A few days ago, Richard Mourdock spoke his mind about rape and abortion. Reactions were predictable. Liberals pounced. Republicans backed away. Mourdock semi-apologized like politicians do, really saying “sorry you’re all such idiots.” Obama replied that “rape is a crime. It is a crime,” a complete non-sequitur.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece lamenting how poorly liberals understand pro-life people and their beliefs. It’s happening again. Liberals have blindly or willfully misinterpreted Mourdock’s comments and show a complete inability to reckon with his rather mainstream Christian viewpoint.
First, what he actually said: "I struggled … 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." In other words, evil can be part of the bigger plan, and Life should be fought for. Awkwardly phrased, but at its core, a pretty conventional answer to the Question of Evil.
Every religious person can probably do the same if pressed. One possibility is to claim that God opposes rape (although there’s plenty of it in the Bible, for instance, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 and 22:28-29) and still favor all life. Similar reasoning can be found in Genesis. When Joseph rises to power in Egypt and then addresses his hater brothers, he says: “’Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, 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.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” This is a key allegory in the bible.
In his quote, Mourdock can be taken to mean either that Evil can sometimes be a means to God’s will, OR that rape does not justify the additional sin of killing a person (fetus). Ask the 92% of Americans who believe in God, and you’d probably get similar responses about evil in general. Ask the 22% of Americans who also believe that abortion should not be legal in sexual assault cases, and their words would probably sound a lot like Mourdock’s. He’s more in the mainstream on the issue than, for instance, President Obama.
Putting aside the disgust at hearing yet another old white dude weigh in on rape with seemingly zero sympathy for the rape victim, I think Ross Douthat is right: liberals who find his opinions shocking reveal how socially and politically cocooned they really are. In Douthat’s words, “the people who live and work in New York and Washington are generally much more secular and socially liberal than the country that they cover, and this disconnect inevitably has an impact on what kinds of statements the press treats as ‘shocking’ and ‘extreme,’ and what kinds of positioning it treats as mainstream and respectable.”
I am deeply atheist. I do not believe in God, and, like Thomas Nagel, if I ever had a personal encounter with what appeared to be God, I would assume I was going insane. I am also pro-choice. I wish there were more pro-choice atheists in public life. I further believe that the rape/incest/life of the mother exception to the abortion clause makes no sense. As Gail Collins put it beautifully, “Rape victims, yes, but not a 14-year-old who was impregnated by her 15-year-old boyfriend? The impoverished mother of six kids whose birth control method failed? There’s no way to set the worthy-of-compassion bar unless you trust women to set it for themselves.”
But for liberals, marginalizing mainstream Christian beliefs like Mourdock’s is really short-sighted. Democrats sometimes predict that the country’s changing demographics – particularly the influx of Hispanic immigrants and their children – will doom Republicans, increasingly the party of older white males. But a lot of that influx will be deeply religious. We are making a huge mistake to treat their beliefs as if only an idiot would hold them.