Rick Santorum and the Vitality of Faith and Reason

Yesterday former Senator Rick Santorum spent the better part of the afternoon and the evening at the University of St. Thomas as a speaker for the Pope John Paul II Forum for the Church in the Modern World. He spent time visiting political science students in a question and answer session, took a short tour of the campus, repaired for refreshments with a few faculty and students, was the guest of honor at a dinner with 65 people including UST faculty and staff, HBU faculty and staff and members of St. George’s Orthodox Church, and finally delivered a forty minute talk to 200 hundred people  and took another 30 minutes to answer and debate members of the audience. As he left the auditorium greeting people he mentioned that he would be getting up at 3 am to prepare for the Bill Bennett Show. He is a man with a message, indeed a man with a mission, and he is waiting to see how his message will be received and where his mission may take him.

If his visit to Houston was any indication, his message is well received. He received a very warm standing ovation after his talk and convinced the holdouts who expressed their reservations (more below). He is obviously ready for a long term mission. If Houston were command central, he would be launched. Well, perhaps that is a judgment for Des Moines, Iowa down the road. But this man needs to be heard. He needs to be heard by Catholics, and by all men and women of faith. And he needs to be heard by his fellow Republicans, and he needs to be heard by all fellow citizens.

Two terms in the Senate has left its mark; he is a very able speaker — he is clear, he is fair and firm in debate, he is on topic and on task. The threat of jihad, the peril of the unborn, the disaster of Obama-care and the encroachment of European-style socialism  – these are the topics that most sharpen his focus.

It was not the time or place for political argument; in part because many in the audience were already disposed to share those concerns; and in part, the Forum is devoted to the statement of principle, the play of ideas, and evaluation of philosophical perspectives.

So let’s take at look at the well argued and persuasive speech Sen Santorum gave on the flaws of the Kennedy account of faith and public life, and what alternative he proposed. (Visit the website, jp2forum.org to find it.) He deepened and filled in the argument made by Archbishop Chaput when he was a guest of the JP2 Forum and HBU. I will select a few aspects of this very rich talk.

Santorum latches on to the terms used by Kennedy, “absolute separation.”  Chaput also challenged this term. It is false to the history and practice of the American tradition. It sets up a fanatical extreme of secularism which has led to a persecution of faith. For his part, Santorum explains why he is not advocating “theocracy” through a deft use of St Thomas Aquinas who argued that human law cannot and should not eliminate all vice. The term “theocracy” has become an emotive word with no precision, a blunt instrument by which the secularists wish to club those opponents.

I found the best part the speech his discussion of conscience and the use of Os Guiness on the golden triangle of virtue, faith and freedom.

Kennedy talks about his conscience and assured his audience that it would not be a reflection of his faith.  He suggests that “national interest” would provide us all with a common standard for judgment. Sen. Santorum retorts religion is out, but other pressure groups are in. He says “I too use my conscience as a guide, but you are not born with a competent conscience:  it is formed and continues to be formed by something and reflects that formation.  If faith in objective and eternal truths is no longer going to inform your conscience what moral code will?  And where does that code come from?  And what is the basis of its authority? Doesn’t the public have a right to know?” These are precisely the questions to ask. Kennedy evaded them; contemporary secularists obfuscate them; Santorum takes them head on. 

And why not? With Pope John Paul II, Benedict VI, Edmund Burke, Os Guiness, C. S. Lewis — an embarrassment of riches. Sen. Santorum has read well; he has learned from and converses with some very thoughtful authors — Os Guiness and Hadley Arkes, both of whom were on his early morning talk show. Guiness formulates the “golden triangle of freedom.” That means — “Freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith and faith requires freedom and around again.” Santorum is rooted in his faith and he is strong in his reason. Appropriately he brought the issue surrounding the Kennedy speech to ultimate question of how we relate faith and reason. He rightly says, “The movement in our country to fly on ‘one wing,’ reason alone will ultimately undermine the very foundation of our country – freedom.” 

I think we are back to Redemptor hominis and the true meaning of freedom. The Senator ranged far and wide to provide the proper perspective to the Kennedy legacy. He provided authentic examples from experience as a politician. One UST professor suggested he was sounding like a “philosopher-king,” to which the Senator quickly responded that he is more of a philosopher serf. 

He is well prepared for the political challenge of the day. I hope that he gain a greater hearing and receive a proper backing. 

But when I think about the vehemence and irrationality exhibited by many of his critics (he was denounced as theocrat and worse even before he gave his talk; and yet the press was not present as far as I could see), I can only hope that he can disprove Socrates who said in the Apology that “he who will fight for what is right must have a private station and not a public one.”.

1 Comment
  1. I'm an independent journalist in Houston. Here's my account of Santorum's speech:

    http://kenfountain.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/santorum-takes-on-jfk-a-half-century-later/

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