SANTORUM AND SANITY
(International Humanist News, March 2012)
By James A. Haught
Facing a likely loss in his home state of Pennsylvania, religious zealot Rick Santorum quit the Republican race for U.S. president. But his withdrawal doesn't diminish America's enormous streak of fundamentalism that propelled Santorum into political prominence.
As everyone knows, the United States has more religiosity than other modern democracies, and politicians cannot win election without proclaiming piety. For several months, Santorum, a Roman Catholic former U.S. senator, rode a huge tide of support among his party's "religious right" and conservative Tea Party elements. He seemed to be running for ayatollah instead of president.
Santorum has a bizarre record:
In a 2003 interview about gay marriage, he talked of "man on dog" coupling.
When asked in 2002 why Massachusetts priests molested children, he said it was because Boston is "a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism."
During his public career, Santorum endlessly has tried to revoke women's right to halt pregnancy -- and pressured public schools to teach biblical "creationism" -- and assailed "radical feminists" who want women to have careers outside the home -- and led an emergency session of Congress in an attempt to continue life-support for a brain-dead woman, Terri Schiavo.
When Santorum's wife miscarried, he and she brought the dead fetus home "to cuddle and sing to him with his siblings, rather than sending him directly to a funeral home," the Washington Post reported. Santorum kept a framed photo of the fetus on his Senate desk.
Then he launched a war on birth control. Although contraception is supported by virtually all Americans -- including his fellow Catholics -- Santorum said in an October interview:
"One of the things I will talk about that... no president has talked about before is... the dangers of contraception." He called contraception "a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
Most Americans disagree. Only Catholic bishops declare that artificial birth control is a sin. U.S. Catholic couples overwhelmingly ignore their church's teachings.
Regarding health insurance, Santorum promised that, if elected to the White House, he would "get rid of any kind of idea that you have to have... contraceptive coverage."
Santorum disputes U.S. Supreme Court rulings that let American couples practice birth control in the privacy of their bedrooms. He says such a right of privacy "does not exist," because it would open the door to "the right to polygamy, the right to incest... the right to anything." In a 2006 interview, he said birth control hurts both women and society.
Santorum once told the National Catholic Reporter that it's "corruption" for Catholics to ignore their church's stand "against abortion, homosexual marriage, stem-cell research, cloning." He declared: "A Catholic is required to form his conscience in accordance with the church's teachings."
A half-century ago, presidential aspirant John F. Kennedy famously said his Catholic faith wouldn't sway his actions in the White House, because "the separation of church and state is absolute." However, Santorum said he "almost threw up" when he read the JFK speech, because he thinks presidents should be steered by faith.
In 2008, Santorum warned students at Ave Maria University in Florida that "Satan has his sights set on America.... Satan is attacking the great institutions of America.... The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country."
Santorum accused President Obama of "systematically destroying" families and churches -- "trying to shutter faith" and "crushing it." Mother Jones magazine's Washington bureau chief, David Corn, said voters may wonder whether the GOP candidate thinks Obama "is literally part of a satanic plot to destroy the United States."
When Obama advocated greater college attendance, Santorum saw it as an attack on religion. He warned on ABC network television that "62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it." However, commentators noted that faith decline is even greater, 76 percent, among young Americans who don't attend college.
Santorum's wife home-schools their seven children, to keep them away from secular public schools. They both say they prayed for guidance, then decided that God wanted him to run for president.
Religion in America is like a carnival. Flamboyant television evangelists reap hundreds of millions of dollars -- unless they're caught in sex scandals. Millions of Pentecostals "speak in tongues." Radio whooping and gospel singing reverberate. The conservative Republican Party is a stronghold of religiosity.
But much of America is evolving toward secularism, as Europe and other advanced democracies did previously. Today, around 45 million Americans don't attend church, and the number is climbing relentlessly. Most of these secular people lean toward liberal politics and support the Democratic Party. President Barack Obama is the first to include "people of no faith" when he speaks of U.S. diversity.
Educated, "tall-steeple," mainline Protestant denominations are dying in America. Catholicism itself has lost 20 million members -- so one-tenth of U.S. adults now are ex-Catholics -- but Hispanic immigrants replenish the huge church.
Supernatural beliefs, such as Santorum's crackpot claim that Beelzebub insidiously is encroaching, are laughable to many educated Americans. The Philadelphia Inquirer called him "a rigid, intolerant fundamentalist" and said he possesses "one of the finest minds of the 13th century."
The New York Observer said Santorum "surely is one of the most simple-minded politicians to achieve national notoriety since, well, since Michelle Bachmann. The problem is, of course, is that Mr. Santorum is a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. That makes him a legitimate subject for scorn and ridicule, despite his unfortunate intellectual shortcomings.... It is a sad commentary on the state of the Republican Party that Mr. Santorum has emerged as a legitimate candidate for its highest honor.... Mr. Santorum may be the most intolerant voice in American politics today."
The far-right Catholic politician has a Latin-sounding name. Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerry reportedly said: "Santorum -- that's Latin for asshole."
But Santorum isn't a joke to millions of white evangelicals and Tea Party stalwarts of the Republican Party. They wield enormous political power. In 2012, they couldn't propel a "rigid, intolerant fundamentalist" all the way to the White House -- but the religious right remains a major segment of the U.S. electorate.
Sensible people can only hope that the rising tide of secularism gradually weakens the strength of these bigots.