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February 21st, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Santorum and Satan - the devil is in the details

Editor's note: Tune in Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for the last presidential debate before Super Tuesday, the CNN/Arizona Republican Party Debate hosted by John King. Follow it on Twitter at #CNNDebate and on Facebook at CNN Politics. For real-time coverage of the Arizona and Michigan primaries, go to CNNPolitics.com or to CNN apps or the CNN mobile site.

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - A 2008 speech by Rick Santorum at Ave Maria University is making waves this week, in large part because Santorum said Satan had his sights set on America and the country was facing spiritual warfare.

The speech came at the beginning of the academic year at the Catholic university in Florida.  At that point, the 2008 presidential campaign was in full swing.  Then-candidate Barack Obama had recently made a statement about abortion and the issue of deciding when life began, which he said was above his pay grade.

Santorum was using the devil-tinged language after explaining Obama's position on abortion.  He quoted Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota, who said at the time, “Catholics who support so-called ‘abortion rights’ support a false right, promote a culture of death and are guarded by the father of lies."

"This is not a political war at all, this is not a culture war at all, this is a spiritual war," Santorum said, according to a recording of the speech on the university's website. "And the father of lies has his sights on what you think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on.  A good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America."

The speech gained a new life this week when it surfaced on the website Right Wing Watch and was then picked up by the Drudge Report and a host of media outlets.

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"If you were Satan, who would you attack?" the former U.S. senator asked the students.  "There's no one else to go after other than the United States, and that's been the case, for now, almost 200 years."

Santorum went on to explain how he thought the devil had attacked the United States in several areas: its foundations, academia, the Protestant Church and government.

Asked about the speech on Tuesday, Santorum offered no apologies. "I’m a person of faith. I believe in good and evil," Santorum told CNN in Arizona.

"If somehow or another because you’re a person of faith and you believe in good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we’re going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president," he said.

"If they want to go ahead and dig up old speeches to a religious group they can go right ahead and do so," Santorum went on. "I'm going to stay on message. I'm going to talk about the things Americans want to talk about."

In his 2008 speech, the Catholic Santorum said that Satan had relatively little success attacking the founders and the foundation of the country. But time, like an acid, wore away America's great institutions, "using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition," he said.

Santorum said Satan was first, and most successfully, attacked academia.  Once academia fell to pride and its own truths, he said, the Protestant Church fell next in the United States.

"We look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country, and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it," he said.

From there, he turned to U.S. culture, lambasting the National Basketball Association, rock concerts and movie sets. "They are peacocks on display, and they have taken their poor behavior and made it fashionable," which he said was further evidence of spiritual warfare.

Also fallen to Satan: politics and government, he said.  Specifically, Santorum highlighted a 2004 interview with then-state Sen. Obama did with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Shortly after Obama won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he sat down with Cathleen Falsani in one of the few extended interviews he has done about his faith.

"What is sin?" Falsani asked Obama.

"Being out of alignment with my values," Obama responded.

In his Ave Maria speech, Santorum seized on this point. "So now we have the first truly post-modern presidential candidate. Clearly, explicitly defining his own reality," he said.

But the reporter who conducted that interview with Obama said Santorum is mistaken.

"Mr. Santorum is conveniently ignoring the fact that was not the opening question I asked him, nor was it the only question I asked. I asked what did he believe, and he articulated his faith and prayer life," Falsani said.

"We had talked about his born-again experience. [Obama's] values are based on his historical Christian faith.  He wasn't talking about, 'whatever I feel like is right in my reality,' " she said.

Falsani said the Santorum-implied dig - that Obama has his own definition of sin outside of traditional Christianity - was wrong. "The answer came in the specific context of having just articulated his Christian faith," she said.

In response, Falsani posted the full transcript of her interview with the president on the Sojourners website, where she now works as Web editor and director of new media.

But what stirred the media and the Internet the most was the notion of all-out spiritual warfare. It made easy fodder for late-night comics.

"If Rick Santorum is the commander in chief, he will do what no other president has had the courage to do: declare war on hell,"  satirist Stephen Colbert said on "The Colbert Report" on Monday night.  "It's simple: All we have to do is take our nuclear missiles out of their silos and put them back in upside-down."

At the time of the speech, Santorum was two years' removed from political office and not running for anything.

Sources who have known Santorum for some time told CNN that this is who Santorum is. He sees the world in black and white, good versus evil, they said.

A big difference between this speech and what he had talked about publicly before, according to some who know him, is that during this time frame, he was out of office and didn't have people with political antennae around him to pull him back from such stark rhetoric.

While his speaking about the devil in a political context may be considered a candidate no-no, Stephen Schneck, a political scientist from Catholic University, says consider the crowd.

"Ave Maria is a unique place," Schneck said. "They are very orthodox in their Catholicism and conservative in their politics."

Donning the language of spiritual warfare can score points with the crowd.  "In some very conservative Catholic circles, that language resonates," he said.

"What he's saying, it's certainly not any heresy," said Father Tom Reese, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.

"It's the language some preachers would use that conservative Catholics would be very comfortable with. Is it the kind of language theology professors at Catholic universities would use? Probably not. They would likely see it more metaphorically," he said.

"He's well within the tradition," Reese said of Santorum's talk of spiritual warfare.  Though he added,  "When he starts applying those definitions to specific politicians, those are his own judgments, not the judgment of the church."

As for the candidate today, an aide issued a one-word statement on the flap: "ridiculous."

CNN's Dana Bash and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Politics • Rick Santorum

soundoff (1,820 Responses)
  1. DeWayne

    Obvisouly most of you have never been involved in the Holy Bible to state such nonsence, I am sure we could go on all night, but for what reason ? You have the right in the United States of America to believe what you want, you also have the right to pay for that right and remain stupid.......till it's too late !

    February 22, 2012 at 3:17 am |
  2. J

    Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ has the spirit of the antichrist. Satan isn't a red skinned grotesque with horns and pitchfork. He appears as an angel of light and his ministers, ministers of righteousness. He is smarter than you and he has programmed you to hate God and Jesus Christ. You are doing his will when you denounce them. Wake up!

    February 22, 2012 at 3:16 am |
  3. ushonor

    The Santorum Connection. Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff went to prison for the illegal pay to play lobbyist scandal, but the liaison, Rick Santorum, went unscathed. Santorum was an integral part of the influence-peddling scandal where the more a lobbyist paid the more access they had to influence political leaders. This was known as the K Street Project. As part of this Santorum had weekly meetings with lobbyist. When the scandal broker Santorum lied by stating that he stopped having his meetings with lobbyist but his Washington staffers confirm that he continued these secret meetings.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:07 am |
  4. defff

    if you're a republican and you vote for santorum, you might as well just vote obama. he is a far right whacko and has no chance in the general election, romney is a moderate rational person, and is our only chance to beat obama

    February 22, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  5. Brett

    NEWS FLASH! It was a fairy tale. Just because it was in an old book, doesn't mean it was real. If that were true, then Zeus is sitting on Mount Olympus and very angry with you. Grow up children. Satan does not exist.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:00 am |
  6. robert

    1.God exists.
    2.God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
    3.A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
    4.An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
    5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
    6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
    7.If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
    8.Evil exists (logical contradiction).

    There Rick! Can we talk about the issues that are important to this country and it's citizens now?

    February 22, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • J

      1 God would prevent evil unless there was a morally justiable reason serving the greater good
      2 Evil exists
      3 God has a morally justifiable reason that serves the greater for allowing evil

      A reason such as, the free will of His creatures. To allow creatures to freely choose what is good and loving, He has to allow them to choose what is not good and not loving. If there was no choice then what the creatures chose would not be good or loving; it would simply be programming. They would be robots. Therefore, it is morally justified to allow evil so free creatures can freely choose good.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:10 am |
    • Bob Bales

      Your logical contradiction is based on your judgement as to how an omniscient being would behave. No offense to you, but by definition, an omniscient being would know more than you do and would be aware of considerations that your are not. How then, can you be sure that such a being would behave as you describe?

      Specifically, you ignore the possibility that an omniscient being would allow the possibility of evil so that those who do good do so by choice and not by force.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:19 am |
    • Bizarre

      Bob Bales, "an omniscient being would allow the possibility of evil so that those who do good do so by choice and not by force."

      No force? How about, "Do my will or burn for eternity." That is no "choice".

      Your "God" sounds like a Mafia don... "Do as I say or you will be shot (or some other hideous form of killing)."

      February 22, 2012 at 3:41 am |
    • Q

      If omniscient, the deity knows beforehand which choices will ultimately be made. Omniscience is by definition incapable of error. If omniscience exists, then one cannot actually make a choice which wasn't already known to be inevitably made; if one could, then there's no omniscience. Can't have omniscience and free will. The commonly offered alternative is self-limited omniscience, an argument of oxymoronic definitional fiat. C.S. Lewis had some equally silly argument here as well...

      February 22, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  7. rec

    SANTORUM IS NUTS! WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS CALLING OUR PRESIDENT SATIN?

    February 22, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  8. rec

    Santorum is satin, finaly some is not afraid to call him out on WHO this CRAZY ZELLOT REALLY IS!!!!!! lol

    February 22, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  9. Jack DW

    Santorum is a complete nutjob. That anyone would seriously vote for this guy shows how incredibly messed up this Country is.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  10. ushonor

    After loosing his senate position Rick Santorum earned millions of dollars including payments from a lobbying firm, an energy company engaged in controversial practice which pollutes ground water and endangers the public and a hospital conglomerate that was sued for allegedly defrauding the federal government. Santorum was a board of director for Universal Health Services which illegally billed the federal government. UHS paid $27.5 million dollars to settle the suite. Innocent children of a Pennsylvania public school district were deprived of valuable school funds when Santorum refused to pay the $100,000 education bill he owned to the school district.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:46 am |
  11. robert

    Since when is religion and politics one in the same? Rick Santorum is boasting around his belief system like it is the ultimate right and there can be no other view. He talks about morality like Christianity is always so great at defining it. I mean after millions killed in the name of it, Christianity definitely defines morality huh. Lets all leave the fate of our country in the hands of the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient god that obviously has the ability to stop suffering but does nothing....man I lovessss me a good contradiction. Go ahead Christians tell me he has a plan and he works in mysterious ways. Truth be told this religious zealot Rick Santorum has some of the most horrendous views on the true problems that plague this country that if he is elected, our country is in serious trouble. Lets try using logic instead of emotion for religion to choose our next president people.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  12. RonFromNM

    I'm going to talk about the things Americans want to talk about."

    THIS American doesn't want to talk about this moronic nonsense. I want to talk about how we're going to bring jobs back to this country, how we're going to improve the educational and intellectual level of our people and how we're going to rebuild our infrastructure for the future. Rick Santorum, you are a MORON.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • robert

      He's really being a coward when it comes to the true problems of this country. He knows that over 75% of the country is christian and if he boasts around with christian beliefs he will get votes based off the "christian" thing to do. It really makes me sad that that much of the country is uneducated enough to fall for it.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  13. watash

    Let me see if I have this right. Santorum worships some woman named Mary who was married to a man named Joseph and had a baby by persons unknown. According to The bible's and man's laws that makes her an adulterer. This same woman is said to be a virgin although she had a baby. Now, I'm no scientist, but it appears that some one is badly informed about this who is holy and who is not rhetoric.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • bobcat

      Not to mention she was far younger maybe 13-14. That would make god or Joeseph a pedo.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • jeff

      @bobcat: you are child of satan.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • Piranha Soup

      ** jeff

      @bobcat: you are child of satan.

      And you are child of moron.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  14. ushonor

    Rick voted against raising the minimum wage 8 times. But he did vote to allow his own pay to be raised by $8000.
    When he did propose a small increase, he excluded 10 million workers who live on tips, and even tried to end overtime pay beyond the 40-hour work week.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:21 am |
  15. Home Heating

    Thank you amazing blog, do you have twitter, facebook or something similar where i can follow your blog

    Sandro Heckler

    February 22, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  16. ushonor

    Santorum formed an illegal charity Operation Good Neighbor which called $1 million in donations. He used $524,000 of that $1 million to pay for his aides and fundraisers. Usually, 85+% of donations go toward grants in helping the charities cause. It appears that Santorum's cause was to line the pockets of his cronies with money. Watch Rick Santorum Who is He Walmart.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  17. dbright

    Hey, everybody, look out the window: Obama is destroying the economy, along with his devout media influence. While Rome burns over Santorum's "satan" comments, Mick Jagger and BB King are performing for he and the first lady.

    Nice to know you all like to fight over what "facism" means. The word you should be concerned about is "Utopia". Give Obama 4 more years, and we will have Ameritopia. And dang, people, why are you so threatened by people believe that good and evil really exist? Now, don't go and give me some diatribe about the witch hunts or the crusades. We're here and now, so focus on the task at hand: Let our president enjoy an early retirement.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • bobcat

      I look outside and I see a nation that is Back on top, maybe you should stop being blind and start reading more.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • Bart

      The Obama administration has been steadily improving the economy from the recession they inherited. Unemployment is on the decline and the economy is trending better and better.
      Arguably what is MOST salient on American's minds is the economy and not social issues like abotrion or theology. Santorum crusading as a culture warrior in a time when people need jobs not prayers is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. He'll win the zealots, but the rest of the country is interested in who is going to help them get jobs.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:53 am |
    • Dave A.

      How come you have the word "bright" in your name?

      February 22, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • Piranha Soup

      Dim bulb.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  18. J Rhino

    Wow!. What I find shocking are the posts here. Biblically Santorum is spot on about satan and his efforts to destroy individuals and nations. The lack of ability by so many people to discern that basic spiritual truth is what should be troubling. Wo be onto those who call evil, good, and good, evil.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • jeff

      Unfortunately a lot of posters have satan on the brain.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • bobcat

      I've read about god destoying nations, I believe you have the whole God-Satan dynamic mixed up. From what I take it seems Jesus sounds more like the son of Satan than God.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • Rhino hunter

      Look in the mirror. "Wo" to you pal.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • jeff

      Bobcat: you are a son of satan and need to wise up. You're headed for an epic fail!

      February 22, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • Brett

      Grow Up J. Rhino! Stop believing in a stupid fairy tale. It was fine when you were five, but you're an adult now. It's embarrassing.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • 40acres

      >>>>>Wo be onto those who call evil, good, and good, evil.<<<<

      Republicans...the party of Wo.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • Piranha Soup

      You want to fight satan, go to church.
      We dont need the pope in the white house.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Author Author

      "Satan" , the Master Deceiver, wrote BOTH the Bible and the Quran. He's responsible for all of the so-called 'heavenly' apparitions (he puts on a dress for the Lady of Guadeloupe ones). He's clapping his claws at all the fuss. 😈

      February 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  19. SiriusVH

    The Talibans are coming!

    February 22, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  20. KdmQ

    I think we are loosing in the category of the US being the leader of the Free World – if we keep putting these nut balls out in front! I still can't believe how these guys are making GW look good – who would ever have thought that could happen! God help us – if there is a god... I'm sure if there is – he/she is saying What the F___...didn't I create these humans with a flippin brain!

    Sad state of it all is the % of Americans who are falling for this crap......................!

    February 22, 2012 at 2:06 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.