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Santorum against the Current Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Monday, 13 September 2010

A former student of mine, quite experienced in politics, was visiting Governor George Bush in Texas in 2000 as the Bush campaign was getting into gear. He called to tell me that he realized just who would be the perfect running mate for Bush: Rick Santorum, the young senator from Pennsylvania. He was Eastern and Catholic, articulate, attractive. That made perfect sense at the time – and in retrospect it still does. But Santorum, running in 2008 as the successor to Bush, would likely have met the same fate as John McCain, done in by the financial upheaval in September 2008 and the mirage of Obama. 

Santorum was rudely ripped out of office in 2006 when sentiment turned against him back home in Pennsylvania. Now he has been liberated to speak on the issues in all parts of the country, and he speaks on issues that other political men and women would prefer not to talk about. He chose to speak in Houston last week on the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s famous speech to the Baptist ministers during the campaign of 1960. In our own symposium on Kennedy’s speech, TCT contributors recognized how difficult, in fact, was Kennedy’s task, in running against the powerful current of opposition to Catholics in high office, mingled as it was with massive ignorance of the Church and its teaching. But as Kennedy sought to melt the opposition, he set in place the clichés that would form the mantras for the Catholic politicians to follow. Kennedy famously said that he “believed” in a president “whose views on religion are his own private affair.” But it was remarkable to reduce Catholic teaching to a “private” affair, as though it were not taught and shared communally for centuries, and as though the doctrines were thought to be true only for the person who held them.

Rick Santorum picked up on the critique offered by the theologian John Courtney Murray: the equation of religious conviction with mere “belief,” removed religion to a domain of things that reason could not discern or judge. “Beliefs” could not be confirmed or disproved, as true or false. In this way, religion was identified with the irrational. That was also the version sounded again by Barack Obama when he was honored last year at Notre Dame. Matthew Franck noted at the time that Obama simply offered this familiar denigration of religion, assimilating it to the domain of beliefs not valid for anyone but the person who professed to hold them. While all of this was going on, the officialdom of Notre Dame sat in benign acquiescence, savoring the presence in their midst of the President of the United States. That their Catholicism was being reduced to the plane of the trivial was either a matter of indifference to them or a matter serenely beyond their awareness. 

Santorum might have offered here a Tale of Two Kennedys. JFK stylishly supplied the new premises, and Justice Anthony Kennedy would later advance them in this way: The moral aversion to the homosexual life can be explained only in terms of religious belief; religious belief is essentially apart from tests of truth or falsity; and therefore the disapproval of the homosexual life is “born of animosity,” it is an “animus” that “lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.” 

John Kennedy had said that, in the world as he saw it, “no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act.” The shift was subtle but telling: The notion of respecting Catholic teaching was converted into the crude image of a man in authority issuing orders. But if  Catholic teaching is true, it would have commanded Kennedy’s respect – and  he would have been quite bound by it – regardless of whether anyone presumed to lay down orders for him. Santorum thought it was curious that politicians did not speak about “pressure” emanating from labor unions and environmentalists, but when the Church sounds its concerns in public, that is treated as the move of a hierarchy brandishing threats and handing down orders. 

And yet, these trends in diminishing the meaning of religion were well underway before Kennedy spoke in Houston. They were part of the ethic of skepticism, taking ever firmer hold – the growing discomfort in claiming to know truths of any kind, let alone truths of moral consequence. And the deeper erosion came in the meaning of “religion” itself. James Madison understood “religion” as the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it.” In the cases on “conscientious objection” in the Supreme Court, it became too sectarian by the 1970s to speak of a sense of obligation to that “Creator.” The Court finally opened itself to virtually any beliefs held with passion – beliefs that the judges thought could offer the “functional equivalent” of religion. And so, for Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, religion refers to “deeply held beliefs” – a definition that would readily cover the passion of those who believe deeply in global warming and the promise of research on embryonic stem cells.  In stripping away these clichés, Rick Santorum was trying to assert again the rational ground of religious conviction and recover nothing less than the moral ground of the law. In that project, he is running against a current even stronger than the current faced by Jack Kennedy fifty years ago.

 
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths:  The Touchstone of the Natural Law

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written by Doughlas Remy, September 14, 2010
There is speculation that Rick Santorum may run for President in 2012. If he does decide to do so, I trust he will make full disclosure about his religious views. Voters will be especially interested to know where he currently stands on issues such as intelligent design, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception, as it is in these areas that his personal religious beliefs affect his political positions most profoundly.

The charge will be made that his beliefs about these matters are irrational and “merely” religious, and his candidacy will enliven the national discussion about the role of personal religious beliefs in politics. All to the good. We will probably continue to need that discussion for as long as religions function within democracies.

Santorum’s positions on intelligent design, homosexuality, and the other issues I listed are not in fact informed by scientific thinking. Some of them fly in the face of both reason and evidence, so I think there is good cause for describing them as “irrational.” Furthermore, they are clearly based in Santorum’s religious convictions.

Voters want to know where a candidate is “coming from.” What, for example, is the source of Santorum’s bizarre and nearly incoherent statements about homosexuality and same-sex marriage? (e.g., equating homosexuality with incest and pedophilia) His remarks are at odds with the findings and conclusions of every single health-care organization in the U.S. Voters want to know if their candidate is capable of clear and critical thought and whether he is amenable to reason. Santorum’s views about homosexuality are obviously based in his religious beliefs. This may be a cause for serious concern to millions of Americans who do not share those beliefs.

Anthony Kennedy was correct in finding that disapproval of homosexuality is born of animosity and that it “lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.”

Americans have good reason to be concerned about pressures on politicians, whether these pressures are from labor unions, environmentalists, corporations, or foreign entities such as the Vatican. And the Vatican’s pressures can be intense, as we saw in the case of John Kerry in 2004. (Kerry was excommunicated for his views on abortion.) This is what worries voters about Catholic candidates. It’s the question, “Who is controlling this guy, and is he beholden to a foreign state?”

Regarding Hadley’s remarks about the meaning of religion, I don’t think we should broaden the definition of religion to include any “deeply held belief.” To do so only diminishes the meaning of religion. I do not wish to be called “religious” because I happen to believe that the Sun will “rise” tomorrow morning, or that our Earth’s atmosphere is warming, or that the Earth is several billion years old. The purpose of words is to make distinctions, not to obscure them.

And finally, if Rick Santorum has taken it upon himself to assert the rational ground of religious conviction, as Hadley claims, then he has taken on a very ambitious—and I daresay, impossible—task, and he may have chosen the wrong profession.
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written by John Coalson, September 14, 2010
Mr. Remy, if "every single health care organization" declared incest and pedophilia healthy productive lifestyle choices, I assume you would object.

Would you please explain to me on what grounds you would reject such a declaration?

Thank you.
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written by Hadley Arkes, September 14, 2010
Let's put aside for a moment this rare feat of mixing vacuity with venom, which seems to be Mr. Remy's specialty. But I must post the most emphatic objection to being addressed by him by my first name. I do not know him, let alone knowing him as a friend. His sneering references to me by my first name is nothing other than a dismissive, denigrating gesture. It has no place in The Catholic Thing. The editors have been generous in their tolerance, but it is time to bring a stop to this.
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written by Doughlas Remy, September 14, 2010
My sincere apologies to Mr. Arkes for addressing him by his first name. It was not intended to be insulting.

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written by blue8064, September 15, 2010
Santorum is not pro-life. On 09-13-1995, he voted to REQUIRE that states have family caps in their welfare policies, a provision where welfare payments are not increased for additional children born to welfare mothers; and to REQUIRE that states deny support for minors bearing children out of wedlock. These are pro-abortion--the fact that they were requirements makes them all the more clearly pro-abortion. On the other hand, working families have dependency exemptions and child tax credits to help them raise children.
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written by Dennis Larkin, September 15, 2010
Senator Santorum endorsed Arlen Spector in the last senatorial primary. Spector jumped to the Democrat Party. Spector is abortionist in view. This gives me pause about Santorum.

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