The religious problem with rape and other atrocities

The Republican candidate for the US senate in Indiana Richard Mourdock has created a furor by saying in a debate with his Democratic opponent that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”

As you can imagine, that did not go over well, with other Republicans distancing themselves from him. In a later interview, Mourdock tried to explain what he meant.

“I believe God controls the universe,” Mourdoch told reporters, who asked if he thought pregnancies resulting from rape were God’s plan. “I don’t believe biology works in an uncontrolled fashion.”

Actually, this is just a new example of an old and insoluble problem for religious people: that of theodicy or how a good god can allow evil things to happen. As Epicurus (341-271 BCE) 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 god both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?

Abandon the idea of goodness and what Mourdock says is a perfectly consistent position for anyone who believes in an all-powerful and all-knowing god. With such a god, anything that happens must be because their god wanted it to happen and it does not matter if it is rape, genocide, murder, or any other appalling thing.

Mourdock has nothing to explain. His barbaric views are perfectly consistent. The people who really need to explain their position are those who believe in an omnipotent and omniscient god and yet disagree with Mourdock’s conclusions.


  1. Stacy says

    “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”

    So presumably when a woman has an abortion, that is something that God intended to happen.

    Right, Richard? Right…?

  2. steve84 says

    No, no. She is going against god’s will and will roast for eternity in hell. Because of free will.

  3. hypatiasdaughter says

    Gees, I hate that free will crap. Where is the free will of a 10 year old impregnated by her father or a man killed by a mugger?
    Why does the free will of one individual (the attacker) TOTALLY supersede that of another individual (the victim)?
    “Free will” has to be the most vacuous explanation of why god allows evil. Like so many xtian claims, it is meant to make you stop asking the questions, not to give you a meaningful answer.

  4. frank says

    In my hard-core Christian days, I would have agreed with Mourdock 100%. But even now, I still don’t quite understand the exception for rape or incest that so many abortion opponents accept. If one starts with the premises that human life begins at conception and that all human life is sacred (except for those on death row, but I digress), one must conclude that abortion is wrong. I have never been able to come up with a logically coherent path that leads from there to the rape/incest exception–not when I was religious, and not now as an atheist.

    I would guess that these people accept the exception out of some underlying sense of decency that recognizes the barbarism of forcing rape/incest victims to carry the pregnancy to term, but for any thoughtful person, this has to be a problem. Just another of the philosophical inconsistencies that falls away when one loses religion.

  5. Rodney Nelson says

    I’ve seen the argument that rape and incest pregnancies can be aborted because the woman did not consent to the sex. But other abortions should not be allowed because the sex was willing. Essentially the prohibitions against non-rape/incest caused pregnancies are a form of slut-shaming. “You had sex and you enjoyed it, now you have to pay the price!”

  6. frank says

    The same sort of mindset that leads one to question whether the rape was “legitimate” or not.

    I would guess that the people making that type of argument are less interested in logical coherency and more interested in feeling morally superior.

  7. raven says

    It’s for the same reason why don’t:

    1. Have cemeteries full of miscarriages and

    2. Have never investigated miscarriages (spontaneous abortions) as all potential homicides.

    The spontaneous abortion rate runs around 40-50%. Which makes the god who is in charge, the world’s leading abortionist.

    This life begins at conception is a modern invention. In the bible it is one month after birth. The RCC allowed abortion up until the 1800’s.

    Besides it’s not clear how much of what the fundies babble on about they really believe anyway. The abortion rate of the fundies is higher than the general population.

    They can toss those deeply held core beliefs any time they want and never miss them.

  8. steve84 says

    Some laws the Republicans proposed have come very close to investigating certain miscarriages as homicides.

  9. alysonmiers says

    I still think Mourdock has something to explain. He says it’s okay for a woman to have an abortion if the pregnancy puts her life at risk. And I’m glad he makes that exception, at least! But if God is behind every conception, then why does he allow pregnancies to go so horribly wrong that the women stand a high risk of dying if they don’t terminate?

  10. Mano Singham says

    That is a good point. Someone should ask him that but journalists are notoriously hesitant to point out contradictions in people’s religious views.

  11. Dave X says

    Polio, Cerebral Palsy, Alzheimers, and Cancer are all gifts from this god as well.

    Mourdock’s philosophy would have us shivering in the dark with “pox both great and small”

  12. campbell says

    Not to mention that the “God wants the biology to work this way” argument opposing the medical intervention of abortion rarely (except in religions such as the Roman Catholics) works in the opposite direction. Pretty much never hear “Jesus wants me to be barren” “God made my husband shoot blanks” tossed out by/at the religionists who instead happily rush for IVF treatments and crank out quintuplets, oohing and aaahing over how thankful they are that God blessed them with children (and Johnson and Johnson blessed them with a 2-yrs supply of diapers).

  13. Scott says

    Mourdock’s ideas seem to conflict with the idea of free will. After all, if God controls everything, by definition we have no free will. Conversely, if God controls everything, and everything that happens is God’s will, then we shouldn’t change anything. If I catch a cold, I shouldn’t take medicine for it because it’s God’s will that I caught a cold. Of course, there are some that believe that, but they are rare, thankfully.

  14. says

    Mourdock’s ideas seem to conflict with the idea of free will. After all, if God controls everything, by definition we have no free will. Conversely, if God controls everything, and everything that happens is God’s will, then we shouldn’t change anything.

    One would argue that if god controls everything, and everything that happens is god’s will, then we don’t have free will either because the conditions under which we “choose” are constrained by god’s creation: we only have hobson’s choice.

    God is the greatest abortionist of all time – allegedly causing every miscarriage and egg that fails to implant. So how is the human doctor who performs an abortion not an agent of god’s will as well? After all, god created abortionists.

  15. Tracey says

    Also, anytime a woman who’s obviously pregnant miscarries or has a life-threatening pregnancy, the finger-pointers are quick to jump out of the woodwork. “It was that cup of coffee you drank!” “It was working on a computer that caused it! You’re a MURDERER!”

  16. says

    Probably ‘cuz Eve ate the apple. A.k.a. “sin.” A.k.a. God’s “Get out of jail free” card. Which is why God didn’t intend the rape, just the pregnancy. But, yeah, it’d be nice if someone asked him and shine a light on the messed up theology of Christianity.

  17. baal says

    I chided a xtian on another blog earlier today for saying that you can comfort someone who is suffering by suggesting that suffering can be used for good by god. I’m still waiting for a respectable argument from the apologists on Theodicy.

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