The Personalist Project

Lately I've seen a lot of the term sanctimony.  Over at Ricochet, a site dedicated to "center/right" conversation, I've been involved in a number of knock-down, drag-out debates about same sex marriage, wherein I am routinely dubbed "sanctimonious" for defending the permanent, pro-creative bond of a man and woman in marriage as indispensable to the common good.

The other day a facebook friend (Colin, how could you?) called Rick Santorum "a sanctimonious toad."  I can't understand that.  Is he deemed sanctimonious for defending life and marriage?  I don't see him preening.  To me his attitude toward his own family life is one of manifest gratitude, not smugness. 

Is defending the objectivity of moral values in and of itself sanctimonious?

I'm afraid we are taking cues from relativists.  We are too concerned about coming across as prudish, uptight, sanctimonious.  As a result, we don't fight openly for imperiled moral values.  We don't even defend those who do.  We pile on with the liberals assaults and make ourselves enables of our own societal undoing.

Comments (15)


#1, Jan 10, 2012 1:44pm

While I personally agree with Mr. Santorum's views on marriage and the importance of family life, there's something about his presentation that comes across as negative. I'm not sure what it is -- it might be demeanor, body language, or just subtle facial expressions.

Contrast (it's not a fair comparison, to be sure) with when Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa spoke about these issues. Or soon-to-be Cardinal Archbishop Dolan. They radiate joy and peace. Mr. Santorum instead simply seems angry. While that anger may be justified, considering the cesspool the culture has sunked into, it isn't attractive and might be while people perceive him as "sanctimonous."

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jan 10, 2012 1:49pm

I don't disagree that he lacks grace and finesse in his approach.  But I don't think the comparison with the ones you mention is quite fair (as you say), since they are religious figures, speaking as such.  They are expected and allowed to talk about moral questions.  They aren't mocked and savaged when they do.

And, as I said, I get called sanctimonious often.  I don't think it's because I am sanctimonious.  I think it's because I am defending the objectivity of  moral values.  

And I think those of us who care about the objectivity of moral values should be staunchly behind anyone willing to stand for them in the public arena.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jan 10, 2012 1:52pm

Is there any other politician out there willing to make the public case for the sanctity of life and family as clearly and often as Santorum has? 

When we criticize his style as we do, instead of getting behind him, aren't we making it harder for him?


#4, Jan 10, 2012 1:59pm

Well, name-calling is the safest response for those who disagree with someone's views but are unable to argumentatively respond to the substance of someone's postition, so we shouldn't be surprised to see anyone defending moral values get savaged.

You see the same thing with accusations of homophobia against anyone speaking against same-sex marriage. There's no engagement on the issue of marriage itself -- only a drumbeat of "gay-hating" that drowns out all the rest.

Perhaps the best solution is to agree and amplify. Accept the label, but take it where you want to go. "We're talking about sanctity here -- these are sacred things, as marriage and family are the very foundation of our culture and society, and they're well worth defending. Witness: the cultural decay we've experienced since the Sexual Revolution.

"If all my opponents can do in response is call me names, well, it merely underlines the fact that I am speaking the truth and even though it is an inconvenient truth and an uncomfortable truth, that doesn't not make it true."


#5, Jan 10, 2012 2:07pm

Mr. Santorum may be making the public case for marriage and the family, but I'd say he isn't doing it effectively, precisely because of his style: he lacks love in his delivery. And without love... 1 Cor 13:1-3.

You're correct that the comparison to religious figures is partly unfair, but I can think of no other public figures who speak in favor of marriage and family eloquently and with charity. It is a sad commentary on the quality of our politicians today, but I do not find it surprising.

Imagine if Mr. Santorum could display more human warmth and emotion as he spoke about marriage and family. If he spoke calmly and from the heart, instead of seemingly seething with rage (not say that his anger is misplaced, just that it is getting in the way of his message to many who are listening). How much more effective would his message be?

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jan 10, 2012 5:01pm

I guess what I see is something like this:

There's a battle with enormous stakes to be faught.  Santorum says, "Ok, I'll do it," and jumps into the ring, where he gets punched and bloodied.  And then we stand on the sidelines and complain about his fighting style.

Seems to me all unfitting.  He's fighting for us.  


#7, Jan 10, 2012 7:02pm

True. I would disagree with your facebook friend's characterization of Mr. Santorum. While Mr. Santorum has his flaws, he is fighting the good fight, a fight that too few even bother fighting at all. It is doubtless much easier to kowtow to the cultural zeitgeist, and it takes a noble sort of courage to speak truth on the national stage he's on.

It is also far, far easier to critique and nitpick from the sidelines than it is to actually go out there and do, and I am sure that what Mr. Santorum is doing is far, far more difficult to actually do than it looks. The few times I have attempted to (on a vastly smaller scale) have met with derision and ridicule, so I can't imagine what he faces on a day-to-date basis (e.g. try googling his last name).


#8, Jan 10, 2012 8:36pm

I agree that a key problem is that social conservatives are insecure. We cannot agree whether we should argue that in favor of morality because:

  1. It is a utilitarian good (such as "best environment to raise kids")
  2. There is some Natural Law that really is logically self evident, and so others should rationally follow it (the Robert George approach)
  3. Tradition got us this far, and we should not abandon it
  4. G-d, the source of all morality, has said so

For my part, I ascribe to 4. But when I say so, I cannot really have a productive conversation about morality with an atheist. I am willing to live with that: I don't care to compromise on what I think is right, and I certainly don't want to avoid the core issue. So people trying to convince others usually end up with some combination of 1-3.  And as Katievs has seen, 1-3 are not easy to defend.


#9, Jan 11, 2012 8:14pm

We disable ourselves when we go on the defensive in defense of our values.  We have nothing to be defensive about.  We are told that we are going against the zeitgeist, but what of it?  Besides, that zeitgeist reflects at best only the values of what Marx would call the intelligentsia.

The intelligentsia, whether atheists or not, seem to believe that they themselves are not asserting transcendental values.  They are.  They are claiming to assert the morality of individual rights and individual dignity created by the Bible and politicized by Dissenting Christians in the 17th century.  They are taking our values, denying the legitimacy of those values, and yet demanding that we approve of the way they have interpreted those same notions of individual rights.  In doing so, they don’t seem to understand that they are eating their own seed corn. 



Katie van Schaijik

#10, Jan 11, 2012 8:23pm

Chana , Jan. 11 at 8:14pm

We disable ourselves when we go on the defensive in defense of our values. 

I agree.  But it's hard not to, (don't you find?).  The Pope has noted that we live in a "dictatorship of relativism".  One of its effects is that those who believe in the objectivity of moral values are treated as a menace.



#11, Jan 11, 2012 8:25pm

This is a rowsing comment - can you give a concrete example of where they start with our values, then mutate them in this way?


#12, Jan 11, 2012 8:41pm

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 11 at 8:23pm

 The Pope has noted that we live in a "dictatorship of relativism".  One of its effects is that those who believe in the objectivity of moral values are treated as a menace.


Yes we are demonized  It amounts to tyranny by the relativists.  Have you noticed, however, that they seem to tolerate moral assertions among their favored "non-western" peoples?  Their condemnations are a very selectively targetted tool. 

When faced with such tyranny, however, we have little to lose by asserting our beliefs in moral values.  They will demonize us one way or another.  I think that is one lesson I learned from Ronald Reagan.  


#13, Jan 11, 2012 10:14pm

You mean just say "Because G-d said so"?

Or do you mean trying to defend morality on utilitarian or historical grounds?

I find the former not defensive at all - it is an open expression, and it leaves the other side entirely at a loss. But the latter is a battleground on which they have the advantage.

Teresa Manidis

#14, Jan 12, 2012 5:01pm


No one who knows you personally (no pun intended) could call you sanctimonious.  Your determinedness is one of your greatest qualities.  I like your analogy of Santorum jumping into the ring to fight the 'good fight,' only to have the 'good' people critique his boxing style.  I have seen Santorum speak many times in person (he is from our neck of the woods, so to speak) and have always found him relaxed and eloquent - perhaps the national spotlight (not to mention attacks from all quarters?) has put him on his guard?  In either case, you are right; the issues are too big for us to nit-pick and say 'I-don't-like-his-tie-his-tone-was-too-defensive-can-you-believe-he-stuttered-he-didn't-smile-enough-he-smiled-too-much' - the poor guy is finding out he truly seems damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, and the least we can do (who claim to be pro-family) is not throw out the baby with the bath water

Katie van Schaijik

#15, Jan 12, 2012 5:20pm

Chana , Jan. 11 at 8:41pm

When faced with such tyranny, however, we have little to lose by asserting our beliefs in moral values.  They will demonize us one way or another.  I think that is one lesson I learned from Ronald Reagan.  

Yes, me too!

Not long ago I read excerpts from the memoirs of Deitrich von Hildebrand. He was a professor of philosophy in Munich during the 1920s, and began railing forcefully against the absolute evil of Naziism long before many of his friends and family and colleagues recognized it for what it was.  So conscious was DvH of it, though, that he left his presitigious post and his magnificent mansion as soon as HItler came to power.  He would not live in a country run by a criminal.  He went to Vienna and founded an anti-Nazi journal.  He escaped to Switzerland the day of the Anschluss. 

It was his exceptional moral clarity and heroism in asserting Truth that saved him and many, many around him.

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