Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Frank Schaeffer Headshot

The "Intellectual" Gurus of the Extreme Santorum/Romney Religious Right That the Media Has (mostly) Ignored

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Romney is a fake religious right "conservative." But the fact that he has to pretend to be to the right of the Pope on "social issues" tells us all we need to know about the intellectual climate inside today's Republican Party.

How did the Republicans get to be this way?

Reading and watching media coverage of the 2012 elections you'd never learn the answer. That is because the media seem to have never heard of the intellectuals who fed the movement on far right religious hysteria. So the media cover the Santorum outbursts and Gingrich paranoia and Romney genuflecting to the social agenda of the Roman Catholic bishops as if they are illogical and odd. They are both but they are also coming from someplace. And to not know what that place is is like discussing the old Soviet Union with never a mention of Karl Marx.

When Rick Santorum -- who is the real thing when it comes to authentic misogynistic religious delusion -- talks about how the idea of the separation of church and state, as articulated by President Kennedy, made him want to "throw up," he was channeling the late Richard John Neuhaus. He even uses Neuhaus' pet catch phrase "the naked public square" to describe religion being "driven" from public life by "radical secularists" intent on using colleges to brainwash kids into pro-abortion, gay-hugging liberalism.

When Gingrich, Romney and Santorum defined President Obama's reasonable attempt to make insurance companies pay for women's access to contraception as being "anti-religious" and "anti-religious freedom" they were channeling Professor Robert George of Princeton University, Charles Colson, and my late father Francis Schaeffer and his collaborator Dr. C Everett Koop on the movie series and book that started the Protestant pro-life movement called "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?".

When all the Republican candidates referred to "life beginning" at conception and backed many anti-abortion initiatives (like forcing women to have ultrasounds before gaining access to abortion) they were channeling Dr. C Everett Koop as well as Charles Colson, Nixon's hatchet man and born-again convert to far right religious homophobic and anti-woman politics.

But reading media commentaries and watching the talking heads on TV you would never know that the radical right's takeover of the Republican Party has its roots in the work and writing of a few men and women who became the enablers of a radical religious ideology that they made respectable in far right circles. You'd also never know that places like Princeton University are providing intellectual "respectability" to radical far right theocrats like Robert George or that "mainstream" evangelicals like the editors of Christianity Today magazine regard far right homophobe Colson as a hero.

Professor of Jurisprudence Robert George, and former McCain adviser, is an antiabortion, anti-Obama, anti-gay-rights, and anti-stem-cell-research "pro-family" activist, and he has found ways to effectively carry on the loony Reconstructionist/Theonomist (put America "back" on Biblical law aka "natural law) crusade started by some far right fundamentalists in the 1970s. (I explain who these "Reconstructionists" were in my book Sex, Mom and God.)

George's brainchild: the "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience" was published in 2009 as an anti-Obama manifesto, and many Evangelical leaders signed on. It was written as a direct reaction to the Obama presidency. It was a trap that launched a fishing expedition to find any issue that might gain traction with which to beat the president in 2012. That could have been gay rights, or stem cell research. It turned out to be contraception.

The "Manhattan Declaration" reads:

We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life actnor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's.

In case you've never heard of George, he's been a one-man "brain trust" for the Religious Right and the far right of the Republican Party as well as for the ultraconservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church. Here's how the New York Times introduced him to its readers:

"Robert George] has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy [the natural law theory] into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as "one of the biggest brains in America," or, on one broadcast, "Superman of the Earth." Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research.Newt Gingrich called him "an important and growing influence" on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage. "If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy," the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, "its leaders probably meet in George's kitchen."

I met George when we were both on a panel discussion entitled "Campaign '08: Race, Gender, and Religion" at Princeton University. We butted heads over what he'd been mischaracterizing as presidential candidate Obama's "pro-abortion" position.

At the time we met on that (six-person) panel, George was one of McCain's key advisors and I (a former Republican) was blasting George's man for having sold out to the Religious Right, which McCain had once called "agents of intolerance."

In introducing myself to the Princeton audience, I mentioned that McCain had written a glowing endorsement for one of my several books on military-civilian relations. I also admitted that I'd actively worked for McCain in the 2000 presidential primaries against W. Bush by appearing -- at McCain advisor Mark Salter's oft-repeated urgent request -- on several religious and other conservative talk shows (for instance, on Ollie North's top-rated talk show) on McCain's behalf. (In those days McCain was being attacked by the likes of Religious Right leader James Dobson for not being "pro-life" enough.)

George's trap for the president, the "Manhattan Declaration," was instantly signed by more than 150 American "mainstream" (mostly Evangelical) conservative religious leaders. They joined to "affirm support for traditional marriage" and to advocate civil disobedience against laws contradicting the signers' religious beliefs about marriage and/or the "life issues." The drafting committee included Evangelical far right leader Charles Colson. In fact, in close contact with operatives like Karl Rove, this whole group began to pump their followers up for the battle to come for the 2012 elections.

It is not coincidence that Colson was assigned by these extremists to be the point man for the anti-Obama crusade. He put his name on a piece crafted by the Robert George group when it came to the bogus "Obama is anti-religious" charge.

To ramp the case up Colson teamed up with a Catholic bishop and wrote (or had George write for them) in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal after the "story" (a trumped up fabricated story at that) about Obama's "anti-religious" stance broke. Then throwing red meat to the faithful, Chuck Colson wrote in an open letter to his fellow believers on Wednesday (Feb. 8) where he compared the administration birth control mandates to policies enacted in Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.

In the WSJ op-ed Colson and the Catholic bishop blew their cover, they cited their own creation as proof that they had grassroots support when of course (like the Tea Party) they had had their "issue" created top down. they write:

At this critical moment, Americans of every faith, as guardians of their own freedom, must, in the words of the First Amendment, "petition the government for the redress of grievances." That's why over the past two years more than 500,000 people have signed the "Manhattan Declaration" in defense of religious liberty. They believe, as do we, that under no circumstances should people of faith violate their consciences and discard their most cherished religious beliefs in order to comply with a gravely unjust law.

It was a neat trick: Write a declaration, get 150 leaders to sign it then use Fox News etc to promote it "grass roots" then come back and use the fact that it's been signed off on by the pro-life movement as "proof" that the president is out of step with religious freedom!

There are a number of leading American extremist "conservative" Roman Catholics, like Professor George, who are part of a strange, informal, anti-contraceptive, anti-abortion alliance that Santorum has drawn his ideas from. One such far right Roman Catholic ideologue wrote a book calling on Christians to join Muslims in a jihad against the secular West.

In Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War (Ignatius Press, 1996) my old friend Peter Kreeft called for "ecumenical Jihad." Kreeft's was not a plea for blowing people up. He was calling for winning elections and, failing that, for undermining the election results when they are judged "wrong" by religious people.

Kreeft called for an alliance of fundamentalist Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, to prosecute a culture war against what he called the "demoniacal Western cultural elite." The book was (tellingly) dedicated to several key far right leaders: e.g., Chuck Colson, Michael Medved and (of course) the reactionary's reactionary, Richard John Neuhaus.

The late Roman Catholic convert priest Richard John Neuhaus and I often talked when Neuhaus was starting his far right First Things journal. I contributed several articles to some of the early issues of First Things. (This was before I left the religious right, the Republican Party and my evangelical background.)

According to what Neuhaus told me back then First Things was supposed to be the pro-life/Catholic version of the Norman Podhoretz's Commentary magazine. Podhoretz who, at first, was friendly with Neuhaus broke with him over Neuhaus's extremist anti-abortion -- and extremist anti-American - views. This was after Neuhaus started openly describing the U.S. government as an illegitimate "regime." As the Washington Post noted:

Father Neuhaus played a central role in forging an alliance between evangelical Protestants and Catholics and in bringing conservative Christians into the Republican conservative coalition in the 1980s and 1990s. During that same period, he began an institute and published a journal, First Things, that reflected his interests in religion and public policy. Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said Father Neuhaus was a guiding force in the creation of faith-based initiatives -- private religious groups given government funding to carry out social policy -- that have become identified with President Bush's White House. Father Neuhaus set the groundwork for the idea in two books, To Empower People written with Peter Berger, and Christian Faith and Public Policy (both 1977).

As I Alexander F. Remington noted in the Washington Post on January 9, 2009, in 2005, Time magazine named Father Neuhaus one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals in America.

"Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed," Father Neuhaus once wrote. It was a stance that was at times too rigid for many conservatives. After President Bill Clinton vetoed in 1996 a ban on a procedure critics call partial-birth abortion, Father Neuhaus said, "We are at a point at which millions of conscientious American citizens are reflecting upon whether this is a legitimate regime." That same year, he sponsored a symposium on "The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics."

Colson and Neuhaus were the moving force behind the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" initiative/manifesto which called for a (non-violent) holy war against secularism. And that "initiative" took the Far Right Reconstructionist ideas of Rushdoony, dropped the most inflammatory rhetoric, and made them "mainstream," thus moving the so-called mainstream Evangelical enterprise to the far (anti-government) right.

The groups Kreeft, Colson and Neuhaus had in mind to "bring together" were alienated Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews and conservative Roman Catholics, wallowing in their sense of victimhood, to which Kreeft added Muslims. Of course the ultra-conservative Kreeft and extremist Neuhaus were against contraception and equated it with abortion. Thus the logic of their argument was that of my fathers' too: the United States Government was enabling murder, was disparaged as a "regime" that needed to be overthrown.

These neo-conservative/Roman Catholic "intellectuals" helped set the stage for the anti-contraception Quiverfull Movement and for the Patriarchy Movement, giving a gloss of intellectual respectability and aid and comfort to what were nothing more than oppressive ideas rooted in an anti-Constitutional theocratic far right wish list for changes that were supposed to roll back the parts of the democratic processes - say Roe v. Wade, women's rights and gay rights -- that far right Catholics and Protestants didn't approve of.

People like Professor George with his "Manhattan Declaration" are just carrying on where Kreeft, Colson and Neuhaus left off. And the climate these "thinkers" have contributed to what I'll call the ideological background noise accompanying the rise of the rube white hate fringe/militia movement and lone wolf government-haters and conspiracy theorists who, of course, have probably never heard of anyone like Neuhaus or Professor George nor read their work.

Nevertheless, there is a connection between people like Neuhaus and the loony violent right's reaction to the election of President Obama which exacerbated the right's virulent mistrust of our government. It's a question of legitimacy and illegitimacy. What the Religious Right, including the Religious Right's intellectuals did, was contribute to a climate where the very legitimacy of our government is questioned. The Evangelicals may have begun by only questioning Roe and Bolton, gay rights, and school prayer rulings.

To the extent that Santorum and the rest of the Republican field this year have alienated most Americans we can thank the "intellectual" enablers of off-the-wall right wing radicalism. Just how crazy are these people? How radical are they?

To plumb the depths of the tortured "reasoning" behind the Roman Catholic Bishop's anti-contraception movement, consider the writing of Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. She's a heroine to today's leading conservative Roman Catholics including to Cardinal Dolan (who is close to Robert George and Colson) and the Vatican. She wrote passionately in defense of the papal prohibition of contraception:

In considering an action, we need always to judge several things about ourselves. First: is the sort of act we contemplate doing something that it's all right to do? Second: are our further or surrounding intentions all right? Third: is the spirit in which we do it all right? Contraceptive intercourse fails on the first count; and to intend such an act is not to intend a marriage act at all, whether or no we're married. An act of ordinary intercourse in marriage at an infertile time, though, is a perfectly ordinary act of married intercourse, and it will be bad, if it is bad, only on the second or third counts.If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here--not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can't be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example.If you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.It's this that makes the division between straightforward fornication or adultery and the wickedness of the sins against nature and of contraceptive intercourse. Hence contraceptive intercourse within marriage is a graver offence against chastity than is straightforward fornication or adultery. (G. E. M. Anscombe, "Contraception and Chastity" (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1975).

Here is how Robert George lauded this insane "argument" in his gushing Anscombe obituary:

In 1968, when much of the rest of the Catholic intellectual world reacted with shock and anger to Pope Paul VI's reaffirmation of Catholic teaching regarding the immorality of contraception, the Geach-Anscombe family toasted the announcement with champagne. Her defense of the teaching in the essay "Contraception and Chastity" is an all-too-rare example of rigorous philosophical argumentation on matters of sexual ethics. Catholics who demand the liberalization of their Church's teachings have yet to come to terms with Anscombe's arguments. Robert George, "Elizabeth Anscombe, R.I.P.: One of the 20th Century's Most Remarkable Women," National Review, February 3-4, 2001.

It was the Evangelicals and Roman Catholics like my father, Neuhaus, George and Kreeft who first released the poison of suspicion against our government into the air in its post-70s radical incarnation. And today the more educated leaders of the far right may scorn their rube gun-toting blue collar counterparts, but (post-Roe) at root they have the same view of the U.S. government.

And now with Romney (the fake), Santorum (the true believer), and Gingrich (the inscrutably weird) doing all but quoting these religious leaders openly and verbatim, and with the ultra-conservative Roman Catholic bishops parroting their mentor Robert George in anti-Obama rhetoric and with Romney having to pretend that he agrees... the Republican Party is now firmly in the hands of people like George who believe that a woman like Anscombe was brave and right to describe contraception as: "contraceptive intercourse within marriage is a graver offence against chastity than is straightforward fornication or adultery." And George and Colson and company are still at it trying to keep the myth alive that President Obama is anti-religion.

The Republicans will lose because the American people are not as crazy as the sublimely wacky religious fanatic "intellectuals" who's fingerprints are all over the imploding Republican Party.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer launching a speaking tour in April called "Theocracy or Democracy." His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway