We Need a President, Not a Pope
I understand Rick Santorum running for president as a former senator, and as someone with both law and political science degrees.
What's less clear to me is this whole "Christian Crusader/Don Quixote tilting at windmills" persona. That's what it looks like - Rick Santorum out to slay imaginary or misidentified dragons to win the hearts of the fair Desdemona, as played by the religious right.
Last Sunday Santorum decried the separation of church and state, exclaiming, "What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up."
"Evangelical Christians" love to play that persecution card, but can anyone seriously believe that atheists are overrepresented in "the public square"? When's the last time you heard a serious presidential candidate say that he or she didn't believe in God? When's the last time you heard a serious candidate for any public office say that?
Recently Santorum passed judgment on President Obama's "agenda," saying, "It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible - a different theology." He later backpedaled, saying that he believed the president was a Christian of a "different stripe."
Santorum's recent remarks were not his first foray into judging Obama's Christian credentials. When asked in 2008 if he believed that Obama was a sincere liberal Christian, Santorum responded that he didn't believe there was such a thing.
He added, "To take what is plainly written and say that 'I don't agree with that, therefore I don't have to pay attention to it,' means you're not what you say you are. You're a liberal something, but you're not a Christian."
That's an amazing statement.
The idea that liberal ideology and Christianity are mutually exclusive might come as a shock to legions of better credentialed Christians than Rick Santorum. If the liberation theology, the raising up of the dispossessed, as practiced by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa, is out of step with contemporary conservative Christian theology, that's hardly something to brag about. Then there's that "what's plainly written" part.
Some people speak derisively about "smorgasbord Christians," people who pick and choose what they believe from the Bible. But the fact is that we all do it. There is just too much in the book for which there is no rational interpretation, verses that even the most ardent fundamentalists ignore.
For instance, we don't submit our rebellious sons to elders to be stoned to death. We frown on buying people, whether they come from our country or another. It's acceptable now to wear clothes made of more than one fabric and to eat shellfish. It seems the biblical laws we pay the most attention to are the ones that nine-tenths of us were already predisposed to abide by - and they're useful primarily for the exclusion of the other tenth.
Nobody lives in accordance to a literal interpretation of the Bible, and nobody has an exclusive claim to the correct interpretation of the book. We should be chary of using it to pass judgment on others.
Of course, there's more at work here. The religious right, which has significant misgivings with regard to Romney, Gingrich and Paul, is an invaluable block for a candidate in pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination - which helps explain how Santorum can admit that his religious aspersions distract from more pressing concerns in one breath, and then double down on them in the next. But he does this too easily for it to be purely political calculation.
So how do those of us whose faith he judges as specious, at best, regard the new self-anointed defender of the faith?
Rick Santorum is Christian, as best as he is given to understand it. If that sounds like damning by faint praise, I would submit that it is how I regard my own faith and that of any other person who is drawn to faith - any faith. Ultimately, that relation to a higher power, that journey to an understanding of faith, is a personal one.
I appreciate anyone who seeks The Divine. I am wary of anyone who speaks for The Divine.
We need jobs. We need to revive the middle class. We need a president, not a pope.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at kevinasmith@ gmx.com.
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