My latest post, The Lesser of Two Evils, resulted in quite the controversy. I had a feeling about that, so I wasn’t completely surprised. I really hesitated to publish it because I knew the topic was so loaded. I have compiled a list of arguments against my position, and I’d like to take the time to respond to each of those.
1) A person must use the “lesser of two evils” principle and vote for the candidate who has the best chance of winning.
I don’t see why this is necessary. We are called to do what is right. As long as we do what is right, we are not responsible for the successful or failure of it. Example: We are commanded to worship in a God-centered way and not cater to the desires of the world in worship, even if that means our churches are not mega-churches and even if that means we don’t appear to be successful in this world. We just do what God says and trust Him to prosper it as He desires. I deeply oppose the idea of acting solely on practicality or pragmatism. To be honest, I don’t care what works, I care about doing what is right. What else can we do? How can we claim to know what is going to “work”? What does that mean? How can we gage success? A mega-church is successful in the eyes of the world but is not necessarily successful to God. We are on shaky ground by being pragmatic because “success” and “what works” are such subjective terms. As I stated in my blog post, I personally believe it is not right for me to support a candidate such as Romney, for the reasons that I explained in the post. I don’t care how electable he is, that is irrelevant to my judgement. I cannot in good conscience support him.
2) Not voting is the same as doing nothing.
Not voting is not giving up on trying to make any change. Maybe I should have elaborated on my original statement. I said, “Voters can complain about evil because they voted for the lesser of two evils, when others refused to support evil at all?” I should have also pointed out that those who refuse to support evil at all often go on to support good and promote positive change that will make a difference. This includes education of the public and raising public awareness of what the government is doing. This includes presenting ideas for alternative forms of government/society to make people realize this two-party system is not the only thing possible. And just because there are these two candidates offered to us doesn’t mean God necessarily wants us to support either of them. The Founding Fathers could have said, “well, God gave us this king, so that’s the way God wants it to be, we must have a monarchy.” Instead they acted according to their consciences, even though it meant upsetting the norm, the status quo that had literally existed for hundreds of years. Just because something is reality now doesn’t mean that’s what God ordained for the future. He ordained that the Founding Fathers rebel against England. While I’m not saying I believe this is what God wants or what should happen, why could it not be that He ordained for the country to rebel next year? Maybe His plan is to completely change the status quo in America. So do we have the right to argue that everyone must absolutely do all they can to maintain the current form of government because this is God’s will? We can’t know His will. Again, it comes back to doing what we believe is right and trusting in the sovereignty of God to do what He pleases with the situation.
3) It is our duty to vote.
Where does this duty come from? Who commands me to vote? Where is this law? I’ve thought a lot about it and as I see it, there are a few possible answers.
i) The Constitution is the law of the land and hence we are to vote.
I have two objections against this. (Note: I think I read way too many Puritans, my posts are almost ridiculously complex, haha)
Objection One: The Constitution applies to the government, not the citizens. The Constitution has nothing to say about what the people can and cannot do, it essentially says what the government can do. It doesn’t say that every American citizen must vote. So, our duty cannot come from the Constitution as it has nothing to do with what our responsibilities are but rather how the government is supposed to be formed and ordered.
Objection Two: Even if the Constitution said, “Every American citizen must participate in the elections” I would still question this, because who agreed to this law? Who signed the Constitution? The Founding Fathers. Was I asked if I agreed to performing these duties? What if there was some document that a group of people signed back in the 1700’s that said, “All American Citizens must observe Pi Day by baking a pie.” Ok, so…? What legitimacy does that have over me? What appeal does that have to the general moral law or the Common Law which most people recognize? It is pure absurdity. I could make any law I want and say everyone needs to follow it, but what difference does that make?
ii) We have a duty to vote because we are American citizens.
This is related to the argument above, but less clear. I don’t know how it is that we have this nebulous obligation to do something simply because of the place of our birth. To be clear, I believe in negative obligations to fellow humans, I believe we have the obligation to not encroach on them, to not harm them or their property. But this doesn’t obligate me to perform any actions for anyone. This is one of the argument against national healthcare, no one has the “right” to force someone else to perform any actions for them. To say I must vote, you’re saying someone has the right to receive my vote. What happened to the right to life, liberty, and property? Let’s take this to the logical conclusion. If I have an obligation to vote and I refuse to do it, why not force me? Why not come to my house, take me to the polls, and physically force me to choose a name on a piece of paper? If this is a moral issue, then why not make me perform it? And if that is the case, then we might as well forget about the whole “right to life, liberty, and property” idea because it is no longer valid. Again, as I said above, we have negative duties (such as the duty to not kill other people) but to say we have positive duties is to make us slaves, essentially. It is saying that some other person or group of people have the right to the fruit of my labor, even if it is just a completed ballot slip. It is saying that someone has the right to make me take a specific action. I don’t see this being Biblical or at all consistent with the ideology of liberty.
And to be clear, I also think that all people have a positive obligation to God. I believe all people ought to worship God, to serve Him, love Him, submit to Him, etc…but that does not give me the right to force them to do so. I believe that God will judge all of us and that it is not my place to force people to attend church or perform any actions, even though they are commanded by God.
iii) We have a duty to vote because the Bible says so.
Again, I ask, where does the Bible say this? Considering that there were no democracies in the time of the New Testament, I think not. There is not explicit command to vote, so I don’t see how it could be a Biblical command on the same moral level as the Ten Commandments. The verse “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” says nothing about voting. Remember, Jesus is talking about a Caesar, not a President, so I doubt if His audience would have interpreted this to mean, “oh, I guess we should go vote then!” Someone can say that they believe voting is one way to fulfill the more general commandments of the Bible, but I do not believe any person has the authority to bind the conscience of any other individual by saying we have a moral duty to vote since the Bible does not explicitly command it. You can infer it from certain passages. You can say, the Bible commands us to be good stewards and voting is one way I believe we can be good stewards. But you cannot say that the Bible commands us to be good stewards, therefore every American must vote. The thing just does not logically follow. Some people argue that we ought to recycle and “go green” because this is how we are good stewards. Ok. I can understand that. But does that mean we sin by not recycling? Does that mean we are morally obligated to have a “green” lifestyle? Does that mean we can be forced to recycle because this is the right action? Absolutely not. This is far from Biblical, this is using the Bible to reach conclusions that don’t necessarily follow from Scripture.
Or one could argue that since the government is taking our money, we ought to vote because we should try to have a say in how it is used. Well, why not vote for Ron Paul then, who has always said that he would abolish the income tax if elected president, hence we wouldn’t to worry about where our money went! Again, I don’t think this is a moral obligation. I don’t believe we will held responsible for how other people use money that they forcibly took from us. God will not judge me because my money went to fund an immoral war. But considering that basically between Romney and Obama we get to choose if our money is spent killing innocent civilians in other countries or innocent unborn children in America, there aren’t a whole lot of options. Fundamentally these two men aren’t really going to be spending our money in any drastically different ways. So how much will that help?
In the end…if you want to vote, go for it. But don’t pretend you’re fulfilling some moral duty which I’m failing to do because I choose to not vote. I will never advocate the use of force, either to make people vote or to keep people from voting. I don’t think it is morally wrong to vote, so if you believe this is the right thing, then do it. But don’t confuse moral obligations with Christian liberty.