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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. Oregon Alley Cat

    While I would agree that we battle injustice and evil there is no reason to think that there are imaginary little imps and devils out there pulling the strings and making bad things happen. We humans are quite good enough at doing that ourselves, thanks. What troubles me is how easy it can be to go from opposing evil and injustice to opposing people of a particular religions and/or political viewpoint.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  2. peter King

    But Rick never accused anyone's faith or called any one anything. He said there is spiriritual warfare. I wonder how many understand this term. The challenges facing the world have nothing to do with man himself. But this will need wisdom to understand which even me cannot claim. America past strong association with God has a hand in their current power

    March 22, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • Jack Sparrow

      I will vote for President – Mr.Rick Ashley C",) ................... NOT Rick Saintoroom.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:49 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ Jack Sparrow – can you Rick-Roll a message board?

      March 22, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  3. Spelunker4Plato

    Massive lolz. If there is indeed a Satan, his rat's nest is D.C. and it's religion that's continuing to fund his operations.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  4. Newyorker

    God must be one crazy sumbch to be talking to the likes of Rick Sanctimonium.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  5. TopView20

    I have the feeling that if Girly Rick Santorum did eventually come out of the closet, we would be OVERWHELMED by what he is hiding. Almost that Jeffery Daumer level of shock. Best to stay clear of this "guy(?)."

    March 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  6. CNNReviews

    An intelligent society would recognize that any presidential candidate that continually invokes theocratical concepts and God vs. Satan imagery is attempting to appeal to deep seated personal fears and beliefs that are not appropriate for secular issues. This is a classical technique that is designed to deceive the masses and provoke conditioned reflexes (hysteria) rather than intellectual understanding. Americans have been warned about such moral debauchery by all the great founders of our nation, as well as by the greatest minds in recent decades. Rick Santorum belongs in a lost sequel to the Star Wars series, but not in the White House. I will gladly cast my vote to the 2nd choice of any Rick Santorum supporter. Vote for anyone excpet dangerous, girly "Sick Santorum!"

    March 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  7. TopView20

    Rick Santorum is the most dangerous, misguided "bewildered beast" in America. Evil and deceptive to the core.

    March 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • just sayin

      I know for a fact that you are wrong. God says so.

      March 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • CNNReviews

      Just Sayin, you must be Rick Santorum because God spoke only to you!

      March 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  8. GoodGuys

    What's sad is that it is obvious to truly good people that Santorum is on the side of Evil.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • CNNReviews

      Well stated. Thank you.

      March 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  9. fordmayne

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_WLnASe3m0&w=640&h=360]

    this is the real satan!!!^^^^

    March 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  10. Heyzeus

    When Rick speaks about God he sounds exactly like Ali Khamenei. He wants a theocratically ruled nation.

    March 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  11. OLUTUNJI

    This guy should be living in the middle of space surrounded by a mass of cloud and human-like beings with wings. He's certainly not cut out for planet earth.

    March 18, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  12. Steven J. Schultz

    If this clown is ever elected, I will be moving to Australia!

    March 18, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Cc

      And me to Thailand. I just bought a condo just in case.

      March 22, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  13. watash

    Santorum is one dangerous cat. He is certainly educated enough to know better, but uses the Devil as a lever on ignorant people that do not have his education level. He endeavors to be like Ronald Reagan with the right wingnuts but lacks Reagan's ability to B/S folks. To take this nut seriously one would need to be a little bit off center. I believe Santorum is about a peck shy of a bushel in the brains department.

    March 18, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  14. magdaleine

    The problem is that Santorum isn't really a true Catholic, he's a Christian fundamentalist in disguise. A Catholic fundamentalist would be an oxymoron. Santorum only believes in good and evil, aka, black and white thinking. Very dangerous...and something most Catholics do not do! He's not smart enough to really solve any of our problems so he's attacking everyone's nature and beliefs who aren't like him. He's not a very eloquent speaker, despite his education. And he equated Adam and Eve with eating from the tree of "knowledge" aka, don't send your kids to school, make them stay home and isolate them from the rest of the world which is bad no matter what. Way to go genius! I wouldn't be surprised if one of your kids did a 180 and became a Democrat!

    March 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • TopView20

      Agreed. Rick Snatorum is the most dangerous and mentally challenged contender in the GOP primaries. It is amazing to see Santorum misinterpret, invent facts, and argue in favor of nonsensicle positions with a straight face. You see, once you secure sufficient funds for your presidential campaign, all other factors become unimportant. Money is all that matters. Ricky Santorum is singing this tune for all he is worth. He has essentially raised his middle finger to the world and laughed, "I have the money, go to hell!"

      March 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  15. Katie

    If the holier-than-thou people didn't pull out the Satan card, they wouldn't have an argument. It's a nice convenient way to object to people who hold a different viewpoint, or to dismiss people who have a different interpretation of the same belief system. To them, this means they alone hold the moral high ground.

    I got news: it says in the Bible that the Devil often quotes scripture for his own purposes and will mix lies with the truth to confuse people. How would we know that isn't the case with people like Santorum?

    March 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • The Obama Christian Church Worldwide

      When president Obama becomes of divine order on October 21st of this year, things will be put in perspective. We need to read the good gospels of Obama because he is a good christian family man and will be God on October 21st of this year.

      March 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  16. From the planet Mindroid

    Santorums religion is in his pants. Obviously he's a secretly gay man and therefore full of guilt.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:39 am |
    • Bam-Bam Rubble

      Santorum has been one of the great successes of our "Gay away the pray" campaign.

      Now if we can just find a way to pry him out of the closet!

      March 17, 2012 at 4:49 am |
    • Havildar

      That might be due to certain Priests in Santorums childhood.
      As far as his comment on Satan he being the rightful follower of Lucifer should know.
      After all Lucifer does not use "birth control methods".

      March 17, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • magdaleine

      Funny, my husband says that too about him! You know when people are so vehemently against something that they're pretty close to the mark themselves!

      March 17, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  17. Krampus the VI, King of Kolob

    Come and hie your butts on down to Kolob where there's enough Kooky Kolob Kool-Aid and whacky tobacky for you and all of your 30 wives!

    March 17, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  18. Noob Smoke

    Wanna get Obama re-elected?!?

    VOTE SANTORUM!!!

    Democrats and independents are sick of social issues. Help us jump start the economy, and stop legislating who people bring into their bedrooms.

    March 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  19. Barry G.

    Rick,

    As you know, Jesus taught that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Do you believe this?

    It’s clear that Newt and Mitt don’t believe this. They clearly believe the richer one is the closer to God they are.

    March 16, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Solus5

      Don't know if my other reply got through.. It is not money that the Bible has an issue with.. It is the love of money or anything for that matter that comes before God.. There were many rich disciples of Christ yet those had money in the right place and understood it was a means to end and not the end... Money is not intrinsicly evil; the heart that loves it is.. Answer this... whatever I dedicate the majority of my time, resources, and money too is my God.. Are you satisfied with the answer?

      March 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Solus,

      Jesus didn't say the love of money was the root of all evil. That statement is found in a supposed epistle from Paul to Timothy. Jesus was quite clear about riches and what they did to our relationship with God.

      "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God", says Jesus in Luke's gospel.

      While we're on the subject, Paul and James were also quite clear about how riches alienate us from God.

      In the early fourth century, when Constantine embraced and sanctioned Christianity, the believers went from suffering servants who were persecuted to those who found themselves living in comfort and security. Leaders of the Christian community saw this as an extremely grave threat to the faith; and, for this reason they fled the comforts of society and chose to live in solitude and want in remote parts of the world (such as Syria and northern Africa).

      In fact Luke's account of Jesus' Sermon on the Plain has Jesus saying: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Note what he says in this sermon about the rich.

      As if that's not enough, consider what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, and consider the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

      I could call you attention to what the Fourth Gospel says about wealth, or what Matthew says about it, but is there any need to do so?

      March 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  20. Grumpy

    The Anti-Christ, as I undestand it, has been and/or will be one who has such personal charisma as to perusade people to believe whatever he says and do whatever he commands no matter how idiotic or harmful his words may be. Enter Rick Santorum . . .

    March 16, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Do we not read in the New Testament epistle of First John that the antichrists were those who were formerly members of the church, who began denying that Jesus came in the fliesh?

      Does this not point to the gnostic controversy, which the church faced in the first few centures?

      Does not First John clearly tell us that these anti-Christs (note they are plural), "were once among us and left us"?

      I encouarge you to open your Bible and read it.

      March 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Solus5

      I think your understanding of the anti-christ is a bit off on the nationality or at least the area of origin as dictated in scripture... Possibly Syria but at least coming from, what was then, a part of the 1 century Roman Empire... Sorry, Rick's from here... MDiv.PhT

      March 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Solus5

      Oh.. to Barry G.. There is the spirit of anti-christ then there is a coming world leader that will, at some point in the future, control a 10 nation confederacy only to set himself up a newly constructed Temple in Jerusalem and call himself God. I agree, there have been man those that oppose Christ and anti-christs but there will be one that will be like none other.

      March 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Solus,

      You think my understanding of the anti-Christ is off?

      Try telling that to the group responsible for First John, for they (who repeatedly refer to themselves as "we”) plainly state that the anti-Christ was already present at the time that epistle was written.

      They go on to state that there were many anti-Christs, who were present at the time of the writing of their epistle; and they state plainly that these anti-Christs were once among us (were members of their community of faith), but they departed from among them.

      They go on to state: “Who is the anti-Christ? It is the one (or ones), who deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.”

      Note: This group never denies that Jesus Christ came and was crucified; they were denying that he took on a human body.

      Even one with a basic theological education should recognize that the book of First John employs a number of the terms being used in Gnostic circles: light, truth, knowledge, etc..

      Is it not clear that First John was being written, in response to the Gnostic controversy, which divided the church in the early centuries?

      Are you familiar with the pagan Gnostics and the Christian Gnostics?

      Are you familiar with the controversy that challenged the church for many years, known as the Arian Athanasian controversy (viz., Alexandrius).

      Are you familiar with the works of Socrates (viz., his student Plato), and how Platonic thought became a factor in the Christian community?

      I encourage you to read Justo L. Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity (vol. 1)

      March 16, 2012 at 6:17 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.