Amy Levin: I’m not sure God would be too happy with Santorum lately – I mean, it’s one thing to defend religious liberty in the name of a Christian nation, but it’s another to use petty language to reference divinely ordained scripture. Despite his claim that he was not criticizing the President’s Christianity, Santorum’s Ohio speech that claimed Obama’s agenda is based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” made serious headlines last week. Phony? I don’t think I’ve heard that verbal jab since 6th grade recess – now that’s an abomination.
According to Steve Peoples at HuffPost, Santorum told CBS in an interview on “Face the Nation” (watch here) that his comments against Obama did not question his faith and rather were in reference to his “worldview,” aka, environmental policies in which “man is here to serve the Earth.” However, Santorum’s reference to the environment only came out later, whereas immediately after the “phony theology” comment he told reporters that Obama practices one of the “different stripes of Christianity.” Who’s phony now?
Santorum may have slipped up this time, but according to Rosalind Helderman at Washington Post, “phony theology” is just naked code for his thematic candidacy based on exposing Obama’s imposing secular worldview. “Campaigning in Iowa in December, Santorum said Obama and his allies have ‘secular values that are antithetical to the basic principles of our country.’ In Des Moines a few days later, he said the same people adhere to a ‘religion of self’ rather than one based on the Bible. Speaking to a group of ministers in Plano, Texas, earlier this month, Santorum argued that the left is “taking faith and crushing it.” In Tucson on Wednesday, Santorum said the president is ‘systematically trying to crush the traditional Judeo-Christian values of America.’” Of course, recent “Obamacare” legislation on contraception has given Santorum and other GOP candidates an excuse to wax religious, but Santorum, a Catholic, has a history before his campaign of calling out Obama for Christian heresy.
Guilty of some flip-flopping (or this link if you fancy) of his own, despite his comments on “Face the Nation” that he believes the President is a Christian, some old fashioned political digging via Buzzfeed found a 2008 interview with the Oxford Centre for Religion in Public Life in which Santorum claimed that there is “no such thing” as a “liberal Christian.” In an answer to the question “Is Obama a sincere, liberal Christian?” Santorum replied:
But is there such thing as a sincere liberal Christian, which says that we basically take this document and re-write it ourselves? Is that really Christian? That’s a bigger question for me. And the answer is, no, it’s not. I don’t think there is such a thing. 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 sort of how I look at it. . .When you go so far afield of that and take what is a salvation story and turn it into a liberation theology story, which is done in the Catholic world as well as in the evangelical world, you have abandoned Christendom, in my opinion. And you don’t have a right to claim it.
Wow, Obama. I mean, you may not be a Christian, but at least you’re not a Muslim anymore! But in all seriousness, if we uncover the rhetorical muck in this answer and amalgamate the seemingly conflicting statements, it seems that this might be more of a conversation about secularism than liberalism (worshipping the earth over God, for example). After all, if anyone has doubts about the existence of contemporary liberal Christianity, just hop on over to Huffpost religion.
Santorum’s arguments against Obama’s views on abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage might be explained in terms of his liberal “world-view,” but in practice this doesn’t seem to make him any less “Christian” (and I say this strictly historically, not theologically). In fact, Santorum’s crusade against phony theology (aka Protestant liberalism) might share its roots in an antebellum battle of “true religion” in America (see John Lardas Modern’s new book on Secularism in Antebellum America). Santorum’s claim that those who turn a salvation story into a story about liberation might be about as old as the Protestant reformation, if not older, in which Christians began making the concept of religion itself recognizable and something that individuals have, or (in Santorum’s words) “don’t have a right to claim.” Santorum, you might have gotten yourself into a century-old battle. . . if Obamacared.