When God "Intends" Horrible Things

Two recent Senate races highlighted the long-standing problem of "theodicy."

Posted Nov 10, 2012

The election is over at last (thank Darwin!) and my inbox is considerably less cluttered than before. Among the post-mortems concerning why the Republicans did so much worse than expected, along with them being on the wrong side of democracy, having a less-than-inspiring candidate, supporting policies that blatantly favored the rich over everyone else, having caused two unnecessary wars plus the Great Recession and now asking to be returned to office because the Democrats haven't been quick enough in cleaning up the messes - aren't these enough? - we're told that some of their Tea Party-affiliated senatorial candidates were verbally inept.

Inept? Certainly. But not just verbally. How about intellectually and factually? I'm referring to Missouri Senate wannabe Todd Aikin, who invented his own fact-free biology when he announced that women's bodies can "shut the whole thing down" when it comes to pregnancy resulting from "legitimate rape." He had something there: Women's body-politic did a pretty good job of shutting down Mr. Aikin's senatorial aspirations.

Even more interesting, it seems to me, was the claim by the Republican's Indiana senatorial hopeful, Rchard Mourdock, that when pregnancy results from rape, "it is something that God intended to happen," and hence, abortions should be ruled out. Mr. Mourdock was roundly and appropriately criticized for this comment, which may well have cost him - and his party - an otherwise likely senatorial seat. But the problem isn't simply that Mr. Mourdock (along with Mr. Aikin and a remarkably large number of their associates) are members of the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal crowd. The real problem, I submit, isn't that he said something that is beyond the pale, politiclly, but that he gave voice to something that is ENTIRELY CONSISTENT with much of mainline religious belief: the impossibility of reconciling faith in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God with the fact that really bad things happen.  LIke rape, war, murder, devastating disease, and much, much more.

Technically, the issue is known as "theodicy," and is a continuing and unresolved dilemma for religious believers, not something that I can illuminate in a single blog. But let's just apply it to Mr. Mourdock's seeming malapropism: The problem is that for true believers, who claim that God is all-mighty, there is NOTHING that He didn't intend to happen! So Mourdock was correct. Not only are pregnancies resulting from rape something that God must have approved (or at minimum, permitted), but even the rape itself must also have been either approved of, or at minimum permitted.

Now, there are many potential rationalizations of the theodicy dilemma, most of them - at least in the Christian tradition - revolving around some aspect of "free will," namely that by condoning evil, God is serving a Greater Good: giving people the opportunity to act against evil, or maybe to illuminate the very nature of evil itself. Let's get specific, however: Imagine an 11 year old girl, abused and raped by her step-father, and impregnated as well. This horrendous series of events is supposed to have been orchestrated - or even permitted - by God so as to test her free will? Or to teach the rapist a lesson? And as a result, society shouldn't help that girl terminate her profoundly undesired pregnancy? I don't see how any rational, even minimally compassionate human being could believe this drivel even for an instant.

The dilemma, dear reader, isn't in the ill-advised babblings of Messrs Aikin and Mourdock, but in the ill-advised, idiotic faith in a god who is supposed to be both all-powerful and all-benevolent, but who - if he, she or it exists at all - simply can't be both at the same time.