Be Strong, It’s Election Time
It’s hard being an American Catholic in an election year. Humans are tribal, and American political parties—and factions thereof—are sometimes brutally tribal. If you’re not a member of the tribe, you’re looked on with distaste, disdain, contempt, fear, and worse. Such polarization makes it easy to show what tribe you belong to. Unfortunately, this means we sometimes end up outsourcing our beliefs to the tribe. This is, in part, what psychologists call the “liking bias.” We like our own ideas, and we like the ideas of people who are like us.
Liking bias causes the tribe to cluster closer together. If you agree with a party on two issues, liking bias may guide your opinion on the third. But if you looked at that third idea in isolation, you might have a different opinion.
The Church is tribeless. Jesus came for everyone: slave, free; female, male; Democrat, Republican; liberal, conservative. Church teachings cross tribes.
That’s one reason why being an American Catholic is a challenge. Church teachings don’t fit neatly into political categories. We’re always a bit out of step with the tribes. Jim Auer’s dozenplus books include Handbook for Today’s Catholic Teen (Liguori, 2004). Jim writes for Liguorian regularly; he is a retired English and religion teacher. Fr. William J. Byron, SJ, an American priest of the Society of Jesus, holds two theology degrees, a doctorate in economics, and has authored more than a dozen books. Barbara Hughes has a master’s degree in formative spirituality from Duquesne University. She is a columnist for The Catholic Virginian, a retreat facilitator, a spiritual educator and director, and a writer.
Take three polemical political issues: abortion, capital punishment, and gun control. To political tribes, they are three separate issues. Depending on your tribe, you can be for or against each one without regard to the others. You can easily belong to a party that rejects capital punishment and opposes restrictions on abortions. Or vice versa.
But to Catholics, those issues are part of a larger moral imperative: the value of life. The Church opposes abortion and capital punishment. And in recent years, bishops have called for gun control under the aegis of our pro-life belief.
For example, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago wrote last year in a guest commentary in the Chicago Tribune: “We must band together to call for gun-control legislation. We must act in ways that promote the dignity and value of human life. And we must do it now.”
Does this mean that Catholics should support rounding up all guns? Hardly. But it does mean we need to apply a higher level of consideration to a complex issue, assessing gun control through a pro-life lens, rather than accepting automatically what the tribe tells us to believe.
It’s hard being an American Catholic in an election year.
It should be.