Santorum’s all froth and no substance

Rick Santorum has done it again, getting into trouble while trying to pandering to his base. Here’s what he had to say on the subject of rape and abortion:

Asked by CNN’s Piers Morgan what he would do if his own daughter approached him, begging for an abortion after having been raped, Santorum explained that he would counsel her to “accept this horribly created” baby, because it was still a gift from God, even if given in a “broken” way.

“Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. And this is not an easy choice, I understand that. As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or she doesn’t, it will always be her child, and she will always know that,” Santorum said.

“And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life we have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible, but nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation and I would make the argument that that is making the best.”

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are upset that he seems to be saying that rape’s a gift from God.

Now, I can accept the explanation that he isn’t saying it’s a gift to be raped, but is referring to the child as a gift. I can accept that he believes that life begins at conception, and that it would be murder to abort a foetus – I don’t agree, but I accept that he thinks that. I can even accept (with a grudging respect for his consistency) that if that’s the case, the circumstances of the pregnancy make no difference to the morality or otherwise of abortion.

What bothers me is that once again, he’s said something that sounds absolutely vile, but gives him just enough wiggle room for plausible deniability among those who are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt – the sort of people who’d even consider voting for him. Remember how he compared (or possibly didn’t) gay marriage to bestiality? The same thing is going on here.

Personally, I think this sort of weaselling is pretty damning, as it suggests Santorum is either deeply cynical or both a terrible communicator and pretty stupid not to realise how he was coming across. If he’s that stupid and bad at communicating, it should rule him out of the presidential race. If he’s that nasty and cynical, it should rule him out of membership of the human race.

But the reason I’m discussing this is that it’s a rare chance to see what flowery religious language actually means in the real world. It’s easy to glibly call children gifts from God, but in this example, that imagery is laid bare. If Santorum is saying this as an empty, meaningless platitude, as in “any time a life is created it’s like a gift”, then it’s irrelevant and everyone would have to agree that it has no place in rational discussion. If, on the other hand, he truly means that there is a God who would actually give such a “gift”, what does that say about God?

A God who would actually give such a “gift” is, if not implicated in the rape, at the very least guilty of making a woman’s ordeal infinitely worse by forcing her (because according to Santorum, He’ll condemn her to hell if she has an abortion) to carry her rapist’s child. Any good God who had the power to intervene in the world would surely do the opposite, if anything, and if Santorum thinks otherwise, either his theology or his moral compass (possibly both) is screwed up beyond belief.

I’ll give God and Santorum the benefit of the doubt, and assume that neither are actually evil – God’s just unable to do anything about it, and Rick’s prone to platitudinous rambling. But that “best case” would cast serious doubt on the value of this kind of imagery, and still mean that Santorum’s argument falls apart in tiny pieces when you actually examine it.

However you look at it, it doesn’t make “Frothy” Santorum look very presidential.

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

3 responses to “Santorum’s all froth and no substance”

  1. unklee says :


    I am Australian looking in from outside, I think I would feel scared if ANY of the Republican candidates win the Presidency, and Santorum would not be my choice as the best of a dangerous lot. Nevertheless, I think you are unfair.

    If, for some reason, a couple first met at one of their parents’ funeral, fell in love and were happily married, I can imagine one of them saying: “We met each other in a terrible way, but it has nevertheless been a gift from God.” I think no-one would be offended by that. And that isn’t all that different from the Santorum case, is it?

    There is a christian teaching (Romans 8:28): “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. It doesn’t say all things will be good, but that God will bring some good out of everything. It is realistic (s**t happens) but hopeful (God > s**t).

    There are many other things to criticise Santorum over, but I don’t agree with you here. Just sayin’. Best wishes.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      It is very, very different. We all die, so funerals are bound to happen, and meeting someone and connecting with them can reasonably be considered an unqualified good, whatever the circumstances. Compare and contrast with a rape, which definitely isn’t bound to happen, and a woman finding herself pregnant with her rapist’s child, which most rape victims (there may be a few exceptions) would regard as a traumatic and painful reminder of her ordeal. Would you consider any unwanted child as a gift, let alone the child of your rapist?

      I’m afraid I regard Romans 8:28 as another of those things that might be better if they were empty platitudes. It might just be like saying “it’ll work out for the best”, which is bland but innoffensive. But if God’s really greater than all those terrible things in any meaningful sense, then He can make sure they don’t happen, so anything bad that happens is down to Him, either by commission or omission.

  2. unklee says :

    “It is very, very different.”
    Of course it is different in all sorts of ways, but I don’t think different in the way we are discussing here. But I guess I won’t argue further, as I have no reason to continue to defend a Republican Presidential candidate!

    “But if God’s really greater than all those terrible things in any meaningful sense, then He can make sure they don’t happen, so anything bad that happens is down to Him, either by commission or omission.”
    This statement is only true if you tacitly assume that you know God’s aims and motives, and you understand all the possible ramifications. Once we agree that neither of us understand all this, then our statements have to be a little more circumspect. This gets us onto matters we have discussed elsewhere so I won’t proceed further, just point out the assumption.


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