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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. Michael

    Looks like Obama is going to get the nod. Conservatives will never win again with such religious views. Grow the fu ck up gentlemen. I gave up the concept of God when I was 12 years old because I did a little research and found out it's all a bunch of cr ap taken from other religions before it like Zorastrianism. If Christianity itself can be debunked so fast...then why do fools still believe it? Laziness or delusions. It's gotta be one or the other.

    March 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  2. lweba

    So if either Romney or Santorum is elected to the White House, America becomes a THEOCRATIC STATE! God bless America.

    March 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Ike

      Scary! That's the exact opposite of what the founder's of this country wanted! - Flying Spaghetti Monster Bless the Secular Nation

      March 15, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  3. Sam Yaza

    um i don't know about Satan but i can tell you im aiming for China right now

    March 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  4. TheAsianAtheist

    Yes if the devil existed, Santorum would be the devil incarnate.

    March 15, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  5. James

    Santorum is the devil. There seems to be a lot religious rhetoric going on here so I'll stay away from that. The guy is educated but has shown he is completely clueless when it comes to understanding to common man/woman. I hope he vanishes from the earth.

    March 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  6. treblemaker

    The comments of candidate Santorum AND all the bloggers prove to me one thing-we all fall short of God's grace. All of us.
    The Prince of Peace was a JEWISH RABBI with an unmistakable message-the most radical, left leaning, socialist, traitorous message of all time-the Golden Rule; to love one another and to love God with all your heart; to help the least of those. After 2000 years, most humans still don't listen.

    March 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  7. Was that meant as a joke?

    @JW: Seriously? "Right in English"? YOU can't even WRITE properly in English and I have to assume you actually speak it as a first language! Aside from that, all I have to say the Atheists is that I may be wrong in believing in my God. If I am, then at the end of my life I will have wasted some 100 years, max and we'll all be rotting in the ground somewhere and I won't be worried about it because my brain will have ceased funtioning... but if I'm right, I will be spending a glorious eternity in a place with none of this hate I see spewed all over this page and the streets of my town, country, and world, while those who deny the Lord will have a very different fate.
    Matthew 10:32-33
    32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
    33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
    I believe that I was born into a filthy, sinful world and I have a Representative that will speak on my behalf because I have accepted Him as my Savior. I'm going to take my chances in sounding like a nut job, and because I want others to share in my hoped-for fate for a pleasant eternity, I will share this with people. Even my Muslim/Hindu/Atheist neighbors, because I try to love them as best I can. This is why religious people tend to "shove things down your throat". Because God called us to share the Gospel. Those misguided individuals that oftentimes represent my beliefs just get a little confused about the great commission. And I would like to apologize for their poor bedside manner, for lack of better terms. I promise, as a Christian, I dispise their tactics as much as you, because it makes the rest of us look terrible.
    And as a side note, I do not fully agree with Santorum, as he does have some strange views on birth control (an issue about which I'm not fully secure in my opinions), and especially the fact that he, like all politicians are supposed to be essentially public servants, yet sit on their high horses and create laws by which everyone but themselves are expected to live. But I digress: This is why I have to put my hopes in heaven. Because it is a depressing thought that this could be all there is to life.

    March 15, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Satanluv

      god are you a bore...see if you can say it in 1/2 the time without quoting all those guys who didn't know why the sun came up in the AM but were experts on everything else...hey what happens if you don't use a capital g...do you go to hades? you think god goes through and makes sure no one is leavin' dat g little? but I digress...You give it away right from the get-go...you want to live forever, which is the only reason anyone banks on god..that is how they sold the religion in the first place...the desperate hope that your piddly conscious will go on forever..good luck....otherwise you could care less about this god...you are an ape from Africa...you will eventually die and the lights willl go out, done...grow up...have friends and family and children and enjoy life

      March 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  8. EJ

    For arguement sake, let's say there was God and satan, good and evil,then slander would be good, NOT. Then David, yikesboy,JW, Diana, Yeah, Jo, Pierre and some of the others sound just like the sons and daughters of Satan would! Good going guys

    March 15, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Satanluv

      How would you quantify what is good and what is evil...everytime we think we can come up a definite for one or the other, there seems to be some exception. i would say bringing harm to children or young people would be a definite...but yet the right wing "christians" can somehow justify dropping bombs on civilians...but sometimes maybe bombs have to be used to protect us or others, just like a person may need to use gun to protect himself or his family..so where can we draw the line of moral certainty? Honestly there is no good or evil in the universe save as a function of the human condition...nothing is either good nor ill but thinking makes it so

      March 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  9. David

    Good God, really we have a man that could be POTUS blaming Satan for things. So please Santorum please explain how you are going to deal with issues..oh I mean Satan. If we are talking about prayer then why do you need to be President? Wouldn't you and your dribbling fools be better off spending all your available resources and time praying? Seems like you would be better suited as a minister.

    March 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • yikesboy

      Hmmm, Romeny is slammed by the GOP religiously obsessed voter for not presenting as hard core a religious front as Santorum. What's worse?
      I DO know what's more frightening to me- a man only pretending to be pious is not nearly as dangerous as the man who truly believes this supernatural drivel.
      This job requires someone who is logical and thoughtful...not the traits of a zealot! I hope we can keep Santorum out of the White House.

      March 15, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Majors

      Bible talkes about people who are spiritually dead and have no choice but to sin. because they are under the dominion of their sin nature. A saved person has a choice to choose obey Gods expectations.
      Praying for you.

      March 15, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  10. JW

    and this is the guy conservatives want to elect President ??? Unbelieveable. You think Obama is bad. You just wait until President Santorum is all up in your bedroom.

    March 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  11. Diana

    Joel is exactly right. In fact the Republican values, worship of wealth, contempt and disregard for the "least of these" and

    the idealization of violence is the polar opposite to the teachings of Jesus, as well as the teachings of all the worlds major religions. People like Santorum remind me of the Pharasees who were careful to show up in the temple full of pride and self righteous indignation for anyone who dared to question their rigid ideology yet never took one step towards bettering conditions in their society or spoke out against social and economic injustice. No wonder they banded together with the Roman authorities and had someone like Christ with his talk of universal love and compassion crucified!

    March 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Yeah

      Exactly. I know "good, god-fearing christians" today who would be with the crowd calling for christ's crucifixion. Especially the conservative, right-wing ones – they would see christ as a socialist commie trying to overthrow america.

      March 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • David

      @Yeah..let's not forget that they would also accuse him promoting obamacare for healing the poor.

      March 14, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  12. 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 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  13. mighty Steve

    Santorium winning the nomination would be the greatest gift the Democratic Party has ever received. Unelectable, thank God.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  14. Sarah Stroud

    Newt Gingrich = Ross Perot

    March 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  15. Joe

    Satan? Seriously? I can't believe that a grown man even believes all this voodoo.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  16. Pierre - Westmount - Canada

    Santorium sounds more like Satan has entered into his body and mind just like when Satan entered Muhammed's pea-brained mind. Their revelations (Santorium and Muhammed) should be properly described as Lucifer's Revelation. Santorium is more hypocrital than the legendary Muhammed. If Muhammed lived today he would be put away. In the case of Santorium, well – need I complete my sentence!!

    March 14, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  17. blifissubcuri

    Доброго времени суток!Хотите кредит на дом? Тогда читайте новость – взять кредит он-лайн домашний он-лайн банк кредиты кредит за 2 минуты карты на самых выгодных условиях кредит без посещения банка кредитная карта он-лайн выгодный кредит кредитная карта он-лайн карты на самых выгодных условиях кредит на дом кредитные карты домашний он-лайн банк – домашний он-лайн банк карты на самых выгодных условиях кредитная карта он-лайн кредиты ... Всем пока рад был сообщить...

    March 14, 2012 at 4:36 am |
    • Yeah

      You tell 'em!

      March 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • JW

      What the heck? Right in English.

      March 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  18. Skunco

    How does Santorum know so much about what satan is up to. Does he talk to him inside his head?
    Satan's been attacking the US for 200 years now... Of course we all know that!
    And poeple want this freak to be president? Maybe president of the "I know what satan did last summer" assoc.

    I talked to Santa last winter. He said he'd probly be over my house around 2:45am, and that he's sick of chocolate chip cookies...FYI

    March 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Satanluv

      Rock on brother.. 😉

      March 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  19. Andrew

    The Devil is in Santorum. What else would account for using Jesus as an instrument of hatred and oppression?

    March 12, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  20. Satanluv

    the fact that he believes in something as silly and childish as satan is laughable...that should take him out of the running right there...some ridiculous semetic/European mythology...oh man that is rich... wonder if he said he was trying to be good for Santa Claus and meant it, if people would smarten up? Most of what we know about this satan, ooooohhh satan, does even come from that mismash of contradictions the bible, it comes from Milton's Paradise Lost which actually holds together a lot better than the bible....how is it Milton is a better writer than god?!?! What is satan like living in fire and brimstone with deamons and suffering souls...ooooohhh scary....aaahhhahhaah...this is why i could never be a conservative as weak as the left may be, I could never buy into such fairy tales...get a grip, satan...please..

    March 12, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • brisso

      You obviously haven't read the Bible...and God didn't write the Bible. If you want to dribble you should do it in private.

      March 12, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Keith

      Heh Brisso, why do we hear the mantra that the bible is THE WORD OF GOD being screamed from the pulpit to the drooling flocks every sunday. Do you know more than the pope, billy graham, pat robertson etc. etc.
      I have read the bible, a bigger pile of horse manure has never seen the light of day no matter who wrote it. The bible has no answers to any of mans problems, if we want answers we must find them for ourselves.

      March 13, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • JOEL

      Well you dont have to go to church to be republican, you can just have zero respect for the working man, hate minorities,let the sick swim on their own and whip the war pony to the finish line with out going. oh and worship the ultra rich too cant forget that.

      March 13, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • Satanluv

      Yeah Brisso I have read it...have you? it has No consistent message, No consistent theme, No overall message, NO coherent message...it is a mix of all different cultures, mythologies, moralities, codes of laws...i could show you Stephen King books that hold together better...Shakespeare was a much better writer than those "inspired".. hah.. by god...what is the bible's mission statment? it has none

      March 15, 2012 at 7:05 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.