Rick Santorum Interview: How JFK Misled the Country on Faith and Politics

Perhaps it was providential that my hard drive was damaged and I couldn’t extract the interview with Senator Santorum until recently.  After all, now that Rick Santorum is a top-tier candidate for the GOP nomination, it’s much more interesting.

When I interviewed former Senator Rick Santorum about faith and politics back in October of 2010, he confessed that he was “kicking the tires and having my tires kicked” about a possible run for the Presidency.  That’s old news now.  But Santorum has long been known not only as an overtly Christian politician, but as someone who reflects with some depth and consistency on how religious beliefs and political advocacy intersect and shape one another.  His Houston speech on faith and politics — positioned deliberately in Houston, as a counter-point to JFK’s famous speech on his Catholic faith and how it would (or, mostly, would not) shape his actions as President — is very much worth reading.

The full interview will be posted at Patheos shortly.  In the meantime, I will publish some of the more relevant exchanges in two installments today.  Check back later for Santorum’s comments on the new awakening of conservative Christians to politics.  For now, here are his comments on JFK’s mistake:

When John F. Kennedy was pressed on whether he’d take orders from Rome, he drew a hard line between religious conviction and political decision-making. You gave a speech in Houston in 2010 that claimed Kennedy misdirected our conversation on the roles of faith in public life. You said, “Kennedy took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to protect the government from religion.” Can you explain what you mean? How did Kennedy lead us off track?

I think the speech did a good job of laying it out. [Again, see the full transcript of the speech here.] President Kennedy said that there was an absolute separation of state and church and that faith has no role in bringing its claims into the public square and making an argument for laws consistent with those claims. Everyone else could argue on behalf of their convictions. As long as your point of view was not rooted in your faith, you could argue on behalf of your convictions. But if your point of view had a nexus to faith, you couldn’t.

To me, that is just patently ridiculous. Kennedy created a sort of implicit prejudice against people of faith, to the detriment of a society that was built on the Judeo-Christian ethic.

To use an example, Judge Vaughn Walker in his recent ruling on California’s Prop 8 wrote that “Moral and religious views form the only basis for a person forming their opinion that same sex couples are different from opposite sex couples, but such moral and religious beliefs are not a proper basis on which to legislate.” Is this what you’re talking about? And have you ever felt that people laid that kind of criticism on you, that it’s improper for a political leader to shape his legislative agenda according to his or her religious views?

I think it’s perfectly proper to articulate a moral code and to provide a moral rationale for it. What our Founders did, and what Christians do (certainly I do), is we find motivation through our faith to take on many issues. Now, I take those issues on both because the church teaches morally that these things are wrong and evil, but also because you have an obligation to lay out rationally and logically why this is detrimental to society. So it’s not merely a religious claim or moral claim — although it would not necessarily be wrong even if it were merely that. You’re welcome to come on that basis alone, as well.

For example, if you believe biology texts should teach creationism, that God created heaven and earth, I can give a rational and reasoned argument why I believe that’s true, just as the other side can give an argument that it is false. But you should certainly be free to enter the public square and say, “The vast majority of Americans believe God created the heavens and the earth, and that should at least be discussed, the pros and cons of it weighed, in a class that is teaching on the origins of life.”

When people who are non-believers want to come out and say, “I believe there is no God and that we were created from nothing,” they’re welcome to bring that perspective into the discussion. That’s the point of the First Amendment. You allow all voices, and you make decisions not on the basis of what is a religious belief and what is not, but on the basis of whether there is support for this kind of education.

Some who write on “public theology” claim that religious believers, even when their positions on social and political matters are grounded in their religious beliefs, must be able to articulate “public reasons” for their beliefs. They should not appeal to divine revelation, or biblical authority. They need to be able to give reasons that make sense to everyone, religious or not. Is that right?

Of course a religious believer can make a claim in the public square on the basis of biblical authority. But part of the political process is persuading your fellow citizen of what the law should be, and if you’re relying on revelation or the specific beliefs of a particular group of believers, then your reasoning may not be accessible to others.

I believe that we have an obligation to address as broad an audience as possible. I also believe that if God says that something is true, then he’ll reveal himself through Natural Law and the Creation, and those things will be supported by reason. God is a reasonable God. I’m convinced that a believer can make a reasoned argument, and should make those arguments in ways that will persuade as many people as possible.

* * * * *

Many thanks to Senator Santorum for his time, and my apologies that this was not published in a timely manner (to say the least!).  But perhaps the Holy Spirit was in my hard drive.  Or at least a God-Breathed Gremlin.  It seems better this way.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    “For example, if you believe biology texts should teach creationism, that God created heaven and earth, I can give a rational and reasoned argument why I believe that’s true, just as the other side can give an argument that it is false.”

    This is a straw man. No one advocates science teachers teaching atheism in the classroom, and nothing in a biology textbook precludes God from having created the heaven and earth (or from guiding evolution).

    • Matt R

      On the other hand, God’s role in creation and what followed-evolution and other processes-is neglected. Fr Lemaitre is left out of most talk about the origins of the Big Bang Theory. Mendel gets passing reference as an Austrian monk though…and evangelical, Biblical literalists dominate discourse in Southern states, meaning they miss the point that God could guide evolution (which atheists of course reject). Both sides are guilty of severe reductionism and exclusivism.


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