For years, Catholic Answers has produced a helpful voters’ guide on the five non-negotiable moral issues for Catholics. It is good but in the years since it was first produced, four more issues have come up that I think are worth adding to the list of non-negotiable moral issues. I will explain both what these issues are and why we need to add them. I will also mention a few issues that are important but negotiable.
First, the established five non-negotiable issues:
- Embryonic Stem-Cell Research.
- Human Cloning.
- Homosexual marriage.
Now, these four need to be added from my perspective.
The Catechism teaches in 2297, “Torture… is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” It is intrinsically evil and can never be done or condoned. It doesn’t matter if the person is the most horrid criminal, a mass-murderer or a child-molester, they still have inviolable human dignity. If we dehumanize criminals, we dehumanize all people.
I have already shown why waterboarding is torture and some are proposing even more severe forms of torture. Most who argue for torture, try to justify it using the false logic of ends justifying means. Just as we can’t murder an unborn child to avoid the trouble of raising it, we can’t torture a criminal to get information.
This is not simply whether the terrorist / thug / gangbanger deserves it but what torture does to the torturer and the whole society condoning his acts. Evil acts in general change the type of person we are – the type that would do those acts – but I think this is particularly strong regarding torture. Torture is a particularly heinous way to treat another human being, reducing his dignity below that of an animal or worm, making the one acting into worse than an animal, a certain distorted monstrous form.
Interestingly, non-torture interrogation has seemed to generally work better: Abu Jandal, the closest terrorist to Bin Laden ever captured, talked because he was given sugar-free cookies once the interrogators realized his diabetes. Whether it worked or not, torture would be immoral but this adds weight to an argument against it.
Civilian Casualties in Warfare
Catholics can legitimately disagree whether going to war somewhere will defend the innocent and whether it is possible to do so using other means. Certain aggressive wars could never even conceivably be justified but no major politician seems to propose this today.
Catholic teaching does not only tell us when we can go to war but tells us how we can conduct ourselves in war. Vatican II teaches (Gaudium et Spes 79): “The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.” This is where we have to be really careful.
The catechism briefly states in 2313, “Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely,” and in 2314 that indiscriminate destruction of civilian areas is immoral. A just execution of war requires avoiding civilian casualties at all possibility. Once we talk about things like carpet bombing whole civilian areas, we are far outside Catholic teaching. Evidently, this happened in World War II – this doesn’t make it moral. Likewise, killing non-combatants because their family members are terrorists doesn’t respect their human dignity and is far outside Catholic teaching on just war.
Killing civilians is not absolutely prohibited: a group of terrorists might have a missile factory beside a school and a leader can legitimately order the destruction of the missile factory knowing that some of these schoolchildren will also die as collateral damage. If a candidate proposes bombing whole neighbourhoods because a few terrorists live there, they will inevitably kill many more civilians than terrorists – in this case collateral damage seems too high. There is no mathematical level, like 1 terrorist for every civilian killed, where collateral damage is moral. Instead, collateral damage needs to always be avoided as much as possible.
Vatican II teaches in Dignitatis Humanae, “The human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion.” This paragraph continues to point out that no civil society, government, etc. can impede this right.
People have the right based on their conscience to not provide things against conscience, even more so when this is based on serious religious beliefs. A Catholic politician cannot force a Jew to sell pork or a Hindu to sell beef, cannot force a Muslim to eat during daylight in Ramadan or a Catholic to eat meat on Lenten Fridays.
This norm doesn’t just apply to accidental practices – it is all the more important in essential moral practices. If a politician is proposing that Catholic institutions have to provide contraception in their health plans, they are doubly going against Catholic teaching: both destroying the marital act and demeaning the conscience of the employer by forcing them against their conscience.
There are some limits – this regards when a religious practice is directly contrary to natural law. If a religion believes in human sacrifice, we are not obliged to permit them – in fact, we should reject that.
Religion is the center of man’s life. Therefore, the state is not above it and able to control it. The state must respect a person’s religion whatever that religion is.
Xenophobia, Racism or Classism
Christianity is all about joining people together not separating them. The Catechism’s glossary defines racism as “Unjust discrimination on the basis of a person’s race; a violation of human dignity, and a sin against justice.” It is important to note that “unjust” is here as we can make judgements that are based on realities. For example, a fire department discriminates based on strength: climbing a ladder with a big hose and carrying a man out of a burning building is essential to fire fighting. Likewise, an Italian cultural festival requirement that only Italian-Americans could participate in their “Strongest Italian in the Bronx” contest because it is a celebration of Italian heritage so only for Italians.
Vatican II told us in Gaudium et Spes 29, “Every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”
Some divisions can’t be overcome tomorrow. No matter what we all do, I doubt all racial division in the USA will be gone in 4 years, whoever is president. On the other hand, a politician who blames others for all problems on others based on race, religion, or class; who wants to create more division is definitely going against Church teaching in a way that is intrinsically evil. We cannot create division based on any artificial categories.
The Church has a preferential option for the poor but there is legitimate debate about how to achieve this among Catholic politicians. Economic policy is negotiable. I have heard Catholics argue for the economic policies of everyone from libertarians to hard core socialists using Catholic teachings – without making an obviously false analysis of the Church’s social and economic teaching. Instead the Church permits a wide range here.
Immigration policy in general depends on what we can legitimately handle today. If it is xenophobic or racist, there are problems but Catholics can disagree on how many the US can support is negotiable.
Catholics can’t be war mongering without reason, wanting war as a first option. But on particular cases Catholics can disagree on whether a particular war is a just war or not.
We should seek a politician with character but there is wide disagreement on the character of the various politicians. Generally this disagreement is about who’s worse, so few politicians have much character left.
Hopefully, these four additional non-negotiables help you in deciding who to vote for. In national elections it seems hard to find politicians respecting all nine of these non-negotiables but we can hold out hope for such politicians to arise.