Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was already an extremist, not to mention not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, before he offered up his opinion on abortion and rape the other day. But I'm sure that even as he scrambles to contain the damage from his remarks, he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He expressed an opinion that is, among many millions of religious Americans, totally mundane: that God loves every baby and blastocyst, and therefore even a pregnancy that results from rape is good in His eyes. This episode reveals a couple of important things that are worth reiterating before we move on to the next campaign controversy, about both abortion and religion.
Folks like Mourdock whose position on abortion is that the only reason it should be allowed is if the pregnant woman is going to die any moment without it—and there are lots of them, including 15 Republican Senate candidates—at least have a position that is consistent with the principle they claim to believe in, which is that every life is precious. The now-"moderate" position on abortion, the one that Mitt Romney has—that there should also be exceptions for rape and incest—makes sense only if you think that the life of the fetus is not really the point, but what matters is the virtue of the woman. If she was raped, then her sexual purity is intact, and she can have the abortion. If, on the other hand, she had sex voluntarily and got pregnant, then she can't have one. Only if the woman can demonstrate (to men, by the way) that she isn't some kind of slut who thinks she can have sex whenever she wants, can she then decide whether to carry her pregnancy to term. The most forthright statement of this position was probably the South Dakota Republican legislator who allowed that there was one circumstance under which he'd approve of an abortion, which Digby labeled the "sodomized virgin exception." Asked to describe the situation in which an abortion could be allowed, he said, "A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated." You'll notice that it's not only necessary for her to be a virgin, but also for her to be planning on saving that virginity, so even her thoughts are pure.
Whatever Richard Mourdock might believe in his heart about sluts and virgins, he doesn't have to talk about it because his position is consistent: a life is a life no matter what. Yet when he said that carrying your rapist's baby is God's will, people freaked out. Perhaps that's because, like many religious beliefs, when this one is exposed to the light of day, it looks shocking to so many people. In his later clarification, Mourdock revealed that—again, like millions of religious people—he grapples with the theodicy problem by simply deciding that bad things like rapes are not God's doing, while good things like babies are. "I don't think God wants rape," he said. "I don't think he wants that at all, because rape is evil." So how does this work then? God was totally taken by surprise when you got raped, but now he's going to make it better by blessing you with your rapist's baby?
To my religious friends, I have to say: stuff like this is why it's so hard for those of us who don't believe in God to be "respectful" of religious beliefs. When we see someone on the news say, "I just thank God that we survived that tornado," we can't help but reply, "Really? God just killed twenty of your neighbors and destroyed your house, and you're thanking Him just because he didn't kill you too?" When we see politicians say that the Bible is the word of God and everything in it is true, yet we know they would never try to justify all the things the Bible sanctions, like slavery, genocide, and yes, rape, we get very unsettled when religious beliefs become the driving force behind changes in the law.
Religion offers a great many things to people, none more compelling than the promise of immortality. But belief poses some problems for anyone capable of rational thought, and the persistence of evil and suffering is high on the list. You might say that there are more and less sophisticated ways to think about that problem, and even though the way so many people choose is pretty much the least thoughtful way to handle the cognitive dissonance (God is good, therefore bad things aren't God's fault even though he's omnipotent), there are learned theologians who come up with answers far more complex and perhaps more satisfying. The problem is that those theologians aren't the ones making our laws. People like Richard Mourdock are. The people most eager to increase the role of religion in lawmaking are those with the most juvenile religious views.