RICK SANTORUM: VOICE OF REASON.

One of the great ironies of the Republican presidential race is that the rare intrusions of common sense have come from the unlikeliest corners – on foreign policy, from the segregationist, anti-choice Abe Lincoln-hating old Texan Ron Paul; and last week, on the place of religion in politics from the man who might have been the candidate of the religious right, but for the fact that he lost his own Senate seat by 18 points, Rick Santorum.

Santorum, in addition to various lobbying gigs to support his 29 children, writes a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In his column last Thursday, he generally praised Mitt Romney’s speech on Mormonism and politics, although noted two points he would have phrased differently:

At one point, though, [Romney] opted for prose over accuracy by saying "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Sociologist Os Guinness said it better, that "freedom requires virtue, virtue requires religion, and religion requires freedom."

Virtue - a person's ability to control his desires and order his actions according to the Golden Rule - makes freedom and democracy possible. For most, virtue is derived from religion, but that hardly means a man without religion cannot reason his way to virtue. Witness the ancient Greeks.

I’d never heard of Os Guinness before, but in It Takes a Family and his other writing, Santorum – or someone who writes for him – is plainly influenced by the political philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, and this formulation shows that influence. MacIntyre’s argument that “virtue” is a moral quality traceable from Aristotle through Thomas Aquinas, and neglected in modern times, is probably the most significant alternative to rights-based liberalism in modern political or moral philosophy. And, of course, whether you need “the ancient Greeks” as evidence, or not, the point that even non-believers can be virtuous is one that Romney most specifically rejected.

Then, Romney tried to address the lingering doubts about Mormonism, Santorum says, “by discussing Jesus, suggesting that the specific theological tenets of Mormonism are not in any important respect different from those of traditional Christianity.” But it would have been better if he hadn’t talked about theology at all, “because theological tenets, as opposed to moral tenets of a religion, transcend reason - consider, for example, the virgin birth.”

Instead, Romney should have talked about his “faith from the standpoint of its moral teachings or, as Catholics say, its ‘social teaching.’…Romney missed an opportunity to connect with Christian conservatives by citing specific moral teachings that Mormonism has in common with their faith.”

Santorum is largely sympathetic to Romney, and concludes that Romney “should be a viable choice for voters whose faith matters to them.” But these two mild correctives to Romney’s speech would have made for a very different speech – one that didn’t write the non-religious out of political life altogether, and one that discussed religion in politics in terms of the sense of moral and social obligation that is shared, in different ways, by many religions and by the non-religious. That’s not a speech that would have warmed my heart, anti-choice and anti-gay as it surely would be, but it wouldn’t have been as staggeringly offensive as the actual Romney speech.

When it takes Rick Santorum to point out that you’ve crossed the line separating religion and politics, you probably can’t even see that line in your rear-view mirror.

--Mark Schmitt

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