As of this moment, it looks like the media is going to give Rick Santorum a free pass on his denial that he agrees with the Rev. Dennis Terry – the man who introduced him at a church service with the most over-the-top assertion of Christian theocracy in decades.
Here’s what Terry said in his introduction:
America “was founded as a Christian nation” and remains a country where “there is only one God and his name is Jesus…If you don’t love America you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, GET OUT! We don’t worship Buddha. We don’t worship Mohammed. We don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”
Now here’s how Santorum distinguished his own view:
“If the question is do I agree with his statement…obviously I believe in freedom of religion and all religions are welcome. I think I’ve made that pretty clear throughout my campaign that I believe very much in the freedom of religion and folks should be able to worship whoever they want to worship and bring their thoughts in the public square.”
As of this writing, it appears that the media is pretty much accepting this response at face value and is basically wandering away muttering “Oh well, I guess that’s O.K.”
But for anyone who has read the other major addresses Santorum has delivered about religion, his ambiguous sound bite about all religions being “welcome”, and free to “bring their thoughts to the public square” is a tip-off that he’s actually dodging the expression of his actual opinions on religion rather than honestly asserting them.
Several weeks ago The Democratic Strategist published a substantial analysis of Thomas Jefferson’s religious philosophy that began with a summary of Santorum’s religious views. The following excerpt from that analysis reveals the major elements of Santorum’s religious philosophy.
Rick Santorum’s Religious Views
In recent weeks Rick Santorum has suddenly brought into the mainstream national political debate a series of core ideas of the religious right that had previously been confined to the conservative community. Santorum shocked many commentators with the statements that he believed that the Christian faithful were literally in a “spiritual war” with secular society, that John Kennedy’s 1960 speech supporting the constitutional separation of church and state made Santorum “want to throw up” and that not only Barack Obama but most mainstream Christian denominations had actually ceased to be genuinely Christian.
Behind the controversial quotes that appeared in the media in late February, there are two major speeches that Santorum delivered, one at the Ave Maria University in Florida and the other at the University of St Thomas in Houston Texas. These two speeches provide a more robust and nuanced view of his theological views and taken together with his public statements on the campaign trail make it possible to summarize Santorum’s basic theological ideas with a series of direct quotations:
1. That universities are actually indoctrination camps that brainwash students against religion
“I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country…62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,”
2 .That scientists are inherently immoral because of their lack of religious faith.
• “Most scientists unfortunately, those that certainly are advocating for this (embryonic stem cell research), and many others feel very little moral compulsion. It’s a utilitarian, materialistic view of doing whatever they can do to pursue their desired goals.”
• Scientists will go wherever they want to go because they don’t feel any moral constraints”
3. That the Christian faithful are literally in a spiritual war with scientists and the university
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… The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.
4. That the principle of separation of church and state — which John Kennedy defended in his 1960 speech as designed to prevent the church from dictating government policy — actually implies driving religion and the faithful completely out of public life.
Ultimately Kennedy’s attempt to reassure Protestants that the Catholic Church would not control the government and suborn its independence advanced a philosophy of strict separation that would create a purely secular public square cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths. …Kennedy’s error also unleashed a new form of censorship that would make vows to the Almighty a constitutional offense, rob clergy of their First Amendment rights and deprive our leaders and our country of their inspired wisdom and guidance
5. That freedom of religious expression need not and should not be limited in any way in order to safeguard the rights of religious minorities.
The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square…Our founders believed that if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths — a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.
On June 12, 1775, Congress’ first act was to urge a national day of “public humiliation, fasting and prayer” for which it commissioned “ministers of the gospel of all denominations” to participate. On the assigned day, Congress attended services at an Anglican Church in the morning and a Presbyterian meetinghouse in the afternoon. The following year they convened at Philadelphia’s “Roman Chapel” and later a Dutch Lutheran Church.
This is the vision. A vibrant, fully clothed public square; a marketplace of believers and non-believers where truth could be proffered and reasoned, and differences civilly tolerated.
(It is important to observe that in this quote Santorum does not seem to notice that neither non-Christians nor nonbelievers had any place in this state-sanctioned “Christians only” public square. In fact, his basic view is that non-Christians should not expect to receive any recognized position or protected status in the public square by virtue of being religious minorities but should rather accept that they will simply be granted permission to express their views.
Asked in interview “What should we do with all the non-Christians in this country,” Santorum replied:
Come into the public square. Come to my town hall meetings, as people have done, and disagree with me and let’s have a discussion. Let’s air your ideas, let’s bring them in, let’s explain why you believe what you believe and what you think is best for the country. People of faith, people of no faith, people of different faith, that’s what America is all about, it’s bringing that diversity into and challenge of the different ideas that motivate people in our country.
That Christian faith is the only viable foundation for moral values and a just society.
• Far from reflecting hostility toward religion, our founders, rooted in their own faith convictions, knew that faith was not just an essential element, but the essence of civilization and the inspiration of culture.
• In his Regensburg address, Pope Benedict XVI …discussed those societies which would attempt to live without God, as in secular Europe or Communist China. In the secular West, he said, “… the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter.”
• Santorum quotes John Henry Newman to the effect that “without religious foundation “conscience” becomes a license to take up any or no religion … to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them…Without some objective moral touchstone, conscience is no more than self indulgence.”
Taken together these ten quotes combine to create a coherent argument for the view that America was always intended to be an avowedly Christian nation and should now become a country where no formal barriers exist between church and state. It is a view that can be summarized in the three propositions already noted above:
• That there is literally a “spiritual war” between contemporary science and the university on the one hand and religion and Christian faith on the other.
• That the right to “free exercise” of religion means that there should be absolutely no legal separation imposed between church and state and that the Christian majority’s right to the free exercise of religion must be granted absolute priority over any protections of the rights of religious minorities.
• That Christian faith is the indispensible foundation for moral values and any just and decent society.
Although Santorum brings a distinctly Catholic sensibility to his religious conservatism, his views are by no means specific to conservative Catholicism. On the contrary, they are widely shared core convictions of the predominantly Protestant religious right and are among the most deeply and passionately held views of the millions of ordinary grass-roots Christian conservatives.