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

February 29, 2012

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Romney v. Kennedy

November 21, 2011

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No! but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…”

1 Samuel 8:19

As I noted a few weeks ago, the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney has prompted questions about Mormonism and the fitness of Mormons to serve in public office.  It has also prompted references to the 1960 presidential election, in which John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism was seen by some as a bar to the presidency.

The standard narrative—the way this episode is presented in high school history classes—is that Kennedy’s election was a great leap forward for American Catholics, and certainly it was experienced as such at the time.  No longer were Catholics seen as second-class citizens; Kennedy’s election proved, to use his words, that “40 million Americans [had not] lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized.”

Early on in their candidacies both candidates gave speeches, both in Texas, attempting to head off the “religious issue.”  While both speeches are rhetorically powerful, that of the Mormon, I’m sorry to say, is more nuanced and more thoughtful.  Both Kennedy and Romney make the case that their religion should not disqualify them from office; that as president they intend to serve all Americans and not only their coreligionists; and that they are not spokesmen for their respective churches.

Seen in retrospect, however, Kennedy seems far more willing to bury his Catholicism beneath a bushel basket—and then douse that bushel basket with concrete—than Romney is with his Mormonism.  To be fair to Kennedy, his speech in many ways reflects the era in which it was given, when American society was far more homogeneous and a much broader moral consensus existed than does today.  American society was more religious generally, with secularism per se a negligible phenomenon, and mainline Protestantism still a dominant cultural force.  Catholic identity was thicker—in ways hard to imagine for those of my generation—with new seminaries under construction, Mass attendance at around eighty percent, and the system of Catholic social services (schools, hospitals, colleges) still very close to their immigrant roots.  Perhaps the nuance that Kennedy’s speech lacks did not seem, at the time, necessary.

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Hurrah for Mormons!

October 31, 2011

As for this mortal life, which ends after a few days’ course, what does it matter under whose rule a man lives, being so soon to die, provided that the rulers do not force him to impious and wicked acts.

—St. Augustine

Augustine’s above words might need a bit of contextualizing—clearly some rulers are better than others—but they do provide a healthy dose of perspective for faithful citizens as the race to chose Caesar’s modern day successor comes to occupy more and more of our airwaves and much of our mental territory as well.  The political process itself can become an idol, particularly in the age of cable television and the blogosphere, when off-hand comments by politicians and their supporters are whipped into a froth of headlines, commentary, and spin to feed the never-ending news cycle.

Some of this dynamic—our media addiction to controversy and spin—has been in play over the past several weeks in the brouhaha over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.  Talking heads nearly spun with glee when a supporter of one of Romney’s opponents, a Baptist minister, declared that Romney isn’t a Christian.  Other candidates and observers were quick to pounce.  Time’s Jon Meacham used the opportunity to attack the “religious right” and its “religious bigotry.”  Romney had already declared, according to Meacham, that “he would be loyal to the country and the Constitution, not his church.”

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Ignatius, civility, and Annotation 22

October 10, 2011

Last year I wrote a post arguing for a link between civility and truth; the reason we should speak with civility in the blogosphere or anywhere else is because doing so helps us to find the truth.  Understanding this connection helps us to spot those rare occasions in which a false civility actually stands in the way of the truth.

After observing some of the contentious turns discussion on Whosoever Desires has taken this month, I thought a return to this theme might be in order.  St. Ignatius had a few thoughts on the subject, many of which are as useful today as they were 400 years ago.

First, a bit of background.  Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises are a manual for giving retreats, which the saint composed over many years based on his experiences of prayer and spiritual conversation.  The first part of the manual contains “annotations” or instructions for the person conducting the retreat.  “Annotation 22” is one of the best known; in fact, it’s quoted in the Catechism (#2478)—which suggests that its implications for Christian life go well beyond retreats.

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Death and taxes

December 16, 2010

I have to confess that given my vow of poverty I tend to think quite a bit more about death than taxes.  And, for similar reasons, I don’t claim to be an expert on any and every political issue, even though here in the blogosphere that’s not always a bar to offering an opinion.

But I’ve been watching the progress of the tax compromise moving its way through Congress this week and there’s something about it that reminds me of the ocean… maybe it’s that fishy smell…

Perhaps my calculator is broken; perhaps my taste for irony is just that much stronger than my taste for Keynesian economics; perhaps I spent too much time around a grandfather who paid for his house in cash; but something in this “compromise” doesn’t make sense to me.  Something, in fact, seems wrong, and I’m beginning to suspect that what is wrong has a moral tinge to it, instead of being an accounting oops or a technical legislative flaw.

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Colonel Hans Landa and the limits of civility

August 23, 2010


There’s nothing like a villain:  Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Heath Ledger as the Joker, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, and, now, Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds.

It is hard to think of a more vile character than Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s latest, bizarrely amusing film.  Col. Landa, who has earned himself the nickname “the Jew Hunter,” stands out as sadistic, even among his fellow Nazis, and yet he is a delight to watch.  You almost start rooting for him just so he’ll be on screen a little longer.

Landa, for one, is a charmer.  He is intelligent, urbane, and witty, speaks elegant French and Italian, and at times positively exudes joie de vivre (“Bingo!  How fun!”).  Whether it’s ordering crème for his strudel or interrogating a victim over a glass of delicious milk, Landa overflows with social graces.  He would be a most agreeable guest at a dinner party.

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