Rick Santorum's Devil of a Speech

Stan Guthrie

Rick Santorum's Devil of a Speech

Going back to the Declaration of Independence of 1776, or even to the Mayflower Compact of 1620, American civil religion has always found a place for God. Even today, reflecting the nation’s rich Judeo-Christian heritage, politicians of all stripes regularly invoke the Almighty, for good and for ill. As President Obama complained last fall after House Republicans ignored his $447 billion American Jobs Act while voting for legislation reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto, “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”

Few politicians, however, have ventured into the religious no-man’s land in which presidential candidate Rick Santorum now finds himself. It is no surprise that Santorum, an unabashedly devout Catholic, believes in God, nor that this belief shapes Santorum’s personal life and political agenda. But Santorum found himself facing unexpected scrutiny after the Drudge Report reported on a 2008 speech he gave at Ave Maria University, a Catholic institution in Naples, Florida.

“This is not a political war at all,” Santorum said then. “This is not a cultural war at all. This is a spiritual war. And the father of lies has his sights on what you would think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on. A good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after, other than the United States. And that’s been the case for now almost 200 years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great founding fathers.”

Predictably, the liberal pundits went into high dudgeon. “Rick Santorum has been called a latter-day Savonarola,” New York Times pundit Maureen Dowd chirped in response. “That’s far too grand. He’s more like a small-town mullah.”

But even those who share many of Santorum’s political views were taken aback. ““That stuff is out there,” conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh said. “And Santorum will have to deal with it. He’ll have to answer it. I don’t know. It’s just not the kind of stuff you hear a presidential candidate talk about. It’s not ordinary in that sense.”

Like Santorum, however, many Americans believe in the devil. Columnist Ben Shapiro notes that 70 percent believe in Satan, and 69 percent believe in hell. Against the skepticism of his day, C.S. Lewis was also cognizant of the Accuser:

“I know someone will ask me. ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to reintroduce our old friend the devil — hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes I do.’”

Regardless of whether Santorum’s 2008 remarks to a religious audience were wise politically, belief in a personal devil is “ordinary” if you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, too. Satan appears in several Old Testament books, including Job, and his malign influence is seen repeatedly in the seemingly never-ending attacks — both spiritual and military — against Israel, the people of God.

The devil’s stratagems break into the open with the ministry of Jesus Christ and the launching of the church in the New Testament. Regardless of what we may think about Satan in early 21st-century America, it is clear what Jesus and the apostles and other early Christian witnesses thought about him — that he is a real enemy to be defeated. In Acts 8 we read a matter-of-fact account about the deacon and evangelist Philip, who was driven north out of Jerusalem by a burst of anti-Christian persecution:

“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.  And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.”

Later, the apostle Paul would say, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Echoes of Paul’s statement can be heard in Santorum’s speech. Santorum said that Satan does not just undermine faith on the individual level but instead aims his arrows at social and cultural institutions, such as America’s academies, mainline Protestant churches, popular culture, and politics. Santorum accused the devil of “attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the route to attack all of these strong plants that have so deeply rooted in American tradition.”

So what are we to make of Santorum’s comments about the devil and his supposed attacks on America? First, we can affirm that they are not outside the mainstream of Christian tradition. While Santorum’s analysis of the devil’s work in the U.S. is impossible to verify, Satan may indeed target nations in his never-ending battle against the kingdom of God, as the Book of Daniel suggests. Second, however, we can suggest that Santorum’s analysis is more a topic for theologians than for political pundits — a point even Santorum seems to concede.

Santorum now calls the issue “not relevant to what’s being discussed in America today.”

“If [the media] want to dig up old speeches of me talking to religious groups, they can go ahead and do so, but I’m going to stay on message and I’m going to talk about things that Americans want to talk about.”

Of course, if Santorum was right in 2008 that America ultimately is facing spiritual warfare, then we Christians ought to spend at least as much time on our knees as doing the many other good things that our endangered Republic requires.

Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Today editor at large, is author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us and coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com/blog.

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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