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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. MarkinFL

    Frankly if this whole faerie tale were true it would simply mean that God wants Satan to do his thing or else He would stop him. So why do so many people worry about it when it is obviously God's will as is everything else?

    March 9, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  2. Bill

    Devil? Seriously? I can't believe this guy thinks the devil is real.

    March 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Why not? How big a leap is it from an omniscient invisible sky faerie to an evil denizen of the netherworld? Really, what is the difference?

      March 9, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Satanluv

      Right on brother but i swear I saw a leprechaun yesterday...you believe me right?

      March 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  3. Peacemaker

    Santorum's views are similar to the Taliban. He is a dangerous man.

    March 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  4. Argle Bargle

    We don't need another pretend Xtian in the White House. The only reason this dirtbag claims to be a Xtian is because it gets him votes..

    March 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  5. aspiepoet

    He is right about one thing...evil is stalking this country, his name is Santorum

    March 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Silver

      That is two things, and he could be wrong about both. How did he know his dad was his real father?

      March 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  6. scottpt1

    Well...he wont win the nom...but could you imagine the things he would say if he did?

    March 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  7. scottpt1

    These religious articles never have any comments....

    March 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Silver

      you think...

      March 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  8. danno

    It's scary that someone with this conviction about the nature of evil is a serious presidential contender. The idea that our founding fathers were pure and we've drifted away from God due to Satan's continual efforts is a dangerous foundation upon which to make the heavy decisions of the Office of President. Perhaps Mr. Santorum has a future in exorcism?

    March 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  9. a

    Secular agenda? The country was founded on Secular views so that all men are equal.

    March 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Easternsailor

      R u equal with the Ape Lincoln? If u r and u r then u r the Ape and ape never become a man! U r idiot and change the Holy Bible? I never believe the Stupid Roman Catholic u teach the people in the Wrong Doctrine! And who ever change The WORD in the Holy Bible and St. Paul said that God the Giave Almighty shall curse him! In the Book of Genesis, Adam & Eva are not completely naked! And the Apple tree is not the tree of knowledge and actually it is the Forbidden Fruit and the Serpent tempted Eva and She said to the Serpent that, You don't have to eat it and that even you touch it and you die! And after She said that and She had a desire to eat it! And that was something with Her! U r the Robot V and it is an idiot, deceiver, false prophet, man eater that eat human raw just like an Ape Lincoln as Obama and whoever believe the Under god have done the same thing and u r guilty from the beginning and u r still guilty now! And The Father Almighty and His Beloved Son, The Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Southern Queen have struck u and punished the Serpent and its follower in the Lake of Fire has brimstone and sulfur and unquenchable fire that is the Eternal Punishment for those Capital Punishment ! And in that place you will cry and grind your teeth forever and ever!

      March 9, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  10. Easternsailor

    The devil is dumb! And it never speak our language! The Lord Jesus Christ said before the Pharisees (the vipers) crucified Him! There is the Holy Southern Queen will struck this evil generation! And when the Son of Man lift up from the earth and He will take back everything that He lost! And He said, the thief climb to the fence to kill the lambs and the sheep! Woe unto you! The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ! You never know!

    March 8, 2012 at 3:19 am |
    • jennymay

      The very minute you decide you've got everything figured out in this vast and complicated universe that we are only privy to a small part of, is the minute you cease to be intelligent.

      March 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  11. Henry

    People also laughed and stoned Jesus Christ when he was alive! I believe people of faith, people that truly believe in what they read in the Bible need to pay close attention to the time of which we are living. We are living in the time of the BEAST and Ron Paul is our only Defense against him. All of us that are awaken need to reach out to Christian with this message. Read what the Bible said about the Beast. The Beast is made out to have 7 HEADS. Count the heads under the Shadow Government that is controlling our country. If you are not a believer this may make a believer of you. Listen to what Rick Santoram has been saying, there is Evil in the world Satan is alive. Rick is a man that is sleeping and does realize who the people are behind him because he is a man with very little common sense lead by the inspiration of being the highest power. Satan also offered Jesus Christ everything at his weakest hour. If Risk is elected The War of All Wars will be around the corner. He will begin a Religion War and the the end of the world as we know it. If you have Children and Care about their future open your eyes and help open the eyes and brains of others. How can it be that people can not see and understand who Ron Paul is? The others should be washing his feet. And I believe they know it.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Wow Henry you are about 20 different kinds of paranoid aren't you?

      March 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • JWT

      Yawn, pass the chips please.

      March 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Easternsailor

      U don't understand the The Holy Bible! Your so vain!!!

      March 8, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • Jilll

      Amen!

      March 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  12. Pope_Inquisitor

    No gods, no devils ...all myth. Religions are cults based on ancient myths.

    March 7, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • MANION

      IS THAT SO! SOUNDS LIKE A LITTLE BOY WHISTLING IN THE DARK – WHAT IS WORSE THE ONE WHO WROTE THIS IS A DEVIL USING YOUR PEN UNAWARES!

      MR MANION

      March 7, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • MANION

      IS THAT SO,! SOUNDS LIKE A LITTLE BOY WHISTLING IN THE DARK – WHAT IS WORSE THE ONE WHO WROTE THIS IS A DEVIL USING YOUR PEN UNAWARES!

      MR MANION

      March 7, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • dexekias

      Of coouuuurse. The devil made me type this. Great way to excuse oneself isn't it? I'd like to believe that my good deeds and my bad deeds are acts of invisible men...but I can't help but feel empowered by my one and only REAL RIGHT and REAL FREEDOM, free choice. Then again..I'm sure you also feel very powerful as a medium through which God's messages are delivered Mr. Manion.

      March 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Yaweh

      Completely agree. Where do we draw the line? Zeus, Venus, Satan, Sheva, Krisna, Jesus, Allah.....all embraceable man-made myths for people too mentally conditioned to honestly consider their own religious brainwashing, too lazy and/or stupid to actually confront and learn the science of mother nature, and too empowered/deluded by sectarian association to relocate their nose an inch away from the ass end of the sheep they follow in single file.

      March 8, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • kkon

      Exaaactly.

      March 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Easternsailor

      u r the Mythology, Horoscope and the Terror...

      March 9, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • Easternsailor

      R u Pope...and I don't think so! Hey! Hay! The Almighty Giave have gather the Wheat into the barn and the Hay into the pit of fire!

      March 9, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  13. molly hildreth

    Why does Mr. Santorum ignore the sin that has plagued the American and world economies for many years – GREED!

    March 7, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Easternsailor

      Idiot! The True Freedom is never bondage from sins! That is my faith and u think u can see and your sins remain! Pss...Vipers!!!

      March 9, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  14. Rickttttt

    Satan is everywhere ? http://bit.ly/ybh45p

    March 7, 2012 at 6:20 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Satan is in my soup! With God!

      March 9, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  15. oneSTARman

    SANTORUM and SATAN – Separated at Birth?

    March 6, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  16. MandoZink

    If I was inclined, I would choose a religion with a positive view of the universe, not one with Satan as one of your deities. People also need to accept responsibility for their actions and intent, not blame it on a devil. Atheists understand it is YOU who must have the integrity to remain moral and altruistic towards all life.

    March 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Pope_Inquisitor

      Atheism is myth understood.

      March 7, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • MANION

      I WOULD THINK THAT YOUR LITTLE DELUSION OF REALITY WOULD HAVE YOU BE GOD LLIKE THE ATHEIST SO CALLED!
      REALITY IS WHAT IT IS AND SELF DELUSION IS NOT GOING TO GET RID OF WHAT YOU SEE IN YOURSELF! AND WHAT DO YOU SEE THERE – I WILL TELL YOU – YOU AND SATAN IS UNMISTAKABLY IN THE MIX- GROW UP AND FACE THE CHALLENGE UNLESS YOU THINK YOU KNOW MORE THAN CHRIST WHO CLEARLY VALIDATED THE REALITY OF SATAN – AFTER ALL HOW DOES A MAN WHO DID NO WRONG AND TAUGHT TRUTH GET CRUCIFIED BY ATHIESTS?

      March 7, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • fgdfgdfgadfg

      Manion, you're a moron

      March 8, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  17. Dr Rex

    If Rick's faith were first and formost, he would start his own ministry rather than running for office!
    IMHO he is using "his faith" as a marketing tool to lure voters.

    March 6, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Jilll

      Not true, his faith is first and foremost in his life. He only needs to be obedient to the direction the Lord leads him in his life. The Lord can you him in amazing ways in other areas besides leading a ministry.

      March 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  18. Alfalfuh

    SANTOURM IS A TOOL. STOP IT.

    March 6, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Easternsailor

      u r Nazi! And No Nazi in this Earth and the Earth is the Holy Ground! No it allow in My Kingdom!

      March 9, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I'm tempted to be a grammar nazi here, but I would not know where to start!

      March 9, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer really changes things

    March 6, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • Citizen

      Since when? "Affirmation" works just as well to gear up the mind in the same way. There is really nothing mystical about it. This is just a way to prepare the human brain to either accept something unpleasant or ready itself for "prayers coming true". IE: If you pray you will get the job, you may be twice as likely to give a good interview with 'god on your side'.

      March 6, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • kiwilogic

      How does prayer change things? when two sides are competeing in sport and they both pray to win then does that mean prayer works because someone must lose therefore their prayers wernt answered and the others were, does this mean god loves the others more? Praying for someone to overcome illness then praising god for when they do over come it is an insult to the doctors who actually did the work in helping them over come illness the fact you prayed for it is just a coincedence

      March 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Pope_Inquisitor

      Prayer? A delusion. Religions are cults based on ancient myths. No god, no demons. Get some science education, read some cosmology books.

      March 7, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  20. dennis braun

    so a person states that he believes in evil and it's promotor and gets demonized himself for this courage. i'm seeing a very limited knowledge base in comments and there is a vile aspect. products of a liberal education as was I . takes a few
    years to get over it. keep an open mind and continue to search for the truth and you will be ok

    March 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Silver

      didn't work for you.

      March 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
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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.