IN THE NEWS: Santorum and Satan

We’ve argued here before that anyone who wants to understand Fundamentalist America should keep an eye on Rick Santorum.  During this year’s Republican presidential primaries, Santorum keeps singing in the key of Fundamentalism.

Recently, Santorum attracted criticism for some comments in 2008 about the dangers posed to Americans by none other than Satan himself.  The Drudge Report, for instance, posted a snarky expose of Santorum’s Satan comments.

 

However, as David Kuo and Patton Dodd pointed out in the Washington Post, Santorum’s notion of a literal devil is shared by the overwhelming majority of Americans.  They cite a 2007 Gallup poll in which 70% of respondents agreed that Satan was real.

Once again, as with other Fundamentalist notions such as a young earth, non-Fundamentalist Americans might be shocked and dismayed by this level of popular belief.  But lots of the usual critiques don’t really fit.  Please don’t misunderstand: this is not a defense of Rick Santorum’s politics or even of his Satan speech.  As Kuo and Dodd argue, there is plenty to disagree with in Santorum’s 2008 speech as with his politics in general.  But calling Santorum’s evocation of Satan “out of touch,” “ignorant,” “medieval,” or any of the other standard epithets only reveals the ignorance of the accuser.  The existence of a literal, threatening, scheming, embodied Satan is one that most Americans these days share.  More than that, it is a belief that billions of humans in different cultures and different eras have held.  We certainly don’t need to believe it.  But to dismiss it out of hand reveals an embarrassing ignorance of not only Fundamentalist America, but of the nature of humanity more broadly.

As Kuo and Dodd conclude:

[Santorum’s] acknowledgment of embodied evil—particularly in a room filled with his fellow believers—was completely un-extraordinary. What’s extraordinary is the current fainting couch response from American pundits left and right.

 

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