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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.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

"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. Saboth

    "Clearly, explicitly defining his own reality". I think wingnuts and fundamentalists would be the experts on defining one's own reality.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  2. bppack

    just the latest of the republican wackos running for president, who will soon go the way of Cain, Bachman, Perry, and Trump.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  3. Fact From Fiction

    No Sabrina, you are free to leave.
    Move to a country that dictates how other people live.
    You are NOT American.

    --------------------------
    sabrina

    I agree..hes has a LOT to offer. I think its time for christians to get vocal! I want a moral country for my grandchildren to grow up in..if you dont like that, well there are plenty of other countries who hate christians you can move to..thats the great thing about our country(that was founded on christian beliefs) if you dont like it..your FREE to leave.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Bruce

      That’s what I love about you conservative Christians. You say you want a smaller government, one that stay’s our your lives, but then in the same breath you talk about creating some type of theocratic government based on Christian morals and ethics, and expect everyone else to fall in goose step with your beliefs. Actually you and your type are free to leave, and good riddance!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • joebofett

      She won't have to leave, because there aren't enough nutjobs like you in this country to elect Santorum. He's crazy, and every sensible, sane American voter knows it. It's time for Christians to get vocal??? When have they EVER been anything but vocal? You idiots have been trying to push your outdated ideals on everyone for centuries. Hell, a lot of you wingnuts think it's your duty to get other people to believe the same garbage as you, so you go around bugging people and trying to get them to convert to your cult as a way of life! Chirsitans need to get vocal...that's hilarious!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Polis

      The country wasn't founded as a Christian nation, it was founded by Christian's with a strong tradition of using Christian morals and ethics as the basis of government. In no way, shape or form was this nation founded to be oriented towards worshiping God. The founding fathers weren't exactly saints.

      Also, isn't creating a nation that oppresses other people based upon a restrictive set of "morals" very un-Christian like? Who are you to judge the spirituality of others?

      February 22, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • sam

      "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." – Thomas Jefferson

      February 22, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • ick

      That is the kind of intolerance that makes the US no better than those countries where muslim extremists will not tolerate other religions. The good thing about this country is that we are free to decide who, what, where, when and if we worship. Unfortunately, fundamentalist christians are just as bad if not worse than fundamentalist muslims. They just happen to have a belief structure that is more aligned with religions that are more popular in the US which means they are tolerated more than the other religious whack-jobs out there.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Marcia

      I am a Christian, yet I recognize that moral values are not only Christian, not only Catholic, not only evangelical, and in fact are not defined by any religious body or individual for the nation as a whole. We live in a pluralistic democracy, not a theocracy, and Christians who do not understand that have no business being elected to public office.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Bob

      Cristina, we've had enough of "Christians" trying to shove THEIR version of "morality" down our throats.

      Tell it to your child molesting catholic priest, and STFU.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • jaded

      WRONG – The Founding Fathers wanted a secular nation – not a Christian one and were in fact no great fans of Christianity. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible that exorcised all the "magic" and "miracle". Many of them considered themselves to be Deists because they were not comfortable with Christianity. There's tons of quotes in their private correspondence about their hangups and issues with Christianity. Hell, the U.S. even signed a Treaty (President John Adams – one of the Founding Fathers) explicitly saying that the "The United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion". How more explicit can you get than that? To the extent that they mentioned "God" in public speeches – well they probably had to pander to/appease the Christian nutjobs of their day.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • jaded

      WRONG – The Founding Fathers wanted a secular nation – not a Christian one and were in fact no great fans of Christianity. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible that exorcised all the "magic" and "miracle". Many of them considered themselves to be Deists because they were not comfortable with Christianity. There's tons of quotes in their private correspondence about their hangups and issues with Christianity. Hell, the U.S. even signed a Treaty (President John Adams – one of the Founding Fathers) explicitly saying that the "The United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion". How more explicit can you get than that? To the extent that they mentioned "God" in public speeches – well they probably had to appease the religious voters of their day.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • MoralOrel

      If you'd like a more moral nation, then get out there and MAKE IT HAPPEN! convince others directly why your way is better suited. Talk to others. Be involved.

      But, to place your hope on the shoulders of someone who will in fact REMOVE FREEDOM FROM THE LIVES OF AMERICANS, then frankly ma'am, you're not the American you're playing yourself out to be.

      I'm an American. I was born here. I was raised here. And, God willing, I'll die here after raising my own kids here. One thing I'll teach them is in my house, we follow the word of God. Outside my house, we follow the LAWS OF MAN.

      I'll teach my kids that this great nation is built on rules that apply to everybody, but that aren't necessarily in alignment with our beliefs. I'll teach them to make choices based on their faith, but not to hinder the lives and desires of others, since it isn't our job to do so. I'll teach them when something is so wrong against our faith to stand up for it, but to do so in a way that will show others it's the right choice, not by just condemning the other choice available.

      That's being an American. If you don't like that, go somewhere else where they respect only religion, you know, like Iran.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  4. Chuck

    Some tell santorum that the USA is NOT a theocracy. If he would like to live in a theocratic form of government move to Iran.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  5. GatorDude

    Well, we know how to vote if we want to revive Saturday Night Live . . .

    "Well look at that who could it be? Who's attacking the United States? Satan may be . . .?"

    February 22, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  6. Name*Chedar

    Life begins for Santorum when one get an erection.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Lou

      Hey Chedar, You can't be that stupid and breath air!!! Life began for you with an erection.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Rick Santorum. Looks like a contender, looks like the presidency is his to lose. If Rick continues the momentum Barak Obama will be a splotch on the road after the Santorum bus goes by.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      *** Ronald Reganzo

      Rick Santorum. Looks like a contender, looks like the presidency is his to lose. If Rick continues the momentum Barak Obama will be a splotch on the road after the Santorum bus goes by.
      -------------------------------------------------------------
      You gotta admire the stupidity with little Reganzo !

      Santorum has alienated:
      Moderate Republicans
      Democrats
      Independants
      Woman
      Gays
      Blacks
      Hispanics
      Protestants
      Athiests
      The Poor
      Much of the middle class
      and Romney Supporters.

      Yet Reganzo thinks he can win the white house.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  7. John

    I think this guy should be made a bishop or something or he should apply at the Vatican.

    This is not good, bringing in any religion this much into politics and has been affecting our mind sets and time and again turning the clock backwards.

    So now why do we hate when Muslims do this in their countries, how are we different ?

    Keep religion and politics apart and politicians like these are nothing but opportunistic people, who want to use religion in their favor.

    If you do not want no one forces anything in this country choice is for the patient to be made. Stop treating women as 'inferior' .

    Man this sounds like 19 th century slogan or something !!

    February 22, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  8. Ronald Reganzo

    Rick Santorum the next President of these United States

    February 22, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • joebofett

      If crazy ass Rick Santorum gets anywhere near the ovl office, I'm leaving the country permanently.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Fact From Fiction

      Stupid parrot.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • joebofett

      You're right. The original poster is a stupid parrot, but I think he's more of a crazy moron...like you.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Crazy? Barak Obama has not delivered, the economy is in the tank, prices at the pump and across the board are gouging us all and along comes an election, crazy, I think not ! Rick Santorum can win this thing !

      February 22, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  9. ThinkWhatYouAreTold

    Obama was right though - sin is relative to an arbitrary moral set of values - which is why it is interpreted differently across faiths and cultures. Let's keep faith in churches and let politicans focus on secular issues, shall we?

    February 22, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  10. PolkaDuck

    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 about Obama.

    "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," Santorum said.

    When someone says "as I see it" that really sounds as if they are defining their own reality.

    February 22, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  11. Damian

    Santorum is full of you know what............he use to be pro-choice himself. He's a pandering politician no different from the rest.

    February 22, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  12. Rika33

    Ridicule is what happens to honest politicians – the liars and crooks always say what the media wants to hear and they swoon for them to get access.

    February 22, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  13. garc

    Yes, God likes us best. And BTW, Jesus speaks English. Right.

    He don't know Ka-rate, but he knows Ca-RAZY.

    February 22, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  14. Bruce

    How can people vote or support somoene who actually believes in a supernatural being called "Satan" runninng around trying to undermine the country. The very premise of it is ridiculous....

    February 22, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  15. mike halter

    Obama 2012 And the Devil did not make post this.

    February 22, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  16. henry

    "this is who Santorum is. He sees the world in black and white, good versus evil." The last clown (Bushie boy Jr.) in office that believed this got us into more debt with two unnecessary wars, a botched financial system that walked away with a lot of 401K money, and alienated us from the rest of the world. Unbelievable.

    February 22, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • ted patrick

      Bushie boy Jr is the evil side

      February 22, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • ted patrick

      Bushie boy Jr is the evil side and so is obama.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  17. Ronald Reganzo

    Given the right conditions, an ineffective President, rising gas prices, rising cost of living, an apathetic electorate let down and hurting economically. A rock and a hard place scenario? Rick Santorum can win this and win huge !

    February 22, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • joebofett

      If you would actually vote for Rick Santorum to be president, you are a moron and you should keep your idiotic opinions to yourself. Oh, and don't vote. For anything. Ever.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Fact From Fiction

      Santorum must be banging you.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Ineffective?
      Given the mess that he inherited from the Reaganauts, I'd say Obama has been doing pretty well.
      He brought the troops home, held the economy together, provided health care for the people, got rid of Bin Laden...
      In fact, his administration caught more terrorists in 1 month than Bush and his cronies did in 6 years!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  18. Reality

    Dear Rick S., (and also for Barack O, Mitt R., Newt G. and Ron P.)--------------–>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    A prayer just for "you all":

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

    February 22, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • ......

      reality bull sh it has absolutely nothing to do with this story hit report abuse on all reality bull sh it

      February 22, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • truthwillsetyoufree

      You reality is harder to believe than the truth. History, evidence and the greatest selling book of all time the Bible will NEVER change.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • joebofett

      That's the most accurate description of Christianity I've read on a blog in a long time. Kudos!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Polis

      Yes, please let me see your references.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    February 22, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Stu

      Care to support that with evidence?

      February 22, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Proven

      February 22, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • cynthia kolb

      @Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      I prayed you would stop annoying me daily with your trite statement...

      Nope, didn't work

      February 22, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Primewonk

      Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!
      Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
      Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam.
      Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!
      Spam spam spam spam!

      February 22, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • just sayin

      Truth Wonderful Truth.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • just wondering

      cynthia, why does the thought of prayer annoy you?

      February 22, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Bruce

      A nine month old boy was shot and killed in Detroit when the home he was living in was shot at 40 times by someone with an AK47. A woman and her daughter who were also in the home at the time, were able to crawl from their bedroom and hide from the gunfire in the basement of the home. The women stated that it was a "miracle, and god awoke her and her daughter in time to escape the bulllets, and praise the lord".
      I guess god didn't feel like waking the little nine month old boy.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  20. Stu

    I am more concerned with native religious fundies getting their hands on our 5000 prophecy fulfilling devices than I am with Iran getting their hands on a couple.

    February 22, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • SRain71

      Right. Because us "fundies" are known for blowing ourselves and everyone else around us, into our wanted Tribulation period, right.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Bob

      Well, you're the biggest group of people on the planet who just can't wait for the world to end. Who knows what any of you might do with nukes if you thought it might speed Jesus up a little. I trust you guys about as much as I trust the president of Iran.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:22 am |
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About this blog

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.