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February 21st, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Santorum and Satan - the devil is in the details

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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. whinerh8ter

    I am not sure how this makes Santorum the most dangerous threat to the U.S. There are thousands of churches from all types of denominations that preach about this every weekend. Pretty sure there will be a lot of people supporting his comments. Why wouldn't you want to vote for someone that has the same values as yourself? An atheist is more than welcome to throw his or her hat into the ring and run for president but the numbers of those who would support that style of believe would never come close to what was needed to get anywhere. In fact most Christians are turned off by the arrogance that comes with atheism.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Arrogance that comes with atheism? What about the arrogance that comes with evangelicals, or for that matter the arrogance that comes from any organized religious belief? The fact that many would only pay attention to what he does (or does not) believe in and not the actual message, is a sad insight to the idiocy that is permeating our country.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Bisonfan

      Right. Arrogant people really turn off us humble people.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • One one

      What could be more arrogant than claiming your all powerful master of the universe will send anyone to hell for not believing as you do?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • whinerh8ter

      Why would you assume that Christian believe is the only reason that people are drawn to vote for him? Obama constantly speaks of he wants a level playing field for everyone and to have everyone pay there fair share of taxes. Which is it? A level playing field would mean the same for everyone but fair share means the more you make, the more you pay. Santorum has quite a different stance than Obama on this as well as domestic oil policies and and the usage of the US's own assets. Obamacare is a rip off that will destroy the greatest healthcare system in the world. Rick being a devout Christian is just a bonus to a lot of people.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • 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 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  2. tstorm

    Santorum = fruitcake

    February 21, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  3. Sockeyerama

    Santorum has inspired me to pray for the first time since Joe Namath beat the Colts in Super Bowl III.
    If I get to watch Santorum debate Obama, I can die. Bigger than the 1969 lunar landing.
    Please Crom, hear my prayers, and if not you can go to hell.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  4. tsm

    "Consider the crowd he was speaking to?" Are you kidding? It doesn't matter who he said it to..he said it.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  5. Cherry

    santorum speech is scary,he scares people...if he be president he will scare all of us by preaching his satanic ideas...he is not a good president bet but he is a good bet for cult head...scary...

    February 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  6. PatSJ

    Listen: "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. That's the point – its Christianity as Santorum sees it, not Christianity as HE sees it.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  7. Uthor

    Honestly, people would actually vote for some flake who talks with a straight face about "the father of lies"?

    Santorum should be careful about slamming Protestants. More than 51% of Americans are Protestants. They might not think they are in "shambles" and in league with Satan.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Cherry

      absolutely,he doesnt have the right to say anything sacred for all the people regardless of their religion..these republicans will say anything just to win..look at their deceiving eyes..their eyes shows they are not sincere...

      February 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  8. Reason & Logic

    And we once thought Sara Palin and Michelle Bachmann were the only nut jobs we had to worry about. Good grief!!!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  9. Bisonfan

    Wouldn't the devil go after a really important target, like Catholic clergy? Um . . . never mind.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  10. longtooth

    Don't trust someone who claims to speak for God. Don't trust someone who claims to be a defender of God. He may be sincere, but he is a fool.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  11. sybaris

    What's that phrase about the flag, a cross and fascism?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  12. miller

    Well, he certainly oughta know, as it takes one to know one. Santorum is the most evil, dangerous person I have ever seen in politics. (and that's saying a LOT) This man violates the principles of our country in so many ways, I begin to think he should not even be allowed to remain a citizen, let alone run for public office. Take a good look at the picture at the head of the article. THIS is what an American Taliban looks like...... and Taliban government is what you will get if he is elected.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  13. Muneef

    Who does he mean here by the father of lies? The president or the country?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • craig

      The father of lies is satan, Jesus said it himself.He said it to the pharisees.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Muneef

      Thank you for explaining but am sure he means there is who represent Satan in the US for almost 200 years...! So there must be some party or lobby that he refers to in the US who to him are considered satanic...?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  14. Chedar

    Mr. Santorum, you are delusional. If you know well, both Satan and God exist in your mind and no one else. Think about this, If God really exist, you would not have a chiled that has genetic disease, We all will be perfect. See its that simple. God is supposed to be loving but each time your daughter who is genetically deficient breaks your heart. So if God really exist, he should be more of a compassionate God. Therefore, God does not exist It does exist only in your mind. so as Satan.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  15. scoobypoo

    This is not a catholic theocracy. Please keep your delusions to yourself, Rick.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  16. ,justic4all

    Evil is Santorum Hitler reborn.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  17. Kathleen Farrell

    What does he think of the death penalty?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  18. One one

    It's such a pity that politicians have to stoop so low to get elected in this country. Even Obama attended a nutty church to advance his political aspirations and still occasionally plays the religion card. Let's be honest, they all do it and it's all 100% political maneuvering BS. Sanatorium is among the worst.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  19. monet liwanag

    Santorum can be compared to Osamu Bin Laden. He has his own interpretation of the bible and will stick to it no matter whether he knows that he is wrong which is very dangerous to a society.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  20. Hunter's ghost

    This guy makes Satan look like a viable option...

    February 21, 2012 at 7:02 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.