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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. dwighthuth

    The Lorts Message.....uh hmmm

    The Lort came to me today and said "I have a mission for you." I said "Sure Lort."

    Then the Lort spoke to me saying to "Call the devil out of the people." The Lort said.

    "The Lort said call the devil out of the people over THERE! THERE! and Wayyyy over there."

    'THE LORRRT." "Call the devil out of the people."

    I asked "how do I call the devil out of the people Lort?" and the Lorted smiled. HE SMILED AT ME and said.

    "Call the devil out of the people. Call the devil out the people. Call the devil out."

    and I wept. "Call the devil out of the people Lort."

    "Yes." said the Lort "Call the devil out of the people for when the people have the devil called out of them."

    The Lort said "The root of all evil that is the devil will leave them." "For the Lort smiled and said"

    "The devil is more and less is better."

    THE LORTTTTT SAID "CALL THE DEVIL OUT OF THE PEOPL L L L L LE!"

    and I asked "What do we do when the devil is called out of the people Lort?"

    "The Lort only smiled and shook his head yes"

    "When the devil has been called out of the people." the Lort said "The devil that is the root of all evil like a dove before man. Make the bones of the devil into meals of plenty before those who do not have this year." The Lort said this.

    "So let us call the devil out of the people and make of the devils root of all evil the dust of his bones into a meal of plenty for those who do not have. For the devil is but a dove when the devil is called out of the people and the people will feel better having less roots of all evil within them that has been turned into meals."

    The Lort said this to me....

    March 12, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  2. Santorum dot com

    Prayer does make you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just see http://santorum.com

    March 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  3. Christianity is not healthy for children and other living things

    Check out Santorum dot com for the truth about what Santorum really means.
    Christianity takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Christian prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
    Christianity prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Christianity makes you fat.
    Christianity wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Christianity contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Christianity fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Christianity can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Christianity reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Christianity exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Christianity makes you think doilies are exciting.
    Christianity makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
    Christianity makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
    Christianity gives you knobbly knees.
    Christianity makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out.
    Christianity dulls your senses.
    Christianity makes you post really stupid shit.
    Christianity makes you hoard cats.
    Christianity makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Christianity wastes time.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • brisso

      "Christianity make you post stupid sh%t" "Christianity wastes time"...you must be a Christian then...Richard Cranium.

      March 12, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  4. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    March 11, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Ian Bell

      You are definintely trolling as you have posted this and another comment in various blogs.

      March 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

      This is just a response to someone who posts the opposite message over and over.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  5. eitherway

    I don't want anybody who thinks they are always right about everything in a position of power over others. Evil? That's the recipe for it!

    March 11, 2012 at 5:59 am |
  6. kaos

    santorum

    dot

    com

    March 11, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  7. Joe

    I'm a Christian also, and I think Catholics are awesome, and I'm glad the Catholic Church has, at least, condemned some of Santorum's comments: http://coloradoindependent.com/110559/catholic-leaders-urge-gingrich-and-santorum-to-leave-racist-talk-behind

    "Catholic leaders issued a letter Friday to GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, themselves Catholics, urging them “to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”

    March 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  8. DreamWeaver

    'Sanatorium'. 'Nuff said.

    March 10, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  9. Yuck

    @toxictown: you're wrong there... those pesky trees and wetlands that get in the way of oil drilling represent the "evil" in nature 😉 Just ask Santorum

    March 10, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  10. MikeinTN

    Santorum seems to not be bothered by that rule about not bearing false witness, when he talks about the president and his faith.

    March 10, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  11. reason

    Santorum wants to force rape victims to have their attacker's child.
    He also calls contraception dangerous and is ok with it being illegal.
    People like Santorum are why we need separation of church and state.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • mike

      "Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it
      wants." -Blessed (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

      March 10, 2012 at 6:21 am |
    • reason

      Abortion is neither violent or unethical.

      March 11, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • medic

      Reason,

      I hope you take this in the right way. Working in a womens clinic for many years now, when I see girls who come in more than once and use abortion as a method of birth control.................yes it is unethical. To see it happen.......violent can come to mind

      March 11, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • reason

      Medic, no offense taken. Most people do not use it as a form of birth control.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  12. Nick

    Dear Mr Santorum,
    "we

    March 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  13. Dejan

    No one expects the Pennsylvania Inquisition!

    March 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  14. Ron B

    If you want the Vatican running the country then vote for Santorum........ Let's get those pedeophiles in the White House...

    March 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • disjustin

      I keep waking up screaming, every time Rick Santorum appears at my Feet¬¬

      March 9, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Joe Fattal

      I rather have a Mormon than a Catholic in the White House.

      March 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  15. David Fillmore

    My idea of a living nightmare would be a Rick Santorum presidency.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  16. jiovanni

    He is satan son himself, look at shaved horn coming from his forehead. his father satan only gave him one horn

    March 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  17. JL

    I like Santorum. However, I'm a little confused by his attacks on the Protestant church. This country was founded by many non-Roman Catholic Christians. I'll admit that many protestant churches fall short of the glory of God, but so does the Catholic Church. They certainly don't have a squeaky clean record.

    March 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  18. Steff

    Doesn't Santorum know, he IS the anti-Christ.

    March 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  19. It's Jess

    Santorum is a nut job. I'm a Christian, but give me a break!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  20. ccd08

    If you believe there is a God, then you must believe there is a Devil. If you believe God can give you grace, then you must believe the Devil will try to attack you to impede that grace. To reject the notion that there is a Devil leaves you unguarded against his attacks.

    March 9, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Monique

      Very well said!

      March 9, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Ran

      Crazy much?

      March 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • toxictown

      True. IF you belive in those things. Good and evil are human constructs to explain away our sometimes reprehensible and sometimes good behavior. The proof? There is no evil in nature – it just is.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • denim

      The devil is no threat to the believer. Otherwise, Saint James would not have said "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Santorum would seem to me to have a crippled God who just can't get anything done without some man's heroic help.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • RonSwanson

      Agreed. It doesn't matter if you believe in God or the devil. Like one guy said, good and evil are constructs to explain behavior. All you really need to do is replace the devil with "evil" or "bad deeds". Seriously, if you don't believe in evil, you need to open your eyes and look at the world around you. Would you argue that Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc. were not evil? Or atleast influenced by some sort of evil force, bad intention, or selfish desire? The fundamental idea behing good and evil remains true no matter what words you use to label it. When Santorum says, "Satan", he is just referring to the idea that evil\ bad deeds\whatever comes from a single source. I'm rambling. Vote Newt Gingrich.

      March 10, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Ian Bell

      Hitler, Mao, Stalin.... seems like a case of selective attention.

      Just in case you have not paid attention, several hundreds of thousands (if not millions) have been killed in Irag, Afghanistan, South America all under the name of direct or proxy wars from the good ole USA. The same could be said for Russia (i.e. chechnya) and other leading countries. Evil, from a historical perspective, is determine by those who write the history. In other words, evil is a relative point of view that depends on who does the talking...

      March 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Andy

      Without the devil God would have no opposite to say he is good. God allows the existence of the devil to cement the credibility of his benevolence...

      That is if you are religious.

      March 11, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
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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.