Recent comments by Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock that pregnancy resulting from rape is “something that God intended to happen” once again has me thinking about starting The Society for Responsible Theology.
I’m not arguing with his position on abortion, although I disagree with it whole heartedly, and would gladly argue it at other times. What concerns me here is Mr. Mourdock’s reason for his position – the idea that God intended the pregnancy to happen. This strikes me as a very strong statement about the nature of God, and a theology that is at best brutal and at worst shallow, inconsistent and arrogant.
There are many kinds of theology in the world, and a diversity of religious beliefs – some liberal, some more conservative – that I have great respect for. There are responsible theologies in every religious tradition. These theologies are internally consistent, recognize and respond to the reality of human suffering, and accept human limitations. Most importantly, they do not presume to know the mind of God.
In other words, we cannot know what is supposed to happen. Even if we believe in a personal God who is involved in human affairs, we cannot know what God intends. The only exception is a theology which presumes that all things which happen are part of a Divine Plan. I call such a theology brutal because it affirms a God who is ultimately responsible for all of the evil and suffering in the world. If all things are part of God’s plan, then that includes not only the pregnancy but the rape itself. It is impossible to say with both certainty and integrity that the pregnancy was something God wanted to happen, but not the rape.
This is exactly what Mr. Mourdock argued in the hours following the Indiana debate. “Are you trying to suggest somehow that God preordained rape? No I don’t think that,” he said. That puts Richard Mourdock in the position of deciding what it is that God intends and what it is God doesn’t intend, and that is highly irresponsible. No human individual should be in the position of deciding what it is that God does and doesn’t want.
There are many pathways of the spirit. Some of them, like my own, are Humanistic and liberal; others are conservative. Some are theistic; others are not. Most fall entirely outside the Western tradition. But within almost every faith, there are strains of theology which deal substantively with the deep questions of life, and others which simply prop up the believer’s own opinions and biases. The responsible theologian approaches deep questions with deep humility.
To be fair, Richard Mourdock is not a theologian, nor does he pretend to be one. Perhaps that is the most persuasive argument yet that matters of public policy should be determined by better criteria than “what God intends.”