If there is any silver lining in the moronic, ignorant, and grossly offensive statements offered about rape by the failed candidates for Senate in the recently concluded election, Missouri’s Congressman Todd Akin and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, it is that they may have finally shown both the folly and the moral dodginess inherent in efforts by conservative fundamentalists to posit God’s hand in every act, no matter how horrific or awful. They do this both in situations where misery besets an individual and where tragedy overwhelms a group. Both are ethically disgusting.
During a taped radio interview, Congressman Akin offered the completely cockamamie suggestion that women who are “legitimately raped” have some sort of divinely inserted body defense mechanism that prevents them from becoming pregnant. Something about female reproductive parts going into defensive spasms against unwanted sperm, a theory often repeated by former National Right to Life head and fabulist physician John C. Willke, seemed to be the source of Akin’s falsehood.
In a debate with his Democratic rival, Mourdock–a self-proclaimed Libertarian candidate for the open Senate seat in Indiana–said that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something that God intended to happen.” How this form of predestination, not heard in such blatant form since John Calvin harangued the denizens of Geneva, Switzerland, in the sixteenth century, squares up with libertarianism is beyond me and, I suspect, most other libertarians. But what is clearly morally scurrilous is to maintain that no matter how evil, bad things would not happen to you or anyone else without God’s approval.
Many GOP social conservatives rallied to Akin’s defense. Akin is a strong pro-lifer and his supporters said he should not abandon his quest for the Senate. He agreed and stayed in the race. He lost. So did Mourdock.
Right after Akin made his comments, there was evidence of disagreement from above. God immediately sent a hurricane—ominously named Isaac and initially aimed it at Tampa, Florida, right where the GOP had assembled to extol its candidates and their God-blessed views about rape. In light of the final election results, the Big Guy seems to have little sympathy for those who see his hand at work in every aspect of each person’s daily living.
What about tragedies befalling groups? Remember what Reverend Pat Robertson said in the aftermath of Katrina? The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and host of The 700 Club, CBN’s flagship television program, linked Hurricane Katrina to legalized abortion. He suggested that the disaster in New Orleans “could … be connected in some way to abortion.” Other religious conservatives echoed that idea. They noted that Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.
Well, what are we to make of a hurricane destroying New Orleans and a good chunk of the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Alabama? Was God mad enough at New Orleans to crush his more faithful adherents elsewhere in the impact zone who had struggled mightily to ban abortions? What was he thinking in imperiling the GOP convention on the heels of Todd Akin’s ruminations about rape? Did a significant segment of the GOP losing its compassion for the helpless victims of rape produce an angry supreme being who fired a storm at those who would push the limits of scientific facts to defend their point of view?
And what about Sandy? Did God decide to destroy the Jersey shore, southern Queens, and Long Island because those states went Democratic? Did he just overlook California and the West Coast? Perhaps the supreme being is not a beach person, a Bruce Springsteen fan, or an admirer of Snooki, and hates those who are?
I dunno. I am inclined to think that the best explanation for hurricanes, floods, and other calamities is coincidence compounded by poor human choices. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, there is a lot of prayer going on with mixed messages being sent, and God cannot satisfy everyone. Perhaps someday, fervent religious leaders will come to see that linking the rape of a twelve-year-old or the destruction of a city to divine moral retribution is a very dicey and highly unethical thing to do.
Arthur L. Caplan is the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.