Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Should politicians remain silent on politically irrelevant beliefs?

February 24th, 2012, Promulgated by benanderson

Before I present the topic of discussion, I’d like to briefly outline some classes of issues currently being discussed in the presidential primary:

1) Issues that Catholics can legitimately disagree on. eg – health care policy, progressive tax rates, foreign policy, entitlement programs, economic policy. This isn’t the blog to discuss these issues and I’d ask commenters to stay away from them – not because they don’t matter, but because it isn’t the focus of this blog and there are plenty of other places to discuss these issues.  Certainly our Catholic faith influences our positions on these topics, but there is wide range of opinions a Catholic might legitimately hold.

2) Issues in which all Catholics are obliged to support a particular position. I’ll break this down further into another 2 more sub-categories:

2a) Issues that are hot topics politically and that the POTUSA has significant influence over. eg abortion, marriage, and religious liberty.

2b) Issues that Catholics must believe, but that politicians don’t have the authority to directly influence citizens one way or the other as POTUSA.  eg the Pope is the vicar of Christ, contraception is wrong, Satan exists and is actively at work in the world, Obama’s theology is junk, Mary was conceived without original sin.

Having broken that down, I’d like to hear your opinions on whether politicians should remain silent on issues in the above #2b category.  In particular, I’d like to use the example of Rick Santorum.  Whether or not you like his political views (#1 above), you’ve got to give him credit for his courage to be so vocal about his Catholic beliefs (#2a and #2b). What I find to be interesting is that there seems to be a good number of people who agree with him on issues in the #2b category, but wish that he remain silent publicly on those issues. I’ve seen people espousing this opinion all over the blogosphere and facebook. Here’s just 2 examples that I came across today from the National Review Online (a politically and socially conservative site):

Don’t Pick Rick

Because he has phrased his socially conservative views in vivid terms, he is precisely the sort of candidate who will evoke a Pavlovian response from the press. Just as they were driven mad by Sarah Palin, they will be outraged by Rick Santorum. The campaign will be cluttered by the continual discovery of “controversial” Santorum quotes from the past three decades, and precious time will be lost as he explains, justifies, or withdraws his comments on women in the workforce, contraception, gay unions, Obama’s “theology” (by which he did not mean to question the president’s faith, something he’ll have to explain over and over), and so forth.

In fact, Santorum’s sanctimonious style might put off even many religious voters. His intense 2008 warning about “the Father of Lies, Satan” having his “sights on the United States of America . . . attacking the great institutions of America — using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that [have] so deeply rooted in the American tradition” is not the sort of language most preachers, to say nothing of political figures, employ today. American religion these days is heavy on forgiveness and light on sin. We’ve long since left Jonathan Edwards behind. Anything other than comic references to Satan are likely to give people the creeps.

The Devil and Rick Santorum


the press has not had to invent controversial remarks by Santorum, who has supplied them himself. He has said that Satan is undermining America, in part by corrupting mainline Protestantism; that liberal versions of Christianity are distortions of the creed; that as president he would speak out against birth control, and that states should be free to prohibit it; and that John McCain “doesn’t have any” religious views.

Some of his comments are indefensible, and even some of Santorum’s defensible assertions would have been better left to someone else — someone not seeking the presidency — to say. Santorum’s remarks about Senator McCain were unwise and uncharitable. Nor do we need political leaders to share their theological judgments about the various denominations that call themselves Christian. There is no good reason for a prospective president to pledge to lecture Americans about contraception.

The challenge before him is to marry his self-confidence to a more consistent exercise of discrimination and tact.

If he does not heed this lesson, he risks doing damage to the causes he rightly holds dear. Already his inopportune remarks about contraception have lent an undeserved credibility to liberaldom’s claim that a Republican “war on contraception” rather than a Democratic attack on freedom is what underlies the debate over the Obama administration’s new regulations.

So, what do you think about #2b issues? What might be some general principles that a Catholic politician ought to follow? It seems obvious to me that a politician shouldn’t come out and call Evangelicalism heresy. That would be sure to lose an election. I happen to be of the opinion, though, that the topics mentioned in the above articles (contraception is morally wrong, satan exists and is doing dangerous work in our country, Obama’s theology is severely flawed, etc) are topics that a good Catholic politician ought to speak up about. It doesn’t mean they should go out of their way to make them front and center in their campaigns, but it also doesn’t mean they should remain silent on them their whole lives either. The MSM’s main power is not in their ability to slant stories, but in the ability to decide what is newsworthy. The fact that our current President endorsed infanticide is not news simply because the MSM doesn’t highlight it. The fact that Santorum said Satan exists at a Catholic college a few years ago, however, is scandalous to liberals and must be evidence that he’s a right-wing nut job and will become their talking points for several days. In my opinion, the counter attack to the socially liberal MSM isn’t to pander to them either by espousing the politically correct view or by remaining silent, but by doing exactly what Santorum has been doing. He isn’t the one making these issues front and center, but when they are brought up, he doesn’t back down. He gives educated, clear, and concise answers. Quite honestly, I find it refreshing that Santorum doesn’t back away from these issues and explains himself very well when asked about them. If the MSM chooses to tar and feather him and make him out to be an idiot, then so what? If they think that about him, then they think it about you. And wouldn’t you rather have it out there as a discussion point to defend than something buried down deep that people, in their own ignorance, hold against you? Truth is truth and shouldn’t be kept to ourselves.  Sure, you’re not going to win everyone over, but you might win a few.  And at least the people who aren’t convinced were presented with the truth.  It’s amazing to me how many people out there have never heard the truth.  This is sad and we are all to blame.

I also happen to believe that there is a spiritual dimension to every single thing we do. God rewards us when we stick up for Him.  Sticking up for truth is sticking up for God. No, I’m not endorsing a health and wealth Gospel, but it is certainly a biblical principle that following God’s law produces benefits not only in the afterlife, but in the here and now. Obviously this isn’t a universal principle that can explain why bad things happen to good people and vice versa, but God does promise to stand by us and reward us if we stand up for Him (and He is the way, the TRUTH, and the life).

There’s a fitting anecdote about Hilaire Beloc:

During one campaign speech he was asked by a heckler if he was a “papist.” Retrieving his rosary from his pocket he responded, “Sir, so far as possible I hear Mass each day and I go to my knees and tell these beads each night. If that offends you, then I pray God may spare me the indignity of representing you in Parliament.” The crowd cheered and Belloc won the election.

Notice he didn’t say, “that’s a private matter and I wish not to discuss it”, or “how dare you ask me such a question? (Newt Gingrich style)”, but rather calmly and clearly confronted it head on.

So what do you think about all of this?

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7 Responses to “Should politicians remain silent on politically irrelevant beliefs?”

  1. avatar Ludwig says:

    If it’s not something he plans on trying to legislate, it shouldn’t be discussed in the course of a Presidential campaign (I know, I know, President’s don’t legislate. Riiiiight.)

    For example: if he’s not going to sign a bill declaring that all Americans accept that Mary was conceived without original sin, then it’s not something that should be brought up in the context of a Presidential election. I believe the only reason to do so, is to try to garner the support of the “religious right,” who are reluctant to vote for a Mormon, and recognize that Paul and Gingrich probably can’t win. Rick correctly realizes that a sincere, devout Catholic isn’t as scary as it used to be for the evangelical base that makes up the GOP. They’re happy to see anyone dedicated to a Christian faith that wasn’t founded in Palmyra.

    That’s not to say he’s not being genuine. I think he is. But I think he also blatantly panders, intentionally using his faith and wearing it on his sleeve to win votes, just like Rick Perry tried to do.

    What makes me most angry about Rick is that he’s just as “big government conservative” as Gingrich and Romney. The only thing he’s got going for him are his social credentials. But those aren’t going to end any wars, or reduce any deficits.

    (Did I just join a political/religious discussion on the Internet? oh noooo.)

  2. avatar Scott W. says:

    Holding racist views is irrelevant to the job of town dog catcher. Would you vote for a KKK member for town dog catcher? Neither would I? Don’t know why guys who vote to fund contraception and Planned Parenthood get a pass. Wait, scratch that. I do know. Now that the O has informally declared war on the Church, I don’t have the energy or inclination to bother anyone who isn’t too picky about what non-O lever they pull.

  3. avatar snowshoes says:

    Ben, excellent question and exposition of the problem. I think it is fair to say that artificial contraception is the main moral problem in this country, and if we as a country are to survive, it must be confronted as such. People who don’t get this have their heads in the sand, or worse. Any current presidential contender who doesn’t get this doesn’t deserve to be elected. (Santorum is the only one with the brains and guts to do so.)

    Pope Paul VI demonstrated the relationship between artificial contraception and abortion, euthanasia, etc, in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae. No other issue comes close to the seriousness of this one. IT is the one that is being used, surprise, by POTUS and company to attempt to further marginalize the Church and steal Her hospitals. And by the way, much of Mr. Santorum’s rhetoric is right out of Pres. Reagan’s speeches to include the identification of satan as our archenemy and the evil of abortion. Mr. Santorum is in the line of Belloc and Chesterton. The National Review article bespeaks cowardice and stupidity.

    All Christians know by the grace of the Faith that there is no public revelation after the death of the last Apostle, St. John. This is important, since it is the other post-NT religion, Islam, that has sworn to destroy this country, as evidenced by the meaning of 9/11, and is currently waging war to accomplish that goal as soon as possible, and our country, led by POTUS is studiously ignoring this menace. Only Mr. Santorum is addressing it effectively in my opinion, tho Mr. Gingrich has also addressed the danger of radical islam too.

    Our govenment must honestly and effectively engage the war being waged against us by radical moslems. Yes, there may be non-radical moslems (as there are millions of Christians living quietly as moslems in moslem countries) but basically, they don’t count, they have no voice and no power. From a security standpoint, this is the main threat to our country.

    Mr. Bush tried to address the terrorist plot on 9/11 by calling it a war, correctly. We can discuss the wisdom of the military action he chose to take, but the fact remains that the US must recognize that much of the moslem world considers itself at war with our country and that it has as its goal the immediate military conquest of this country and the subjugation of the American people. If a candidate won’t say this, he has his head in the sand, or worse.

  4. avatar Jim says:

    Jim M. here: Good post, Ben. This is a tough one for me, because I feel deep down, that Rick Santorium should be able to articulate all of the precepts that you mentioned in 2b. The problem is, if he does speak up about these issues, he will most likely not be chosen as the Republican nominee against Barack Obama. Our country has turned so far away from the Truth (the precepts of God), that he will be seen by a lot of well meaning (but misguided) people, as a religious fanatic. Our once Christian nation, has lost its way (just turn on the tv at any hour after 8:00 p.m.) I believe that he should speak his conscience. I just feel bad that he will be crucified and vilified by the liberal media, and that clueless people will reject him. If this was 1957 and not 2012, I believe that he would have a good chance of being elected.

  5. avatar Susan of Corning says:

    I think Santorum’s bigger problem is how he comes across sometimes, ie sanctimonious, angry, sour. Image, for better or worse, is at least as important as words. Americans don’t elect angry people or depressing people or haughty people. A president or candidate needs to say, “Look, we have some serious problems. But we’ve overcome great obstacles before. This is my plan to solve a, b, c.”

    Regarding Obama’s theology, I wouldn’t advise any candidate to touch that directly. There are plenty of specific issues (that perhaps spring from Obama’s theology) to talk about.

  6. avatar Raymond F. Rice says:

    The problem with a lot of these professional politicians is that , while they may be well versed in the political process and the law; large number of them being lawyers, and professionals in their fields, quite a few of them are religiously immature and don’t know anything about morality and its various nuances. It is time for us as a country to recruit and elect STATESMEN rather than politicians set on lining their pockets with our hard earned money.

  7. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Susan said

    he comes across sometimes, ie sanctimonious, angry, sour…Image, for better or worse, is at least as important as words.

    My question, Susan, would be is that image a true image or is that image created by the MSM? Is it possible for someone to speak truth and somehow prevent the MSM from painting that image? Perhaps you do have some criteria, though, that I’m missing. Could you share what that is? My concern is that one might use the same criteria to label both of our blogs as sanctimonious, angry, and sour.

    quite a few of them are religiously immature and don’t know anything about morality and its various nuances

    Raymond, the whole point of this blog post is that we finally have someone who does know a thing or two about religion and morality and he’s not afraid to speak up about it. And yet he’s being told to keep quiet on these issues not only by those who disagree with him, but by those who agree with him. So, I’d argue that what you’re arguing for is what we have right in front of us.


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