Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is the Act of Voting Intellectually Defensible?

Given that this is election day, we should raise the philosophical and theological question of why an individual should vote. I'm voting this year for the first time in quite awhile, because I think I finally found a reasoned answer as to why I should. I found it doing research on a current project on the PT strand of the Pentateuch, while reading a book by Paul Woodruff on "Reverence."

Discussing the hypothetical case of "Janice," who does not see why she should vote, Woodruff writes:

"Janice is right about her vote. It won't make a difference. The odds that one vote could turn an election--even a very close one, such as occurred in November 2000--are so small they vanish for all practical purposes. She has made her decision unconsciously on the basis of what philosophers call 'rational choice theory.' There is no way--none ever--to show that she would be making the best choice for herself, and acting in her own best interest, by going to the polls and casting her ballot....Voting is a ceremony. It is an expression of reverence--not for our government or our laws, not for anything man-made, but for the very idea that ordinary people are more important than the juggernauts that seem to rule them. If we do not understand why we should vote in this country, that is because we have forgotten the meaning of ceremony. And the meaning of ceremony is reverence." (Paul Woodruff, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue [Oxford University Press, 2002], pp. 20-22).

The idea is that voting is a symbolic and ritual act that flows out of the virtue of reverence. It is done as a ceremony through which we collectively honor the majesty of ordinary people making a difference and refusing to live as if fate governed their lives. Comments on any of this are welcome, of course.


Blogger Peter Carey said...


The Virgina Senate race may be another example when one vote may actually make a difference - I am glad I voted!

Very interesting ...


Tue Nov 07, 10:17:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

The VA senate race is amazingly close! When I checked this morning, Webb was in the lead by something like half a percentage point, 11,000 votes or so. And what happens in VA may well determine the balance of power in the Senate. Still, I'm sorry to say that one vote even among 11,000 is statistically unimportant. :-( ---SLC

Wed Nov 08, 07:31:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Peter Carey said...

ah, yes, one vote is statistically unimportant, but what about one part of the body of Christ, is one part "theologically unimportant" in that grouping?

Perhaps a philosophical or theological approach to elections would yield more results than mere statistics...

On the other hand, as a near- math/physics major in a previous life, I do see what you mean...

Sat Nov 11, 11:34:00 PM GMT-5  

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