Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Voting and the Common Good

Father Jim Hug of the National Center for Concern in Washington, D.C. recently came to Loyola to present the current presidential in discernable, careful Jesuit terms. His talk focused on initiating dialogue that incorporated American history, the Jesuit institution and the leadership of the Catholic church. Father Hug has extensive experience dealing with such issues, having published three books pertaining to Jesuit tradition and the modern world as well as conducting workshops in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the United States. Two masters degrees in Philosophy and Theology and a Ph.D. in Christian ethics further bolster Hug`s credentials. Throughout the speech, Hug emphasized how important it is for us the participate in the next election, but to do so as informed, reasonable voters. One of the first things I noticed about Father Hug was that he did not wear traditional clerical garments, and instead wore plain clothes. Instantly I saw this as a connection between Catholic teaching and the current United States, specifically the election. Over the course of the next hour or so, Father Hug outlined how to make this connection amongst all the prominent political issues, the press` role in the election, and our own reactions to how these issues are presented.
Father Hug`s first point was that the political landscape in America has recently been deteriorating and lacking a sense of moral responsibility. He described this election`s dialogue as "nasty" and "illogical," and was referring to that of both parties. In fact, he showed clips of both John McCain and Barack Obama slandering the other in ways that should not have a place in the political arena. Hug appealed particularly to us as college students, urging that we have the capacity to change the political environment by being faith based and value centered. By this, he meant that we should place our Catholic identities as our defining identities, rather than allowing our views to rely on partisanship. However, he did not call us to deviate from partisan issues, but to evaluate them with a questioning mind, deciding which platforms work for the common good. Our chosen views should advocate the preferential option for the poor, respect for life, emphasis on good news, and the use of care when prescribing public policy. Father Hug calls for a "win-win" situation, which is difficult to achieve, but absolutely worth trying for.
Hug continued with his theme of Ignatian discernment, and called for the use of it in improving political discourse. Focus on the common good would allow us to transform social structures that incessantly trouble our world. He equated religious or spiritual concerns to political aspects of the campaign. Essentially Father Hug could not stress enough how important our dedication to the common good of the world really is.
Not only did Father Hug tell us what we could do to improve the political scene, he showed us how. Discussing issues on campus and making them salient in the minds of our peers contribute to a theologically conscious portion of the electorate. Despite the cheap shots, corruption, and disregard for the truth that seem to pervade the current election, young people do need to realize that their decisions are not inconsequential. The choice will affect us for at least four years, and most likely even longer. Father Hug`s concluding remarks summed up his presentation well. He advised those in attendance to cast Catholic, non partisan, issue based votes. In doing so, traditional Jesuit discernment is indispensible.
What was interesting about Father Hug`s speech was his call to look past rhetoric and traditional campaign strategies and get down to the heart of the matter. In Hurston `s "The Gilded Six-Bits," the main character is attracted by a literal coat of gold that does not transcend the surface, and this eventually causes great trouble for him and his wife. Hug`s plea was to go deeper than the surface and see each issue`s true worth.
Throughout Hug`s speech, he showed no allegiance whatsoever to either the Democrats or Republicans. He enumerated differences between the red and the blue, and explained which ones were "Catholic" and which were not. By doing this it became apparent that some issues are unclear from this perspective, and these are the things that need to be most closely analyzed and discerned. By not aligning with either party, at least at the onset of the discernment process, we give our minds free range to decide which candidate is best. Not much more can be said about Hug`s speech other than that we have the capacity to change a political landscape that is in desperate need of reform, and the only way to accomplish this effectively by making the proper choice. Catholic, and especially Jesuit, reasoning comes in handy here to any voter.

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