April 19, 2022
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Should American Catholics Demand a true Third Party Political Option?

Should American Catholics Demand a true Third Party Political Option?

Don’t do it. Please, don’t even try it. Don’t even think about thinking about trying it. It won’t work, it can’t work, no one wants a third party and certainly not a religious, let alone Catholic, political entity. Better toe the two-party line, choose the lesser of two evils, and pretend like that D or that R actually represents the RCC values that frame your everyday existence. Because it’s about pragmatism, right? Put aside your pie in the sky utopianism, stop trying to actually change the world, stop attempting to resurrect all that ‘prejudiced,’ ‘ hateful,’ ‘bigoted’ Christendom of years gone by; it’s gone, long gone, okay? Funny thing is it seems the same people who want you to never inject Catholic values into our comedy of errors cesspool political system also want you to stop having children, eat bugs not beef, worship the environment, and live atomized dying of loneliness in a ‘pod’ in San Francisco paying some Silicon Valley oligarch $2,000 per month to rent the spandrel beneath the stairs. 

But is politics really only about compromise, about settling, selling out a better option for the lowest common denominator palatable to all? That’s not what Aristotle said about the polis. ‘Every State is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good…But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.’ [1] Is that what Saint Augustine had in mind when he claimed that a healthy, unified and prosperous society could only function via a ‘transcendent principle,’ namely God’s law and the Catholic faith? [2] What did Pope St. Pius X mean, in his 1906 encyclical Vehementer Nos, written in direct response to the 1905 French law mandating a strict separation of Church and State, when he said, ‘That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him.’ [3]

Secular society— not to mention the innate hardwiring of Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists into our American sensibilities, wherein the president translated the First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of an official state religion to mean ‘a wall of separation between Church & State,’ [4] —tells us politics and religion should and must be kept apart, that one only poisons the other, and the gulf of separation is so wide one soon thinks such ironclad presuppositions find their identical twin in the juvenile if not infantile ‘debates’ concerning faith and science; that since faith and reason are supposed mortal arch-enemies, and one must keep them apart and choose sides, the only two acceptable exit points become ether claiming that dinosaurs are a conspiracy theory and the world is six thousand years old or that intelligent life evolved on the backs of ‘clay crystals’ [5] or even though something cannot come from nothing, it did, you know, just this one time; infinite regresses be damned, it’s turtles all the way down, brother. 

If you think believing in a few millennia old Earth, maybe a flat one ringed round by an Antarctic ice shelf separating we the people from Atlantis, or First Cause Crystals is absurd, well, that’s basically our American political system today from the Catholic point of view. Recall a few minutes back what three people—two Catholics and an antiquarian philosopher— had to say concerning a ‘Catholic outlook’ towards politics. To summarize: (1) the separation of Church and State is a direct assault on Catholic social theory and an offense to God’s created order; (2) not only are religious values helpful to a society’s wellbeing, they are essential to it; (3) far from being the domain of swamp-dwelling, duplicitous, dishonest and corrupt politicians seeking personal gain above all, and far from the place where compromise and capitulation are the watchwords for getting anything done, the political community, in its ideal manifestation, is the highest social good. Logos soaked Greek political philosophy, Catholic theology, and, I dare say, common sense, offer us loaves of bread. Our two party system offers us snakes. 

List me the three best qualities of the Democratic Party and I’ll show you an organization that doesn’t just lack respect for the family but often actively seeks to destroy it, seeks to immediately squash any so called ‘traditional values’ without the slightest reflection or nuance, supports socialist leaning if not outright communist money grabbing schemes based on interpersonal jealously and hatred, and is a party whose members must toe the pro-abortion line without the slightest dissent.

List me the three best qualities of the Republican Party and I’ll show you an entity that while usually defending the unborn—and praise God for that, that’s no small thing—often has outright contempt for the living, too often sending young men and women to bleed on foreign sands for oil or obscure geopolitical schemas and who employ ‘capitalism’ as code for usury and exploitive economics that place the American youth in the aforementioned two-grand a month water closet pods eating bugs and despairing for the future. One can imagine some conservative senator mounting a passionate defense arguing that the Second Amendment allows private citizens to own bazookas, inter-continental ballistic missiles, and fabricate DYI hydrogen bombs in one’s backyard fallout shelter, you know, the one where you keep all your hard currency and gold bullion stored in empty Cougar Gold cheese tins. 

Now, wait a second though, just relax, you very American, stars and stripes latticed apple pie American Catholics. Am I suggesting a Catholic theocracy? No, I am not suggesting a Catholic theocracy for America. Taylor Marshall, in a 2012 article entitled ‘If America were a fully Catholic country, here is what it might look like…,’ imagines a presidential inauguration taking place within the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade a ‘perennial day of penance,’ Holy Days of Obligation being federal holidays, crucifixes and the Ten Commandments prominently displayed in courtrooms, and the Blessed Mother’s image emblazoned on both the national seal and legal tender of the land. [6]  

As a practicing Catholic, I find no theoretical fault with the above suggestions. As a practicing Catholic happy to live in a country where he is free to practice his faith, and who prefers not to invite new Diocletian-style Christian persecutions as rocked the Church in the 4th century A.D. right up to Constantine’s in hoc signo vinces revelation at Milvian Bridge, I find Dr. Marshall’s theocratic speculations problematic. Because let’s be clear, that’s precisely the blueprint he’s giving us, not an America guided by slyly disseminated Catholic values, as was the realty in immediate post-war America, a nightmare for the old guard WASP ruling class who viewed with dread growing Catholic demographic power [7] being coupled to old-fashioned evangelical genius, perhaps best exemplified in Bishop Fulton Sheen winning two Emmy awards for his program Life is Worth Living [8]which did to the multitude of his Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist viewership what Alexander Fleming found penicillin did to bacteria: apply this here, problem solved, no more Protestantism. 

There and then one could see the tender shoot of a fully Catholic America growing up out of previously dry ground, trying to break through sidewalk cracks in our concrete jungle of pluralism, accommodation and compromise. Alas, this élan fizzled out. Far too many Catholics, on both the institutional and individual level, allowed Protestants and secularists to water down the frothy espresso of Catholic traditionalism—the Gothic architecture, the Gregorian chants, the Latin, sweet honey basting the eardrums Latin—until one could hardly call it ‘coffee’ anymore. A sad story, sure, but that Fulton Sheen methodology, non-coercive appeals to the American mind and soul with all the multifaceted beauty and rationality of the Catholic faith, was a good attempt to create the ‘authentically Catholic’ America Marshall pines for. Who knows? Maybe had enough Americans become good and practicing Catholics our political landscape would look different, maybe not. What I do know is that in your face theocracies seem more of an invitation to violent backlash than genuine societal conversion. 

Therefore, no, once again, I am not suggesting anything resembling a Catholic, over even a cross-confessional Christian, theocracy. But, yes, to finally answer this essay’s foundational question, yes, Catholics in America should demand a legitimate third party option that actually reflects the values they hold dear. And just what might this look like? First, the non-coercive principal; the Catholic truth, the truth about God and man, must be proposed in love, never jammed down throats or delivered in firm smacks atop the head. St. Thomas More said this in his seminal work, Utopia. St. John Paul II counseled professing and proposing the truth in love. Strong enough though these recommendations may be, it is God Himself who shows us the non-coercive principle right at the beginning in the Garden of Eden. God respects our free will. He clearly explains what is good and what is evil, he commands following the good and avoiding the evil, he makes clear the stark consequences of following evil, but then, in his divine love and goodness, allows his creatures to act freely. [9]

This third option must be constructed upon a platform in accord with Catholic principles and morality, and explained in clear and unambiguous language, then dropped off at the doorstep of American democracy. You don’t like these values, this platform, don’t vote for it; like it, vote for it. But if power is attained here, it would be done the proper way, neither through some military fatigues coup nor lesser devious methods, but at the ballot box. Okay, but then what, exactly, would this platform look like?

Let’s keep it as simple as possible. Catholic social teaching, both the dual umbrella values of solidarity and subsidiarity, meaning, respectively, advocacy for the common good flowing from the only unifying equality in existence, being made in the image and likeness of God, and, secondly, keeping it mind that that which can be done at the local level should be so as to avoid a bloated and bureaucratic central leviathan in favor of decentralized modes of governance.

For more specific guideposts, consider the following seven, more finely focused, planks of Catholic social teaching—

1. The life and dignity of the human person

 2. Call to family, community and participation

 3. Rights and responsibilities

 4. The preferential option for the poor

 5. The dignity of work and the rights of workers

 6. Solidarity

 7. Care for God’s creation

— and how an authentically Catholic third party option might implement them, why these ideas would offend both Democrats and Republicans, and why that is a good thing. Only by presenting a non-binary, third way would anyone in either the D or R, left or right, camp be tempted, more hopefully persuaded, to join this new movement. 

First, the life and dignity of the human person: an unabashed commitment to life in the womb (no abortion), at death (no euthanasia), and in between; yes to the ‘seamless garment,’ as such perhaps this party would follow John Paul II’s recommendation to oppose the death penalty, which many Republicans would denounce, while, in this organic life ethic first rung would belong to pro-life advocacy, nothing being more important than defending the unborn, and, simultaneously, advocating for the family, one based on sacramentally unitive/procreative marriage, as society’s integral and foundational unit, always be to prioritized over any and all state actors trying to ‘re-educate our children’ according to the latest fad. If you don’t understand why those things would anger your run of the mill Democrat, you don’t understand current American politics. To continue further on this path, perhaps convince enough of the Protestants who would be in this party coalition (more on that soon) to join practicing Catholics in actually taking Humane Vitae seriously, of seeing in contraception the root of so much sexual disorder today, as just commented upon a few lines ago below in the footnotes, and just watch heads on the right and left pop off, sky high, at the brazen, no, intolerant, no, insane suggestion of trying to return to the ‘dark ages’ of pre-1965 America, pre-Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision that opened access to contraceptives, if not to the pre-1930 Anglican Lambeth Conference world before which every Christian on earth, at least theoretically and theologically, opposed contraception. [10]

Second, the call to family, community and participation: just focus on the first word here, family, and see how easy it is to drive the left and right away. Family, I can imagine a Democrat asking, your party wants to encourage men and women to have larger families? Are you a fascist? You want to enslave women in the home? Give them medals for having kids like Mussolini did? [11] Don’t you know how irresponsible having kids today is? Look, abortion and forced sterilization initiatives are good, responsible reproductive health at its finest, because it’s helping save the planet, we’re going to be running out of resources and practicing cannibalism soon, don’t you know? Die so the planet can live! Tell a Republican a secondary idea to encouraging larger families that will avoid demographic winters and replenish the coming generation’s economic output potential, ides he likes, is state-subsidized childcare, so Catholic mothers having these three, four, five kids can continue on with the jobs they like and are good at, and see how fast he starts agreeing with his Democratic opponent that maybe one or no kids isn’t such a bad idea, not if we’re going to be implementing ‘communist’ policies like free childcare. 

Thirdly, rights and responsibilitiescan be seen as an excellent connector between that which comes before, namely the fundamental right to life and the upholding of human dignity and the family, and that which comes after. Because when else in American history has there been such a blatant disregard, and contemptuous ignorance, for a citizen’s rights and responsibilities as today? Such as the fourth plank, the preferential option for the poor. You’re saying maybe after we’ve won the pro-life fight and encouraged more and more single mothers, or crisis pregnancy mothers, to have their children we might, as this most perfect Aristotelian collective community, really help them provide for their family until they can do it for themselves? Well, a Republican might say, depends what you mean; you talking about welfare?; more commy, big Daddy state-help nonsense? 

And see what the Democrat thinks when you tell him that preferential option for the poor does not mean stirring up hatred of the rich for revolutionary gains, or enacting insane taxes on the rich that amounts to little more than stealing the fruits of their labor, and therefore hamstringing any initiative for our best and brightest to keep pushing forward, nor does this plan entail giving people money for nothing, legalizing every drug— because if you can’t actually help the poor you can anesthetize them—nor, finally, is it aimed at anything else than helping people while they need help until they can help themselves. Because those who work hard and receive a due reward, [12] who see plans imagined become goals realized, live with an inherent dignity no one can take away. 

To conclude, numbers five, six, and seven are, respectively, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, solidarity, and care for God’s creation. I’ll skip over number six, solidarity, because I spoke of that theme’s importance above, of its umbrella, overall foundational significance in Catholic social ethics alongside the principle of subsidiarity. So regarding number five, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, see what happens when you tell both parties no, no you cannot lure poor men and women from foreign lands with empty promises dipped in fake compassion to make them scrub your Beverly Hills pool bottoms and pick fruits and vegetables in the scorching Central Valley sun for a fraction of minimum wage and no statutory protections, by the way, and that’s the whole sinister point, by the way, so as to better boot them out without a moment’s notice when the time arrives. I’m a huge fan of immigration. Cliché though it may be, we are a nation of immigrants, and our Blessed Lord Himself makes clear what the penalty for not ‘welcoming the stranger is’ in that apocalyptic ‘Judgment of the Nations’ section in Matthew 25. [13]  

But try to explain to a Democrat that you’re all for reasonable and legal immigration that actually puts the immigrant first and see how far you get, especially when you have the gall to suggest Americans should have first crack at American jobs. 

Oh, I see, you’re one of those MAGA hat, America First, hyper-nationalist racists. See how far you get telling a Republican that a CEO making hundreds, even thousands, times more than his workers doesn’t square so well with the common good. That ‘well, that’s capitalism’ is not an adequate act of contrition to expiate the manifold sins of avarice in you, Mr. CEO, having two, six, eleven jets and yachts while some of your workers live in squalid, slum like conditions having to practically beg for their daily bread. See how long Republicans put up with your advocacy for unions, or how long Democrats tolerate the claim that ‘rights of workers’ might protect workers’ freedom of conscience, too, like the freedom to refuse to put certain things on a cake, for example, if one feels this might violate their deepest, and most sincerely held, beliefs. 

Finally, an authentic praxis surrounding care for God’s creation would please neither liberals nor conservatives, not even the tree-hugging, granola crunching, let’s go barefoot everywhere, whale venerating Green Party. For this third party option would say to the right: every piece of untouched American soil is not an oil field that just doesn’t know it yet. Protected wilderness, being shielded especially from questions of profit and development, is an intrinsically good, and quintessentially American, thing, and seeking alternative sources to pollutants like coal does not mean selling out middle America. It really just might be about cleaner air and water, and who doesn’t want that? 

This party would likewise say to the left and the Greens: no, we are not going to make environmentalism the new religion, not going to blindly follow the updated and repackaged Paul Ehrlich Population Bomb [14] doomsday proclamations of Extinction Rebellion or Mademoiselle Green New Deal AOC who tell us we have twelve years—or is it twelve weeks, twelve days, twelve minutes?—before climate change destroys life as we know it and we’re scrounging for scraps in a dystopian wasteland devoid of potable water and hope. Or, perhaps climate change means a new ice age [15]; a melt age?; tons and tons of snow in east Alabama?; no winters in Iceland? Look, whatever actually happens just know it’s happening, so stop flying planes and driving cars, but please ignore that we, the leaders of this movement, take carbon-bomb international flights like they’re going out of style, it’s okay, we’re only doing it to warn humanity, and, above all, fork over every last possible human and political and social right to us, this globalist elite, because, you know, it’s for your own good. Plus, if you don’t, the sun is going to boomerang crash off Jupiter before both slam into the earth and make things, uh, not good. I’m only telling you what the science™ says. 

Before we conclude and you conclude that a return to that beginning is called for—don’t do it; third party, no; Catholic, Christian party, please, no—consider two things. 

a. this hypothetical third party is not a ‘Catholic party.’ 

Yes, yes, yes again, a hoped home for American Catholics for sure, and a party openly and unabashedly driven by Catholic principles, but a party open to all men and women willing to attempt to put this blueprint into action. There is bad ecumenism. I don’t want Lutherans advising Catholics on church architecture (on second thought, I mean, looking at the post Vatican II Catholic churchscape…?) and don’t think Mormons or Mennonites should be leading lights in the New Evangelization. But having Mormons and Mennonites along with all and every sort of Protestant denomination, even non-believers like the group ‘Secular Pro-Life’ [16] as part of the above third party experiment? That’s the whole point. This is good ecumenism, putting aside confessional differences to work in tandem to create a better society by way of promoting better values. 

And before you once again say ‘no, it just wouldn’t work’ consider point letter  

b. demographics is power. 

Christians represent nearly three-fourths, seventy-five percent, of the total U.S. population. I’m not suggesting implementing a Catholic social teaching, Christian Democratic party in a country predominantly Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist; agreed, not going to work. But in America, of the three hundred and twenty-something million general population, almost two-hundred and fifty million come from some Christian background, a massive bloc where, perhaps just enough of a portion could be persuaded to take a chance on a third way, of taking a fresh look at what is, and how we can arrive at, a politics of the common good. 

A new contributor to Catholic Journal, Dr. Gracjan Anthony Kraszewski is Director of Intellectual Formation at St. Augustine’s Catholic Center in Moscow, Idaho. Find them at Vandal Catholic


[1] Aristotle, “The Polis,” from  Politics. Internet Ancient History Sourcebook, Fordham University. Sourced at: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/Aristotle-politics-polis.asp

[2] St. Augustine, City of God (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 34-35. 

[3] Pius X, Vehementer Nos: Encyclical of Pope Pius X on the French Law of Separation. http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-x/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_11021906_vehementer-nos.html

[4] Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to the Danbury Baptists.” January 1, 1802, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html

[5] Martha Henriques, “The idea that life began as Clay Crystals is 50 years old.” BBC, August 24, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160823-the-idea-that-life-began-as-clay-crystals-is-50-years-old

[6]  Taylor Marshall, “If America were a fully Catholic country, here is what it might look like….”  https://taylormarshall.com/2012/03/if-america-were-fully-catholic-country.html

[7] If you don’t yet understand the push for contraception legalization and dissemination as the tip of the spear to smash Catholic demographic growth, to convince Catholics to undermine their own fertility and large families—and to undermine in such a disarming way, by promoting ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ and me being ‘in charge’ of ‘my life,’ for this is freedom, American freedom and the American dream, less and then lesser kids so I can have more and more time to myself to sit out in my shop tinkering while the very people whose time to rule had been eclipsed by the most tranquil and natural transition of power, more people being born then bred to be proud Americans and proud Catholics, maybe even some of them intellectually equipped to make America more Catholic in the most beneficially catholic, i.e. universal, way for all Americans, Catholics or not, well, these people have retained power, and good for them, convincing us to be less like us and more like them; that Paul VI and his Humanae Vitae, what a bunch of…what a mean, mean, man! Telling us what to do with our freedoms and whatnot, like he speaks for Jesus or something —for many Catholics in the crib would later on mean many Catholics at the ballot box then in the seats of power, contraception the singular issue of the sexual revolution for it was and is the hinge upon which turns the ‘meaning of sexuality,’ then you, if you do not understand or want to attempt to understand this, then you understand nothing, nothing whatsoever.

[8] ‘Life is Worth Living, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (All Episodes). https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_7YIx7jtxgZYeiMeKyFTHxCoNwLmdvC-

[9] Sanford Kessler, ‘Religious Freedom in Thomas More’s “Utopia,” The Review of Politics, Vol 64. No. 2 (Spring 2002), 207-229; John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993), No. 110, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html;Genesis 3:3

[10] Encyclical Letter Humane Vitae of the Supreme Pontiff, Paul VI…on the Regulation of Birth, July 25,  1968. http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html; Estelle T. Griswold et al. Appellants, v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT (1965) https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/381/479; The Lambeth Conference, Resolutions Archive from 1930, Index of Resolutions from 1930, Anglican Communion Office, Anglican Consultative Council (2005), http://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/127734/1930.pdf?year=1930

[11] No author listed. ‘WW2 Italian Fascist Mothers Medal..’ https://www.armymuseum.co.nz/artefact-of-the-month-ww2-italian-fascist-mothersmedal/#:~:text=The%20World%20War%20II%20Italian,every%20extra%20child%20she%20had.

[12] The last words of the Book of Sirach (51:30): ‘Work at your tasks in due season, and in his own time God will give you your reward.’

[13] Matthew 25: 31-46. 

[14] Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968). 

[15]  Peter Gwynne, ‘The Cooling World,’ Newsweek, April 28, 1975. Gwynne’s later on clarification/regret regarding this can be found here: Jack El-Hai, ‘In 1975, Newsweek Predicted a New Ice Age. We’re still living with the Consequences, Longreads, April 2017. https://longreads.com/2017/04/13/in-1975-newsweek-predicted-a-new-ice-age-were-still-living-with-the-consequences/

[16] Secular Pro-Life, Website. https://www.secularprolife.org/

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Gracjan Anthony Kraszewski