When Donald Trump ran away with the Iowa caucuses and made the turn to New Hampshire, leaving Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley in the dust, Kamala Harris cackled, “No matter who the Republican nominee is, we’re winning.”
It’s not hard to regard that comment as loaded as a sniper rifle in the current political atmosphere, when so many right-wingers suspect a rigged system. To those who sicken at the insinuation behind Harris’ words, there is a growing sense that there may be no point in hoping for, let alone acting toward, a healthier state of the union. But should Catholic Americans also conclude that there is no point to political participation?
Eric Sammons asks, “What’s the Point?” in his recent article here at Crisis, expressing his opinion that the deep state isn’t going to be impeded by anyone’s vote or anyone’s presidency, leaving him (and many) mistrustful of the powers-that-be. Mr. Sammons proposes that involvement in a broken and corrupt political system is a validation and perpetuation of it and that, perhaps, our democratic republic has had its day and Catholics should consider staying home on November 5 to contemplate other models of government.
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He has a point. Why vote if there are only foregone conclusions—and rarely in a way that promotes Catholic life? Why beat a dead horse when it can’t work anymore? Acknowledging the validity of such questions, I believe that there is a point to consider—not one that negates what Mr. Sammons has written but one that is higher than these political concerns and of eminently pious concern. A point that appears pointless, which is the whole reason why it is the point.
Abraham’s orders to sacrifice probably seemed preposterous, but he assumed that there had to be some point in the business, and the Father made that point clear. Joshua may have been unconvinced by the Lord’s plan to take Jericho, but he blew the ram horns and the walls came tumbling down. The Blessed Virgin’s Fiat didn’t accomplish anything that would typically result in a Child, but she put herself at the Lord’s disposal and the Holy Spirit showed nothing was impossible to God. While it didn’t make any sense for Peter to believe he could walk on water, he did his best and the Son of God did the rest. In short, the point for people of faith is often a hidden thing.
The Cross is the greatest example of this, especially in the earliest known artistic rendition of the crucifixion. Dating from the third century and discovered in Rome in 1857, this graffito scratched into a wall depicts a man raising his hand in salute before a crucified figure with a donkey’s head. Below, scrawled in Greek, are the words, Alexamenos worships his God.
This vandalism was intended to mock Christians and their ass of a God; but ironically, it encapsulates what few works of Christian art have captured—the ignominy of the Cross, the seeming pointlessness of the Cross. But as participants in the glory of the Cross, Catholics should be used to doing good things that may appear useless or pointless in the big scheme of things; but it is the little way that we champion with the faith and hope and charity that, though we may seem like a fool or a tool, God can make great what we make good.
One of the best figures to hold to heart in bleak times is Cervantes’ immortal hero Don Quixote—the knight who, mad though he may be, tilted at windmills thinking they were giants and was genteel to prostitutes perceiving them as highborn ladies. And though defeated, drubbed, and disgraced over and over again, Quixote never ceased to sally forth in the name of holy chivalry, undaunted by worldly failure or futility. (Recall Chesterton’s suggestion that Don Quixote was inspired by the heroic impetuosity of Don John of Austria at the Battle of Lepanto of 1571, where Cervantes himself fought in what must have seemed a pointless effort to save the Christian West.)
This is why Don Quixote is a perfect Catholic example when our efforts to do societal good seem pointless. Whether killing giants for the common good or voting for the common good, ideals are meaningful in themselves, and their recognition often sparks an attitude of inspiration and aspiration. The lives of many saints have a quixotic quality that defies the lay of the land with a confidence that borders on sublime absurdity; and they acted with courage under circumstances stacked dead against them—Leo the Great, Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, John Bosco, and the list goes on.
Which brings us to another important point when it comes to the Catholic attitude toward politics, which is to keep the point of politics in perspective. Christ didn’t come as a political leader, and we will never achieve a perfect society, but we should always strive for one in striving for redemption. Christ used earthly things to point the way to Heaven—the feeding of the 5,000; the exchange with the Samaritan woman over the well; the born-again conversation with Nicodemus—and people often misunderstood Him, seeing His heavenly message in too earthly a context. Let’s not do the same, nor put our trust in princes. That is a great point to bear in mind as we cast our Catholic vote in the hope of it making us that much worthier of salvation.
But that can be a hard point to champion when it all seems so pointless. But looking again to Don Quixote, he was not in the service of a fallacy or a false reality but, rather, a reality that wasn’t immediately apparent because it was idealized. But that doesn’t make those ideals untrue. Quixote is called a pointless fool simply in his refusal to surrender the ideal or abandon his vision of beauty in an ugly world—and if that’s madness, then we should all subscribe to that kind of crazy. We should all reach for that height of making the good accessible, of keeping our freedom, even if that means being repulsed time and again. It’s in those moments of futility and failure that we define ourselves. Should we stay down, defeated? Or do we rise up, like the risen people we are, and keep on tilting at windmills until we take down a giant?
Don Quixote’s ideals as a knight, or ours as Catholic American citizens, are no less right and true just because they cannot be fully realized. The optimism of the Catholic Faith outshines the sickness of cynicism. As every member of the Church Militant in the trenches of a godless society knows—and as Mr. Sammons well knows, too, as editor-in-chief of this publication—dejection and derision must be faced and fought. And, frankly, sometimes you need to be a little nuts to do it and not always worry about the practical point of everything. Quixotic Catholics speak and act for the truth, which is sometimes totally impractical, unfashionable, uncomfortable, or elusive, and that is the whole point—even if the point is hard to see. Like Quixote, we can trust that what we believe can be realized; and even if we are often misguided or incorrect, as the man from La Mancha was, we still do what we hold by faith to be reasonable.
Every little thing—like casting a vote—done in the name of the good insofar as we can affect it, should be the whole point for Catholics, whether its effective or not. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Doing the right thing, even when it appears hopeless, brings the strange joy of being Catholic because it makes God’s presence and Providence more palpable. Thus, the Catholic point should be charging for no earthly reason for the sake of preserving heavenly reasons. Holding fast to the paradox of the Beatitudes, we should rejoice and be glad when things are stuck in a bad or brutal rut; and we should never shy away from doing what we can for the good—even ideally or theoretically—and even when the outcome seems beyond reach. Every little thing—like casting a vote—done in the name of the good insofar as we can affect it, should be the whole point for Catholics, whether its effective or not.Tweet This
In the final analysis, the goal must appear impossible because the only way we can achieve peace and sanity in society—deliverance from abortion wars, sex and gender wars, MAGA wars, Middle Eastern wars—is through conversion to the true Faith. That, together with our salvation, is the impossible dream that we all dare to dream. Despite Pope Francis’ recent claim in Mongolia that we should rid ourselves of the “myth” that the purpose of any Catholic presence in society is to cause conversion, it should be. That’s the whole point, and it is a purpose of incredible heights that we should never tire to pray for and pursue in whatever ways we can, however small.
That is the point, even if our votes are insignificant, or if our efforts to make a difference are paltry, or if our positions are laughed out of the room. As Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and the lives of so many saints teach, we should never give up doing what good we can, be it ever so obscure or obstructed; and we should make those small efforts a spiritual point in and of themselves—especially when engaged in what appears to be pointless on a political level.