US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Dirty politics: Is it a sin?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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Last week Meg Sweas asked if Christians could be Tea Partiers, which got me thinking more about the morality of politics--dangerous territory. Neck-deep in attack ads every night, I'm finally thoroughly nauseated by the midterm election campaign. It's bad enough that our political conversation has become a nightly flashback to middle school, with name-calling on all sides, but is it a sin, too?

Well, the eighth commandment forbids "bearing false witness against your neighbor," in other words, lying, and especially lying in such a way that it will hurt your neighbor. Whole websites, such as, are devoted to untangling the truthfulnes of attack ads, and their analyses almost always reveal a certain amount of "false witness." I'll go out on a limb and call that a sin.

But what about all the money bankrolling the ads? That question is especially interesting since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision last year that gave corporations and unions the right to spend as much money as they wanted to influence elections, a decision that has spawned so-called super-PACs with names like the religious-sounding Revere America and Karl Rove's American Crossroads that don't have to disclose their donors.

In other words, now we can bear false witness against our opponents and be anonymous while we do it. In the Catholic moral tradition, we call that "material cooperation."

In addition to being an abuse and perversion of the right to free speech, I'll go out on limb and call that a sin, too, as well as an act of moral cowardice.