Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Absolutely Totally And Completely The Wrong Tone

Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:55 am, March 30th 2012     —    17 Comments »

Rick Santorum is as over as the Monkees.  Covering him is like covering last week’s news.  However, the real beat of this blog is religion and politics and he keeps stepping on that ground.  He is clearly having trouble accepting the fact that it is over, so he keeps swinging.  In his latest effort at campaign CPR, in an apparent attempt to capture the Catholic vote (his native vote that he has continually lost to Romney), he takes to Real Clear Religion with an op-ed entitled:

It Is Hard to Be Catholic in Public Life

What’s wrong with this picture?  For one thing, this is not exactly an outlet that will attract a lot of attention – more indication that Santorum is done.  But let’s focus on substance; its narrow Catholic focus could be one part of the issue.  If you want to be president, you have to president for everybody, that means to some extent you have to do away with labels.  In an identity conscious age, defining too tight an identity will send away more voters than it will capture.  This sort of thing works on a local level, but nationally, not going to happen.

Santorum rightly goes on to decry many of the Obama administration’s assaults on religious liberty.  But in making his case strictly Catholic, in forgetting to be inclusive of all religious expression, he seems to imply that the rest of us do not have problems.  Nonsense.  Indeed the latest Obama raid is against Catholics, but in such Catholics represent all of us of faith – just as Mormons represent all of us of faith as they are particularly under assault from the gay community.

Then Santorum moves into a detailed refutation of JFK’s 1960 Houston speech:

Three pictures hung in the home of my devoutly Catholic immigrant grandparents when I was a boy and I remember them well — Jesus, Pope Paul VI and John F. Kennedy. The president was a source of great pride and a symbol to Catholics that all barriers had finally been broken. What my family and maybe even candidate Kennedy at the time didn’t realize was that in a key moment in that election of 1960 in Houston, Kennedy helped began the construction of another, even more threatening wall for our society — one that sealed off informed moral wisdom into a realm of non rational beliefs that have no legitimate role in political discourse.

JFK delivered a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to dispel suspicions about the role the Catholic church might play in the government of this country under his administration. Let’s make no mistake about it — Kennedy was addressing a real issue and real prejudice at the time. But on that day, Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith. Let me quote from the beginning of Kennedy’s speech:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

The problem here is that Santorum is shooting at the wrong target.  The problem is not, nor has it ever been, Kennedy’s speech.  The problem has been how the left has warped that speech over time.  No church may dictate national policy – that is pretty doggone absolute.  “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”  That is about as definitive and absolute a separation as you can get.

The problem is that people confuse church and religion and morality.  Church is an institution – religion is a belief system – and morality is a code of ethics.  These are different things.  These three things tend to mutually reinforce each other, but they are distinct.  The left has sought to blur the distinction between these things in order to drive simple morality, primarily in the realms of sexual behavior, from the public square.  There is no constitutional requirement for a separation of morality and state, but if one thinks morality and religion and church inseparable, well….

And this is the problem with Santorum’s argument – it plays into the lack of distinction of these three things – and in doing so he buys into the essential argument of the left and ends up weakening the nation as a whole.  A free nation like ours, requires a people of moral character. For many of its citizens that morality is reinforced in religion, and that religion is institutionalized in church – many different churches, and several different religions.  All of us that share that morality should rise together in its defense because without it our nation will descend in the chaos that has plagued many a great nation before us.  If we grant the left their argument that there is no distinction between church, religion, and morality then we grant them the argument that allows our voice to be squelched in the public square.

Now, indeed, Catholic doctrine is that religion and church are inseparable, but morality is not.  That means that within the coalition of those of us that wish to defend this morality publicly, we will have some heated discussion – but we have to keep such internecine debate to ourselves.  I honestly cannot tell if Santorum thinks he is speaking for all of us of faith by speaking of the problems from a uniquely Catholic perspective, which would be an expression of this Catholic doctrine, or if he is just being close minded about the rest of us.  But let’s grant him the nobler motive for the sake of this discussion.

There are two problems with the way he advances his argument.  For one – the rest of us do not necessarily share that Catholic doctrine.  In fact Protestantism, and its child Evangelicalism, are born pretty much out of the realization that church and religion are in fact separable.  So, while Santorum may indeed be arguing inclusively from his own perspective, he is being exclusive from the perspective of the rest of us.  And considering that the only vote he has consistently won is the evangelical vote that sounds like an enormous political mistake to me.

But far worse are those in our nation that hold to our shared morality from an areligious, or only nominally religious, perspective.  His uniquely Catholic argument is on its face exclusive of such people.  When our moral coalition is divided, the left wins.

Thus once again, Santorum fails to advance that which he claims to want to advance.  It is this failure more than any other that makes Santorum unsuitable as a national leader, let alone president, for the social conservative movement.  It is a shame for a good man.  I hope he has a good media career because his political one is over.

Afternoon Update: Catholic blogger Wesley J. Smith picks up on another problem with Santorum’s piece:

I certainly agree that about our founders’ “inspired brilliance and agree that the USA is a nurturing home for faith.  But, faith certainly does not require freedom.

In fact, freedom can lead to a weak faith because it remains untested.  Indeed, the strongest and most enduring faith is often forged in the hottest fires of oppression. Consider, for example, how the Church was persecuted by Rome.  Those martyrs eaten alive in the arena were hardly free.  But they sure had faith!  And because of their sacrifices, the Church grew.

Faith has historically thrived in the face of tyranny and deadly persecution wielded against it.  Look at how the Russian Orthodox Church survived what may have been the worst religious oppression in history during the Soviet era–only to emerge and rebound strongly from its grievous wounds.  Look at the Buddhists in Tibet who today maintain their faith in the face of Chinese occupation and oppression.  Good grief, look at the history of the Jews!

Agreed – that is gross misspeak – Faith DOES NOT require freedom.  However, I think it is fair to say that real freedom requires faith.

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