Catholic morality and the "common good"

Every election season we here about voting for the “common good.” That phrase is indeed part of our Catholic teaching based on biblical tradition, but often I suspect it’s used by left-leaning Catholics to justify actions that the Church would condemn.

Here’s my question, then. The way that term is used by those left-leaning Catholics, how can we prevent it from being interpreted as endorsing utilitarianism (where questionable actions are deemed moral only because they bring about good for the community)?

In politics, common good sometimes means we should love one another, that we should not worship property rights and personal freedoms when prudential taxation and just laws could ease human suffering, promote life, and benefit all society. This is compatible with Catholic teachings. Other times, common good may be used as an argument that “the end justifies the means,” that immoral or sinful acts may be tolerated in order to secure some good. This goes against Catholic teachings. When anyone invokes a common-good argument, we have to determine the specific actions which are proposed and examine the morality of those actions.

If you are going to use the term “left-leaning,” please define it more clearly. I fear it is too vague. For example, if it means pro-choice, that’s not good. If it means caring for the poor, possibly at the expense of the wealthy, that is a good thing. What does “left-leaning” mean to you?

OK, I’ll be blunt:

Many people (Catholics, unfortunately) said that it was OK to vote for President B.O. because – although he is rabidly pro-choice and supports similar grave evils – his other policies more than offset the bad stuff, and in the end he would be better for the “common good.” Thus they feign a justification for pulling the lever in his favor.

You see how that distorts the proper meaning of “common good.”

So I agree with your comments. And you echoed the main purpose of my question: When anyone invokes a common-good argument, we have to determine the specifics of what they mean!

I guess I’m just lamenting that such an important part of Catholic social teaching can be misused.

I shall be blunt too. President George W. Bush, labeled as “pro-life,” probably caused more death by his foolish ideological wars (building democracy… Ha!), not to mention the economic damage which he caused and that we are still trying to sort out. Senator John McCain, as a candidate for President, joked (or was it just a joke?) about bombing Iran, which would have started a much larger and more deadly war (since Iran has much larger land area, population, and economic strength than Iraq and Afghanistan put together), and such a war would surely have exhausted our military strength and ground our economy into the dust, clearing the way for the next superpower. Frankly, I found McCain (and Palin) extremely frightening. Four years later, I had dearly hoped the Republicans would come up with a real leader, and the best they could do was Romney, who appears not to stand on any principle and would say anything in an attempt to get elected. And what wouldn’t he do for his old friend Bibi? Bomb Iran, perhaps? No, I couldn’t vote for him either. Look, Obama is a bit of a stinker, but at least I knew where he stands. Furthermore, I did not invoke a “common good” argument, or see it as the end justifying the means. I just figured he was the best candidate for the job. It always seems to be a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Sorry, this rant is somewhat aside of your original post.

Sorry. There is no guide book that precisely defines Left and Right, much less “left leaning.”

Study Church teaching. Realize that the founders of this country were not pagans or mostly deists.


Frankly, you’ve both missed my point.

Beryllos, a primer of Catholic moral theology will easily show you that some things – abortion, euthanasia, so-called “gay” marriage, embryonic stem-cell research – are intrinsically evil, and can never even be considered. (Guess where our esteemed leader stands on all of those?)

Other things – such as war – are not intrinsically evil, and can be dabbled with if just cause and other conditions are met.

You may have some valid points about GW, McCain, etc., in that “just cause” may not have been met. But their positions about war, which causes death as an unintended side effect, are somewhat more defensible than the direct murder that Mr. Obama heartily embraces. In fact, your first post brushed upon this, though only briefly: a “pro-choice” stance is “not good” (really, never acceptable), whereas caring for the poor is good, but HOW that care is enacted is something that Catholics can legitimately disagree on. Notice how one is absolutely wrong (abortion), and the other issues of concern have contributing variables that may or may not make them wrong. (In the end, wrongs may be being committed on both sides, but the person who embraces the intrinsic evil ought to be disqualified from your ballot, unless the alternative is equal or worse on those intrinsic issues, due to the moral gravity.)

Edwest2 – I agree that left/right, liberal/conservative, etc. are political terms, and not really ideal in the arena of Catholic positions. But I think most people know what those refer to in (admittedly) very general ways. I don’t like the term “orthodox Catholic” in terms of viewpoints because it seems to imply that those who don’t hold those views are completely outside of the ballpark. And that wasn’t my implication, so I was working with terms that I thought would convey the general idea.

However, I’m not sure why you’re advising that I study Church teaching (I’ve done that quite a bit; see the preceding portion of this post) because my question was about how the Catholics of this country (USA, for me) use terms that may or may not represent the correct teaching when overlayed onto political decisions.

And really, my original question had nothing to do with the Founding Fathers. It had to do with a recent trend of using the term “common good” to occasionally justify things or candidates that would otherwise be clearly unacceptable.

Anyhow, based on these posts I gather that my perception of the term “common good” being misused might just have been me, so I won’t get too worried about it.

surritter, you have articulated your position well. Thanks.

Thanks – though I didn’t mean to go off on a big thing about specific candidates/policies.

And to be honest, it sometimes pains me that these principles usually funnel me to one side of the political spectrum. I don’t dislike the Republicans, but it sure would be nice for me to feel that there were fuller choices on Election Day.

Along these lines, it’s interesting that yesterday’s Gospel was about Jesus leaving the flock to go after just one sheep! It could be said by some that this is an endorsement of sometimes setting the common good aside (the 99 sheep were temporarily unprotected!) in order to go after a specific good.

IOW, we can’t necessarily do a mathematical calculation and then do whatever tips the scales toward helping the majority. (Maybe that’s what the OP meant.)
So I suppose that the term common good can be used correctly or misused. We just have to be careful, especially around election season.

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