Thursday 1 November 2012

Voting is an instrument of the devil


The whole idea that voting could be a valid method of making any kind of decision at any level of practice is so bizarre, so stupid, so lacking in rationale, so frequently refuted by personal and public experience that I find it hard even to begin discussing the matter.

Voting is an instrument of the devil - perhaps quite literally, and if so one of his most lethal inventions.


Where there is a vote, there there will be no good; since there will be no responsibility.

Where there is a vote, there the decision-making process has become a matter of psychological manipulation; displacing virtue and truth, trampling beauty.


Casting lots, reading entrails - these are models of rationality compared with voting - since it is at least possible that a near-random procedure might be influenced by good spirits or organizing fields tending toward cohesion and harmony.

But what beneficent influence could possibly penetrate the self-gratifying maelstrom of the human mind engaged in canvassing, debating, bribing, intimidating, and voting? 


Once people have become used to relying on a procedure as utterly indefensible as voting to make their most important decisions, once they have been induced to regard voting as if it was not just ethically acceptable but in fact the pinnacle of goodness, the one-and-only ethical behaviour; then these people are embarked on a path of apostasy, inversion of values, and self-destruction.

People who have given their allegiance to voting as the most valid, authoritative and moral decision-making procedure have been manipulated into a self-reinforcing psychosis in which a system of zero validity, zero authority and zero morality is treated with quasi-divine reverence.


This is a situation of enmeshed wickedness that cannot be disentangled and remedied one strand at a time, but only cast aside totally with overwhelming disgust - in sudden recognition of the revolting thing that is voting.



dearieme said...

You need to distinguish voting in a universal franchise democracy of millions, from voting on the selection committee of a rugby club.

You are not the only one who needs to make that distinction.

P.S. I once met a chap who told me he'd been on an MCC committee although he'd never played cricket in his life, not even on the beach. To which I said "Ah, that'll have been the selection committee, then?" He denied it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - "You need to distinguish voting in a universal franchise democracy of millions, from voting on the selection committee of a rugby club."

Not at all - voting on the selection committee of a rugby club is even crazier and less excusable than voting in a general election; because its absurdity and bad outcomes are so much the more obvious (or ought to be, were we not blinded by giving prime authority to the result of procedure).

dearieme said...

Then how would you select the Ist, 2nd and 3rd XVs for Saturday?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Give the job to a person, not a process.

dearieme said...

You can't: there's no one person who could have watched all three sides play last Saturday, and previous Saturdays, and attended all the training sessions over the past weeks. There's no one person who skippered all three teams last Saturday. You have to find a way to draw on the evidence and expertise of several people for the intricate task of forming teams. You must also find a way that enjoys the confidence of the players or some might leave the club in a huff. Mostly it's done by arguing through the evidence and opinions, looking for consensus, but sometimes you settle knotty problems by a vote. Of course, the question on which you vote must be carefully phrased - there's no point selecting two centre threequarters who are individually excellent but who make a poor pairing.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - You can, you really always can - and should. e.g. You can make it one person's job per selection decision.

Voting is never needed - although of course you can get away with it in the short term.

For instance, a properly run army will never use a vote.

Wurmbrand said...

If you say that, in all circumstances, to vote is sinful, then I fear you are writing as an "enthusiast," that is, as one who pronounces upon matters of the Faith from his sense of God speaking within himself (through his reason, or his emotions, etc.), since Holy Scripture does not forbid voting. (Or have I missed something?)

Little good ever comes of "enthusiasm" but rather heresies, schisms, all manner of confusion and false doctrine.

One may make oneself an instrument of the devil by casting one's vote wrongly, and perhaps in some cases by voting at all, but voting per se is a neutral (and I would say inevitable) thing. In some situations it might even be connected with what Williams calls Exchange.

But it is one of the temptations of the spiritual life to go beyond what is written (in Scripture) and to make one's notions something binding on the consciences of others.

I think by running together things that are always wrong and things that aren't always wrong -- " the self-gratifying maelstrom of the human mind engaged in canvassing, debating, bribing, intimidating, and voting" -- you may be clouding your judgment.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - I fully acknowledge that every vote does not necessarily lead to a bad outcome; but how could a *system* of decision-making by the procedure of voting be regarded as good?

It is not a specifically Christian matter, rather it is pre-Christian, a matter of natural law, that upon which Christianity was built; therefore a lack of specific scriptural guidance is to be expected.

We are supposed to know this kind of stuff without being explicitly told, and indeed we used to.

It would have seemed utterly absurd (as indeed it is) to our ancestors to make important decisions by agreeing *in advance* to be bound by the outcome of counting votes.

That's why nothing is written about it in ancient literature.

Wm Jas said...

"That's why nothing is written about it in ancient literature."

The Roman Senate voted. Ostracisms were decided by voting in ancient Athens. Universal suffrage may be a new thing under the sun, but voting itself is pretty old.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Fair point - the semi-modernities of the past shared our same corruptions.

But I think that morally admirable people despised voting even then!

Of course a big majority (2:1 approx) (which does not need any kind of accurate counting) is an expression of coercive force or power, at least it is when the vote is among a mass of approx equally powerful individuals. A vote count is then a rough and ready calculation of power.

This is not, of course, morality but expediency - and has nothing to do with truth or rightness of the decision. It is saying 'we want this and you can't stop us' - the required response is simply submission, not an acknowledgement of authority or validity.

JP said...


"Holy Scripture does not forbid voting. (Or have I missed something?)"

This is the wrong way to look at it. Does the Bible positively approve of voting? No. (Or have I missed something?) Why should one believe in the goodness of a system that does not have God's positive approval?

Moses did not get his judges by popular vote - he appointed capable men (Exodus 18, 13-26).

There are a number of stories in the Bible that show the idiocy of democracy. For example:
- The whole Israelite community wanted to return to slavery rather than follow Moses (Exodus 16, Numbers 14).
- "The People" vote for idolatry (Exodus 32).
- Jesus is crucified to satisfy "the crowd" (Matthew 15).

Seems to me that it is the desire for democracy that is an "enthusiasm", not opposition to it, and it is hard to understand why Christians support it. Certainly there has been no success in voting for Christian leaders who will pass Christian laws.

The Continental Op said...

Voting essentially boils down to numbers determining what is right. Vox Populi, Vox Dei. That is why we have a phrase like tyranny of the majority. You can also have a tyranny of the minority, if things are set up to allow it. No one ever talks about a tyranny of what is right, or a tyranny of virtue, beauty, and truth. Doubtless the wicked feel God's ways are a tyranny, but they never quite come out and say it, their preferred way of subverting them is with a vote. Leftists are always trying to add more voters (more wicked voters, more bought votes, more dead voters) to the rolls, so they can have more votes to push their evil.

dearieme said...

"a properly run army will never use a vote": perhaps that was why I was discussing a rugby club? When I was skipper of my house cricket side at school, I chose the XI. But we weren't running three sides and people couldn't leave in the huff. I would skipper every match and was present at every nets session. Similarly, I ran the school magazine without (as far as I can recall) calling votes, largely on the principle that if I was doing almost all the editing work I was going to make the decisions. But in adult life you soon find yourself dependent on the knowledge of others, including their tacit knowledge. You then must work together and sometimes you find it best to have a vote both because it might be the least bad way to make the decision, and because it might help keep the group working well together for the next task.

dearieme said...

"e.g. You can make it one person's job per selection decision." That would be fun to try. I guess that you are not speaking from rugby club experience here?

Look, I'm quite happy to accept that we over-use voting, that we use it for the wrong things, and so on. But a blanket ban strikes me as unlikely to be wise.

JP said...

"in adult life you soon find yourself dependent on the knowledge of others, including their tacit knowledge"

This is why the commander has a staff. The staff advises, the commander decides. The commander does not make decisions by allowing the staff to vote, even though they may have superior knowledge of logistics, intelligence, etc.

Al. said...

I consider voting as a mechanism to make sure that nobody stays in power for too long in democracies. In principle, in my opinion, it could be replaced with a random selection of leaders -- who would probably do less damage that elected party officials.

Dr Charlton, does this position make sense to you?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Al. - It's just an idea - it won't happen because it is not in anybody's interest to make it happen, or make it keep happening.

dearieme said...

@JP, rugby clubs don't have commanders. You are committing the logical fallacy of arguing that because voting would sometimes be a poor way to make a decision it must always be a poor way to make a decision. The technical name for such a logical fallacy is "childish mistake".

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - actually, I think you are making the worse argument here. You are trying to demolish a general principle by putting forward what you say is an exception that refutes it, but it is probably not an exception.

All that you are saying is that - in a place which has had several centuries of escalating propaganda in favour of the intrinsic validity/ morality of voting - then voting has become the only way to get this particular bunch of people to accept a decision.

There is nothing to suggest that voting leads to good or even adequate decisions - just that you say it is the only method that will hold together the club.

But why? To defer to a vote is not a spontaneous expression of human nature - it wouldn't happen in most of the world through most of history. The fact that this group defer to a vote - however that vote turns out - is merely a sign of thorough and effective brainwashing.

Al. said...

@bgc Very good point -- wishful thinking on my side, indeed.

Matias F. said...

German legal scholar Otto von Gierke has written about the history of the majoritarian principle. According to him, Germanic tribes had meetings between free men where they voted, but voting was merely a way to count the relative strenght of factions, there was no moral obligation to submit to the will of the majority. This could lead to a feud between the factions.

Gierke traces the majoritarian principle to the introduction of the concept of juridical person which logically can have only one will. This development was brought to fulfillment by 19th century liberals when the State was conceived as a juridical person.

I think Rousseau was the first to give voting a moral quality. He said that if everyone was the same, they would eventually come to the same conclusion. Therefore, the slightest majority indicates that the rest would come to the same conclusion, thus they can be forced for reasons of expediency.

dearieme said...

This whole discussion is far too black-and-white. You seem to be making a universal statement - voting is bad. I am not: I chose an example where occasional voting worked well, because it was familiar to me. I also mentioned a couple of examples from my youth that pointed the other way. I even mentioned the circs that seemed to me to determine, or at least influence, the outcomes. Meantime, Charlton thrusts down his huge Monty Python foot and repeats his assertion that voting is bad. He prays in aid no experience and just booms out the same message. This is, as the Pythons would have said, getting silly.

Kevin Nowell said...

So. in your opinion, the Church (both Catholic and Orthodox) has been wrong how it selects new Popes or Patriarchs/Metropolitans/Bishops all these years?

I am as anti-suffrage as you can get; but, I think some cases it is the best option. Not universal suffrage but a vote by the best qualified to vote.

Bruce Charlton said...

I notice that nobody has come up with an *argument* in favour of voting.

Kevin Nowell said...

The argument is that as you go down a level in an organization you increase the number of people with the same level of authority. Unless you are willing to rank every single member of a nation or of the Church;then, at some point, if you were to remove the top layer you will be left with the highest level of authority being spread amongst several men. You could have some process for determining who becomes the leader; but, this then is a *process* and not a man deciding. The ideal process in that situation is voting.

dearieme said...

Suppose six or seven of us are the shareholders in some business enterprise. Why would we not vote on policy? Why would my colleagues bother to try to persuade me to their point of view unless I might deploy a vote against? Why would I pay attention to theirs unless they could do the same. The prospect of a vote makes each of us gather facts and construct arguments in hopes of persuading the others; we might even persuade ourselves. There is every chance that this effort at self-education and mutual persuasion will improve our decision-making and increase the probability of our company continuing.

JP said...

@d, the argument that we should organize anything other than a rugby club using methods appropriate for a rugby club is... not obviously compelling.

The military organization analogy can scale down, even to the family level. The rugby club analogy, hmmm, I'm just not sure what that applies to, but it sure doesn't scale up to anything.

Wm Jas said...

Surely there are some cases where voting is legitimate. For example, a manager needs to arrange a time for a meeting, and different people find different times more convenient. It would seem quite reasonable to decide the meeting time by majority vote, so as to inconvenience as few people as possible.

On second thought, maybe this example actually proves your point. The final decision is still made by a person (the manager), and he is not bound in advance to follow the majority. Voting is an option available to him, a way of collecting relevant information about people's preferences in order to make an informed decision, but it isn't the decision-making process itself.

Thordaddy said...

As Christians, it seems that when we strip "voting" down to its conceptual essence it is the idea that there exists more than one legitimate authority to which we can look to in order to make a final decision. Of course, this notion would be false to the Christian and so the idea of "voting" is evidence of a liberationist construction. "Voting" is a tacit rejection of Christian Truth

When we add to this notion of "voting" the trend of "universal suffrage" and thus the idea that all should vote then we can also evidence a virus within "voting" that renders it meaningless as it gets closer to self-actualization. This virus would seem to have always been in "voting."

Ideologically, if the drive is to allow all people to "vote" then the real motivation is to make all people vote and then quite mathematically the decision of which authority is legitimate relies ENTIRELY upon one voter, randomly destined or particularly chosen. All votes before this on either side of the ballot are a mere setting of the stage. All votes after were absolutely superfluous.

Of course, having ONE sinful man, seemingly ignorant of the Truth that only one legitimate authority exists, nonetheless deciding who is to be the "legitimate authority" in a system that professes belief in "universal suffrage" seems quite devilish to me.

It sounds like real the perfect tyranny.

Charlie said...

But voting has been used for centuries in Christianity. The Bishops voted at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea, in 325, and Bishops (In my tradition at least, Eastern Orthodox) vote on issues to this day. The process itself is valid in some situations.

Universal political suffrage from the age of 18? That's another whole ball game.

FHL said...

"I notice that nobody has come up with an *argument* in favour of voting."

Ok then, I will try. Alright, I won't actually support voting the way it's done today. Today's voting has to do with voting on morality and is far too large in scope to be useful. But I think deareime has a point in saying that there is a difference between a country voting on a national issue, especially one concerning morality- which should be obvious, and a rugby team voting on their captains, or committees, or whatever. (I'm not British, all I know about Rugby is that is like American football but without the protection gear)

But here's what is beneficial about voting: due to human tendencies to create major dilemmas out of minor issues and umbrage to hurt egos, voting allows a community a path to come to a conclusion with minimal bloodshed. Should Suzie be president of the Muffin & Pastries Bakery Club or should Sandy? This argument could go on forever, with each woman backstabbing the other for primacy in their pastry club, but with voting there is a system that everyone agrees beforehand to respect which will settle the issue on a particular date, thus letting the bakers get back to their ovens.

So I think voting comes in handy for local communities: should this or that road be built? What should the speed limit be for this or that road? Should we have a noise ordinance or should people just buy earplugs?

All of these issues may be the cause of heated debate, but all of these issues are relatively minor issues which should not affect the general character of the community no matter which way things turn out. If there was no system of voting, the arguments could turn bitter, and things could get violent. But when you say: “Let's vote on it!” you are saying that we all agree to a certain method to come to a conclusion to this matter, so let's just come up with something and be done with it.

The primary benefit of voting is expediency. The primary negative that results from voting is lack of responsibility, for both the voters and the people attempting to influence the voters. If it is an issue which is not all that important, you can choose expediency over responsibility (I think) with minimal damage. However, if you choose responsibility over expediency for a minor issue, you may end up with problematic attitudes and social ideas that are overblown in terms of the actual damage done by the practical decisions.

Now what does this mean about voting in terms of U.S. Presidents and whatnot? I don't know. I would like to think that the Presidential races pitted two good Christian characters against one another, where their differences would be minor and have only a temporary effect. But I really don't know the answer to this.

FHL said...

Oh, that last phrase about the U.S. Presidents referred to the past... the "good ol' days."

Obviously, most if not all of those who run for the Presidency nowadays are simply not Christian.

FHL said...

"All that you are saying is that - in a place which has had several centuries of escalating propaganda in favour of the intrinsic validity/ morality of voting - then voting has become the only way to get this particular bunch of people to accept a decision.

There is nothing to suggest that voting leads to good or even adequate decisions - just that you say it is the only method that will hold together the club."

Yes, but when holding the club is more important than the individual decisions that are being voted on, then that's where voting comes in handy. To quickly settle an issue and move on to more important things.

I really don't know if I'm right on this. I'm sort of playing devil's advocate here out intellectual interest, I sincerely have no idea if there is any place in Christian societies for voting or not.

Bruce Charlton said...

Having just read through the comments - and thanks to all who have commented - a couple of things jump out.

1. Voting is okay if and when the decision doesn't matter much.

This seems like an argument against voting.

2. It may be useful for the sake of its cohesion for a group to agree, in advance, to abide by the outcome of a decision-making *procedure*.

Voting is one such procedure, so is drawing lots, or being guided by some external event seen as expressive of fate or divine will.

What procedure can be agreed upon in advance will vary between societies - but in places like the UK and the US then people will agree to abide by votes.


BUT - what if, as I believe, these are slippery slopes.

Socially agreed decision-making procedures are points where a society expresses its fundamental nature, its bottom line beliefs.

So voting is not just something that can be got out when needed then put away; to make people abide by votes requires the creation and sustaining of a particular social milieu: the kind that regards voting as an appropriate thing to do.

This means that before you can use voting in one specific situation (and expect it to work, expect people to abide by it), you need to propagandize for voting as the right and proper thing.

SO voting never will stop with trivial decisions, or for the purposes of social cohesion: it is bound to continue being deployed more and more widely, because the population has necessarily been convinced that voting is the *proper* thing to do.

So we get a slippery slope; and voting will be used in the most serious situations, not just the most trivial; and voting will be used (e.g in political elections) when its usage is grossly *divisive* (not creating of cohesion).

This is, of course, a description of what has happened in the West since democracy was fetichized.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kevin Nowell - "So. in your opinion, the Church (both Catholic and Orthodox) has been wrong how it selects new Popes or Patriarchs/Metropolitans/Bishops all these years?"

I would HOPE that Eastern and Western Catholics would flat-out deny that these decisions were made by vote.

If such decisions are not being treated by all participants as an outcome of the Holy Ghost, a product of divine will accessed by prayer, then all such decisions will be completely anti-Christian in tendency (even when not so in their immediate effect).

Bruce Charlton said...


We need to distinguish between on the one hand 'voting' used as a quick way of canvassing opinion (e.g. "Hands up who agrees with this? Who disagrees?") - this information-gathering contributing towards a decision potentially by one person; and on the other hand voting as a decision-making process (e.g. when the decision is dictated by the preponderance of opinion, the majority on show of hands).

Bruce Charlton said...

The modern principle of 'one man one vote' is unnatural - since some of the 'voters' are much more powerful than others - and a single powerful voter could sabotage any decision.

The British Labour Party used to choose their leader on a basis of voting, but where Trades Union leaders wielded 'block votes'; so the leader of a large union of x hundred thousand members, had x hundred thousand votes.

This seems like a mathematical way of reflecting the reality that, in life and politics, it is vital to get agreement from A, B and C - but the disagreement of D, E through to Z does not really matter.

But again, this boils down to the pragmatic business of constructing a procedure the outcome of which the voters - or rather the powerful voters - can be made to abide by, in advance of the outcome being known.

If it can be achieved, which is difficult, then there is a short term advantage in cohesion; but 1. It is a slippery slope (as described above) and 2. There is a massive incentive to subvert procedure to lead to the desired outcome - and this has no limit until it reaches a point where the advance assent to the decision by powerful players is lost.

In practice this means that powerful players subvert the decision making process (voting) as much as they can, in other words there is covert conflict between powerful interest focused on manipulating the voting process (in so far as that process is important). And this breaks down cohesion.

This suggests that advance agreement to procedure only works *in the long term* when the procedure CANNOT BE MANIPULATED BY POWERFUL INTERESTS.

But since the procedure must obtain the consent of powerful interests., then how can a procedure which cannot be manipulated by them gain the assent of powerful interests?

The only such procedures are mathematically random. And random procedures can only be used in trivial choices, where the outcome doesn't matter.

ERGO voting is self-subverting and therefore CANNOT be used, in the long term, to make *valid* decisions, tough decisions, decisions where much hangs on the outcome...

(There is an answer to the seemingly insoluble problem of obtaining the consent of powerful interests for methods of decision making which they cannot manipulate - and that answer is religion (or perhaps 'ideology'). The powerful interests must believe that there is something more important than their interests, and will therefore consent to be governed by that principle, without using their power to resist it.)

FHL said...

“BUT - what if, as I believe, these are slippery slopes.

SO voting never will stop with trivial decisions, or for the purposes of social cohesion: it is bound to continue being deployed more and more widely, because the population has necessarily been convinced that voting is the *proper* thing to do.

So we get a slippery slope; and voting will be used in the most serious situations, not just the most trivial; and voting will be used (e.g in political elections) when its usage is grossly *divisive* (not creating of cohesion). “

Why do you always have to be right? One day you should just say the most ridiculous stuff, just to give us little people hope that we can be as wise as you someday...

To add to this, I realized an issue right after I had sent you my post.

How can you tell when an issue is trivial or not? If it is not trivial, people will want to vote on it, but the elite won't let them, so long as the majority hold the status quo they wish to keep. If it is trivial, people should not care to vote on it, but the elite will hold a vote if some people do not take the issue to be a trivial issue at all to show them that they “care” and to give validity to the voting process.

And if the elite feel that an issue is not trivial yet they sense large disagreement, they will make the issue seem trivial in order to get a vote and solidify the standing of their viewpoint.

(sorry if this is confusing, I'm just coming up with this right now, and I am sort of confusing myself in the process...)

This comes into play with things like homosexual “marriage.” The elites want to bring it to a vote, and their reasoning is “it's not a big deal, if Americans don't care, then Americans don't care, and it should be legal.”

Almost all liberal agendas are promoted in two opposite, but very clever, ways: either the thing is so important that it must be condemned as blasphemy and no vote can be taken (any talk of removing Affirmative Action or limiting Immigration is treated this way) or it is so trivial that we must vote on it (“Who cares what I do with my vagina?” says the lesbian feminist...).

In either case, the liberal elite wishes for a certain outcome, but will manipulate both the seriousness or the frivolity of the issues in order to further manipulate the society. So certain issues which they have declared as racism/feminism (“How dare you say that! Don't you know that's against women/blacks/asians/martians/Brazilians/dwarfs/etc.?”) they will never release to a vote. But others (“It's not big deal if a woman decides to get an abortion- these things happen, don't they?”) they release to a vote.

And now that I think of it, and like I said, sorry for the confusion, I'm coming up with this on the fly, they keep their bases well guarded (ideas such as anti-racism/feminism/classism/etc.) while allowing the specifics (specific bills/policy changes/laws) to go to the vote. They argue in favor of the specifics with use of their bases, but they can consider the specifics to be a loss so long as they do not lose their bases (they can just try again in a couple of years). But were they to lose their bases, they couldn't possibly risk their specifics in a vote, for if they lost, they may never regain their ground.

I'm rambling... I hope that makes sense...

FHL said...

...but when they pass the specifics, they further solidify their bases... thus leading them to have stronger influence in arguing more specifics... thus giving their bases more power... thus...

HA! I've figured them out!

And now I will weep and pray, because I can't figure anyway of defeating this eternal circle of nonsense without God.

JP said...

It is also worth noting that in our PC world, the Left accepts the results of voting only when the outcome is in accordance with their preference. If they don't get what they want, the vote is not considered "final" (we'll keep voting until the electorate gets it right) or they have the courts set it aside. In short, voting is a process that is rigged to favor the Left, and thus traditionalists and conservatives should certainly not regard it as sacred or as a method that can possibly lead to any kind of good outcome.

Jacob said...

I think voting is such a core modern belief that most people feel the need of some absolutely overwhelming argument to even consider that voting might not be good - and even then are by default in favor of the idea.

The arguments against BGC I've read so far have not addressed his core complaint: lack of responsibility and the moral problems this entails

"Where there is a vote, there there will be no good; since there will be no responsibility."

I think this is very apparent, as once a vote is decided individuals act as if the outcome is no longer any individual voter's responsibility should things turn out poorly.

I think we may also be ignoring an underlying assumption from voters: that God does not directly intervene or inspire in worldly events. That is the idea that voting is a necessity because someone must decide a decider. Who elects the ultimate leader which we could give the appointing power to? Without inspiration from a higher authority (i.e. God) we assume the winner is stronger, cleverer, more deceitful in order to win - or we need another flawed means like voting.

Unfortunately voting certainly does not solve the issue of "the most deceit" winning - every modern election spends obscene amounts of money to propagandize the populace. At the least, I does not seem that voting is in any possible way better than other options.

Wurmbrand said...

JP, I used "enthusiasm" in a technical sense that might not have been clear. It means "en -theos- ism," i.,e. that one takes one's feelings or opinions to proceed from the "god within." It is, thus, "enthusiasm" when people create obligations or lay down prohibitions as being from God, when they are really their own or their group's notions. I was saying that it approaches enthusiasm when someone implies that to vote is a sin.

But, to move to a new point -- I think this discussion demonstrates a serious difference between my own Lutheran convictions and those of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and many other Christians. The latter groups appear to me to be preoccupied with the idea of maintaining and incrementally increasing one's personal holiness; and so it is suggested by some such folk that one defiles oneself by voting, so one ought to abstain.

For a Lutheran, one's holiness is assigned and communicated from without, by Christ. What we are instead to be focused on includes the welfare of our neighbor. Do I serve him better by staying home or by voting? I say that, however sad I may be that my choices are not better, I can serve my neighbor better casting a vote, as always, for the lesser of two evils. Yes, doing so means being part of something tainted by all manner of worldliness. But for the sake not only of myself but for my neighbor, I will cast that vote. Pecca fortiter.

Charlie said...

"I would HOPE that Eastern and Western Catholics would flat-out deny that these decisions were made by vote."

You're right. It's the Holy Spirit acting through the Bishops. But now you've just contradicted your title--voting in that context is an instrument of God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale "I was saying that it approaches enthusiasm when someone implies that to vote is a sin."

But am I actually saying that, I wonder?

I am saying that it is sinful to regard voting as good, because voting destroys personal responsibility; it is probably a sin to regard any decision making process as primary - and to regard whatever comes out of process as good - because that is to offer allegiance to a pig in a poke.

I am saying that it would probably be sinful for ME to vote, given my understanding of, beliefs about, voting.

For me this was something of a test case - am I a person who thinks and writes and says things and then just carries on as if I it makes no difference; or should I try to live by my understandings?

The standard thing among skeptical intellectuals is to engage in moral critique - then set it aside and participate in careerism and status seeking. This leads to the typical modern affect of cynicism; self-loathing despair - bad faith that knows it is bad faith but does it anyway.

It is also a test case for how to lead the holy life, and I seem to have come down on the 'unworldly' side rather than the expedient side; I regard my participation in procedures of voting (from the local right up to the national and multinational - European elections - as a vast worldly propaganda system with multiple evil intentions and effects.

Voting is a powerful form of psychological brainwashing. It can be resisted, but is probably much more powerful than we acknowledge. To be engaged in a process of voting - including the whole business of deliberation and analysis and influence leading-up to voting - is to place oneself in a situation of some peril.

I don't trust myself to be able to resist its malign effects.

Thordaddy said...

Mr. Charlton says,

I am saying that it is sinful to regard voting as good, because voting destroys personal responsibility...

Yes, "voting" implies that "we" do not know right and so we MUST GIVE "voice" to wrong. This is the total rejection of personal responsibility.

We then obscure this fundamental fact of "voting" by convincing ourselves that we are honestly just choosing "less wrong" over "more wrong" and there has to be some right in that choice. We take personal responsibility for choosing "less wrong," but not really any more personal responsibility than is taken by those who choose "more wrong." They voted too and that's what really counts.

The basic point is that we are "voting" because we no longer know what's right.

Wurmbrand said...

Again -- as a Lutheran, I am drawn to say that the Bible tells us what is forbidden, either explicitly or by inescapable implication. (We are sometimes linked too readily in people's minds with a Reformed stance whereby only what is explicitly allowed in Scripture is permissible; so they have held that one must not sing songs except those found in the Psalms, etc.) I don't find that the Bible explicitly or implicitly condemns voting. It is thus a neutral thing. One may abstain from particular occasions of voting for various good reasons, but one shouldn't arrogate to oneself the right to claim that voting per se is and must be evil.

Is voting an instrument of the devil? Certainly -- as is any other worldly arrangement. Voting may also be an instrument whereby I seek to serve my neighbor.

Of course I respect Dr. Charlton's conscientious decision to abstain from voting, as, were he a Corinthian Christian, I would affirm his decision not to buy meat that had been offered to idols; nor would I serve it to him; but for myself, I would likely exercise my Christian liberty to buy and eat such meat. here we do have a Scriptural principle! (However, it is years since I bought pork, having read Matthew Scully's excellent book Dominion. Many other Christians might read the book and still find that their consciences permitted them to do so, despite Mr. Scully's opposition to the factory-farming abuses to which these intelligent animals are subjected.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - I am not really talking about what I think other people should or should not do. I am talking about principles.

My observation is that we actually live in a society which regards voting as the most *moral* way to decide: it is this which I challenge.

On the contrary, I find it hard to see how voting can be moral at all. Surely it is almost the opposite of moral?

How on earth did we ever get the idea that voting was *in principle* moral; leave aside being the *best* way of making a decision?

It is here that the devil might have had a role to play...

JP said...


I used "enthusiasm" in a technical sense that might not have been clear.

No, I understood you, and I used it in the same sense. That's why I put it in quotes. "Taking one's feelings or opinions to proceed from the 'god within'" is an excellent way to describe the modern view of democracy.

I don't find that the Bible explicitly or implicitly condemns voting.

I think the Bible implicitly condemns it. All the leaders in the Bible are put in place by the hand of God (Moses, Noah, Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, etc.) The Kingdom of God is not a democracy.

You might find this droll:

SonofMoses said...

Dear Bruce,
I spend the day out and I come back and find I have missed out on one of the most popular and hard-fought comment threads you’ve ever had!
If I am to add my tuppence worth, I’m pretty late to the match. This in itself could be seen as a form of voting and it must give us pause that some postings inspire so much more verbal interest than others.
To me this whole question revolves around the fitness of the voters.
To illustrate this I would like to quote from my own experience. A few years ago I was chairman of a translation project where we were putting an ancient Sanskrit text into English. There were about half a dozen of us. At those points where there was no agreement on a particular issue, the use of one English word as opposed to another for example, after a full discussion and reference to all the authorities, we customarily put the thing to a vote and accepted the outcome so that we could move on. Without this process we would probably still be debating the first verse!
Of course, as chairman, I could have laid down the law and decided each time. But I was highly respectful of the scholarship of some of our committee members and the judgment of others and the rich vocabulary of yet others. In the event, the translation, when we looked at it afresh the week after, always seemed to have benefited from this process.
The point here, and we all agreed on this, is that there seemed to be a ‘mind of the group’ operating and the vote was just one of the ways we tapped into this.
I don’t know how the committees which translated the Authorised Version worked but I would be surprised if they did not use voting as part of their process. In our case the translation got looked at time and time again and alterations could always be made later, so it was not a life or death decision, but it felt right and exercised us in the humility of accepting the majority view, but, and this I repeat is the crucial point, it only worked because that majority at each vote was composed of people whose judgment we respected so highly.
The same by no means applies to English or American elections. One can only despair at the general ignorance, indolence and stupidity of the majority of the voters concerned.
I note also that the final decisions on the Authorised translation seemed to have been taken by one man, Mr. John Bois, I believe, who saw the thing through the press.

Bruce Charlton said...


I wonder whether it is really valid to scrape history for examples of voting that had good results?

It would not be possible to say, and I don't say, that every single instance of voting leads to bad results; that would deny the power of the Holy Ghost to work through whatever He chooses to work through. It is not unusual for Good to come from evil - even evil intent is turned against itself sometimes.

And especially voting may lead to good when the participants are trying for Good.

And even more particularly, voting will not derail good intentions when the whole operation is under very direct divine inspiration - as with the preparation of the Authorized version.

So voting might lead to good sometimes. I fully accept that. But that does not, I think, refute my recognition that voting is evil in principle; it does not refute it in the slightest degree.

Again I ask - why on earth should any sane person imagine (if it had not been inculcated in him from birth) that voting was an acceptable - leave aside the best - procedure for making a decision?

Wurmbrand said...

JP observed, "I think the Bible implicitly condemns it. All the leaders in the Bible are put in place by the hand of God (Moses, Noah, Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, etc.) The Kingdom of God is not a democracy."

It is not a kingdom of this world. The children of Israel were a unique nation, a true theocracy till they aped the nations around them and insisted on a monarchy. God granted them this arrangement and, if one may put it this way, worked with it. If you are a Christian, you belong to Christ's Kingdom, which, as He said, is not of this world. You also have citizenship in a kingdom of this world, unless you are merely a subject (e.g. as in North Korea) with no rights. You may use the rights of citizenship, at times, to serve your neighbor, or so I believe. You work with what you have, crude and poor as it may be. I think this is better than opting out till one gets a system more to one's liking.

You "render unto Caesar" when you pay taxes. You might as well try to influence how those tax funds are spent, if you can -- right?

In these discussions, national elections seem often to be assumed. In local, county, and state elections, and when serving on committees in one's place of employment, or as a club member, etc., one may have real influence. For example, suppose one belongs to a book club that meets once a week. Perhaps one could influence the group to vote to discuss, say a Jane Austen novel, rather than some meretricious modern novel.

Samson J. said...

'Grievous is our loss,' said Legolas. 'Yet we must needs make up our minds without his aid. Why cannot we decide, and so help Frodo? Let us call him back and then vote! I should vote for Minas Tirith.'

'And so should I,' said Gimli. 'We of course, were only sent to help the Bearer along the road...

... I would choose Minas Tirith, but if he does not, then I follow him."

And of course the Fellowship did not vote. Hard decisions are to be made by leaders, so that they may feel the weight of responsibility.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ -

That's a good example of what I mean my having a 'show of hands' (about a dichotomous yes-no decision) in order to get each persons opinion - which helps Aragorn and/or Frodo to make the decision. (The decision made by Aragorn, with Frodo implicitly having a veto).

What the Fellowship would not do is have a vote and agree in advance to be bound by the majority decision (or any other such procedure).

And even if they did, this would regarded as some kind of desperate last resort - an admission of the failure of authority or duty or both. That's what we do every time we use voting.

@Dale - I have found voting to be pernicious at every level I have seen it.

For example, the use of voting in a small group who is auditioning for a musical show generally produces some really terrible casting decisions in an unpredictable, inexplicable and inescapable way.

But then, why would it *not* do so? Why on earth should we expect voting to produce good decisions?

JP said...

"The children of Israel were a unique nation, a true theocracy till they aped the nations around them and insisted on a monarchy. God granted them this arrangement and, if one may put it this way, worked with it."

The inescapable implication is that divine monarchy is the proper form of government for Christians.

God did not have to "work with" bad decisions. If He didn't approve of kings, He would have made that plain.