Sunday, October 28, 2012

Proximate pratfall

Regarding Richard Mourdock's "rape babies are a gift from God" comment...

It's fun to see people all over the internet making fun of Mourdock saying that a pregnancy which results from rape should be considered a gift from God, because that life is something God intended to happen. They can see the obvious dishonesty of it, and are going to town drawing the logical conclusions of such a statement. Those logical conclusions are how we can know it was dishonest-- if it wasn't, then the most charitable thing that can be said is that Mourdock didn't exactly think it through.

You see, the position that God intended for a pregnancy to have resulted from a rape can be interpreted in one of two ways:

1. Ultimate: Of course God intended for it to happen, because God intends everything! God is the author of the universe, the primary force behind everything and everything. He is the ground of being, or at least the first cause who set everything in motion. Therefore if something happens, it is by his intention.

Why Mourdock's statement is ridiculous, if that's what he meant: Rape pregnancies, then, are intended by God in the same sense as cancer, earthquakes, and car accidents. The implication of Mourdock's statement is of course that a pregnancy resulting from rape is intended by God, therefore the woman should not have an abortion. But our response to disease, natural disasters, and human-caused mishaps is not to proceed about our day as if nothing happened, whether we regard those things as ultimately intended by God or not. When those things happen, we attempt to fix them-- to put things right. Oftentimes, to a woman whose pregnancy resulted from rape, getting an abortion is putting things right (well, as much as she can). God intending the pregnancy is not an argument against her doing so any more than it is an argument against chemotherapy for cancer patients.

2. Proximate: A rape victim's pregnancy is a result of special intervention on God's part. For reasons known only to God-- and apparently to Mourdock-- God looked down on that woman who had recently experienced the suffering of sexual violation and said "Hey, that raped lady needs a baby." And presto! He put one inside her.

Why Mourdock's statement is ridiculous, if that's what he meant: Because it makes God-- and Mourdock-- a sadist. Unfortunately Mourdock's use of the word "gift" makes it much more likely that this is the sense in which his statement was made, and that's why people are reacting so badly to it even though he still appears to have no clue of the enormity of what he said. That's what is making people mentally dry heave.

And by the way, you can give a gift back. It might be rude, but you can do it. Just saying.

This lead me, though, to think of an earlier rumination I had about conservatives conflating God's behavior in the proximate vs. ultimate sense, so I'm re-posting that here:

1. "Everything is caused by a higher power. I call that higher power God."

2. "Natural disasters are acts of God-- they are part of the structure of the world and we just have to deal with them as they come."

3. "Now that (insert natural disaster) has happened, are the people of (insert region of the world) going to wake up and see that God has a message for them?  Are they going to see that God is not happy, and change their ways?"

Three very different statements. The third person is claiming that a natural disaster is a specific act of God, performed in reaction to the behavior of people in the area affected by it. This person is either too uneducated to know the reality of why natural disasters happen in certain times and in certain places, or does not mind appearing to be. To put it less delicately, if you claim that natural disasters are actually divine punishment you are not only stunningly lacking in empathy but can also safely be thought less than bright. I don't expect people to stop doing that any time soon, but our collective willingness to call their statements ridiculous has increased.  Previously there would have been no need for Michele Bachmann's PR person to declare that she was simply joking [when she said that Hurricane Irene was God "getting Washington's attention"].

We still don't-- or at least, shouldn't-- want people who are willing to make statements like that running the country. We shouldn't want governors who think that you solve problems like property rights violations and drought by appealing to God to solve them. We shouldn't want a president who decided to run in the first place because he/she thinks God told him/her to run, or that God will tell him/her things like whether to go to war or not while in office.

Why? Because these put God in front of natural and human causes for things. They make him a proximate cause, rather than the ultimate one. God might indeed favor Herman Cain for president, but the rest of us should be primarily concerned with whether he's what the country needs, and whether he'll do a good job. God might be concerned about property rights, but since it's the job of politicians to make things right in that regard, they should be doing it. God might have an opinion about whether the country should go to war, but hopefully it's based on the same things a president should be concerned about-- whether the war is just, how much suffering it will cause, and so on. God might have very firm opinions about how Obama's handling the deficit, but if you consider Irene to be a sign of that you're a cretin and shouldn't be in an elected position of power.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I'm okay with Mourdock's comment. It's consistent. If you believe that souls exist, must be saved, and start out as blastocysts, that's what you should say. I think abortion should be mandatory and in some cases retroactive, but that's just my opinion.


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