A popular meme has a person exclaiming “Don’t confuse me with the facts – my mind is already made up!”
I’ve thought of that a lot during this election cycle because it reminds me of an important warning from Pope Benedict XVI, “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell… it falls prey to… subjective emotions and opinions, the word ‘love’ is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite…” (Caritas in Veritate, 3).
Without truth love degenerates into subjective emotions and opinions – into mere sentimentality. It is distorted and abused to the point that it comes to mean the exact opposite. This echoes the Catechism, which tells us that emotions and passions can lead to either good or evil (CCC 1767, 1772-75). In other words, they cannot be trusted to lead us to the truth by themselves.
In one of his first audiences Pope Francis built on this theme when he noted that “God is not something vague or abstract, but has a name: ‘God is love,’” and this love “is not sentimental, not emotion” (Vatican, May 26, 2013).
Yet it seems that most political discussion today focuses on emotional appeals and subjective opinions. On one Catholic Facebook page someone asked if anyone could clarify the actual policy differences between two of the leading candidates. What followed was a series of nearly two dozen posts that never even mentioned either candidates’ policies. Instead there were comments like, “I just feel like this candidate… In my opinion this one has… But I feel like this one cares more…” as if feelings and opinions were in and of themselves guides to truth or valid criteria for deciding who to vote for.
As Catholics we are called to be salt and light in our society, in other words, to help preserve it and to show the way of truth within it. But if we rely on subjective emotions and opinions to guide us in our political decisions, we “lose our saltiness, and are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled” (Mt 5:13-15).
Thus the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) cautioned that “American Catholics have long sought to assimilate into U.S. cultural life. But, in assimilating, we have too often been digested. We have been changed by our culture too much, and we have changed it not enough” (Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, 24).
St. John Paul II further warned that “Freedom negates and destroys itself, and… lead[s] to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects… the truth. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining… The democratic ideal… is betrayed in its very foundations…”
“This is what is happening [in]… politics and government… In this way democracy… moves towards… totalitarianism. The state is… transformed into a tyrant state, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose… of the weakest and most defenseless members” (“Evangelium Vitae”, 19-20).
So it is no surprise that the most recent Rasmussen poll found that 65 percent of Americans believe our country is on the wrong track and 81 percent believe that the federal government is corrupt (Feb. 8, 2015). Yet as the USCCB pointed out, in a Democracy “We get the public officials we deserve. Their virtue – or lack thereof – is a judgment not only on them, but on us” (Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge… 33).
The good news is that the margin of victory over the last seven presidential elections has averaged only 5.2 percent and Catholics still make-up fully 22 percent of the population. Thus we have it within our power to change things for the good. As Pope Benedict XVI noted, Lent is “a time when we must make up our minds and decide to accept our own responsibilities… It is the time for mature decisions” (Vatican, Feb. 25, 2012). It is time for us to make our political decisions based on the truth that sets us free (Jn 8:32), rather than on subjective emotions and opinions. In future articles we will provide practical tools for doing this.
John LaBarbara is an author, speaker, adjunct professor of Scripture and Apologetics, and Founder of the Center for Advanced Leadership Consulting and Catechetics (CALC Inc.) john@Reasons-for-Hope.com, Twitter: @JohnLaBarbara