[Re-posted from earlier today.]
What’s fascinating to me about Santorum‘s outburst yesterday was not its content, but its candor. In fact, one of Santorum’s advantages in this race, especially against Romney, is that we can see exactly where he stands. There can be no absolute separation of church and state, let alone a desire to keep it so; and in their necessary interactions, the church must always prevail, or it is a violation of the First Amendment, and an attack on religious freedom. The church’s teachings are also, according to theoconservatism, integral to the founding of the United States. Since constitutional rights are endowed from the Creator, and the Creator is the Judeo-Christian one, the notion of a neutral public square, embraced by liberals and those once called conservatives, is an attack on America. America is a special nation because of this unique founding on the Judeo-Christian God. It must therefore always be guided by God’s will, and that will is self-evident to anyone, Catholic or Protestant, atheist or Mormon, Jew or Muslim, from natural law.
Hence the notion that America could countenance abortion or same-sex marriage is anathema to Santorum and to theoconservatism. It can only be explained as the work of Satan, so alien is it to the principles of Judeo-Christian America. Hence the resort to constitutional amendments to ban both: total resolutions of these issues for ever must reflect what theocons believe was in the Founders’ hearts and minds.
This has long been the theocon argument; it was the crux of what I identified as the core Republican problem in “The Conservative Soul“. It is not social conservatism, as lazy pundits call it. It is a radical theocratically-based attack on modern liberal democracy; and on modernity as a whole. It would conserve nothing. It would require massive social upheaval, for example, to criminalize all abortion or keep all gay couples from having any publicly acknowledged rights or status. Then think of trying to get women back out of the workplace or contraception banned – natural, logical steps from this way of thinking. This massive change is radical, not conservative. It regards the evolution of American society these past few decades as literally the work of the Father of Lies, not the aggregate reflection of a changing society. It is at its essence a neo-Francoite version of America, an America that was not the pinnacle of Enlightenment thought, but an America designed to destroy what the theocons regard as the catastrophe of the Enlightenment.
PM Carpenter is right to note below that “Kennedy was emphasizing an institutional separation; he never denied that his conscience was influenced by his faith.” But to say that Santorum is attacking a chimera is unfair to both men. Yes, of course, Kennedy’s conscience was informed by his faith; how could it not be? But what Kennedy asserted was that his public pronouncements would be defended by non-sectarian reason, devoid of explicit religious content. Moral content – yes. Religious content – no. Which is why I have long found Obama’s occasional digression into defending, say, universal healthcare by invoking Jesus as depressingly part of the problem. Money Kennedy quote:
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
This is an explicit public denial that this country is a Christian nation. It is a reaffirmation that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The most important feature of today’s GOP – and the fundamental reason I have long abandoned it – stands foursquare against that idea. Moreover, in its fusion of explicit religion and explicit politics, it is itself, in my view, an attack on America – and the possibility of a civil republic. Its religious absolutism is the core underpinning of this country’s polarization – because when religion becomes politics, negotiation and compromise become impossible. Bring God into it, and a political conversation must become a culture war.
Note this too from Kennedy:
I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
This is a defense of private conscience as the core bulwark of religious life – emanating from the Second Vatican Council. And that too is what today’s radical GOP is attacking.
For Santorum, as for Ratzinger, if your conscience says one thing, and the Pope says another, you obey the Pope, not your conscience. And for the Christianists, if your conscience or intelligence says one thing, and the Bible says another, you obey the Bible, not your conscience, and certainly not your intelligence. Because beneath Christianism is a deep fear of the human mind – as if they actually believe that reason is stronger than religion and therefore must be restrained. As if the human mind can will God out of existence.
This is Santorum’s fear-laden vision. Which is why he is not a man of questioning, sincere faith and should not be flattered as such. He is a man of the kind of fear that leads to fundamentalist faith, a faith without doubt and in complete subservience to external authority. There is a reason he doesn’t want many kids to go to college. I mean: when we already know the truth, why bother to keep seeking it? And if we already know the truth, why are we not enforcing it as a matter of law in a country founded on Christian principles? It is not religious oppression if it is “the way things are supposed to be”, by natural law. In fact, a neutral public square, in his mind, is itself religious oppression.
We can also see here the collision of the Second Vatican Council and the current hierarchy. Kennedy was a Catholic of another era, unafraid of modernity, interested in other paths to God, publicly humble and cheerful, privately devout and deeply connected to others of all faiths and none. Santorum is of a different kind: authoritarian, deeply suspicious of freedom when it leads to disobedience of the Papacy’s diktats, and publicly embracing a religious identity as his core political one.
I am relieved he is at least candid. For now we can see in plain view the religious fanaticism that has destroyed one of the major parties in this country, a destruction that is perilous for any workable politics. It must be defeated – and not by electing a plastic liar and panderer like Romney. But by nominating Santorum and defeating him by such a margin that this theo-political Frankenstein, which threatens both genuine faith and civil politics, is dispatched once and for all.
(Photo: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at the St. Mary’s Cultural & Banquet Center on February 27, 2012 in Livonia, Michigan. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)