PRUDEN: Old Scratch riles the unschooled

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Old Scratch has had a really good week. The Prince of Darkness has everybody talking about him. The Satanic force may not be driving the Republican primary campaign, but old Beelzebub is having a high old time confusing the natives.

Rick Santorum, who might have been a priest if he had not fallen so low as to become a politician, started the theologification of the campaign with loose talk about doctrinal issues best expounded in cathedral and chapel. But the devil talk of the past fortnight began as the work of the minions of the mainstream media who have no idea what they’re talking about. The only thing they know about the concept of Satan is something they picked up trick-or-treating.

It was one of these minions who discovered remarks Mr. Santorum made four years ago to chapel students at Ave Maria University, a small Roman Catholic school in Florida. He told the students that “Satan has his sights on the United States of America” and is “attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all the strong plants so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

The Father of Lies, he said, “has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?”

You could hear echoes of such an admonition from the pulpits of thousands of churches across America on any Sunday morning. But this is unfamiliar imagery to the ladies and gentlemen of the media, who are more comfortable taking their cues of culture and enlightenment from the gore of the movies, the trash of rap and music disguised as noise. Besides, who says pride and vanity are vices? Aren’t pride and vanity cultivated with unrelenting enthusiasm in media and politics?

The reaction to the publication of Mr. Santorum’s remarks of four years ago has been outrage. The ignorant and the unschooled scream as if Rick Santorum is trying to force alien doctrines on the weak and helpless. The reality of Satan is at the core of the teachings of most religious faith, though much ignored by modern divines. It was not always so. The Dog of Hell is real to Christians of most denominational stripes. “Whenever God erects a house of prayer,” observed Daniel Defoe, the 17th century author of “Robinson Crusoe,” “the devil always builds a chapel there. And ‘twill be found, upon examination, the latter has the larger congregation.” John Bunyan, the author of “Pilgrim’s Progress,” observed that “the devil is nimble, he can run apace; he is light afoot, he hath overtaken many. They that would have heaven must run for it.”

Lost in the racket is the fact that Mr. Santorum did not make his remarks on the stump but to a congregation of fellow Catholics, in a chapel service at a small school in a small town in southwest Florida. He was admonishing like-minded students to be good Americans and to beware of the sirens dispatched by Satan to destroy their faith. He made no demand that anyone be required to see his reality as their own.

There is no religious test for office in America, and God forbid there ever will be. But if the nation survives, there will always be a conscience test. Conscience, that wee small voice that instructs in right and wrong, good and evil, is tutored by moral and ethical codes born of knowledge and fear of God. Every president so far has acknowledged his debt to a power greater than anything in himself, understanding that if he forgot that debt there would be the devil to pay.

Rick Santorum may or may not make it to the White House; the likeliest way he’ll see the Oval Office is at the invitation of Mitt Romney. His views on sex and contraception lie far outside the American mainstream. For his own good, he ought to keep his lip buttoned until he is sure of what he wants to say (and then not say some of it). But even a presidential candidate has the right to teach dogma and creed in chapel and Sunday school. If that gets the skeptics, in Sarah Palin’s felicitous phrase, “all wee-weed up,” they’ll just have to get over it.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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