Rick Santorum, Barak Obama and theology

According to news reports, presidential candidate Rick Santorum is not bringing theology into the presidential campaign. (Of course, it has already come up with regard to Mitt Romney’s LDS membership.) Apparently, Santorum has said that Obama’s theology is wrong because it favors the earth more than humanity.

Two questions come to mind. First, is introducing theology into a political campaign appropriate? CNN raised that question and asked a Harvard religion professor. His answer was ambiguous. I think it is appropriate INSOFAR as one candidate has made statements or promoted policies with clear theological implications and the responding candidate is talking to a group with theological commitments. The public square does not need to be “naked” (devoid of religious language). I get nervous, however, when theology becomes a litmus test for candidates’ qualifications for office.

Second, since when is what’s good for the earth bad for humanity? Does Rick Santorum think God created humanity but not the earth as humanity’s habitat? I suppose he is thinking that it’s wrong to protect an animal species at the expense of human jobs. That’s the usual context of such statements.

This is what occurs to me about that. I think (I could be wrong) that Santorum does not believe in “blind” evolution. If that’s the case, then aren’t all species God’s creations? Does God create anything without meaning and purpose? If someone says a species’ purpose is for humanity’s sake, that still doesn’t explain why it would be good to destroy it.

Now, IF it came down to “humanity OR this particular animal species” as a matter of survival, I suppose I would favor humanity. But is that ever really the case?

It seems to me that Santorum’s theology of creation is flawed. God created the earth and all that is in and on it for a reason. God assigned humans the task of taking care of the earth. (We have too often wrongly interpreted that assignment as permission to exploit and destroy nature.) Shouldn’t we do the most we can to preserve and protect all of creation–especially the existence of every species? We might think a particular species (e.g., a particular type of snail) is dispensible, but if we think God created it, who are we to make that decision? Isn’t that usurping God’s place?

It seems to me that all Christians, Rick Santorum included, should care about the earth and everything on it because God is the creator of it all. IF Obama is looking for ways to protect and preserve animal species without destroying people, then what can be wrong with that? IF Obama is valuing animals or plants above humans, a critic should be very specific and when and where and how that is the case. I’m not aware of it.

  • Fred

    I agree. I sometimes wonder if these candidates ever think through all the implications of their positions. They spend so much energy trying to distinguish themselves from their opponent and not saying something that may come back to haunt them that they end up walking an impossible tightrope. The Republican nominating process is both comedic and tragic.

  • T

    There is a growing sense of conviction (which often becomes judgment toward Democrats) that God is clearly and passionately for libertarian/laissez-faire economic and environmental policies. I don’t mind someone believing strongly in those things, but this idea that God himself clearly has these views (based on the bible!) has got to stop. I don’t mind Santorum or anyone else disagreeing strongly with Obama over any policy. But Santorum’s own church (the RCC), disagrees with Santorum over several policies. I don’t agree with all of the RCC theology, but Santorum needs be mindful of what he denounces on theological grounds, since his own church leaders disagree with the “theology” in some of his policy choices.

    I don’t see it happening, but more evangelicals need to step up, read their bibles with as much detachment as possible from their political paradigms, and be honest that environmental protection/responsibility is not anti-Christian or unbiblical. Societal safety nets aren’t anti-Christian or unbiblical. Pure and unlimited liberterianism is not the bible’s clear teaching for societal property and earnings rights. Even bankruptcy protections aren’t some liberal ploy implemented in a moment of national weakness–they are part of the Judeo-Christian influence on our government! Now, I don’t mind if Christians want to argue that we should try to emulate or ignore this or that bit of God’s law or wisdom today for this reason or that. But let’s quit acting like there’s no biblical basis for creation care, or societal safety nets (even mandatory sharing of income and resources, even, God forbid, redistribution!). These are debatable matters theologically. Period. The bible doesn’t clearly lay out these policies for modern governments, and committed and intelligent believers could easily disagree about how to apply God’s wisdom and priorities to these matters in governmental policies. I say all this as a registered republican, but more so as a Christian: the bible is by no means a clear endorser of all Republican policies and a critic of all Democratic ones.

  • Percival

    Dr. Olson,
    While I agree with your point, I think it is useful to realize that the template of current environmentalism is faulty as well. Mankind is a disease. Preservation and conservation means that we should not shape nature to our needs. We need to adapt our lives in ways that do not affect nature. And this adaption is not possible with so many extra people on the planet.

    What do the two sides agree on? We need to go to our corners and come out swinging. It is Civilization vs. Nature. Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?

    Conservatives should be much more environmentally aware and concerned. Conservative ideology is theoretically friendly to environmentalism, but in the current culture wars, you can’t be in bed with the enemy on any issue. With the debate set in these terms, there seems to be no way forward. Politicians don’t want to risk appearing soft on any issue and possibly lose the support of their base.

    For example, is strip mining of coal ‘rape’ or is it a cost-effective way to meet our energy needs? Activists and politicians would have us believe that these are the two options. Maybe the truth is more complex. Or, maybe strip mining is a foolish destruction of our common resources and environment for short-term financial gain of the rich. But when the issue is put in moralistic and mytho-religious language like ‘rape,’ it can turn off conservatives and make dialogue difficult. But maybe neither side wants dialogue, maybe we just want to compel agreement and overpower those who disagree.

    • rogereolson

      But when has Obama used the language of radical environmentalism (such as you quote)? I take it Santorum is accusing him of radical ecology ideology, but what has Obama actually said to support that? Sure, he’s against unrestricted, unlimited drilling in the Alaska wilderness and off shore. Is that necessarily radical environmentalism? Since when? It seems to me that (so far as I know) Obama’s sympathies and policies are moderate with regard to environmentalism. Has he called the earth “God/ess” or hugged a tree or said that snail darters are more important than humans or that humans exist to serve the earth? I doubt it. But people very well might think so from just listening to some of his political critics.

      • Percival

        I don’t know if Obama has ever used the language of radical environmentalism or not. I get all my information about candidates from the PACs of opposing candidates!

        But seriously, that’s exactly the problem these days. On issues such as the environment, any attempt at nuance by any candidate is doomed to failure. Santorum is just engaged in the culture war according to the battle lines drawn long before this campaign. What were you expecting? Courageous moral leadership? Independent thought? A willingness to compromise with opponents for the common good? Robert, (May I call you Robert, too?) that is just expecting too much.

        • rogereolson

          I’d rather you didn’t call me “Robert.” But you can call me Ray, or … :) (Only a few old folks like me will get that.)

          • Yvette

            Uuuuggghhh, you just made me come to terms with the fact that I am old. ;)

          • rogereolson

            As my wife says, you’re only as old as you think you are. :) But if, like me, you remember the “You can call me Ray” routine, you might be old. :)

          • Percival

            I guess I’m old enough to remember, “You can call me Ray or you can call me Ray Jay, etc …”

      • Tim Reisdorf

        In your comments, a few posts ago, you plainly said that you don’t take people at their word. So what do words matter anyway? Look at his actions/policies. There you will find him in line with most of the radical environmental groups.

  • John Inglis

    Re every species in “Shouldn’t we do the most we can to preserve and protect all of creation–especially the existence of every species? We might think a particular species (e.g., a particular type of snail) is dispensible, but if we think God created it, who are we to make that decision? Isn’t that usurping God’s place?”

    God knows when a sparrow falls, but that is a trite outcome of his being omniscient. Does he really care about each and every species per se? After all, regardless of one’s position on creation he did not directly create every single species as we have them now, but created processes that resulted in either some or all of the species (fewer if creation is recent). Moreover, 90% of all species are now extinct, and extinct as a result of God’s natural processes or judgment (either the Noahic flood, or various iceages, continental drifts, asteroids, volcanoes, etc.). If God didn’t see fit to save every species that ever existed simply because they were a separate species, then why would he necessarily see fit to save all the ones that exist now?

    Moreover, species is a group concept. To save every species is not to save every individual of that species, but only to save the group–a particular pattern of genes. If that’s the case, then why assume that the species is the proper level of grouping to save? Why not the genus or phyla, etc.?

    I’m all for saving the environment, even at the cost of our comfort and convenience and wealth. And I’m all for not peeing in our own back yard and making a greater effort to lessen pollution. I even see that we have a responsibility to be good stewards. But I think that stewards are to increase the value of what they’ve been given (which obviously means taking care of what exists) and so I’m not sure that that means saving every spotted owl and tiny darter fish.

    And if evolution is true, then why worry? New species are going to evolve anyway and the possibility of new species is enhanced when others are reduced in numbers or eliminated.

    Furthermore, if we’ve messed things up by poor stewardship, getting out of this mess may require eliminating some species in order to properly provide for all humans.

    I’ve had so-called environmentalist profs that believed that humans should be living in small tribal groups of no more than 20 or so, that humans in devastated areas (e.g. Africa) should suffer the results of environmental disasters and be allowed to starve, that endangered animals should be allowed to go extinct rather than being preserved “artificially”.

    I think Santorum’s position–as hypothetically set out in the post–is more grounded than the airy, I-know-better-than-you-plebes, do-goodism of Obama. The easy way now, in pre-election jockying for votes, is to be all Al-Gore about stuff. For Santorum to take a a less gung-ho approach to knee-jerk environmentalistm (and by no means is he for the rape, pillage and pollute ways of former generations) suggests to me someone who has considered the matter and is willing to take a stand for an approach that he believes is right even if not the flavor of the day.

    Good, provocative post. The above is the stream of consciousness that occurred to me after I read it.

    John

  • Rob

    I like Santorum but I think he has a really big problem here. His stance on contraception/abortion is at odds with what I take him to be saying about the environment.

    The Catholic position on contraception is based on the belief that all nature, but specifically human nature, has telos built into it. Not only does nature exhibit telos but telos is normative. Since every Biologist describes the sexual organs as “reproductive organs” and not “feel-good organs”, Catholics may take it for granted that the function of these organs is non-disputable. They make the inference to the sinfulness of contraception by affirming that the (obvious) function of the organs is their divinely appointed telos and so to act intentionally for the purpose of thwarting their proper function is to alienate one from oneself–one’s will from the biological striving of one’s own body–which is itself normative.

    If one were to say to such a Catholic that the woman or couple has not set having children as an end and so are entitled to thwart the proper functioning of their reproductive organs, the Catholic will respond that it is not up to humans to set our own ends in opposition to those set by God. The world is not a formless collection of matter to be organized towards whatever ends that humans arbitrarily choose; the world and nature already contain natural ends within it and it is up to humans to adjust their wills accordingly.

    This line of argument is not open to Santorum if he argues that humans have the right to use creation for their own ends irrespective of the natural ends of the creatures in the world. His argument mirrors the argument made by the birth control proponent: who cares about natural ends? We humans are not bound to respect the telos of things in the natural world! We set our own ends.

  • http://tikesbestfriend.com Tim Dahl

    I did a CPE residency at MDACC in Houston. While there, I got to know the Priests and Nuns of the Catholic Chaplain Corp. We actually had conversations about this, but they were coming from the very opposite of Santorum. Instead, they talked about how God never rescinded the “goodness” of the world. They seemed very much in line with what he’s accusing Obama of.

    Tim

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen

    Very good points. What I find disturbing is that the Christian Right has decided that being on the right and agreeing with them on every political position, is part of how they define being a Christian. So you can be putting the full weight of your trust in Jesus, His sacrifice and Resurrection, for your salvation, and you can be living a squeaky-clean life without a hint of scandal, but disagree with the Christian Right regarding environmentalism, or gay marriage, or immigration, or any other political topic– and they will decide you’re not a “real” Christian. And they will judge and villify you and consider you an enemy. This is what they’re doing to President Obama. And it’s not right.

  • chase3557

    My thoughts exactly! I also read an article about Santorum questioning Obama’s faith. I’m not positive it quoted him in context, but it said he didn’t think it was possible to be a “liberal Christian,” which is the title the reporter had used to describe Obama’s religious commitments. I’m slowly losing respect for Santorum and his “value-centered” politics.

  • Steve Rogers

    I agree with you on this, Dr. Olson. A “man” centered view of creation that validates destructive and inequitable consumption is really bad theology. So, also, is the fear based theology that compels it’s adherents to be threatened by anything they deem as “other” and resort to apocalyptic irrationality and demonization to seize power. I am very concerned that some pandering politicians are legitimizing a militaristic, xenophobic Christian fundamentalism for their political gain that, if successful, promises a very troubled world for the foreseeable future.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger,

    You are correct that usually the issue is about jobs. The most recent example that I can think of was the proposed pipeline from Canada to the refineries in the Gulf States. This would have had a positive impact on US jobs, our available energy (and the price), as well as a lessening of some of the entanglements that we feel with the oil-rich tyrannies of the Middle East. My understanding is that this proposal was rejected because Environmental Impact studies were not completed to the satisfaction of the President.

    You say, “Shouldn’t we do the most we can to preserve and protect all of creation–especially the existence of every species?” I say that if you change the “we” to “Roger”, then I’d agree with you. If you wish to buy up land and preserve every species, go for it – I’d admire you for it and may support you in your efforts. But this is not my top priority.

    Species have come and gone on the Earth for thousands and millions of years before people ever even stood up. All of the comings and goings overseen by a God. We are constantly finding new species and, without a doubt, others are continuing to be extinguished. While we ought not go out of our way to ensure an extinction, nor ought we trample on humanity or an individual’s rights in zealousness for the animals/plants.

    Neither you nor I are on the edges of the spectrum in this debate. But I’d suggest that the commendation to love people is more important than that of loving plants or animals.

    • John Inglis

      Hmmmm, I should have thought of this.

      Robert Olson ;-)

      (a.k.a. John)

  • http://christianchildrensbooks.net Fred Karlson

    Thank you Robert Olson for your comments.

    In my opinion, Santorum was trying to make political hay over jobs. He is capitalizing on conservative evangelicalism’s concept of dominion over nature where it appears more as a tool rather than a responsibility. As Stanley Hauerwas warned in his latest book, “War and the American Difference,” we have changed from a culture of obligation to one of consumerism.

    The documentary film “Monster Salmon” should cause one to reconsider. The film rightly, in my opinion, critiques the ecological consequences of the modern fish farming industry as well as the concept of genetically modified fish. They are a species never seen before in nature. Labelled “sterile” and hence safe even if they escape from the farms and cohabit with wild fish, five per cent of them can and do cross breed with wild fish. The proliferation of these farms are contributing to ocean pollution in the Puget Sound with disturbing natural habitat results. Fed on grain, they lack the omega 3s so desperately needed to balance an oversupply of omega 6s in our diet. These farmed fish must then have their meat ‘colored’ to look real. The industry claims its entire existence is necessary, due to rising human population, since wild salmon catches cannot keep up with demand. Meanwhile, the price of wild fish goes down with the increased supply of farmed fish, threatening the livelihood of traditional fishing.

    If the ocean environment gets polluted from the increase of these farms in unlikely “natural” locations, if the wild fish dies out due to cross breeds from sterile farmed fish, then who wins? The fish farm industry that monopolizes the market as well as the political arena stands to win. So what about the predators of wild fish? Is all of this merely alarmist? Or will we consider man and nature as a continuum, and government as a check for the common good rather than merely a facilitator for industry and jobs?

    • rogereolson

      Who is Robert Olson? :)

  • http://HoxeyvilleNorthofNirvana Eric

    On the topic of use of the earth’s resources, trying to find a balance between romantic environmentalism and unrestrained exploitation, a not-too-technical and not-too long book to read: Paul Collier THE PLUNDERED PLANET: WHY WE MUST–AND HOW WE CAN–MANAGE NATURE FOR GLOBAL PROPSERITY (Oxford, 2010). Collier is an economist at Oxford.

  • RF

    I found this to be a tremendously refreshing post. As one involved in a local SBC church (deacon) and being politically active and involved (democrat – though disappointed with many of our President’s decisions), I am weary and suspicious of Santorum’s loose-lipped and pointed charges. How did we get to this point?? Why are candidates who promote a platform of my-happiness-above-all-else-especially-the-environment taken so seriously?? The fact that someone talks this way with such license is not just indicative of the candidate but of the society (voters) who tolerate and indeed promote it.

    Roger, do you see Santorum’s comments as indicative as some sort of Catholicism-on-steroids, or is it more just shooting from the hip? I’m not steeped in Rom. Cath. theology enough to be critical. Thanks for posting your thoughts on this.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think his comments had anything to do with RCC theology except insofar as he accuses Obama of radical environmentalism. RCC theology is generally speaking very much in favor of environmentalism as good stewardship of the earth. I think that Santorum was appealing to conservative evangelicals and others by labeling Obama’s policies on bad theology. I just wish and others who do the same (whether Republicans or Democrats or whatever their affiliation) would provide concrete examples and evidence to back up such charges.

  • http://joysthoughtsonstuff.wordpress.com Joy F

    Thank you for this – it’s also a human issue – I’ve been in countries all over the world and seen how the “disposable” excess of the west is impacting people. Lung cancer development in Chinese cities that produce our cheap consumer goods. Plastic bottles floating around the Indonesian oceans, killing fisher and making it hard for fisherman to make a living. Poor people living near toxic chemical factories that have been poisoned to make our clothing products because many of the dyes are toxic. Even if we took out the environmental aspect (which I believe is very important) we would still have to answer for the devastation done to the developing world. How is locking people into a deadly cycle of poverty in order to make our cheap goods right? Thats a question that I don’t even see being asked! And yet I have been to some of those cities and walked in them and just thought – this isn’t what God intended for us to do.

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  • David

    The world view that Santorum indicated (and is shared by others) ISN’T that it is bad to take care of earth… it’s that we take relatively poor care of humanity. “How can we protect seals if we won’t protect unborn babies?” from their perspective, that is misplaced priorities… and some would say that stems back to poor theology.

    • rogereolson

      Why can’t we protect seals AND unborn babies? And is that really what Santorum said? I thought he accused Obama of placing the earth above humans.

  • rey

    You obviously aren’t very politically informed. First, Obama himself has injected religion and theology into the campaign. Obama put out a press release a few week back saying his policies are based on scripture (by his claim, the scripture of Judaism, Christianity, AND ISLAM). Whereas, of course, in the first campaign he attacked scripture and mocked saying “if we use scripture in public policy, what will we use? stoning adulterers?”

    Secondly, Santorum is responding to Cap and Trade, which makes CO2, what you exhale, a pollutant to be taxed. Cow flatulence is certainly going to be taxed. And there is a fear that one day the IRS will basically estimate the amount of CO2 you exhale and tax you for it. That’s part of Obama’s false theology of putting the earth above man.

    • rogereolson

      Please be specific and cite the sources where we can check what you claim. I don’t believe either of those.


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