Abortion, rape, and God’s will

Really liked this Amy Sullivan take on Richard Mourdock (child from rape is what “God intended.”)

I was just shocked that anyone was shocked. Lots of Republican politicians oppose rape exceptions. Paul Ryan, for one, opposes abortion in the case of rape. Rarely does anyone bother to offer an explanation for why he holds that position. (Todd Akin famously did earlier this year, and that didn’t go so well for him.) I’m not sure what justifications people had imagined for opposing a rape exception that would be more acceptable than Mourdock’s.

Despite the assertions of many liberal writers I read and otherwise admire, I don’t think that politicians like Mourdock oppose rape exceptions because they hate women or want to control women. I think they’re totally oblivious and insensitive and can’t for a moment place themselves in the shoes of a woman who becomes pregnant from a rape. I think most don’t particularly care that their policy decisions can impact what control a woman does or doesn’t have over her own body. But if Mourdock believes that God creates all life and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances in which a pregnancy came about.

Take a look again at Mourdock’s words: “I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And…even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” The key word here is “it.” I think it’s pretty clear that Mourdock is referring to a life that is conceived by a rape. He is not arguing that rape is the something that God intended to happen.

This is a fairly common theological belief, the understanding of God as an active, interventionist. It’s also not limited to conservative Christians. There are liberal Christians who also argue that things work out the way they’re supposed to. Some of them are in my own family, and I think they’re wrong. But it is one way of grappling with the problem of theodicy, trying to understand why God would allow bad things to happen.

Theodicy (all-powerful God allows lots of bad stuff), I think, is the ultimate problem with Christianity.  I remember listening to an interview with Bart Ehrman (agnostic Biblical scholar) who said that this was basically what caused him to lose his faith.  How exactly do you get around saying that God “intends” one sick child to die of his cancer and another to live.  Or heck, the Holocaust to happen.  It’s tough.  Anyway, Sullivan gets into it even more, but mostly I really appreciate her much more nuanced view on the whole matter.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to Abortion, rape, and God’s will

  1. jbparke2 says:

    “Theodicy (all-powerful God allows lots of bad stuff), I think, is the ultimate problem with Christianity….. How exactly do you get around saying that God “intends” one sick child to die of his cancer and another to live. Or heck, the Holocaust to happen. It’s tough.”

    Interesting thought. However, I think the mistake in this logic is assuming that God should intervene in bad issues and not allow them to happen. (keyword differences are allow or cause). I mean, how dare God allow the Holocaust to happen? How dare he allow people to get sick, especially children? How dare he allow meteorological catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina to occur? 9/11? Pearl Harbor? How dare he allow my neighbors house to burn down, or my friend to lose their job?

    When we ask questions like that, we are acting as if we deserve for God to take care of us and make our lives great and wonderful. I mean, wouldn’t a loving, caring God do so?

    But, if God intervened in and prevented crime such as rape, murder, robbery, and to the extreme of the holocaust where would our free will to choose be? I’m not in any way diminishing the horror and severity of events like that. However, if one believes in Christianity, they must believe that God created humans to freely choose to follow him or not. So we have a choice to choose between either following God or choosing our own path.

    So, yes, I’ve yet to say how that matters in “bad things happening to good people.”

    Personally, in my life, I approach it this way. I believe no one is perfect. I believe every last human being has in some way made a decision or chosen not to follow what God has laid out. Our lives are scarred and marred with the choices we’ve made to not follow everything he has commanded us to do. That being said, we deserve nothing from Him. So, to get angry at God when something bad happens to me (I get in a major car wreck, or lose my job, etc) doesn’t make sense. Is it punishment from God for whatever wrong we’ve done? I don’t believe so. While it may be a result of our human nature, our sinful nature – I don’t believe it is in any way God punishing us from something we’ve done wrong.

    God promised to take care of all our needs. How dare He allow me to struggle in finding a job. It’s just not fair. But here’s the thing…Paul, who even you, I think can claim, was the greatest follower and apostle of Christ had many bad things happen to him. Imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, even killed for his faith. Why in the world would a loving God allow that to happen. Peter, Seth, even Jesus Christ himself.

    But what we often forget being so concerned with our earthly lives and what God owes us or should take care of or not allow to happen to us….is what he has provided for us. How he has taken care of us. The opportunity for eternal life. His son. We as humans and even many if not most Christians look at God as one who should provide everything we want, without realizing he’s already provided everything we need.

    Even while battling anguishing pain and loss unimaginable, Job continually trusted God for His will, even though he couldn’t comprehend or understand why God would allow all that to happen – the loss of his family, his wealth, and even a very painful sickness. To us, it doesn’t make sense; however, aren’t we solely focused on our ~80 years here on this earth rather than being concerned about eternity?

    In reference to the blog/article at hand. Yes, rape is a horrible and terrible thing to have happen to someone. And getting pregnant due to such action I can imagine is difficult to deal with. However, while we can’t understand why God allows things to happen, or doesn’t prevent things from happening, He still commands us to trust Him in all things. Even in the bad. Our minds are finite. How can we, humans, comprehend the mind of God and begin to tell him what He shouldn’t and shouldn’t do. In the case of rape, yes, it is terrible, and is obviously against what God desires, but life is precious, life is valuable, life is a gift from God. So rather looking at God saying, how horrible it was for this to happen….this woman should have the “right” to her body to take care of the situation, shouldn’t we be saying, “Okay, God, I don’t understand why you have allowed this to happen, but in this, you’ve provided life. You’ve taken something man desired to use for evil, and you’ve created something good. If this child is allowed to be born, he/she will have the chance to live and make a difference in this world.”

    Thinking of Joseph, sold into slavery, accused of rape, wrongfully imprisoned, yet became one of the greatest leaders of the time in Egypt. His own words, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” – Genesis 50:20

    Even if God chooses to take away all earthly things I have – material wealth, health, etc. – my faith remains in Him because I know something greater waits for me beyond what those material things may provide.

    “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” – Job 13:15

    • Mike from Canada says:

      jdparke2 said:
      “But, if God intervened in and prevented crime such as rape, murder, robbery, and to the extreme of the holocaust where would our free will to choose be?”…
      “In the case of rape, yes, it is terrible, and is obviously against what God desires, but life is precious, life is valuable, life is a gift from God.”

      What exactly does free will have to do with a child getting malaria and dying? Or cancer? Or any disease? The free will argument doesn’t enter into it all in these cases so your argument does not hold. Or hundreds of thousands dying from tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes? According to some (major religious figures) these are all acts of God.

      You can’t have it both ways. Either they are, and God kills people, or they are not, and God doesn’t interfere. Or does he only interfere in the ‘good’ side of life? The Catholic church says God interferes in miracles, they just made more saints based on this. So according to them, he interferes, but only in a good way? If he can interfere in saving lives, he can interfere in taking them, or causing rapes. I quote you:

      “How can we, humans, comprehend the mind of God and begin to tell him what He shouldn’t and shouldn’t do.”

      Mourdock said: “…that it is something that God intended to happen.”

      Babies don’t just fall out of the sky. And we know that babies don’t just appear from magic in a women’s belly. It had to be put there. If the baby is an act of God, then the rape must by definition also be an act of God. You can’t say it isn’t because you say you can’t understand the mind of God.

      You talk about Job, but Job was from the first testament. Isn’t this is the one with the stoning of adulterers, killing of all mankind except a few (and pairs of animals) in a flood. Killing people for working on the sabbath? Turning people into a pillar of salt? There are many people who say that God is changed, he’s a “new God” and he no longer punishes us. It says so. In scrolls. That humans wrote. Then they voted on which to put in the Bible. You say “life is a gift from God”, but God killed every human on earth, except Noah and his kin, according to the Bible. So this belies that concept, or he would not have killed them.

      Of course, we can’t understand the mind of God, so we can’t even know that life is a gift from God. You assume this, but as you point out, you can’t understand the mind of God. You are assuming for him.

      You can write all you want but at the end of the day everyone seems to believe different things about “their God”. Some believe demons attack humans and take them over. Some believe in witches, and actively go looking to kill them. (They go to Africa and spread their good cheer there, lucky Africans) Some believe God tells them to handle snakes. And they often die from it. Dumb asses. Some believe the Bible is completely accurate, some partially, some not at all. And still, they believe in God. So many Gods. Zeus, Ra, Jehovah. The God of rain, the God of thunder. Norse Gods, Aztec underworld Gods, Mayan Gods. The many native Indian Gods. Of course, now everyone knows those folks back then were silly and not the right Gods at all. NOW we’ve got the right one(s).

      No one knows what is true except for a few things: There is no proof of a God’s intercession in any way. Good or bad. Light or dark. The Bible has been shown to not be literally true. There was a guy named Jesus. He may or may not have called himself a prophet. Certainly, other people called him a prophet. We know that people claim there is a God, people claim he interferes, or not, or in life, but not death, or in death, or a punishing God who hates homosexuals, he loves Mormons, or he hates Mormons, he loves Jews, or he hates Jews, or the widespread but unstated Republican belief that the poor are poor because God says they deserve it, that they must have done something to deserve to be poor, but again there is no proof.

      We DO know for a fact that a sperm is not a baby. We know an unfertilized egg is not a baby. We know that there are chemical intersessions that can prevent the egg from getting fertilized. We call it the morning after pill. We know that Republicans hate it, even though it isn’t an abortion and if women had widespread access to this pill we would have many many many fewer abortions. No matter which side anyone comes down on, I would suggest this would be a good thing.

      So we know that the entire debate is silly.

      We know that republicans are being silly for allowing employers to decide if their employees can have contraceptives. Silly, and, I would suggest, un-American. We know that republicans are being silly because they refuse to look at the problem scientifically to see what is really going on. We know that on our day to day lives we can wish for things to be a certain way, or we can choose to try and make them that way by providing incentives to people. Like making morning after pills available to women so they can take control of their lives and reduce the number of abortions. Because contrary to what Republicans might believe, I don’t think women enjoy having abortions.

  2. itchy says:

    “Theodicy (all-powerful God allows lots of bad stuff), I think, is the ultimate problem with Christianity.”

    The ultimate problem is that it’s a made-up story. The second problem is that the story is not internally consistent.

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