Newly invested Cardinal Timothy Dolan has called on Catholics to be very active in the political sphere, condemning President Obama for daring to tell Catholics they should listen to enlightened voices of accommodation within the church. “No,” said Dolan, “if you want to go to an authoritative voice go to the bishops.”
Dolan gets no disagreement from Presidential candidate Rick Santorum on who is the authority in this matter. It is clear how far Santorum will go in defending that authority when he blames the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church on “the liberal culture.” “When the culture is sick, every element in it is infected,” he said (NYT, 3/4).
It is not just a figure of speech when Santorum says John F. Kennedy’s speech on the separation of church and faith makes him “want to throw up.” Santorum doesn’t want a separation. In 1960 Kennedy reassured America that he would not be taking orders from the Pope. In 2012 Santorum is not making the same vow. The fears that Kennedy laid to rest in 1960 that Americans might come under religious control seem a wholly reasonable threat to democracy in 2012. Santorum offers obedience to religious authority as the future he is fighting for.
It is the clear meaning of Santorum’s words and back action that he intends, if President, to bring a theocracy to America, with laws and, perhaps, constitutional amendments passed to take away individual liberty from Americans in their human relationships, and to criminalize behavior that doesn’t conform with the new regime. It is also clear that, as in other theocracies around the world, actions that would guarantee the continuation of a regime would be planned, whether democratic or not.
The Authentic Romney?
Santorum may exit the Republican primaries but he is not the sole embodiment of these ideas. It is not only Santorum we need to fear.
The conventional wisdom of the media on Romney seems to be that his flip-flopping is covering the real―moderate―Romney who will be revealed when elected President. However, Romney’s religious convictions are very likely as extreme and authoritarian as Santorum’s. Romney has certainly never expressed doubts about his choice to be a missionary for his Mormon faith in France in 1966-67.
In a New York Times op-ed (1/29), a lapsed Mormon, Carrie Sheffield, told a chilling story about the ostracism by her family and community she suffered when she could no longer accept her religion. “Yes,” she said, “Mormons love families. But the family-values facade applies only if you stay in the fold. Former Mormons know the family estrangement and bigotry that often come with questioning or leaving the church. The church I was raised in values unquestioning obedience over critical thinking.”
The Church of the Latter Day Saints does not have the local doctrinal flexibility that exists in Judaism and many Christian churches: it stifles efforts to openly question church pronouncements and labels such behavior as “satanic.” A high-ranking Mormon leader told her “to quit reading historical and scientific materials because they were ‘worse than pornography.’ I had no place to live a moderated, reformed existence.”
“Religion in America”
Trying to put to rest questions about his religion in the last Presidential campaign, Romney gave a speech titled “Religion in America” in 2006. Underneath a moderate patina, the speech opens a door on a religious ideology that arguably unites a large swath of Republican leadership, including then-President George W. Bush.
“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” he said. In Romney’s view government must be smaller (except in defense), but religion bigger. This, he says, is because despite differences in theology among churches “we share a common creed of moral convictions.” “We acknowledge the Creator,” including, as Romney enumerates, “with religious displays in public places.” “I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from “the God who gave us liberty.” “Freedom requires religion” means an absolute opposition to the religion of secularism. Romney says, in so many words, that all faiths are ok; the only thing that is unacceptable is no faith.
Romney’s “common creed of moral convictions” does not cover what Democrats generally mean when they use the word “moral” to describe public policy or action. Romney is far from saying that, for example, extending health care coverage to all children is a moral imperative―an action that would reflect our common values as Americans.
It is possible Romney and Santorum would not understand those who use the word “immoral” to describe the vicious attacks by Republican icon Rush Limbaugh on Georgetown Law Student Sandra Flukes for daring to support contraception. Their notions of morality are centered on the nature of human sexuality and obedience to religious authorities. Any means may be used to defeat an enemy. No slur against President Obama is too rancid. Any excuse to impeach President Clinton is fine, however much the office of President is degraded and the reputation of the United States corroded is acceptable in this fight to the death. They are the patriots.
Romney and Santorum are not champions of liberty. They have challenged core American institutions and values. Those who value freedom and democracy must defeat this challenge.