On Mourdock’s God’s Gift

[Updated to include Mr. Mourdock’s clarification re: his remark.]

I’ve been thinking about Mourdock’s remark that rape is–to quote my writer-friend Stefanie Kalem–“just some kind of unfortunate wrapping paper that the gift of life comes in sometimes.” He shared his account of his personal struggle and his epiphany at the Indiana Senate debate on Tuesday:

“’I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,’ Mourdock said at the debate, explaining his position that women who are raped should not have the right to an abortion. ‘And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.'”

Once the rage cleared (and it took some time) I got interested. I work on the early modern period, so I’m never not steeped in the complex torsions Christian thinking requires (especially when it becomes necessary to denounce Lutheranism in favor of Zwinglianism and some aspects of Calvinism). And it seems to me that Mourdock deserves some credit for being—at first glance—internally consistent. I’m not alone. Many people have noted this, and say Mourdock’s position “makes sense,” and if you take issue with it, it’s because you disagree with his religion. The logic is right if you agree with his premises. This is nonsense, and it’s dangerous nonsense, because it gives people like Mr. Mourdock credit for being logical where they are in fact being extremely sloppy. The (theo)logic breaks down on its own terms when you do it the favor of giving it a second look:

  1. If you believe life begins at conception—that an egg and sperm are a human being—then you can allow no exceptions: not for rape, not for incest, not for the 9-year-old in Brazil who got pregnant with twins after her stepfather raped her, and was in danger of dying because her body couldn’t handle it. So far, logic and Mr. Mourdock are in agreement.
  2. He clarified thusly after the debate, horrified that his remarks had been taken to mean that God pre-ordained rape: “What I said is that God creates life.” But here’s the thing: if life is in God’s plan, being divinely created (and intended) in the 9-year-old’s body while her father rapes her, so is the 9-year-old’s death when her body gives out. Life and death are not separable concepts. Ask anyone who’s worked in a maternity ward. Ask anyone who’s worked in a church.
  3. If that’s your logic, you need to take your belief in God’s plan all the way. God’s plan is not purely creative, however sunnily Mr. Mourdock’s portrayal of it in #2. The context in which he mentions God’s creation is, inescapably, rape; suffering and adversity are important aspects of Christian faith. Even if your branch of Christianity holds that death is the result of the Fall, and entirely attributable to human sin, you also believe A) that death is a step toward everlasting life and B) that death, as experienced by humans, is part of God’s plan. If a loved one dies, the line is not that God was unjust or even that we are being punished, but rather these things are sent to try us. It is part of God’s plan.
  4. We’ve established that Mr. Mourdock is particularly interested in God’s plan as it applies to life, reproduction, and (as I’ve shown in #3) death, yet he seems singularly uninterested in legislating other violations of that divine plan. What of erectile dysfunction? Infertility? God doesn’t think you should have children. Treatment should be outlawed. Cancer? Disease? It’s in God’s plan–after all, death brings you that much closer to everlasting life. Abolish chemotherapy. For every medical intervention that deals with the foregoing subjects, the question must be asked: why, if you believe in a divine organizing principle that expresses itself in the biological functions of the body (and this is Mr. Mourdock’s argument) are you interfering?
  5. You can’t. If one takes this line to heart, it needs to be followed with rigor. I can respect that view (and do–I have friends whose beliefs tend this way). But God’s plans aren’t to be trifled with, and they’re not half-baked. You don’t get to cherry-pick such that rape victims bear the brunt of your theology.
  6. If you persist in this kind of selective thinking, you are not a hero of the Christian right standing up for divine truth in a sea of heresy. Quite the contrary.  You are a nattering hypocrite who mistook a shallow exercise in juggling abstractions (conveniently stripped of their humanity) for integrity. Only where your “realization” touches your own life—your own life—does it bear truth or relevance, and there its transcendence ends. Do not attempt to speak of a divine plan, as you are a poor theorist. Instead, realize the monstrosity of your belief that your feeble, moth-witted “struggle” somehow authorizes you not only to legislate your personal theology—in a country founded on the separation of church and state—but also to force women (and women alone) to accept these “gifts” from your bleak and misguided idea of God. You are un-American, sir, and it is not God’s fault that you are a bad philosopher. Have the piety to let the blame for that lie squarely on your shoulders.

4 thoughts on “On Mourdock’s God’s Gift

  1. I don’t think it’s so logically inconsistent to go with “everything happens for a reason.” The issue is how one reacts. (The following is not my own view…) Does one respond to god testing them with rape and pregnancy by taking the convenient, morally unacceptable dodge of abortion (murder,) or by bearing the burden and raising the child? Cancer is just another tribulation, but the treatment doesn’t involve murder, presumably.

    I agree with you on all the issues, but trying to condemn them for hypocrisy is futile. They should be condemned because they’re wrong.

    1. That’s a much better version of the Christian argument, but you’re being generous, I think, in framing Mourdock’s question as a matter of “how one reacts.” What Mourdock describes is less reaction than acceptance and less about agency than about receiving. That’s a distinction that matters in cases like these. The “gift” is something God created, so His will and His plan to put life in a uterus wins. The sin would lie in stopping that action. Acceptance by the recipient is the key concept. Bending to God’s will and accepting his plan doesn’t end at reproductive question.

      If that sounds like a weak or over-subtle argument, look at Job. He didn’t react to his trials by bravely making the best of things. He didn’t fight God’s will–had conventional medicine was available to him, he wouldn’t have used it. In fact, there’s a reasonably close analogue in 2:8: when he was afflicted with boils, he could have applied salve. Instead, he “took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.” (“Ashes” here are sometimes translated as “dung.”) In other words, he accepted the direction God had taken his life in, and to the extent that he participated, he made it slightly worse. Acceptance of what God inflicts on you *is* the appropriate reaction–whether that’s an unwanted child, cancer, boils, or the death of all your cattle and children. You do not struggle to make things better. If you believe everything happens for a reason, you don’t react selectively. You accept what God has given you, as it’s part of His plan. (See also: Christ.)

      (Much depends on what denomination Mourdock belongs to, to what extent that branch emphasizes OT vs NT, and how Calvinist its orientation. It’s scandalous to me that his Wikipedia page doesn’t list that, since he’s trying to govern through a very particular prism. In any event, you’re right, of course–what *really* matters is that this has no place in public discourse.

      1. I see what you mean. I wonder now if there were any such christians who spoke out in favor of pulling the plug on Terri Schiavo.

        On the other hand, quoting scripture is a whole nother can o contradictory worms. Mourdock didn’t make up the god’s gift line. Perhaps you are familiar with the creepy “Quiverfull” movement. They’re less interested in the subtleties of Job, than in the in-your-faceness of Psalm 127: “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”

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