What Santorum considers a ‘phony theology’

Updated
 
As Santorum gains more attention, he raises the rhetorical temperature.
As Santorum gains more attention, he raises the rhetorical temperature.
Associated Press

Like all Republican presidential candidates, Rick Santorum tends to be unrelenting in his daily criticisms of President Obama. But over the weekend, the former senator broke some new and unsettling ground.

At another stop in Ohio on Saturday, Mr. Santorum waded into what he called the “phony theology” of Mr. Obama’s agenda.

“It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology,” he said. “But no less a theology.”

In later comments to reporters, Mr. Santorum said while there are “a lot of different stripes” of Christianity, he believes that “if the president says he’s a Christian, he’s a Christian.”

Given the larger context – the right has questioned the sincerity of Obama’s faith for many years – Santorum assertion about a “phony theology” certainly appears to be part of a larger smear, though the former senator has denied that was his intention.

But in many respects, Santorum’s new attack is even more troubling than its face-value ugliness. Since when is it the job of presidential candidates to question others’ theology? The Santorum camp later said he was simply referring to the president’s worldview, but notice that the Republican candidate used the word “theology” four times in three sentences. Santorum was, in other words, trying to make a specific point.

And that point, apparently, was the notion that Obama is motivated by a religion that is “not … based on the Bible.” Santorum wants to be a president – and he also wants to be a canonical judge of all things scriptural, which isn’t exactly in the Article II job description.

We can take this even further. As the GOP candidate sees it, Obama is driven by “some phony theology,” whereas President Santorum would presumably be guided by a real theology (one “based on the Bible”). Perhaps now would be a good time to remind Santorum that the separation of church and state is a principle fundamental to the American system of government. Our leaders take an oath to uphold the Constitution, not one man’s interpretation of a holy book.

This is not, in other words, a theocracy. Criticizing a rival for refusing to base his or her governing vision on the appropriate “theology” is wholly at odds not only with First Amendment principles, but with the American tradition itself.

For its part, the Obama camp saw Santorum’s latest rhetoric as “well over the line.” Under the circumstances, it’s hard to disagree.

What Santorum considers a 'phony theology'

Updated