Former Dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, the Very Rev. Alan Jones, in a Huffington Post blog about Christians deciding how to vote, wrote:
Yet, at the heart of our current political impasse are spiritual questions: What kind of people are we becoming? Should not a society be judged, in the end, by how it treats its most weak and vulnerable? These two questions might inform our voting in November. (The Very Rev. Alan Jones, “The Shoot-Out Election: How to Vote?” Huffington Post, 10/18/12 - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-jones/shootout-election-how-to-vote_b_1974688.html?utm_hp_ref=religion)
The very definition of politics implies seeking the common good. Christianity is about community, not the individual. Individualism perverts the gospel, a lesson that Judas learned the hard way. Nor could any first century Jewish peasant have survived alone. This is not a popular message in the United States. The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, experienced this first hand when she stated that salvation was communal rather than individual.
What is good? The prophet Micah answers that question definitively:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
The common good promotes mutual interdependence, i.e., balancing self-interest with concern for all creation.
This approach to Christian voting is explicitly utilitarian (the greatest good for the greatest number, the latter including all creation) instead of deontological (obeying a set of God given commands). Trying to vote according to principles almost immediately encounters insurmountable problems:
· Which principles will I select? The Ten Commandments? The two great commandments? A single principle such as opposition to abortion?
· On what basis will I reduce Christian ethics to that/those principles?
· How will I resolve conflicts between the principles?
· How will I resolve conflicts within a candidate’s positions, some of which cohere with my chosen principles and some of which conflict with my principles?
· Since almost certainly no candidate will perfectly adhere to my principles, how do I decided which candidate’s views represent the best agreement and least egregious conflicts?
Utilitarian analysis – weighing benefits and harms to assess net gain or loss – provides a framework for making those decisions. Utilitarian calculations, fraught with problematic assumptions about potential outcomes and iffy quantifications, also underscore the challenge of this approach to voting. Knowing a candidate’s real character may pose great difficulty; actually attempting utilitarian analyses about deciding for which candidate to vote seems to entail even greater difficulties.