With Republican presidential front-runner Rick Santorum, it's hard to decide what is more alarming, his know-nothingism or his dishonesty. In recent days, he has put on displays of both, decrying President Barack Obama's advocacy for higher learning and distorting John F. Kennedy's 1960 appeal for religious tolerance.
Like many on the Right, Santorum also selectively disregards the founding principles of the United States, which include government neutrality on religion. In one speech, Santorum said he "almost threw up" when reading Kennedy's reiteration of that principle more than a half century ago when JFK was seeking to become the first Catholic president.
Instead of embracing Kennedy's support for the separation of church and state, which has spared America much of the religious violence that has marred other parts of the world, Santorum espouses a chip-on-the-shoulder notion that by not embracing the Bible as a governing philosophy the government is picking on fundamentalist Christians.
Of course, we've seen a version of this religious "victimhood" before, when Fox News and other right-wing media outlets concocted the absurd notion of a "War on Christmas" despite the annual extravagance of a month-long celebration in honor of the mythological birth of the baby Jesus, ending in the nation's only official religious holiday.
The reality is that Americans of all religious views -- while out buying their groceries or riding in elevators -- have no choice but to listen to Christmas carols. They watch their cities decked out in red-and-green Christmas colors. To state the obvious, there is no comparable celebration for Yom Kippur or Ramadan.
But fundamentalist Christians still detect a "war" in the renaming of public-school "Christmas concerts" as "winter concerts" and similar concessions to the fact that America also is home to Jews, Muslims, atheists and people of other religious persuasions.
What Santorum is now doing on the campaign trail is retrofitting the "war on Christmas" into a more general "war on religion." In recent speeches, he has accused President Obama of following a "phony theology," i.e., "not a theology based on the Bible."
Santorum's argument plays on two levels -- first, raising fresh doubts that Obama is a real Christian (when many right-wing Christians still insist that he's a Muslim) and second, maintaining that Obama's promotion of environmentalism is somehow an assault on Christianity.
Santorum wants Americans to see legislation aimed at protecting the Earth and Nature as a violation of the Bible's granting Man dominion over the planet, as if God bestowed on Man the right to plunder the Earth to the point of making it uninhabitable for future generations.
Some of Santorum's reckless views on the environment fit with the fundamentalist Christian notion that the End Times are near and thus the Earth's resources can be used without regard to the future. (Note to the campaign press: before Santorum becomes the U.S. president, you might want to ask about his views on the End Times.)
No College For You
Santorum is contemptuous, too, of Obama's appeals to America's youth to seek higher education so they can fill the high-tech jobs of the 21st Century. Obama has asked "every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training."
But Santorum sees in that a dark conspiracy to indoctrinate American youth away from "faith" as well as an example of Obama's elitism. Santorum told one campaign crowd, "President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!"
In that advice from Obama about higher education, the former Pennsylvania senator detected a slight against "good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to tests that aren't taught by some liberal college professor."
Santorum then advocated that Americans seek out other alternatives for upgrading their skills. "There's technical schools, there's additional training, vocational training," he said, although that would seem to be no different than Obama's frequent touting of junior colleges that partner with companies on job training.
Except that when Obama makes these appeals -- like when he addresses students at the start of the school year and urges them to do their homework -- his agenda must be to brainwash the children into some atheistic dystopia where true believers are hunted down by black helicopters and delivered to re-education camps.