Voting – a prime example of “reasoning under uncertainty”

I assume that if I accepted your premises, both implicit & explicit, I’d also describe your POTUS candidate as the only viable choice.

But those premises will necessarily involve a great deal of what we call “reasoning under uncertainty.”

This is to say that the causal chains between a given POTUS vote & various un/desirable outcomes are very tenuous. This is also to recognize that the individual acts of all persons involved in effecting those un/desirable outcomes are highly contingent.

Ergo, very intelligent persons of incredibly profound goodwill, who even share identical values vis a vis un/desirable outcomes, can thus differ in their POTUS choices, everyone doing so in an eminently reasonable way.

As for any alleged character-based disqualifying criteria, those are much less compelling, generally, to those who are voting pragmatically rather than expressively. Increasingly, nowadays, voting expressively, based on a candidate’s character (note below), seems to be an increasingly rare opportunity?

Practical Take-Aways:

Intellectually, we should all better realize that our prudential judgments regarding political solutions can be very highly speculative. There are ordinarily so many unknowns regarding the probability of un/desired outcomes that a high level of confidence in one’s political approach is seldom warranted and arrogance is never warranted. And if this is true regarding so very many political objectives, which are way underdetermined, it’s especially the case regarding ultimate policy goals as measurable outcomes, which are most often way overdetermined, all of this also subject to indeterminable counterfactual analyses.

Interpersonally, we should primarily focus on the values & love that we certainly share with family, friends, co-religionists, neighbors & associates. In my view, that thoroughly suffices!

Precisely because of the hyper-speculative nature of political prudential judgments, it’s to be expected and should be unsurprising, when, among those very same people, those judgments are not uniformly shared.

None of this is to suggest that our political prudential judgments do not matter or cannot make a difference. They indeed contribute to a collective wisdom that, when it does go astray, inevitably corrects (depending on the cultural milieu, e.g. modern democracy vs tribal, this can be in a single cycle, hopefully not multi-generational epochs!).

It is to observe that, if you find yourself overinvested emotionally or, worse, at risk of relationship breaches regarding your political dis/agreements, it could very well be due to the fact that you have equally overestimated your intellectual acumen (at least, politically).

Certain candidates may evoke significant emotional responses in us for various reasons, as with any other personalities. Because important values are often involved in our political assessments, this can add emotional energy to our experience of electoral outcomes and to the pols, themselves. We might even marvel at why others don’t experience the same degree of attraction or revulsion to a given person as we do. That mystery can be understood, in part, by the fact that, while certain emotions are cerebral and can be rationally accounted for upon self-reflection, some of our emotional responses are visceral and don’t lend themselves to an intellectual accounting (not without deep-dives into our unconscious). The more forceful and immediate our response to a given politician, then, the less we should be surprised when many others don’t share it, because, notwithstanding our inventory of otherwise justifiable cerebral emotions, the greater will be the likelihood that much (in various degrees) of our attraction or revulsion is visceral, which can leave it no more accountable for itself than any other matter of mere taste. And it certainly means we shouldn’t expect others to be able to give a rational accounting of their own lack of a visceral experience thereof!

There’s a book I intend to procure called Longing and Letting Go: Christian and Hindu Practices of Passionate Non-Attachment, written by Holly Hillgardner. In it she describes passionate non-attachment. That paradoxical concept sounds to me like a great religious prescription for what ails us in life, in general, politics, in particular? Hillgardner suggests that authentic practices of longing will always contain the seeds of non-attachment, i.e. the letting go of cravings, aversions, fears, and false identities that keep the self bound in an illusory self-possession that walls it off from others. Sounds relevant, n’est pas?

Note: Voting expressively can, among many other strategies, also include voicing one’s prophetic issue-based stance (even independent of a candidate’s character).

Maritain, McInerny, Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank & a Medieval Integralist walk into a bar

Maritain, McInerny, Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank & a Medieval Integralist walk into a bar serving optimism & pessimism. Let Maritain & McInerny drive you home. The others are inebriated.

Regarding the following questions –What would Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank & Medieval Integralists Say?

Has a clearly successful civil polity (with articles of peace but not of faith) ever been founded in any pluralistic society based on some shared thematized natural law?

Has a fairly successful civil polity (with articles of peace but not of faith) never been founded in any pluralistic society, at least based on shared values, although not on shared justifications?

Has a lack of certain shared moral outlooks always necessarily ensued from some subjectivism, emotivism, voluntarism, relativism, utilitarianism, vulgar pragmatism, secularism or nihilism that precluded shared metaphysical commitments & axiological frameworks? What about Mortimer Adler’s account of humanity’s common sense & sensibilities and of certain self-evident prescriptive inferences that derive from our being immersed together in a similarly situated human condition, especially regarding major precepts?

Has a lack of certain shared moral outlooks never otherwise ensued from an ethical pluralism that included shared metaphysical commitments & axiological frameworks, but was derived with a suitable epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism?

Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank or Medieval Integralists would each in their own way employ a theological anthropology that’s either excessively optimistic or pessimistic, based on (mis)conceptions regarding the relationship between nature & grace, variously implicating notions regarding the gratuity of grace.

A Goldilocks Theological Anthropology, neither too optimistic nor pessimistic, would be better reflected in the anthropology of Maritain, combined with Gelpi’s adaptation of Lonergan’s approach as modified by Gelpi’s account of grace as transmuted experience.

Per Maritain, humanity’s transcultural apprehension of the natural law is not robustly & discursively thematic but more so inchoately & connaturally intuitional. So, we can share evaluative dispositions, moral sensibilities & ethical intuitions that presuppose varying degrees of moral realism without sharing their justifications via deeper metaphysical commitments. Maritain would thus answer the above questions differently from his pub buddies.

If we adopt Gelpi’s Lonerganian adaptation in conjunction with Maritain’s account of humanity’s ubiquitous moral sensitivity to the natural law via connaturality, we can distinguish between the secular conversions (intellectual, affective, moral & sociopolitical) and religious conversion, whereby the former more properly reflect the gratuity of creation with its obediential potencies for grace, and the latter relate to the gratuity of grace, itself, to which one responds responsibly in faith (to some historical act of divine self-revelation & self-communication).

Certainly, from a pneumatological perspective, the secular conversions reflect the ordinary presence of the Holy Spirit in the world via its universality & prevenient connaturality. The particularity of the Holy Spirit’s action in the lives of Christian believers, however, reflects a radically transformative & extraordinary presence.


This does seem to be the crux. With Maritain we can’t deny that a prevenient connaturality hasn’t provided humankind’s inchoate realization of natural law via shared moral sensibilities & ethical intuitions, sufficient for a modicum of public peace, order, justice & morality? With Gelpi, we wouldn’t deny that humankind journeys more swiftly & w/less hindrance when secular conversions (intellectual, affective, moral & socio-political) are transvalued by religious conversions (radical & kerygmatic; yes, other religions w/degrees of truth & goodness) . So, no, there’s never been some edenic epoch of either a Whig Thomism (neocon or neoliberal) or an idyllic integralism (political Augustinianism). And monastic, anarchic & pacifist approaches have only ever been vocational & spirituality “options” not theopolitical norms (as in Augustinian radicalisms).

Too many conceive Catholic social & moral teachings as primarily intended to shape politics, reflexively thinking in terms of coercive polity in response to every papal utterance or episcopal exhortation, relegating their familial, social, civic & nongovernmental implications. They see government as the primary means of coordinating the initiatives of our better angels, which it sometimes can be, rather than for ameliorating the initiatives of our fallen angels. Gospel inculturation, moral enculturation & ministerial accompaniment aren’t coercive.


Regarding a Supposed Natural Law Impotence

Impotent natural law arguments nonvirtuously cycle abductive hypothesizing and deductive clarifying without the benefit of inductive testing, unlike the church’s highly esteemed social teaching with its NL plus personalist approach. Too many NL theorists employ abstract, aprioristic, deductivistic, rationalistic, biologistic arguments that bear little resemblance to the concrete, lived experiences of people. Church social teachings have employed triadic inference w/inductive, personalist approach+NL and are widely received. For some, NL hasn’t been tried and found wanting but hasn’t even been tried. When it has been done properly, it has been highly esteemed and widely accepted. Flawed methodologies need fixing. Shared inchoate NL sensibilities and intuitions suffice for public order, public peace, public justice and public morality in a secular governmental polity. More robust NL methods are of course required for thornier moral objects (e.g. bioethical). The latter methods can result in an ethical pluralism due -not to relativism, but- metaphysical fallibilism and moral probabilism, ie epistemic humility not HUBRIS!

Does faith shape our politics or is it too often the other way around?

From a formative spirituality perspective, “other way around” may happen more often among those in earlier stages. If we view progressive & traditionalist sensibilities as charisms of pilgrims & settlers, later on our faith journeys, those gifts may well shape our political ministries.

It does also seem that, even within denominations that accommodate a plurality of theological opinions regarding nature & grace, where one stands on the optimism-pessimism spectrum of theological anthropology (depravist & exclusivist vs inclusivist) often seems to shape political approaches.


Yes, moral realities are transparent to human reason without reference to special revelation. BUT Prudential judgments evaluate conditions of MORAL legitimacy, presupposed within an established framework of values and priorities. For example, coercive measures mustn’t produce evils & disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated!


I was heartened when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act here in US bolstered 1st Amendment protections regarding federal statutes (states would have to effect their own). While a generally applicable law advancing a compelling government interest could burden consciences, strict scrutiny requires that be done with the least restrictive means practicable.

The US approach to the Enlightenment employed a secularist political strategy that fairly well strengthened the influence of religion in citizens’ lives. On the Continent, however, a militant secularism marginalized religion; beyond a mere political strategy, it was driven from other spheres – civil, social, economic & cultural.


Maritain recognized that prudential judgments must discern which civil polity is optimal from one location and concrete set of circumstances to the next, even from one epoch to the next. As the degrees of successful Gospel inculturation & moral enculturation thus vary, strategies advancing human dignity, common good, justice & peace must adapt.


Throw tribalistic cultures into the mix, along with recent results regarding neoconservative democratization “strategies” (e.g. war) & Arab Springs unsprung, is it not clear that no one political shoe will fit all peoples?


Prior to any political theology, one needs a Goldilocks theological anthropology, i.e. neither too optimistic (eg transcendentalistic) nor pessimistic (eg dialectical imagination or depravity), so, I commend the thoughts of my late fellow Yat (N’orleanian). For the convenience of any who may be interested, Don Gelpi on grace pt 2

Finally, I commend Amos Yong’s In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism & Political Theology, where he writes: Catholic Social Teaching is important less because of specifiable political proposals but because it articulates a theological vision of social & economic justice that has broad political implications.

I commend Yong’s book as in continuity with Gelpi’s theological anthropology and Maritain’s political philosophy.

From an anonymous reviewer:

Our political interaction, as expressed in our many different modes of public interaction, takes on a contextual expression that responds to the particular instances in light of the work of Christ. With this in mind, then, a Pentecostal political theology does not mandate a specific response that must be applied in all settings, but rather builds a framework of values and priorities which give freedom to those in each setting. This framework is not a wishy-washy approach, suggesting that whatever is done is always baptized in the Spirit, but instead offers freedom within the context of responsibility. We who are Christians, who seek to participate in this world in the power of the Spirit, do so in light of Christ’s own calling, and it is as such that Yong formulates his constructive theology.

Finally, I commend The Conservative Pragmatism of Charles Peirce by Thomas Short.


Catholic Social & Moral Teaching – provides a framework of values & priorities to advance human dignity & the common good. Within that framework citizens apply their best prudential judgments to optimally realize those values & priorities. Such liberative strategies are not first and foremost coercive or political, but, when they do resort to political solutions, those have included most of the following:


Integralism & Political Augustinianism

Augustinian Radicalism

Classical Liberalism





Political emphasis on negative rights & free exercise

Social, Economic, Fiscal, Political & Cultural conservatisms

Modern Liberalism

Social Democracy

Social Liberalism

Economic Statism & Keynesian Economics

Political emphasis on positive rights & nonestablishment

Social, Economic, Fiscal, Political & Cultural progressivisms






Just how could such manifold & varied political strategies, almost all, ever be deemed largely compatible with Magisterial teachings from place to place & time to time? That will be the subject of my next tweet, which I’ve been working on for the past decade. Since I’ve recently been afforded 280 characters, though, it’s going to take me a bit longer to compose it. I’ll give you a hint. Each of the above represents an ideology that variously over- and/or under-emphasizes one aspect of Church teaching or another. Foundationally, they can also be overly optimistic or pessimistic regarding their preconceptions of nature & grace vis a vis their implicit theological anthropologies.

Admonishing the Sinner? Really?

Many have responded defensively to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” by drawing distinctions between judging and correcting such as set forth in USCCB guidelines regarding the Spiritual Works of Mercy, specifically addressing admonishing the sinner.

That distinction between judging & correction is helpful.

Let me offer another between correcting & instructing.

When forming the faithful, instructing them through catechetics, homiletics, parenting & modeling, it can certainly be sufficient to cite church teachings & authorities, especially regarding general precepts.

However, merely asserting such stances is insufficient, when presuming to correct others, especially regarding thornier moral objects, e.g. the bioethical realities of life, gender & sexuality.

When “correcting” coreligionists & others with whom we may disagree, in order not to arrogate a level of authority beyond one’s theological & philosophical ken, one has the further responsibility of journeying with them to a deeper understanding of the faith & morals at stake.

For example, regarding subjective aspects of morality, one should have a better grasp of pastoral realities such as the internal forum, gradualism, moral probabilism & the prudential application of canons. Regarding the objective aspects, one must be adequately equipped to engage the differences in moral methodologies (e.g. historicist & personalist approaches to natural law), ethical pluralism & moral epistemology.

The latest popular discourse is sadly pervaded by “corrections” that reflexively and facilely claim moral relativism, situational ethics, disciplinary laxism & even heresy. For gosh sakes, there are other grounds for disagreement among moral realists!

One might argue whether & to what degree such rhetoric is corrective rather than rashly judgmental, but it manifestly does not adequately reflect the criteria set out in those USCCB guidelines. It arrogantly, sometimes hysterically, talks past its interlocutors with only a superficial grasp of both moral & pastoral realities, not to mention no appreciation, whatsoever, for how a generally fallibilist moral epistemology operates in our pilgrim church as we journey together toward the truth with hope and charity.