What makes Rick Santorum so threatening – and what’s at stake in the HHS battle

I haven’t been at all surprised by the vitriol of many of the attacks on Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum I’ve seen on the internet recently.  They’ve been personal and vicious and have largely focused on his Catholicism.  Many of these attacks have come from Catholics themselves.

In the Washington Post, a columnist accuses Santorum of wanting to rule by “fatwa,” while in the Huffington Post a self-described Catholic accuses Santorum of belonging to a “barbaric…cult” where “black-robed cleric[s]” cast spells over followers’ “cannibalistic reverie.”  Santorum is also accused of waging “jihad,” which makes me wonder whether it would be permissible to use references to Islam as an insult if the candidate were actually a Muslim.

I’ve been a little bemused, but not surprised, at some of the Catholics I’ve seen posting on Facebook attacking Santorum in unusually nasty terms; bemused because I’ve heard many of these same people talk about how we need to put our faith into action, about how Catholicism is not only about worship but contains an integral social dimension.  Mr. Santorum clearly believes the same thing, and yet the attitude of many of his Catholic critics seems to be “How dare he talk about how faith informs his social vision?”

While no one has to agree with Santorum on every issue, shouldn’t we at least be happy that a public servant clearly takes his faith seriously and is unafraid to talk about it in public?  Yet it seems Santorum threatens something quite fundamental in the worldview of his critics, and the vitriol flows out of this threat.

I’m not going to discuss particular policy proposals, nor by any means am I offering an endorsement of Mr. Santorum’s candidacy.  What interests me here is the question of what is so threatening about him to the secular left (and the part of the Church that takes its cues from the secular left).  I think the answer has nothing at all to do with his policies.  In fact, to flip Don Corleone’s phrase on its head:  it’s not business; it’s strictly personal.

Feminist hysterics aside, Mr. Santorum is not going to criminalize condoms, and the social policies he advocates hardly amount to shocking novelties in conservative thought:  he’s against abortion and thinks that traditional marriage, the status quo for centuries, should remain exactly that.  Some of his economic policies even have a decidedly liberal tinge.  What sets Mr. Santorum apart, however, is his integrity.

Mr. Santorum’s beliefs are not just policy positions but form the fabric of who he is and the way he and his wife have chosen to live their lives.  He doesn’t believe in aborting children who have Down syndrome because he and his wife are raising a daughter with a fatal genetic defect, trisomy 18.  And as media echo chambers thunder with the pronouncement that you simply must use contraception to be happy and healthy and modern, the Santorum family stands as evidence that there is another way.

Integrity is powerful (perhaps because it’s rare), and it is threatening.  Thomas More and Socrates were not executed because anything they did was harming others; they were executed because they refused to give up who they were.  They were executed for their integrity.

Rick Santorum’s policies may not all be the best imaginable, but there are no artificial divides in his life between what is public and what is private, and for those who have built careers on moral compartments and ethical fudges, the possibility that it might have been otherwise is something of which one does not want to be reminded.  When we do wrong, especially if the wrongs are small and incremental and washed over by a sea of words, we often tell ourselves it cannot be otherwise.  This is one of the arguments we hear in various forms when the Catholic left tells us we should not worry so much about abortion (it will never change… there’s nothing you can do… this election isn’t about that…)

Integrity is also what’s at stake in the battle over conscience rights provoked by the Obama Administration’s determination to force contraception coverage even on those who are morally opposed to it.  The issue isn’t how many people agree with the morality of artificial birth control or not.  The Administration’s allies have cited numerous statistics showing just how widespread the use of contraception is today, and such figures only prove how unnecessary the Administration’s mandate is.  What is at issue is whether the minority that believes contraception is bad for families, bad for culture, and bad for society will be allowed to live with integrity.  Or will they be forced to contradict their own beliefs, to destroy who they are.

The reason Catholics engage in health care, education, and charity is not cheery do-gooderism; it is because by doing so we are bearing witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.  We are saying, “This is what the love of God looks like incarnate in the world.”  We cannot bear witness if our integrity is compromised.  We cannot say, “This is what the love of God looks like,” if simultaneously and publicly we are committing sin.

Today the world—the media and now even the government—tells us that our religion is a fairy tale.  It’s not real!  It’s not realistic!  It’s not modern!  We can answer them with words, but the most effective answer is to prove them wrong with our lives:  to live the faith, whole and complete, with integrity.

But we will have to remember that there is no greater threat to those who oppose what we stand for than integrity.  Integrity is powerful because it is counter-cultural, and it provokes verbal and literal violence.  Those who live with integrity are sometimes killed.  But we Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead, and to live with integrity means that on the day of judgment there will still be something left of us to rise.

AL, SJ

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12 Responses to What makes Rick Santorum so threatening – and what’s at stake in the HHS battle

  1. bill bannon says:

    I would vote for him against Obama because of the issues you mention but I don’t see him as Thomas More. Check his behaviour in using $100,000 worth of a small P.A. school district’s money for his children based on a residency where actually his relative was living…not the Santorums. The state actually ended up reimbursing the local district which means the state knew the local district was morally right in its demand for the $100,000 from Santorum despite the technicalities Santorum insisted on…taxes paid there while in fact, he and the children were living in Virginia. It will be brought up in any campaign against Obama whose people may proceed another step and ferret out whether the relative was paying rent and if so, it countered and paid the taxes he claimed.
    In short, the US Catholic community does not need another early beatified Fr. Corapi bomb bursting in air. Yes Santorum has an above average number of children. So did potty mouth Mel Gibson…actually so does pro choice Nancy Pilosi compared to some of her justified critics on the Catholic right. St. Jerome, an odd opponent of large families along with Augustine, listed the Old Testament heroes who resented some of their offspring…and further asked how does a parent know whether the children will be reprobated or not. Modern Catholics don’t see large families as intrinsically good; they notice that large families have wonderful tax and college help advantage here in the West while large families in the Sudan are watching half their children die from drought. I sent money for ten years through Catholic Near East for a young sudden widow who had to place her 4 children in Catholic orphanages and work as a maid to be near them because there is no social security for widows in India. Large families are an internet Catholic craze of countries with safety nets and often affluence like the Santorums. The last three Popes came from 3 child families. John XXIII was the last one from a really large family.

  2. frjoseph says:

    Well done, well done. The article in the Huffington Post was probably one of the most vicious that I have seen in a long time. I do believe the writer used to write for the series “the Simpsons”. I think if there is one thing for Catholics to realize is that “the faith if being attacked seriously by the secular press and left in this country.”

    As an alumnus of Notre Dame, I was very taken back by the invitation of Mr. Obama to speak at the commencement exercise where he stated and I quote: “I have the greatest respect for Catholic Teaching and the Church”. We are now aware of what his respect consists.

    Great article

    Father Joseph LeBlanc

  3. Qualis Rex says:

    Salve, Anton! I wholeheartedly agree with your article and the subsequent assessment by Fr Joseph. Apparently,the Catholic vote is firmly AGAINST Santorum (in the Republican party AND of course nationwide). I think the concept of a believing Catholic who actually strives to live his faith scares the hell out of American Catholics, as it forces them to acknowledge, “wow….there really are people like that out there still”. Santorum has become to AmeriCaths what minstrel shows are to blacks; mildly amusing and nostaligic in private, but something to be openly shunned and indignantly denounced in public as an anachronistic and offensive charicature (regardless if there is any basis in reality). I will definitely be voting for Santorum. But I feel the best he can do is to win a veep spot with Romney. But there are always miracles.

  4. “To do violence to conscience means..to deal a blow to their dignity. In a certain sense it is worse than killing them.” -Bl. Pope John XXIII

  5. Mike Ruffing says:

    Thank you for your post. Anyone, and I mean anyone, is better than Obama, his administration, and rule by mandate. I implore everyone that while the response to Santorum by Catholics and non-Catholics is interesting discussion, we must beat the drum that the HHS mandate is unconstitutional and violates the first amendment. Over the long-term, we need to reflect carefully on how we as a Church have confused government money via taxing as charity.
    Social Justice? Hmmm, I wonder. We have become addicted to the dollars made available in order to help the poor while ignoring the means and requirements by the government that “gives” it via tax dollars (taking money from others). And in doing so, we are at risk of being forced to go against our faith. I pray for all of us.
    Thank you again for your work.
    Regards

  6. Qualis Rex says:

    Mike – I’m the furthest thing from an Obama supporter…but “anyone”? It is my belief that the likes of the career politicians such as Mitt “how-do-you-want-me-today” Romney will move us down the same track if the special interest groups have their say. Santorum and Paul clearly walk the walk and are not affraid to speak the truth OR voice their opinions. This is the difference.

    • Mike Ruffing says:

      Qualis Rex- Hello. I appreciate your comment. Especially the real fear of career politicians taking us down the same track. The difference is which special interest groups. We are a special interest group as is planned parenthood in the strictest of political senses. That said, we need to recognize that outside of our group that Santorum (who I prefer over the field) and Paul do not resonate as well. Where we are at now, today, with a socialist incumbent in the white house and willing allies in the media, puts us at a distinct disadvantage. Our job is to first get majority in both houses and Obama out of the White House. Then our work starts anew to get Obamacare reversed while we as a Church entity, wean ourselves off the government dollars. In any event, I think you and I are in much agreement differing only on who best to be on point as President. Best of luck to you and Regards. Mike

  7. Frank McManus says:

    Your method of argument is interesting: you take a few extreme examples of Santorum-bashing and claim this shows the secular political world is afraid of a Catholic politician with integrity. And you bracket Santorum’s “policy proposals” from the discussion, thus precluding the possibility that opposition to Santorum might possibly be based on those policy proposals.

    In the areas of basic economic justice and militarism, Rick Santorum’s “policy proposals” cannot plausibly be claimed to be consistent with Catholic teaching, whether in the form it appears in the Catechism and papal encyclicals, or in the form of specific guidance from the pope and bishops on issues of the day.

    Yet you don’t want to discuss such things. He’s against abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. I guess that’s good enough for you when it comes to “integrity.”

    And by the way, Santorum isn’t alone when it comes to talking about faith in the public square. Far from it — you’d be hard-pressed to find politicians of either party these days who won’t discuss the relevance of faith to politics. So that’s really a canard.

    Try again, Father.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Frank,

      Your use of the term interesting to describe what you take to be my argument is interesting. Though I might be accused of immodesty for saying so, I think the argument I actually made is even more interesting.

      The question that I was addressing was why the attacks on Santorum have taken the form they have: vitriolic, personal and focused on his Catholicism. My answer was that these personal attacks have much more to do with him personally than with his policy positions. Note that I didn’t address the question of why people are opposed to him. The answer to that question is to me not nearly so — to use your adjective — interesting. I take it the reason people oppose his policies is rather mundane: they oppose his policies because they disagree with his policies.

      Now just because I disagree with Mr. Santorum, does not mean that he lacks integrity. My praise for Mr. Santorum’s integrity has to do more with the care he has shown for his daughter, which is unfortunately all-too counter-cultural, and the consistency between that aspect of his personal life and the positions he has taken publicly. That goes somewhat beyond the generalities most politicians utter about how deeply felt their faith is.

      Note the arguments I did not make: Rick Santorum is the best candidate for President. All of Rick Santorum’s ideas are correct. Catholics must agree with Rick Santorum on everything.

      So please, settle down, Frank. You can disagree with Mr. Santorum on economic policy, foreign policy, even military policy. That doesn’t make you a bad Catholic. But (sorry, I know it hurts to find out that God might not hate our enemies as much as we do), it doesn’t make Mr. Santorum a bad Catholic either.

      AL, SJ

  8. Serious Jest says:

    I’d be interested to know what you think about the following: Should businesses run by Jehovah’s Witnesses be exempt from the usual healthcare provision requirements of businesses because they don’t believe in blood transfusions and a good chunk of modern medicine?

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