Deus vult!

A Dominican priest isn’t impressed with Todd Akin’s moral theology.

Richard Mourdock’s moral theology leaves Jeremy Paretsky, O.P., Professor of Scripture at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, unimpressed. Fr. Paretsky writes:

There is a problem with people using theological language loosely, in that the principles tacitly invoked can come back to bite them in the ass. Specifically, to say that anything that happens is by God’s will says everything and nothing: it says no more than that creation as such exists by the will of God, who in a single act incorporates all contingencies. Will is confused with desire, which is a function of the human will. No distinction is made between God’s providential will (whereby he cares for creation) and permissive will (whereby contingencies are incorporated into that care). To say that life begun by rape is God’s will fails to make this distinction. It is equally true by the same loose use of language to say that abortion subsequent to rape is also God’s will. And for that matter any inanity uttered by a politician is also God’s will, a contingency which I hope the Almighty will take into account in his providential will for us all.

Just imagine for a moment a reporter asking Mourdock, “Congressman, if a woman has an abortion, is that also God’s will?” But I doubt I’ve lived a holy enough life to deserve such a supreme moment of uncovenanted grace. And neither have you, sinner!

Update Corrected. Have to learn to keep my wingnuts straight.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

22 thoughts on “Deus vult!”

  1. In a similar vein as the rightwing pol (sorry lost the name) who claimed, when arguing against some scientific common place, that there is no gravity. Things fall to earth because God wills them to. As the man said, an explanation that explains nothing.

  2. Yeah, that was what I thought was most foolish about Mourdock’s statement. I mean sure God allows for things to happen, but then why make a distinction between the life from rape, and the rape itself and the abortion and death of the fetus that might follow the creation of the life. I guess Mourdock was trying to say “good things come from bad things, so deal with it and have the child” which would have made more sense (even if I do not agree about denying abortions to women who are pregnant because of rape) but he would have gotten into bigger trouble.

  3. Isn’t that pretty much the most common blasphemy uttered by religious wingnuts: the claim that they can distinguish infallibly between events that are part of the almighty’s plan and those that go against his/her/its/their wishes?

    1. That strikes me as part of a larger blasphemy – the assumption that they are infallible in general – that their understanding of the divine is necessarily correct.

  4. I don’t like to see Mourdock and Akin conflated. Mourdock was confused on theology but one can figure out what he meant and he was accepting that sometimes life is hard. Akin was confused about female biology and has the sunny view that it protects against bad things that might force one to make hard choices. He is close in spirit to Sharron Angle, the “turn lemons into lemonade” Nevada lady.

    I hope both Mourdock and Akin share Angle’s fate but Mourdock is simply wrong not revolting.

    1. I sort of agree, though my total exposure to Mourdock is that ten second bit on the telly. I am pro-choice and don’t agree with his policy of course, but it seemed to me clear that he wasn’t saying that God intended the rape, only, more loosely, the sperm-and-egg combos that result in babies. Based on that tiny clip, he seems like a nice man. Not someone I could ever vote for, of course. But yes, different in quality than the other wingnuts. At least he clearly thinks rape is real, and horrible. You know what? I’ll take it (without voting for it).

      What’s been in my head for a couple days is this: why bomb the Taliban in Afghanistan, and vote for them here? Truly, fundamentalists seem all the same.

    1. No, Jeremy is an old friend who allowed me to quote from an email. Hoping to bring him on as an RBC regular.

      1. right, thanks.
        he sounds like he might be a liberal dominican.
        and if there’s a liberal dominican, i can die, because i’ll have seen everything.

        1. I’m not so sure it’s possible to figure out whether he’s liberal or not from this response. The Catholics (like the Jews and mainstream Protestants) have a lot of problems in their theology with the problem of evil and this is actually a fairly traditional Catholic way of explaining “God’s will” without turning him into a sort of “moral monster” (which is the obvious problem for evangelicals and fundamentalists, as we are seeing today).

      2. right, thanks.
        he sounds like he might be a liberalish dominican.
        and if there’s a liberalish dominican, i can die, because i’ll have seen everything.

      3. right, thanks.
        he sounds like he might be a liberalish dominican.
        and if there’s a liberalish dominican, i can die, because i’ll have seen everything.
        (i hope this doesn’t post 3x but i’m having monster connection problems and have re-re-sent it)

  5. My reaction was that if everything derives from God’s will alone, why should wingnuts vote? God will will the election in His mysterious way. Or, really, why get your wife cancer treatment, why do anything?

  6. One could frame the issue without reference to god:
    “Would you counsel suicide to a woman who learned at age 40 she was a product of rape? Life is precious at all ages.”

  7. I think Fr. Paretsky is being a little unfair and vague, although maybe that’s inevitable in a one-paragraph excerpt.

    My guess is that Mourdock believes in all-powerful god who carves out an opportunity for free will to exercise itself in events that are not god’s will. That creates a tricky issue where you have to figure out where the free will events end and the all-powerful god controlled events begin. Mourdock decided that rape was the responsibility of the rapist, but after-events were gifts of god. This parsing is convenient for his political views and a little strange, but not completely ridiculous.

    I think this theology has some problems in terms of counterintuitive results, but it’s not out of the mainstream. A theology that said the god wasn’t all-powerful would avoid some counterintuitive results, but might be more Zoroastrian than Christian. Or you could just become a lot more vague about theology, or drop the whole thing and find ethical outcomes through other means.

  8. Most everyone who thinks rape victims should be forced to bear a child conceived in rape believe it on the basis of some kind of divine-command ethics. They think it’s God’s will. This is more or less the standard view among the most committed half of the anti-abortion movement in this country, not just the eccentric reverie of one politician. That doesn’t, of course, entail that they all think the fact of the pregnancy, or the rape that caused it, is God’s will, but it does incline them to interpret Mourdock’s comments sympathetically.

    1. I’m unimpressed with any of these arguments by people who are not, themselves, involved. They have every right to think that a thing is God’s will. But they have no right to impose their interpretation of God’s will on another person.

      Mourdock can be sincere as sweet potato pie, but his theological opinion has NO BEARING on other people.

      God says that your theological opinions really only count as to those matters in YOUR OWN control. It’s just so much easier to agonize over other people’s choices.

      (Whatever happened to the party of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY, anyway?)

    2. There are people who have no problem with early abortion but do have a problem with late term abortion – rather than religion they’re relying on a definition of when personhood begins, and rape/incest doesn’t affect the analysis as much.

      1. Yes, it’s true that there are people who’d criminalize abortion in cases of rape for reasons having nothing to do with divine commands. And abortion opponents whose views are based on some notion of God’s will also often frame their arguments to appeal to audiences that don’t share their religious commitments. But the contrast between divine-command arguments and ones based on claims about when life begins is false. The latter are in many cases ultimately grounded in some notion of what God commands. (In every case, they’re grounded in some kind of evaluative claim; empirical propositions, of which the spiel about when life begins is one, by themselves entail nothing normative.) Again, my sense is that arguments from God’s will are the dominant form of discourse among the most committed opponents of abortion. We’ve got more than one isolated crank candidate on our hands here.

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