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“Something That God Intended”

I'm sure you've all heard by now that a Senate candidate from Indiana, Richard Mourdock, is in hot water over a reply he gave during a debate this week. He was asked if he'd allow abortion in cases of rape, and he said he believes "life begins at conception" and that "life is a gift from God." All life? You bet. "I think," he continued, "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

I hesitated before including Mr. Mourdock's party affiliation here, because I wasn't sure it was relevant and I don't want to come off as partisan. Ultimately, however, I decided to note that he's Republican, largely because it follows on the heels of several ill-advised remarks from other Republicans on the topic of rape. These comments have many female and/or feminist voters wondering whether the GOP has it in for women. In states like Florida, recent polls suggest the female presidential vote leans toward Obama while the male vote leans toward Romney, so this is no minor issue.

If the GOP has, shall we say, a more traditional view of women and what makes them tick, that shouldn't surprise anyone. By definition, conservatives tend to like things the way they used to be; the only real variation is whether they want to regress to 1900, 1950, or 33 A.D. Being a woman who's Republican these days is kinda like being a black guy who's a Klansman. Now, before that enrages you, please don't misunderstand: I get why a woman might be fiscally conservative. I get why she'd oppose bloated government or a staggering deficit. I can even understand why she'd be pro-life. I just pity her for all the nonsense she has to overlook to be in her party of choice. Whether it's Henry Aldridge and Todd Akin believing a woman's uterus contains anti-rape sperm stompers, or Rush Limbaugh (what a wonderful sense of humor he has) quipping, "I love the women's movement--especially when walking behind it," or Clayton Williams advising rape victims to "lie back and enjoy it," or Jon Kyl claiming "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" is abortion (try 3 percent), then having his office tell CNN this "was not intended to be a factual statement," you conservative women must live in permanent cringe mode these days.

So yeah, it kind of is a party thing. I tried to find equivalently stupid things Democratic candidates have said about rape but came up empty. If you know of one, please, post it below. I know liberals say imbecilic things all the time--Joe Biden is everyone's current favorite example--but not on that subject. What I will admit about liberals is we take abortion too lightly. If life did begin at conception (more on that in a moment), then abortion would be the leading cause of human death in America. It's not just some occasional thing. If you believe a day-old fetus is a person, then yeah, abortion is genocide. I can see why you'd be incensed about it.

I have to say, though, I've thought about this issue very deeply, as deeply as most in the pro-life camp. Indeed, I used to be pro-life myself, at least until well into my 20s. Without getting into specifics, it's touched my family (though not me directly) in a personal way. I've walked down a line of museum displays of zygotes and fetuses and embryos and tried to determine exactly when I believed those lumps of cells qualified as a human. I couldn't do it. It was somewhere to the right of the start and left of the end. I go around and around on this, and I don't blame anyone for being undecided about it, though I disregard any claim that life begins either at conception or the instant the baby sees daylight. That just doesn't make any sense. If you're going to say life begins at conception, why stop there? A sperm or an ovum is still a potential life; in fact, it's already alive. If you're a man who's ever masturbated or a woman who's ever menstruated, you've terminated sex cells that could've been babies nine months later. If God wanted every sex cell to become a baby, He wouldn't have created a reproductive system that blithely dispenses with so many possible lives. On the other hand, it's pretty much impossible to look at a seven-month-old fetus and not see it as an infant in training. We have to understand these issues are not cut and dry, and even well-intentioned geniuses like you and me can disagree with good reason.

Now. Back to Richard Mourdock. I want to commit liberal heresy and let this guy off the hook.


Listen, Mourdock is simply wrestling with a problem as old as religion itself, the problem of suffering. If you believe in a loving, all-powerful God Who can see into the future, eventually (say, age seven) you're going to wonder why He doesn't do something about suffering. And your authority figures, who never quite figured this one out themselves, will say something soothing about "God's will" and the "divine plan." Later, as you get older, they'll develop this argument to contend that when Jesus died, this somehow fixed the problem of suffering. Then Mom or Dad or Pastor Smith will tell you to go outside and play before you can ask the obvious question, which is why we're still suffering and dying two thousand years after Jesus died. The problem of suffering, or, to use its smartypants name, "theodicy," is an insurmountable paradox. Now, generally speaking, when scientists discover a paradox in earlier thinking, they realize somebody made a mistake. Religious people have a harder time doing that, but it still comes up surprisingly often.

Epicurus said, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?" Or, as Archibald Macleish put it more succinctly in his play JB, "If God is God, He is not good / If God is good, He is not God." Martina McBride developed this line of thought further in her song "Anyway" (written with the Warren Brothers): "God is great, but sometimes life ain't good. When I pray it doesn't always turn out like I think it should. But I do it anyway." To ask these questions is not blasphemous; they're basically the subject of the Biblical book of Job. And hey, if you think you worry about suffering, try being a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Some of those folks gave up on the whole question of whether God is good, preferring instead to concentrate on why we should be good and leaving God to deal with His own conscience.

That's a valid response. When scientists wonder where all the time travelers from the future are or run up against the "grandfather paradox," they tend to conclude time travel is and always will be impossible. That doesn't prove time travel is impossible, of course. It may be that time travelers are here right now, disguised as insurance salesmen or TV news reporters or pedantic bloggers. Likewise, the fact that evil exists may not be sufficient disproof of a loving, omnipotent God. It just doesn't help.

So when Richard Mourdock says if a woman is impregnated by a rapist, that tragedy must be God's will, he's simply beating his head against a very old paradox, and no more nor less successfully than most Christians. Mr. Mourdock's Democratic opponent, Joe Donnelly, of course, seized on Mourdock's remarks, insisting, "The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in does not intend for rape to happen, ever." Well...that's debatable, actually. I know, because I'm about to debate it.

Are you familiar with the Biblical term "concubine?" Do you know what it means? Uhhh...it's kinda like a wife, right? Kinda, in that concubines had sex with men and Israelites (especially kings) were allowed to have lots of them. Solomon famously had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). The English word "concubine" is a popular (because it's evasive) translation of pilegesh, a word Hebrews borrowed from the Greeks. What it actually means is women who were captured or purchased to use as unmarried sexual partners. But wait, you say, that can't be right. Isn't that fornication? Well, it is, and yes, God forbade it, but only if you were a Jew who had sex with an unmarried Jewish woman. If, however, you were a Jewish man and she were a Gentile captured in battle, no problemo! Not to put too fine a point on it, many concubines were sex slaves. Consider this passage from Leviticus (25:44-46), a direct quote from Yahweh:

"As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness."

Yeah, 'cause that'd be mean.

If you want a real hair-raiser, check out Judges 19 [1]. Just read that chapter from the woman's perspective. Spoiler alert: there's a twist at the end! So that's how the Bible feels about rape: it's terrific unless it happens to Jews or your sex slave, in which case it's best to kill the victim. Who, by the way, has been your victim all along anyway, so awesome job.

The fact is, in the Old Testament at least, God is pro-rape. I know that's not a fact that's going to sit well in your head. If you doubt me, please do the necessary research. You'll find countless Bible apologists who say, well, it's all part of "be fruitful and multiply" or "some concubines were treated like wives" (as if that were a supreme privilege in the B.C. 1000s), but none who can make Leviticus 25 or Judges 19 go away. You can also find Christians who say Jesus came to negate the filthy "morals" of the Old Testament, but none who can change the fact that Leviticus 25 is a direct quote from God (see verse 1). I say again: if most Hoosiers believe in a God Who's anti-rape, then they're ignoring the fact of God-endorsed concubines in the Old Testament. They're also ignoring the questionable relationship between the Roman centurion and his "servant" (Greek pais--better translated as "catamite" or, not to put too fine a point on it, "boy sex slave") in Matthew 8. But that's okay; Jesus ignored that relationship, too. He said nothing condemnatory about it, even bringing the pais back to life at the centurion's humble request. And yippee, what a life!

I know my own way around this eternally intractable problem. After decades of thought, I concluded that if there is a God, then the Bible writers had Him/Her/It/Them all wrong. God may indeed possess cosmic power, but I see no evidence that God intervenes in the day-to-day events of our lives or preserves earthly justice. That'd be like asking a biochemist to make life in a petri dish fair. Of course, I'm not telling you what to believe. I know my opinions sound dark-hearted or devil-possessed to some of my readers. But do yours make any more sense than mine? Do Richard Mourdock's? I'm just saying maybe we should cut the poor guy a little slack. There's nothing dumb about wondering why God lets evil happen. Indeed, Mourdock's efforts at armchair theodicy put him in the company of such great minds as Russell, Voltaire, Augustine, and Leibniz (who coined the term theodicy 35 years after, oh, inventing calculus). Like many Christians, Mourdock settled on the rationale Joseph gave his murderous brothers in Genesis 50:20: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Awwww.

Still. That Rush Limbaugh. What a dick.