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Republican Richard Mourdock, candidate for Indiana's U.S. Senate seat, participates in a debate with Democrat Joe Donnelly and Libertarian Andrew Horning in a debate in New Albany, Ind., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. Mourdock said Tuesday when a woman is impregnated during a rape, "it's something God intended." He was asked during the final minutes of the debate whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.

Michael Conroy, Associated Press

When candidates claim to speak for God

  • Article by: Amanda Marcott
  • Slate
  • October 25, 2012 - 12:04 PM

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who has the misfortune of a name that sounds like a villain straight out of sci-fi/fantasy, is the latest Republican to step into it when it comes to rape and abortion. When asked during Tuesday's debate about whether a hypothetical rape victim should be allowed to get a hypothetical abortion, Mourdock tried to sad-face his way out of being held responsible for the vile words that came out of his mouth: "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Naturally, many, many people objected to Mourdock painting rapists as just another part of God's plan, like the weather. (What if rapists are actually angels sent from God to make sure that no uterus goes unseeded? Am I blowing your mind?) Considering the centrality of the concept of "free will" to Christian theology, it's a bit strange for Mourdock to simply erase the fact that when a man rapes a woman, he is making a choice to do so, and according to Christians, he's doing so freely. Mourdock was so busy worrying about articulating why he wants to take away women's rights after they are raped that he neglected to remember that rapists are both criminals in the eyes of the law, and sinners in the eyes of his God.

Mourdock's attempts at clarification didn't actually fix this problem:

Minutes after the debate, Mourdock was already trying to undo the damage. "Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think God ordained or pre-ordained rape? No, I don't think that anyone could suggest that. That's a sick, twisted - no, that's not even close to what I said," he told reporters - though he reiterated that he believes God determines when conception occurs. "It is a fundamental part of my faith that God gives us life. God determines when life begins," Mourdock said. "I believe in an almighty God who makes those calls . . . There are some things in life that are above my pay grade."

What's interesting about this clarification is it doesn't clarify squat. God preordains the conception but doesn't preordain the rape, or what Paul Ryan gently calls the "method of conception"? At what point does God start ordaining stuff, exactly? Does he wait until you're actually in mid-rape to jump in and say, "Hey, let's make this one a pregnancy, because I'm thinking this lady hasn't suffered enough." Or did God ordain the conception before the rape started? Does God give the go-ahead for rape only if it leads to pregnancy or he's cool with all rape? And one question from the pro-choice peanut gallery: If God can ordain the rape and the pregnancy that follows, why can't he also ordain abortion?

These questions may seem unserious, but if candidates really do imagine themselves as conduits for God's decisions, we need a little bit more insight into God's decision-making process. He's not speaking for himself, so it's up to the emissaries who claim to work under his authority and wish to impose it on us by law to explain. Perhaps if we really started asking these hard but important questions, we might better realize the utter silliness of letting a silent God who just happens to agree with whatever a candidate wants to believe write our laws for us, instead of sticking with that "freedom of religion" concept that the writers of the Constitution thought was such a nifty idea.

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