name does not, however, accurately reflect what the voter does in making such a voting choice. We can see this by looking at Catholic teaching about the elements of every morally good act (Catechism 1750-1761): the object (what is done), the intention (why it is done) and the circumstances (the when, where, how it is done).

The first of these is the object of the will: To what is the will directed in the choice being made? This object must always be good or the act is immoral at its root.

What would be the object in voting for an imperfect candidate? It would be to limit the evil that a more extreme candidate would do.

Father Davis affirmed this in noting that such a vote is justified, made morally possible, by the need to exclude a worse candidate — one whom he places among the “enemies of religion and liberty.” Other theologians of the period speak of “enemies of morality.”

Donovan concludes:

It is therefore quite clear from the moral theology tradition and specific magisterial teaching that a Catholic may vote for a candidate who does not wholly embrace Catholic teaching on the non-negotiable issues.

This can be done:

  1. In order to limit the evil that would result if a worse candidate on these issues were elected;
  2. Provided that this is predominately the intention of voting (other good but lesser motives may also be present); and
  3. That the other candidate is indeed worse, and any scandal caused by the appearance of voting for evil is corrected, such as by explaining Catholic teaching and one’s full adherence to it.

A comment by ANNE summarizes Donovan’s conclusions:

  1. All Catholic citizens are obligated to VOTE (per the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
  2. No Catholic can support a politician who supports INTRINSIC EVIL.
  3. Intrinsic Evil includes:  Abortion, Euthanasia, Homo-sexual Marriage, denying Freedom of Religion.
  4. If both candidates support intrinsic evils, always vote for the candidate who will do the least harm. This is true not only of National elections, but State and Local elections as well. Elections effect our families, our daily lives and society. Politicians have the authority to appoint judges, administrators and others who will promote the values of the elected politician.

You can read more about the Catholic position on voting in Moral Duties Concerning Voting and Christian voters’ moral dilemma: The lesser of two evils?

Lutheran Position

The Lutheran position is found in the writing of Pastor Adam Moline of Immanuel and St John Lutheran Churches in Hankinson, ND. He writes:

… don’t base your vote on the reported “religion” of the person running for office, instead vote for the person you believe will do the better job caring for your earthly needs.

In the secular earthly kingdom, faith is not the chief measure.  Luther himself famously said, “I’d rather be ruled by a smart Turk then a dumb Christian.”  In other words, keep religion out of politics, and trust that God will do His work no matter who is in charge.

Presbyterian Position

The Presbyterian position is derived from its official Testimony by Douglas W. Comin, who writes:

The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Chapter 23, paragraph 15) says,

“The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government.”

Can a Christian cast his vote, then, for a candidate who does not meet the biblical criteria defined in Exodus 18:21 and echoed in the Reformed Presbyterian Testimony?

What if none of the candidates pass the Scriptural test?

Should the Christian choose between the “lesser of two evils”?

If we understand the representative nature of civil government to be man-centered, then we are justified in choosing between the lesser of two evils based upon which of them will most consistently meet our personal agenda for the nation.

Baptist Position

The Baptist position is presented by Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, who said in an interview by The Daily Caller :

 “Sometimes voting for a candidate is voting for the lesser of two evils … Jesus isn’t on the ballot this year, so we have to make choices.”

“As a Christian, I want to compare a candidate’s positions to biblical positions and I believe the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage and religious liberty are key issues in this election cycle … That’s why I think Mitt Romney is preferable to Barack Obama.”

 Evangelist position

The Evangelist position is presented by Reverend Mark Creech in this post:

As we rapidly approach Election Day, I’ve heard a number of my friends say that they just can’t vote for the lesser of two evils. They will neither support Obama or Romney for president; instead they’ll support a third party candidate or they won’t vote.

I personally believe Christians should think very carefully about the prospect of another four years of an Obama presidency versus that of a Romney presidency.

Obama and Biden … have put forward the most anti-Christian public-policy agenda of any presidential administration in American history.

I do not believe it is in the slightest hyperbole to argue that to vote for Obama, or to waste one’s vote on a third party candidate, when such a candidate cannot possibly be elected, only further jeopardizes this nation to the probability of God’s judgment.

Yes, Romney is the lesser of two evils for many conscientious followers of Christ. But it is also true … There will never come a day when any one politician or political party will embrace biblical values perfectly.

Calvinist position

Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante write in the Calvinist International:

Your pastor and your friends warn you of the danger of voting for the “lesser of two evils,” and whatever the wisdom of their counsel, you are right, I think, to admire their moral rigor. Hold on to that admiration: although my counsel will differ from theirs …

And your professor, who tells you that we must vote for the lesser of two evils, is correct insofar as he maintains we must be actively working for the good of the city, and that some prudential compromise is necessary.

Christians are bound by reason and revelation to care actively for the common good and to work for it, and thus, in democracies, voting can be and usually is to be used insofar as it serves that end.

In politics, we seek the common good. As citizens of a republic, we aim to elect leaders whose prudence we trust with regard to the common good.

Christians should be careful not to measure magistrates by an unqualified standard of spotless private virtue.

One must vote for the man who one thinks will effect the greatest good.

Church Summary

  • The Catholic Church gives very clear directions that Catholics must vote to achieve the most possible good even if that means voting for the “lesser of two evils”.
  • The Lutheran Church advises to vote for the person who will do the better job caring for our earthly needs, even if this person is the “lesser of two evils”.
  • The Presbyterian Church advises to vote for the candidate who will most consistently meet our personal agenda for the nation, even if this candidate is the “lesser of two evils”.
  • A Baptist minister advises voting for the “lesser of two evils” candidate if this is necessary to achieve the greater good.
  • An Evangelical minister advises voting for the “lesser of two evils” Romney because a vote for Obama or a third party candidate further jeopardizes this nation.
  • Calvinist representatives argue we must vote for the lesser of two evils if it is necessary to achieve the greater good.

Conclusions

The Catholic Church and six Protestant churches for which we found information all support voting for the “lesser of two evils” in order to achieve the greater good, and thereby contradict the tea party voting Mantra.

The comment by ANNE summarizes the Catholic position which is similar to the advice given by the other religions reviewed here:

  1. All Catholic citizens are obligated to VOTE (per the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
  2. No Catholic can support a politician who supports INTRINSIC EVIL.
  3. Intrinsic Evil includes:  Abortion, Euthanasia, Homo-sexual Marriage, denying Freedom of Religion.
  4. If both candidates support intrinsic evils, always vote for the candidate who will do the least harm. This is true not only of National elections, but State and Local elections as well. Elections effect our families, our daily lives and society. Politicians have the authority to appoint judges, administrators and others who will promote the values of the elected politician.

The doctrines of all these churches are in clear opposition to the Tea Party voting Mantra.

The Tea Party voting Mantra, “A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil” is invalid from the viewpoints of logic, science, religion, and philosophy.

Many Tea Party people profess to be Christians. If the Tea Party voting Mantra did not come from any of the major Christian religions, where did it come from? If you have any information on the origin of the Mantra, please add your comment.

Tea party third-party voters who support the Mantra are not fundamentally a political party. They are a minority “religion” that believes in the Mantra and uses it to help elect Democrats.

No amount of advertising or persuasion will convert these third-party voters to vote Republican. The only way to change their vote is to help them understand that their Mantra is anti-logic, anti-science, anti-religion, and it causes the creation of more evil.

In Radicals and the Lesser Evil, we will show the origin of the “lesser of evils” concept in America and identify groups that support the Mantra. We will look at how Mantra voters collect their data from which they draw conclusions about the “evilness” of political candidates.

2 thoughts on “Religion of the Lesser Evil”

  1. One of the problems we face in this country and Europe, is the fact we Christians fight with each other. Most of my hard line Protestant friends hate the Catholics and the Mormons . I could care less what Christian religion you are, as long as you follow the Ten Commandments . According to the last census, some thing like 90% of Americans reported they were Christians, if this was true, this Country would be not be in debt , there would be no abortion, there would be no latch key children, there would be very little divorce. Mothers would stay home rearing her children, and fathers would have jobs.

  2. According to the last census, some thing like 90% of Americans reported they were Christians. Like I said before, if all Americans were Christ like, we would not need all of our the stupid laws. We would not need 90% of all lawyers and judges. We would not need all the cops we now have. Congress could pass maybe one law per week, instead of 50 laws per week. Congress would only meet one week out of the month.

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