As a fan of one-sided debates and the usage of “eviscerate” in rhetorical contexts, I hope former Senator Rick Santorum wins the Republican presidential candidacy. The qualities that make him shine in his Republican supporters’ eyes—faith-based morality, focus on family values and strong stances on social issues—will make him unsuited for the presidential general election. Republican voters, egged on by conservative media, have increasingly turned to anti-intellectual politicians who do not equivocate their parsimony, or even know what those words mean. Instead of using logic, studies and statistics to support their controversial stances, Republican candidates, with Santorum as their current flag-bearer, continue turning to faith.
Before I address faith’s necessary role in American politics, allow me to explain my own religious background. I was educated in a series of Catholic grade schools, but always struggled with religion. After the sexual abuse scandal that eventually bankrupted Milwaukee’s archdiocese, my parents and I stopped going to the occasional Sunday mass. I entered a Jesuit High School and studied theology along with other subjects. Eventually my questions regarding faith turned me away from religion altogether. It was a long process. Often times, when someone is religious, he or she rejects all other faiths; I just happened to reject one more than most.
When candidates flaunt their faith, I am not put-off. However, the lack of discussion following their proclamations is worrying. When any candidate spews his or her faith-based stance, but does not explain it in terms that can be understood by any kind of faithful or unfaithful person, he is failing at politics. These types of unjustified assertions (faith cannot be a justification, because the basis of faith is that it requires none) are not unique to religion, but the political sphere is exactly where every single assertion needs to be examined and deconstructed. If someone starts using “God’s Laws” to effect my behavior, I will be just as skeptical if that person is a Pastafarian as if he is a Christian.
This skepticism is what the American electorate can’t seem to accept. When Santorum quotes the Bible, he is picking and choosing which portions of the scriptures to propagate. There are hundreds of laws in the Bible, and when Santorum selectively applies them to daily life, he is the one who is affecting people, not God. Sticking to scripture also allows candidates to bypass the real human suffering laws can create or alleviate.
Religious appeals only work when they are leveraged on people who accept the assumed religion, are totally fine with the candidate’s view of whatever theological concept is on display or are willing to accept the view without examining non-religious justifications. So when the Republican candidate (still keeping my fingers crossed for Rick), crosses into the presidential race, he is going to need to find a way to rationalize all that religious rhetoric into terms that everyone can understand. The hard-line conservative views on social issues are growing less popular, and voters are less willing to elect someone based on their social stances. In order to make up ground, the Republican candidate is going to have to do some rhetorical pirouetting.
Religion will always be a part of American politics, but the relationship needs to be healthier.
Candidates should be proud of their religion, and there should be a lot of examination of any candidate’s personal philosophy whether it is based on religion or not. Religion will always be a part of debates as well, but in order to keep things sane, religious justifications need to be backed up. Candidate’s who rally against contraception claim it hurts the integrity of communities, why not back that up with at least some anecdotal evidence? The truth is, candidates are already doing this to a degree, but when politics is reduced to sound bites, an appeal to “God’s Law” is about as forceful and concise as it gets. The electorate needs to encourage politicians to keep religion where it belongs, but we also need to look past religion if the media is doing a bad job covering a complex stance.
So when Santorum says that “the First Amendment means the free exercise of religion and that means bringing people and their faith into the public square,” I agree; but his faith isn’t going to be enough when he is going up against an eloquent incumbent in debate.
David Ruiz is a senior majoring in English. Please send all feedback email@example.com.