The only good thing you can say about the Republican primaries, beside the fact that they have been hugely entertaining, is that no matter who wins, it means that someone else just as bad or worse has lost. So I cannot help but be pleased to see the rich white guy who desperately wants to be the front runner coming in third in the Alabama and Mississippi contests. Nor can I not celebrate that the amphibiously named other rich white guy did not pull off a badly needed Deep South victory.
Of course the downside is that Rick Santorum has even more momentum. Even the plus side of this- that it is driving Dan Savage insane- does not negate the damage this is doing to the credibility of the Catholic Church in this country.
I know I have spent an inordinate amount of energy decrying the candidacy of Santorum. As his positions do not differ much from the other candidates (aside from Ron Paul) I should probably offer a little of the history of my relationship with what I call “the conservative Catholic subculture” to explain this.
When I returned to the Church in 1979, after a brief sojourn as an charismatic evangelical, and a longer one as a seeker (you can read about it here) I returned to something of a mess. The institutional Church- dioceses, religious orders, seminaries, etc- was almost everywhere controlled by those whose views differed from the magisterium on any number of issues. Liturgies were almost everywhere banal.
I soon found a circle of friends who valued religious orthodoxy, many of whom were involved in the nascent prolife rescue movement. Many of these had come to antiabortion activism from the antiwar movement; it seemed logical to work against what was just another form of violence against the innocent. Nor was that logic confined to young radicals; Democrats from Ted Kennedy to Jesse Jackson to Al Gore were vocal opponents of abortion in those times. It is one of the tragedies of the age to have seen them fall one by one as they aspired to national office.
Some of my new friends, though, were conservative. And while most of my conservative friends were and are more of the Ron Paul, libertarian type, I also, because of the circles I moved in, rubbed shoulders with more conventional Republicans. I argued with them about economics and papal teachings, and it was frustrating, but because it all seemed secondary to the task at hand- fighting for doctrinal orthodoxy and against abortion- it did not seem intolerable. And I accepted the fact that if one is doctrinally orthodox one is likely to encounter a good many people who are conservative by temperament, even though I am by nature a radical, and saw the radical possibilities of orthodoxy, and especially of Catholic social doctrine. As allies in a bigger struggle, I didn’t hesitate to count conservatives as friends. It is sort of like the genial disagreement I have these days with antiwar and anti-imperial libertarians, many of whom are linked on my blogroll: with a common enemy we can set aside our differences.
At that time, of course, and through the 80s, American interventionism was, if not on hold, at least confined to more minor conflicts. Grenada, yes, some meddling in El Salvador and Nicaragua, indeed. Not good, but a minor thing compared to what we were consumed with. In the eighties I voted for Republicans, under the illusion that this was “voting prolife” and that this meant tolerating the many things I disagreed with.
And then Bush Sr attacked Iraq. This was something on another scale altogether. I was appalled, and in the first issue of Caelum et Terra I published an essay called “A Just War or Just a War?” denouncing the war. That was, I think, the first and last comment on contemporary politics in the five years the magazine was published. It was not that I was apolitical; I paid attention, and always voted. But I have not voted for a major party presidential candidate since 1986. It was just that in those days, the days when I was editing the magazine, I saw the possibility of a vibrant Catholic counterculture emerging. Politics seemed largely irrelevant, given the state we were in.
As the years went by things changed. Eight years of Bush and Cheney and their wars and rumors of wars, of more and more evidence that the whole free market revolution was a veil for the looting of America by the upper classes, traumatized and reradicalized me.
What’s more important, I saw the nascent Catholic counterculture transmute into a subculture: adjusting a little here and there, it more or less adopted the bourgeois American model of life.
I only fully became aware of this when my children were old enough to be schooled. I married late, and when I was younger I knew many homeschooling families, all of whom were radical. Many did not own TVs, and all were critical of the American paradigm. When my wife joined a local Catholic homeschooling group, I was a bit shocked to learn that when the girls got together to play, it was with Barbies. The boys went for airsoft guns, and fake war games in the woods (the older of these are now out of high school, and two of them went directly into the Marines, with the full approval of their family). All of the parents were ardent Republicans, fully supportive of American interventionism. They have many good points, are very generous and kind, and so on, but I never fit in.
In fact, what the local homeschooling group represents is a small outpost of what I call the Republicatholic subculture. No, that is not what they call themselves; they fancy themselves “orthodox Catholics”, and in reality think of themselves as the Real Catholics. They are with the Church on birth control and abortion and sexual morality and dogmatic theology. They are personally devout. They pray the rosary and receive the Eucharist with thanksgiving.
And they are unconsciously so blinded by Americanism that they unthinkingly dismiss anything in the words of Jesus Christ or Church teaching that challenges their faith in America, in its exceptionalism and goodness.
I know many of them, and I like most of the ones I know, and they drive me crazy.
So you see, I feel like I almost know Rick Santorum (indeed, I have friends who are on a first name basis with him). He is their candidate, made in their image. Like many of my friends he is affluent, personally pious, has a bunch of kids that he homeschools, and then sends to Opus Dei high schools. And he is an Americanist first, a Catholic second.
Conservative Catholic EWTN talk show host Al Kresta ran a poll of his listeners on Super Tuesday, and an astonishing 80% of them were Santorum enthusiasts. 80%.
Santorum has become Sanctorum, the anointed one of the conservative Catholic subculture. Non-Catholic pundits are quick to agree that he is the Catholic candidate and to denounce him for it. Few challenge how far he diverges from Catholic social teaching on any but sexual issues. The bishops, who should be clarifying this, are strangely silent. Conservative Catholic bloggers are in love: “Rick Santorum, Catholic Hero” chirps the American Papist.
One wonders when one sees all this what they are thinking. This is a man who deemed it “wonderful” when an Iranian scientist, the father of young children, was, in defiance of international and divine law, assassinated. This is a man who sees no problem with “enhanced interrogation”, ie, torture, who thinks it fine to inflict pain and terror on someone suspected of terrorism. This is a man who has stated his intent to engage in preemptive war, against a nation that cannot be said in any way to pose a threat to the US.
This, my friends, is idolatry.
To choose Rick Santorum for president is to choose Nation over Church, this world over heaven, and Mammon over God.