Specific Theology as the Basis for Public Policy?

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently declared that President Obama’s acts as President were about “some phony theology… not a theology based on the Bible.” Frankly, I find an assertion such as this incredibly disturbing, because what Santorum is effectively saying is that public policy should be based on his reading of Christian theology.  As I’ve noted before, as have Constitutional scholars for more than a century, while the Founding Fathers did mention the Deity, they made it very clear that specific theologies – or theological belief systems – were not to be a part of government.  Yet Santorum is apparently attacking the president – and anyone else who doesn’t believe as Santorum does – for failing to base their policies and acts upon specific doctrinaire theological points.

Like it or not, the President of the United States and the Congress are responsible for the health and welfare of all the people of the United States and for allowing all of them the same freedoms, as set out in the Constitution and as interpreted, again, like it or not, by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, according to the best figures I can find, 75% of Americans define themselves as members of faiths considered Christian by most theologians.  Fifteen percent are atheists, and the remaining ten percent belong to other faiths.  Of those considered Christian, 25% are Catholic, 15% Baptist, and 4% evangelical or Pentecostal Christians, meaning that, in rough terms, essentially half of the American people, assuming they follow the theological guidelines of their faiths, might agree with Senator Santorum’s theological beliefs. The problem with Santorum’s position is that as much as half the population might well not agree, and fully one quarter of all Americans are not believing Christians at all.

In addition, a study conducted by Baylor University, based on interviews with 35,000 people, definitely a healthy sample, showed that more than 40% of the people had changed their faith and belief at least once in their lifetime, which also suggests that “faith” is far less constant than the protections in the Constitution.

Even more to the point, Santorum is not talking about freedom of religion, but about imposing restrictions on all members of society, restrictions based on his theological biases, and restrictions with which tens of millions of Americans do not agree.  Those who agree with the senator are not precluded from following exactly, and with no persecution whatsoever, the dictates of their own conscience insofar as their own property and bodies are concerned.  Under the Constitution and current law, however, they are precluded from imposing those beliefs on others, and effectively limiting the rights of half the population [women]. The senator clearly wants to change this.

It’s taken a long time to reduce discrimination based on color, creed, or gender… and Santorum’s use of religion, whether intended or not, would essentially turn the clock back to a time of greater discrimination under the guise of “true religion.”

Putting power in the hands of religious true believers has been a disaster wherever it’s happened, whether in the time of the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the ayatollahs in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or any other number of instances.  Doing so here wouldn’t be any different… and it would be a betrayal of the Founding Fathers that all so many of those of Santorum’s stripe quote so much when it suits their needs… and ignore when it doesn’t.






25 thoughts on “Specific Theology as the Basis for Public Policy?”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    I wonder if Santorum would say that the Constitution was a document by which he intends to abide and if Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were men he admired?

    Deism was one of the principles worked into the Constitution: an acknowledgement that god exists but a recognition that god may/may not involve itself in the world thus we (as humans) have to do as best we can. Jefferson was a well known Unitarian who had decided Deist leanings and Ben Franklin’s autobiography mentions that he “became a thorough Deist.”

    Deism is something I can support in a politician, or (and this is asking a whole lot, I know) how about just a discreet politician who doesn’t wear his faith on his shirtsleeve when it is useful.

    IMHO, Republicans have been thoroughly infiltrated and co-opted by the politically active christian movements. All that’s left is for the Elephants to decide if its is going to be evangelical X’ian, LDS, or RC.

    The Democrats play up the ideals of service and sacrifice to the community in the name of a religion, but most seem to be a lot more cynical that any of the Reps – mainly because it seems to me to be mere lip service.

    All in all, I dislike with the white-hot intensity of a hundred suns the current slate of CINC runners. I would say hate, but my mother brought me up not to 🙂

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    I agree completely with the idea that imposing religious beliefs is a disaster. (That doesn’t mean that I’m always opposed to some aspects of imposing community standards that may happen to reflect those of a particular religious group…but only up to a fairly limited point, and in matters that are more custom than imposition, or in matters for which there are also non-sectarian arguments in favor of those standards. But community standards should be just that, _NOT_ national standards.)

    I’m not sure I agree that Santorum wants to do that, although I can perhaps see how it might look to some as if he wanted to move away from some of the symptoms of pluralism. At any rate, I haven’t heard anything remotely suggesting that Santorum wishes to impose in detail the standards of any particular denomination on everyone.

    And while one could certainly criticize Obama for having attended Jeremiah Wright’s hate-mongering sermons for years, I don’t think one needs to get into religion to criticize Obama; there’s so much else to criticize about his conduct of policy.

    _If_ Santorum or anyone else is stating that public policy should be determined strictly by the tenets of any particular belief (although of course a person’s beliefs should have _some_ influence on their every action, or they’re phony), I have a big problem with that.

    Likewise, _if_ they’re claiming to interpret not merely the compliance of some sect with mainstream Christianity (although that in itself is a very divisive position to speak much about for someone aspiring to be President of _all_ the people), but to actually have the divine power to read people’s hearts, I have a big problem with that, too; not that they’re a hypocrite (except that they clearly missed the part “judge not, that ye be not judged”), but that they’re a megalomaniac.

    Still, little as I like any of the alternatives (and distrust all politicians on the general principle that we’re not _supposed_ to trust them), the worst of them is vastly better than four more years of Obama.

  3. Joe says:

    I wonder whether Rick Santorum is a supernumerary of Opus Dei. If he were, he wouldn’t care much for others’ freedoms, especially those “of a materialistic culture” or muslims (“jihadis”). The fact he has said he is not a member is irrelevant since ex-members state that members are commanded to deny their membership in Opus Dei. Therefore we can only use his behavior as evidence.

    Santorum is known to have gone to the Vatican to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Opus Dei’s founder Escriva’s birth (and his controversial canonization). Santorum’s children go to a school affiliated with Opus Dei. Like Opus Dei, Santorum speaks of the Devil as a real person doing real harm to our society. And there are many other echoes, such as his recent pronouncement that the Earth exists only for humans’ benefit, his distain for science (he claims neither evolution nor climate science are science). Opus Dei do not encourage free thinking, as evidenced by their list of banned books by such authors as Voltaire, Kafka, Gore Vidal and Karl Marx.

    Opus Dei’s mission is to get strong believers into important positions where they can use their influence to do “God’s work” of changing “the culture” to be more in line with their interpretation of the Bible. President of the US would fit the bill.

  4. Joe says:

    Santorum held an interview with the National Catholic Reporter which states:

    He [Santorum] told NCR that a distinction between private religious conviction and public responsibility, enshrined in John Kennedy’s famous speech in 1960 saying he would not take orders from the Catholic church if elected president, has caused “much harm in America”


  5. Joe says:

    A last quote of Santorum. In June 2011, Santorum said he would continue to “fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican party and the conservative movement.” In an NPR interview in the summer of 2005, Santorum discussed what he called the “libertarianish right,” saying “they have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world, and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone…”

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      While I welcome social conservatism, I would MUCH rather see leadership-by-example than (with some exceptions) the use of government to compel compliance.

      * abortion for birth control just isn’t right – it’s simply saying I want to do whatever I please and then I want to escape the consequences, without considering the ramifications of doing so. “No” is the right answer…or various _preventative_ technology if one isn’t willing to say no. That’s not to constrain it when there’s compelling medical justification. There’s room for controversy where “no” wasn’t honored. I tend to think that’s one of the few instances where public subsidy to mitigate the consequences (i.e. medical care, compensation for lost work, and adoption) might be justified.

      * calling alternative domestic arrangements “marriage”: sorry, no. Stop trying to manipulate the language to demand acceptance. I have no problem with a domestic partnership that’s equivalent in all respects except adoption, but I have a big problem with demanding to redefine society to treat all consensual relationships as equivalent. (actually, domestic partnership ought to be flexible enough to cover other situations too, such as older people with no intimate relationship that are self-sufficient together but not alone)

      To an extreme liberal or libertarian, those may be show-stopper exceptions. But I’d argue that they’re nowhere near oppressive of anyone, and certainly vastly removed from any sort of attempt to set up a theocracy.

      _If_ the Santorum quotes given can be verified, and look the same in context, I agree that they do not reflect at all well on his suitability. I’ll admit to mixed feelings in the past about Perry or (in a previous cycle) Huckabee. I’d like to see everyone living many of the values they advocate, but it seems to me almost entirely counterproductive to attempt to coerce compliance (although I’m still far from convinced that’s what any of them would attempt to do). If I say that government subsidies of the less fortunate undermine voluntary virtue, then I must also say that compelled compliance with various values would undermine voluntary virtue.

      1. Nate says:

        I actually like your idea of a domestic partnership But recognizing that the supreme court bans “separate, but equal” as a sham, all partnerships would be identified the same way. This does have the advantage of leaving marriage as a religious institution completely within the control of each individual church. The problem I think that you will have with this is that if we leave marriage to the churches, there are churches out there who will do all sorts of this that are in variation to how you think it should be, including gay marriage. My parents are members of a liberal Christian church that has many gay members and is quite active politically in defense of those members. Or alternatively, at the other end of the political spectrum, perhaps the LDS church would chose to reinstate plural marriages.

        What I don’t like is the effort to enforce a second class tier on those who won’t conform to a very specific religious belief system. Yes it’s the same basic belief system of the majority of those who founded our country, but that doesn’t make oppression any less oppressive.

        1. Nate says:

          You would think that I would learn to proof read before I submit. …who will do all sorts of -things- that…

          1. Derek says:

            I’m somewhat confused on the adoption opposition. You are okay with non-traditional arrangements having every right that traditional ones do except adoption? Would you mind elaborating?

            There are several arguments that are used on this subject, I’m curious which camp you are coming from.

        2. R. Hamilton says:

          To fail to actively promote all lifestyles as equally first class is not the same thing at all as to actively “enforce a second class tier”.

          Nor is there a question of “separate, but equal”. All consenting adults that aren’t already in a conflicting obligation have an equal right to marry a person of the opposite sex (presuming they can find one willing).

          If that’s not where their interests lie, that’s not a question of equal justice. Equal justice does not require society to conform to outliers, nor to ensure that opportunities of equal _interest_ are available to all. Whether the issue in question goes that far or not, if one presumes that everyone is entitled to the highly subjective notion of equal _gratification_, that path very quickly leads to chaos.

          I suppose one might make a freedom of assembly argument, but I don’t see that entitles one to apply particular terminology to one’s assembly.

          Sorry, but I’ve always thought that government enforcement against _private_ discrimination, however well-meant, inevitably went too far; first, people have a right NOT to do business or otherwise associate with whoever they wish, even if the pattern of their choice is widely (and rightly) held to be odious. Second, at worst, such measures should be temporary alternatives to private civil suits as a means of addressing private grievances. Indeed, I’m troubled by the whole concept of protected groups, _especially_ when it’s other than temporary and in response to a specific case. Class-action lawsuits are bad enough, but the defined classes are at least only for the duration of the lawsuit. It certainly seems as if protected classes are here to stay, regardless of regional variation or progress over time. It’s not just the usual litany of groups with historical grievances, either; the ADA has been stretched out of all proportion to its author’s stated intent to where it protects and requires accommodation of almost every imaginable physical limitation or difference.

          People are people, period. Some will dislike others to the point of promoting their exclusion from society; many of us may not agree with their reasons…but enforcing the alleged virtue of diversity seems to me to have some of the same risks as enforcing any other virtue…backlash, resentment, and that enforced virtue does not actually _transform_ anyone.

          1. Nate says:

            Sir, the intent is not to transform anyone. The intent is protect those who’s lives would otherwise be materially damaged by those who target them simply for being difference. Discrimination laws acknowledge that economic violence is violation of a social contract guaranteeing all people equal opportunities. People are free to think as they want and to speak those ideas, but they cannot commit deeds harming another, no matter how hated.

            And by preventing two people, who have nothing to do with you, from forming a contract tying them together in a marriage like state, is an enforcement of inequality. In no manner does their relationship harm you or yours, nor does it harm the national interest, except insofar as is violates certain religious preconceptions about how life should be lived. Requiring that people be of the opposite sex in order to marry is an enforcement of certain religions hatred toward homosexuality. That hatred is not unique to the monotheistic religions, but the violence with which hated does seem to be a characteristic singular to the monotheistic religions.

  6. R. Hamilton says:


    Most children will grow up into heterosexual adults, regardless of who raises them.

    While children purport to find their own way, they base that very much on the example they see – that example defines many aspects of “normal” for them.

    As such, all other things being equal (in other words, guardians of good will that are not abusive to one another), an example that is a more accurate model of what most children will grow up to choose will on average, better serve them.

    If someone makes a choice that precludes the usual methods of having children, then they’re not entitled to be provided with another means of obtaining the same outcome.

    Adoption is for the children’s best interests; it should not be a right to adopt.

    I don’t think it’s _always_ the case that the best placement would be with people such that the child could be mistaken for their natural child…but I think more often than not, that’s less likely to cause problems. To use such considerations as absolutes would be wrong, but to forbid them entirely by introducing rights of the prospective adopter seems to me totally counterproductive to the purpose of adoption.

    To argue a right to adopt is to argue that some agenda is more important than the child, and that’s something I can’t accept.

    1. Derek says:

      Though I disagree with you on your conclusion, I am glad to see that your views are not based on the “homosexuals are a danger to children,” fallacy.

      I am not privy to actual adoption statistics at the moment, but I would make the emotionally based assumption that a home is in the best interests of a child, and if there are more children than heterosexual couples with the means to provide for them… well, isn’t the answer obvious? Especially if we can agree that the only harm, the only downside, to being raised in a non-heterosexual household would be the lack of a ‘traditional’ model?

      I think as a society we have more than enough reinforcing of the traditional norms.

      1. Nate says:

        I agree with you Derek, and would reiterate that the most important thing for children is to be raised in a loving and supportive home, with parents who will teach them good life skills. None of that requires to be of opposite sexes.

        1. Nate says:

          Sorry. None of that requires parents to be of opposite sexes.

        2. R. Hamilton says:

          @Nate: in the abstract, a caring and supportive environment might be enough. In practice, “life skills” are better taught by a normal model.

          Again, I wouldn’t say absolutely that all homosexual couples are incapable of providing a good environment for children. But it’s certainly not a plus…UNLESS one has the agenda of promoting tolerance for their lifestyle choices. So while I’m not saying it’s an absolute disqualifier, I think it’s not unreasonable to consider it among the factors determining suitability.

          I think the issue is about as phony as the mothers life vs fetus’s life issue anyway. (How often does it really happen that one can only save one or the other, but not both? Not too darn often, I imagine…and exceptional situations do NOT make good policy; so why not make the normal practice to save both whenever possible?)

          That is, from what little I’ve heard about adoption, there’s seldom a shortage of homes for young healthy children; it’s the ones with obvious problems, including older ones presumably with baggage (or even if not…kids before their teenage years are thought by some to be what adults are keyed to protect as a survival trait…and so that we’re trained to let them live when they turn into teenage monsters)…those are the ones that there’s a problem finding homes for. Someone that’s already got problems…will they really be better off with a home, however caring, that puts them in the cross-hairs of other issues? Or will they probably be better off being pointed away from an obsession about whatever makes them different, and towards how they can fit in with society instead?

          1. Nate says:

            I don’t think that it’s a benefit or a detriment to be raised in a family with homosexual parents. I think that there are so many other things that disadvantage children growing up that whatever factor homosexual parents may or may not have is so slight as to be negligible.

            Do parents read to their children when young? How much TV do they watch? How much exercise and physical activity do they get? Just naming a handful, these are all of far more importance, then having two parents of the same sex.

            In the end I’m not suggesting that we should make a separate policy for homosexual parents, I’m suggesting that we should not have two different policies.

      2. R. Hamilton says:

        I don’t need to make anything up; to my way of thinking, the deficient example of something other than a reasonably stable two parent heterosexual household should be more than sufficient to be…not disqualifying if there is an acute shortage of better qualified candidates perhaps, but certainly something worthy of not being excluded from consideration.

        The damage is not uniform…some kids are resilient enough that they’ll be whatever they’ll be even lacking an ideal selection of role models. Others will be impaired, and will struggle for years because of it. Sometimes there are indications which might apply, although if they’re young enough, that would be far from clear. So it needs to be considered, although not be the only consideration.

        There is no such thing as enough reinforcing of traditional norms; there is only a question of how to do it. Peacefully, non-coercively…but without giving choices _other_ than traditional norms a protected status. Violence against persons and crimes against property are crimes regardless of who they’re against…but no special protection should apply to lifestyle choices. No hate crimes, either; it’s not worse to kill someone because they’re different than it is to kill them for whatever money is in their pocket. They’re dead either way…

        But yes, my position is definitely that any agenda to create universal tolerance of a wide range of private choices should be opposed…not by bedroom police, but simply by refusing to grant protected status.

        If Santorum or some other candidate proposes bedroom police, then I’m against them. If they propose no more than I propose, namely removing conduct-based considerations from being considered for protected status, then I’ll be looking at the rest of their platform.

        1. Nate says:

          Is marriage a protected status? Are heterosexual couples who get married granted a special status over those of us who are not?

          If so then everyone deserves to have access to this status without needing acceptance from an outside “moral authority”.

          If not, then homosexual couples being able to marry does not grant them a protected status.

          1. R. Hamilton says:

            Well, if you want to take a libertarian view, then perhaps the government should not be issuing marriage licenses to ANYONE. Leave the meaning of the word to private groups to define.

            As far as I’m concerned, any intimate relationship OTHER than committed heterosexual marriage DOES cause harm to society just by existing – just by implying that there are no absolutes to behavior, and by contributing to instability. Doesn’t mean I want it banned, just SLIGHTLY restricted – don’t use the same word, don’t assume it forms an equal basis of providing a home to minors.

            I’m not happy with either answer – either having government intervene even minimally in the direction I prefer, or having it stay out of all such matters.

            If that smacks to you of hatred, you’re wrong. I don’t know the people, don’t have any feeling toward them one way or the other, don’t wish to feel anything about most people one way or the other, and think that emotions should never be a prominent factor in decisions anyway. What I oppose is enabling _conduct_. It’s a choice. Even if they can’t make the ideal choice, they can be celibate. Those of normal preferences that simply can’t bring themselves to take a chance do that all the time.

            If we can ban or even regulate mind-altering substances, imposing minimal restrictions on behavior that falls short of assault or theft in the obviousness of the immediate harm it causes is no different. In either case, some will argue that people have an absolute right to do anything that those involved consent to, and others will argue that certain behavior has consequences that go beyond just those involved. This is no better, and no worse.

          2. Mayhem says:

            A marriage licence has nothing to do with the moral position of hetero/homo sexual relationships.
            All it happens to be is a legal contract that states that the two legal entities involved can now be treated as a single combined legal entity for certain defined purposes.

            Same as you need a birth certificate to start being a legal entity, and a death certificate to stop.

            It all boils down to when the church took on the regulation of people’s lives in the middle ages, and subsequently the State formalised the relationship between individuals and the State they wish to associate with.

            Going back to leaving the meaning of the word to private groups is just a disguised call for a lower level hierarchical system to approve matters instead of the State, or a religious figure – and usually one where the person in charge is the one asking for the changes. Frankly we’ve spent enough time finding a way to allow people to marry without requiring familial consent, why do you want to bring that back?

  7. Linda says:

    I was rather disturbed by the idiotic statements of Santorum regarding euthanasia in the Netherlands. I really wonder how he came up with such nonsensical lies. And it’s a shame that someone who is either so gullible to believe the lies told by others or unscrupulous to make up such lies to further his own ideals could run for president.

    That one little statement of his has put him in the same category as our own idiotic Wilders. At least in my mind.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      The statement was clearly careless, and the numbers unsupportable. But ANY involuntary euthanasia is too much:

      “no heroic measures” (refraining from drastic intervention to prevent an outcome) is justifiable – anything beyond that runs a very high risk of going down an ethical slippery slope…even if there were zero incentive in terms of cost savings. Maybe if there were a trust fund that made cost irrelevant one way or the other (nobody involved gets to see any savings either way) AND elaborate due process to ensure that competent consent is a matter of public record AND such measures restricted to cases where severe untreatable pain was present and there was no significant hope of long-term survival, AND there was a whole lot of transparency to the process…that MIGHT begin to approach sufficient safeguards.

      But suicide is no less wrong than murder, for all that it’s voluntary. And seeking the participation of medical assistance is doing violence to the medical personnel and their alleged integrity.

      We don’t own our own lives. No other person does either. No human life can be owned by any human being, anymore than any human being can fully understand any other, or even themselves. No finite being is qualified to fully understand, and therefore own, any finite being of comparable complexity. So either nobody owns anyone, or Someone who is not subject to finite limitations owns all of us…take your pick.

      If we don’t own ourselves, then their are a few lines we shouldn’t cross, regardless of whether or not we think we’re the only ones involved. The number of such lines that government or society imposes should be minimal…but minimal is not necessarily zero. I’m willing to tolerate quite a bit of accommodation for that which I despise, but not total accommodation .

      1. Joe says:

        I have never understood why abortion is bad, murder is bad, euthanasia and suicide are bad, the death penalty is good, and soldiers or predator drones killing “our enemies” are good.

        Like every other living being, it takes effort to stay alive. Without that effort, entropy causes us to disintegrate. It should hardly be surprising that people no longer wish to sustain that effort in face of continual pain. Luckier people are able to let go and die peacefully, unluckier people need assistance. There is no reason to deny them their wish, just because other people think they know better.

  8. Mayhem says:

    A particularly relevant collection of documentary footage has been assembled by Adam Curtis on just this topic of Religion and Politics.


    The most fascinating part is the linkages between the religious fanatics in both the US and Iran during the 70s.

    The more I read of the secret deals going on in the middle east for the last 50 years, the more amazing I find it – everything from the US policy which *created* the conditions for opium to grow in Afghanistan through to the secret deals with Iran and Iraq, and the sheer misguided folly of so many individuals with political power everywhere.

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