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Santorum Is Right: It IS About Phony Theology

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Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum announced that this presidential race is about theology, and he is right. We may differ on the right to an abortion, on the injuries of capitalism, even on the adequacy of the president's theology. But we agree that theology is the core of our argument.

Let me name five ways in which he is accurate.

1. On history. We Americans love to fight about church and state, fight for God and country. For some, God is Love; for others, God is judgment. Spectrum is all. Liberals can be very judgmental and conservatives can be very loving and both can enjoy saying things about a God they don't quite believe in. Still, when the voting curtain closes, theology opens and decides. Republicans tend to vote against sinners, whom they imagine are in need of improvement. Democrats vote for sinners, whom they imagine are caught in a systemic web of injury they cannot personally transcend.

Our theology of God dictates our theology of sin. Our votes comprehend the way we tilt -- toward a God who either judges the sinner or loves the sinner. Personal responsibility is the favorite theology of some. Responsibility tended by grace is the favorite theology of others. One blames the poor for their poverty; the other blames larger systems.

2. On religious liberty. The matter of reproductive rights is about religious liberty. The religious liberty is that of Protestants, Jews, atheists and secularists who believe in the right of women to choose and have an abortion. That liberty is now being depressed by the majority religions, namely the Roman Catholic, backed up by evangelicals. In both cases, religious majorities depress the freedom of religious minorities by declaring reproductive freedom a sin. Thus, some religionists gain the spurious "right" to provide less than full access to birth control while others lose that "right." In so doing, religious liberty is wrapped in Orwellian confusion.

3. On poverty. People like Santorum, with the poverty of imagination, will always be with us. The materially poor will not. Jesus was obsessed with the liberation of those he called the oppressed poor -- not with making excuses about the permanence of their condition. Jesus' budget would not only tax the rich and close the loopholes of the wealthy. It would prioritize the poor and refuse to blame them for their poverty. Jesus didn't use the word "poor" alone; he used the words "oppressed poor." There is a difference in responsibility and its assignation.

4. On the "right and wrong" of issues. His theology is punishmentalist, not fundamentalist. If we could just find the right enemy, he could win the right to fight more of his perceived enemies like gays, Muslims and "evil" generally. The more punishment to enemies, the better.

On the other side of the street, where I live, Santorum is my antagonist, not my enemy. There is a difference. I don't need to demonize those I want to defeat at the polls. Elections are not wars of morality. They are simply elections.

5. On America's love in theological battle. We are bored with anything that doesn't grasp the matter of God. We profoundly agree that our political battles are first and last religious ones. Getting it right is more sanctimonious than saintly. We are less interested in elections and their moderated, muddled benefits than we are in unleashing our spiritual swords and being righted or wronged, knighted or victimized. Some theologies enjoy the polarities, others don't. Either way we want the spiritual energy of these battles. We are built by language, religion and history to enjoy them.

Santorum is right that it is about theology. I agree with him there.