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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has lambasted President Barack Obama for holding a “phony theology.” In the farce that politics have become, this is more than just a laughing matter. The Constitution expressly prohibits a religious test for public office and assailing the president’s theology goes against American tradition. Notice that this attack on religion in the political arena does not come from an atheist: Rick Santorum is firmly rooted in a traditional Catholicism with evangelical overtones. To the shame of believers, wars have been waged over theology throughout the ages, and Santorum’s rant goes against the basic principles of the founders of the Republic who strove to separate theology from politics.
Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum greets guests following a campaign rally on February 26, 2012 in Traverse City, Michigan.
Santorum’s attack ok the president for not basing his theology on the Bible has been taken to the wood-shed, so to speak, by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete who remarks how-off base Mr. Santorum is about the role of the bible in Catholic theology, while Huffington Post’s Mike Lux takes Mr. Santorum to Sunday School, where the Bible is really read.
Mr. Santorum has tried to deflect criticism by stressing that his “phony theology” remark was directed at the president’s environmental policies. Actually, Obama has used science rather than religion in his push towards “green energy.”
But Santorum considers religion rather than science the touchstone of public policy and therefore finds fault with the “hoax” of climate warming.
This finding, he says, “elevates the Earth above man,” thus discouraging increased use of natural resources.
Let it be said that theology is not the same as dogma or doctrine. Dogma, as the Greek word suggests, is a “given”: doctrine is “teaching” and both dogma and doctrine are products of theology. For its part, theology is a speculative science that examines biblical and revealed truth through the prism of logic and science in order to provide a better understanding of the faith.
Guests arrive for a campaign rally with Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum February 26, 2012 in Traverse City, Michigan.
For example, the Bible reads that Jesus took bread and said “This is my body.” Through the ages, theology has explained the meaning of Jesus by relying on philosophical systems like Aristotelian logic. The explanatory term produced was “transubstantiation.” That term is not a part of revelation in the scriptures, but a theological explanation produced in the 12th century when Aristotelian logic was the baseline for philosophy. Theology is duty-bound to explain the faith in terms derived from other philosophies such as Gadamer’s Epistemology (Bernard Longergan) and Heidegger’s Existentialism (Karl Rahner).Thus, unlike dogma which never changes or doctrine which gives answers, theology is always changing because it is always asking questions about how best to express the faith in contemporary terms.
Theology is also called upon by the church to include scientific principles. Aquinas, for instance, upheld the sacredness of life once the soul was infused into a fetus, which is Catholic doctrine. But he adopted Aristotle’s physics that delayed the formation of the fetus into a human body until after the first trimester. As science has changed with better knowledge of DNA and the genome, Catholic theology has moved away from Aquinas’ time frame, although the principle remains the same.
Theology today borrows not only from the physical sciences, but also from the behavioral and social sciences. Thus, for instance, instead to treating the “consummation of marriage” as an entirely physical act, the self-giving that the sacrament requires now has a psychological component. This theology has opened up the door to more annulments, because the mental health of a partner may have impeded full commitment, even after years of physical contact.
The scope of Catholic theology is on exhibit in
Caritas in Veritate
from Pope Benedict XVI. In that encyclical, the pontiff shows that the pro-life stance of the church about abortion includes concerns for clean water (2:27) and control of industrial pollution (4:48-52) by the collective action of governments. He writes of a “covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying. (4:50)” This sounds very different from Mr. Santorum’s notion of dominion over nature, because, as Holy Cross alum Chris Matthews sharply noted, the pope has pointed Catholics in an opposite direction. The “phony theology” Mr. Santorum speaks of is Mr. Santorum’s.