Americans largely fear the bleed over from religion to politics. We want to see religious values infuse governmental action in some cases -- but in many cases, we don't (contraception, for example). We want to know that our leaders care about the Creator because at root, Americans believe that our rights are God-given, rather than state-granted. But we also want to make sure that religious leaders don't use the levers of government to pursue their own ends. We aren't interested in the state policing our freedoms rather than protecting our rights. "We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion," wrote John Adams, a religious man. "Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
So where does this leave Santorum? It leaves him out in the cold, unless he can find a way to better articulate the socially conservative position. He's a politician, not a preacher. He needs to stop citing religious belief as the source of government values and start citing the social truths that religious beliefs describe. Unwed motherhood is a moral issue, but it's a secular, societal issue, too -- which is why Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former Democrat senator from New York, could make the case against it. Santorum prefers to stay on the moral plane rather than the social one.
That's understandable, and it's even laudable from religious leaders, many of whom have shirked their duty to instill ethics and values into their followers. But it is not the job of the government to instill those values. Morals and values matter from our politicians. But we should not look to them to teach us about religion, for in doing so, they help to dissolve the bonds of conversation that tie us to one another. Social conservatism is a winning argument. But that argument must be won on the religious level outside the government and on the social level inside it.
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