Finding Faith Within Democracy

In his coverage of the 1972 presidential election between George McGovern and Richard Nixon, journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote that “the whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It’s come to the point where you almost can’t run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks.”

For as much as everything changes, so much stays the same.

Fear during election cycles is nothing new. This season’s relentless claims of dishonesty and nastiness are presaged throughout presidential campaigns as far back as the campaign in 1828 between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, which involved slander, mudslinging and a claim Adams went to church barefoot.

While anxiety runs high this season, there is a temptation for many to opt out of the entire affair. Even though the general unseemliness of the season seem like a good reason to opt out of the election, it ought to be a clarion call for every American to vote.

Through the teachings of the book “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius,”   individuals can attain deeper spiritual freedom and live as their unhindered and authentic selves through a specific disposition. This is required between a retreatant and spiritual director, known as the “presupposition.” Ignatius insists this relationship presupposes good will and trust in one another, even if the individuals do not necessarily agree.

It seems this basic presupposition can be applied to our current season in the nation. Amid the deluge of bitterness and cynicism with constant cries of deception and deceit, the supreme challenge is to recognize the imperfections of the system, but to presuppose the good at the core.

The temptation to give in to contempt, disquiet and discontent is real and glaring. It is our herculean mission to gaze on the trust in the good at the heart of our democratic system, and actively support that good.

At Mass this past Sunday in Dahlgren Chapel, Fr. John O’Malley, S.J., professor in the theology department, made the following appeal at the conclusion of the announcements. I share his most salient points on the necessity for all to vote this election season. My hope is that each of us takes his words to heart on Nov. 8.

“I have been a priest for over 55 years, and I’ve never done what I am doing now. But, in view of the seriousness of this presidential election, I feel ethically obliged to remind both you and myself of four basic points.

“One: It is our civic duty to vote, especially in presidential and congressional elections. Voting is an aspect of our moral obligation to work for the common good. In the history of Western civilization, democracies had been remarkably short-lived. The only way to ensure that ours continues is to participate in an informed way in the political process.

“Two: Despite the sometimes circus atmosphere of the current campaign, this is an extremely serious election, not only for our country but for the world at large because of the impact the American president has on world affairs.

“Three: To abstain from voting or to vote for a third-party candidate is not neutral. It takes a vote away from one of the two main candidates, one of whom is sure to be elected. Sometimes votes for a third-party candidate are appropriate gestures of protest, but in my opinion this election is no time to indulge in them.

“Four: We live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect politicians. Given that situation we have no choice but to vote for the candidate we judge less imperfect.”

 

Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., is the Roman Catholic chaplain. AS THIS JESUIT SEES IT appears every other Friday.

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