Commentary 01 Nov 2012 10:20 pm

Faith in public service

Here’s something unexpected: I’m defending Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.

During a debate last week, Mourdock shared his view on abortion. He said, “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

The outcry was instantaneous.

But, really, as a card-carrying member of an evangelical Christian denomination, what else could he believe? He is saying “what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes: life begins at conception,” as Newt Gingrich told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday morning.

Unknowingly, however, Mourdock also stumbled into a problematic area of faith, one that believers might call a “mystery” (in the most positive sense) and one that nonbelievers might call a breach of logic.

It is this — and I’m no theologian, so work with me: If God is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), as most Christians believe that He — or She or It, depending on your preference — is, then He already knows not only everything that ever was, but also everything that ever will be.

Hence, He already knows who will be born, who will die, who will win the lottery and who will have car troubles on the way to and from work. He already knows which villages will be decimated by illness and which candidates will win Tuesday’s election.

Yet believers will pray to Him in hopes that he will intercede on their behalf. But if He is omniscient, He already knows how things turn out. He can’t be surprised by a surge of prayer and still be all-knowing, and He can’t change His mind for the same reason. Prayer, then, is problematic as a way to influence God, since He can’t switch horses in midstream.

But then what of free will, the doctrine that states God gives us the ability to make our own choices? It doesn’t work either, at least in the case of conception, if you believe — as Mourdock obviously does — that all life is preordained.

Mourdock is saying the hypothetical child of rape was meant to be born, at that time and to that mother, fathered by a man who forced his way upon another woman. The child could not have been born to another woman, or even to the same woman by another father, because it takes that particular seed and that particular egg to make that particular child, the one who is preordained.

You can’t have it both ways, as Mourdock later tried when he noted that he doesn’t believe rape itself is preordained, only the life that may come of it.

It doesn’t work: God can’t be given a free-will pass on the rape, but still get credit for the birth. He has to be responsible for both. To say He isn’t is to say that God is neither omniscient nor omnipotent.

Yet I’m defending Mourdock both for his honesty and for not apologizing if his statements are a true reflection of his worldview. He is not pretending that he can put his faith on a shelf when he becomes a public servant, as John F. Kennedy claimed he could do when Americans were concerned that the first Roman Catholic president would take orders from the Vatican.

If Kennedy were a true, devout Catholic, he would have to cede authority to Rome. To do otherwise would make him no Catholic. People’s faiths do matter. And if they don’t — if they are spouting only what they think a majority of voters want to hear, if their desire to be elected allows them to trump their own consciences — well, then that matters, too.

In this case, Mourdock’s statements, which really don’t matter to people outside Indiana, give us a perfect opportunity to note Mitt Romney’s reaction — or lack thereof. Romney has not made a formal statement, has not withdrawn his support, has not asked Mourdock to stop airing a political ad of endorsement.

And, really, why should he? Mormonism is not so different from other religions that it doesn’t support the tenets of omniscience and omnipotence, so it’s likely that Romney’s beliefs are similar to Mourdock’s, that what happens is what is meant to happen — in the case of rape as in everything else.

I’d pray that voters recognize how scary that is, if I thought it would do any good.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Nov. 1, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

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