Stewardship, Santorum, and Phony Theology

Literary critic James Wood has an interesting post up on the New Yorker's website this morning. In it, he writes that Rick Santorum's environmental stance is "coherent only within a theological eschatology" that is distinctively Protestant in nature; to Wood, Santorum sounds less like a 21st-century Catholic than "like an eighteenth-century American Puritan." Here's a taste:

So when Santorum says that we must be good stewards of the earth, there is religious zealotry behind the sweet words. He is proposing, in effect, that the earth is dispensable but that our souls are not; that we will all outlive the earth, whether in heaven or hell. The point is not that he is elevating man above the earth; it is that he is separating man and earth. If President Obama really does elevate earth over man (accepting Santorums absurd premise for a moment), then at least he believes in keeping man and earth together. Santorums brand of elevation involves severing man from mans earthly existence, which is why it is coherent only within a theological eschatology (a theology of the last days). And he may well believe that man cannot actually destroy the earth through such violence as global warming, for the perfectly orthodox theological reason that the earth will come to an end (or be renewed) only when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. In other words, global warming cant exist because it is not in Gods providential plan: the Lord will decide when the earth expires. This is Santorums theology, phony or otherwise.

Anthony Domestico is Chair of the Literature Department at Purchase College, and a frequent contributor to Commonweal. His book Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period is available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

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