Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Religion and politics are immiscible

George Mourdock, Indiana Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, was quoted in the New York Times thusly:
“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mr. Mourdock said. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
This is about as straightforward a statement of the candidate's, and his party's, priorities as has ever been made.

What's troubling is not just the party's unyielding insistence on the primacy of the rights of the unborn over the rights of the mother. Pregnancy can trigger tremendously fraught ethical issues pitting the health and even the survival of the unborn child against that of the mother. Well-meaning people can disagree on which of them should be given greater protection by society.

Republicans, though, don't give even short shrift to the possibility that a pregnant woman's health or survival might take precedence under some circumstances. That possibility doesn't even seem to merit discussion.

However, let's put aside the Republican Party's inflexible dogmatism on that subject, and turn instead to a different kind of orthodoxy that Mourdock's remarks embody.

After getting hammered for his comments, made during a debate, the candidate clarified his position:

“God creates life, and that was my point,” Mr. Mourdock said. “God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does.”
His original remarks don't support the "God wants rape" misinterpretation, though it is tiresomely predictable that the remarks would be misinterpreted in that way. I take Mourdock's clarification at face value. It is entirely consistent with his debate comments.

And therein lies the problem.

What no one is willing to point out is just how disempowering Mourdock's position is.

The corollary to "something that God intended to happen" is "something that man has no business affecting, or even power to affect".

Mourdock, by the way, is hardly alone in espousing this belief that God is the ultimate decision-maker. This belief isn't even the sole property of the Republican party: millions of U.S. citizens of both major parties hold it.

They don't care, unfortunately, that this belief is profoundly irresponsible. What it amounts to is throwing all problems into God's hands.

I hardly think that any conception of God since at least the time of Jesus lends itself to the kind of thoroughgoing passivity and helplessness that Mourdock's position mandates. Making God imponderable and dictatorial is hardly flattering to any deity worthy of the name.

What kind of God do you worship, Mr. Mourdock?

More to the point, is your conception of God compatible with a pluralistic society in which freedom of and from religion is guaranteed?

You see, your conception of God calls into question whether you can possibly be trusted to craft legislation meant to address problems that the rest of us don't believe God will address. Even any number of people who believe God exists are uncomfortable leaving mundane Earthly matters in His hands: they believe that they must take responsibility for their own lives and the effect those lives have on the world.

The only way of life that is consistent with Mourdock's point of view is one that makes human beings absolutely subordinate to God, and that threatens Old Testament-style judgment on humanity if it does not elect such subordination.

Even if you agree with Mourdock, you have a problem in that the United States was not established to be that kind of nation. The United States was founded on a bet that no faith had a monopoly on truth (or salvation). That's a concept embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and what no one I've seen has noticed — or at least has been willing to point out — is that Mourdock's vision is completely incompatible with that concept.

Ergo, I claim that Mourdock is philosophically unfit to serve in the federal government in any capacity. His conception of existence, making God a primary actor in all aspects of existence, means he would be unwilling, maybe even unable, to make the best efforts necessary to craft workable solutions to our nation's problems. His fatalism would be fatal to us.

Either humanity takes responsibility for its fate, or it doesn't.

The United States cannot afford to keep electing people to public office who don't believe that our fate rests in our own hands.

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