What’s up with Rick Santorum?
The uber-Catholic former Pennsylvania senator is not one to shy away from injecting his faith into the public realm, but some comments over the past few days reveal an odd sort of religious Manichaeism. On one side are those who subscribe to his very particular understanding of the world and his unique interpretation of Catholicism, and on the other is everyone else.
Consider a 2008 speech he gave at Ave Maria University in Florida. In it, Santorum employs language that is quite atypical for Roman Catholics these days, blending spiritual warfare and nationalist politics:
This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country - the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age. There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America's preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.
He didn't have much success in the early days. Our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.
Santorum describes how the “Father of Lies” attacked four pillars of American society-academia, culture, politics, and the church-to bring about the nation’s downfall. Decrying the lax sexual mores of American society and attributing that to the general decline of societal structures isn’t new for those of Santorum’s ilk, but his comments about Protestant churches are striking, especially considering his newfound base is comprised largely of Evangelical Christians. Santorum claims that Satan weaseled his way into universities to educate leaders who belonged to Protestant churches, churches that are no longer Christian:
And so what we saw this domino effect, once the colleges fell and those who were being education in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it. So they attacked mainline Protestantism, they attacked the Church, and what better way to go after smart people who also believe they’re pious to use both vanity and pride to also go after the Church.
Presumably the non-Catholic Christians now voting for Santorum would pass his strict test of who is and who is not a Christian, but those who disagree with his political leanings don’t fare so well.
Speaking to the ongoing controversy over the HHS contraception mandate, Santorum claimed that President Obama is forcing a non-biblical theology on the Christian church. From the Chicago Tribune:
Obama's agenda is "not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology," Santorum told supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement at a Columbus hotel.
When asked about the statement at a news conference later, Santorum said, "If the president says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."
But Santorum did not back down from the assertion that Obama's values run against those of Christianity.
"He is imposing his values on the Christian church. He can categorize those values anyway he wants. I'm not going to," Santorum told reporters.
Santorum said that he was not, in fact, questioning Obama's faith, but in the same breath ascribed a sort of neo-pagan philosophy to the president. From the Los Angeles Times:
"I accept the fact that the president’s a Christian," he said. "I just said that when you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man, and says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, like for example that politicization of the whole global warming debate, this is just all an attempt to centralize power, to give more power to the government."
He added: "I’m talking about the belief that man should be in charge of the Earth and should have dominion over it and should be good stewards of it."
Scrutinizing Santorum’s faith is fair game because he makes such a spectacle of it on the campaign trail. For a man who wants to lead a secular multicultural society, his comments hinting at nationalistic-spiritual warfare and his reflexive tendency to dismiss those who disagree with him as “other” border on disturbing. Utilizing one’s faith to inform one’s politics is healthy and encouraging, especially when the resulting policies answer the biblical exhortation to protect the poor and marginalized. But claiming that those who differ from you in the values they hold or the worldviews they profess have been influenced by the Devil himself is truly bizarre and perhaps abhorrent.
With his rise in the polls, Santorum has a national platform that he can use to demonstrate how his Catholic faith shapes his political views, but he should also be ready for to answer questions about how he seems to reject some church teaching as well. Because in addition to talk of angels and demons, abortion and gay marriage, the church clearly states its views on immigration, war, torture, healthcare, and myriad other issues where Santorum diverges.