Was Santorum running for theologian-in-chief?

Rick Santorum has ended his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. This is an historic moment. Santorum’s was possibly the … Continued

Rick Santorum has ended his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. This is an historic moment. Santorum’s was possibly the most religiously-based presidential campaign, not only in this election cycle, but perhaps in American history.

Santorum’s vision of the presidency, as gleaned from his many statements on faith and policy, was more of a Christian “theologian-in-chief” than a political leader of the most religiously diverse nation in the world.

DARREN HAUCK

REUTERS

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to supporters at Savre Lanes in Menasha, Wisconsin in this April 2, 2012 file photograph. Santorum will announce that he is going to drop out of the presidential race, two sources familiar with the decision told Reuters on April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES – Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS)

The Santorum run was an historic candidacy because his often off-the-cuff remarks would reveal what is at stake for American democracy when ‘faith in the public square’ shifts and becomes more like ‘one faith should dominate the public square.’

The best framing for this analysis is, of course, Santorum’s comment that he “almost threw up” after reading John F. Kennedy’s historic 1960 address on separation of church and state. The very visceral quality of Santorum’s reaction, its literal ‘from the gut’ reaction, is most revealing. The idea that his conservative Catholic faith could remain private, and not dictate what he would do as President in running the government of a religiously and non-religiously pluralistic society, was literally anathema to Santorum.

Kennedy’s famous statement showed exactly how he thought his Catholic faith should neither dictate, or he as a Catholic be dictated to by Catholic religious authorities, and how his presidency of the whole nation meant religious and non-religious neutrality. He so famously said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

Santorum introduced not only revulsion for the separation of church and state into this presidential campaign, but within the church arena, theological differences. Santorum strikingly attacked the “theology” that he presumed undergirded the president’s views and described them as one “not based on the Bible.” Obama’s agenda, Santorum told tea party supporters, is “about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.” But later Santorum affirmed that he thought President Obama was a Christian. Thus, Santorum brought up a Christian theological difference as a campaign issue. Theological differences between one faith and another are indeed divisive, but perhaps even more divisive is criticizing the theology of a member of one’s own faith in the political square. Neither is appropriate.

Santorum’s popularity with the Protestant evangelical “base,” mostly accounted for his success during the primaries. Santorum’s attraction for this group illustrates that there is a segment of the conservative American religious public who believe that separation of church and state is wrong as codified in the first amendment. Many in this group seem to believe that a particular type of Christianity should “be established,” that is, not just have a voice in our public debates, but be decisive in our political administration. That’s establishment by any name.

There is enormous risk to our democracy if someone elected to the presidency of the United States thinks the job is to be “theologian-in-chief,” not “commander-in-chief” and political leader of a religiously pluralistic America. In the United States, our freedom of religion depends, without question, on freedom from tyranny of one religion over another.

Santorum’s candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination has ended, but I do not believe this is the last we have seen of someone running to be “theologian-in-chief.”

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • XVIIHailSkins

    Santorum contributed more to the spread of atheism, the decline of catholicism, and the death of the republican party than any bleeding heart godless liberal could ever dream.

  • WmarkW

    Twenty years in Congress allowed Santorum to survive the cattle call that eventually felled Bachmann, Perry and Cain, due to their inexperience. That left him the emptiest suit of four remaining contenders, the others of whom offered SOME affirmative reason to attract a constituency. He had one possible strategy — run as the hardest evangelical, and see if he could syphon the anti-Mormon vote.

    He might still be the VP. Pennsylvania is a battleground state in which Mormonism might be a negative (some people say PA is equal parts Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Alabama). And he could help Romney in other Appalachia battegrounds: Ohio, WV, Virginia and North Carolina.

  • Rongoklunk

    Being raised to believe everything the Bible says is like being forced to wear glasses that make the world look completely different from the way it actually is.
    Santorum sees the world through religious glasses. There’s actually a God in his world, and an afterlife, because that’s what he was taught as a child. Now he’s unable to see things anyother way – just like Muslims, or Scientologists or Mormons, or Catholics…or whatever one was raised to believe.

    The fact that 90% of American scientists do not believe in a God is ignored.
    The religiously-raised child arrives in adulthood hypnotized for life to believe in a God, whether he exists or not. It’s not easy to overcome such a superstition if it was a part of childhood.
    The first seven or eight years are very formative, and are the years when we can accept the theory that pigs can fly, and cows jump over the moon. It’s also the time when we can uncritically believe in a great skygod, and a Santa Claus, despite a total lack of evidence for the either.
    Parents usually end up admitting there’s no Santa, but they let them go on believing in the skygod because they think the world would be a better place if there was one. But far better to tell them the truth – that as far as we know there are no Gods and never were any. Inventing them is what we do. They are mythical by definition.

  • usapdx

    His type would be better off in other than American government. He should read the supreme law of our country, the Constitution.

  • usapdx

    He will not fool Pennsylvania again.

  • itsthedax

    So, you’re saying that he’s done a lot of good for our country…

  • ccnl1

    What Ricky S should have noted in his campaign but did not i.e. he failed to get to the nitty-gritty of a significant problem.

    The reality of contraception and STD control: – from a guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-

    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. …

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    “Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    “Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active “post-teeners”: Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    “Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halpern-Fels

  • catatonicjones

    It’s not the atheists who have the most to fear from a religious fanatic as president, it’s the other christians who don’t believe in the right wing authoritarian theocracy desired by those like Santorum.
    Hey, we could just lie about believing this crap, you believers wouldn’t be able to do that.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    If that wasn’t already abundantly clear; yes.

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