Mourdock, Rape as a Gift of God, and Islamic Sharia

Indiana candidate for the US Senate Richard Mourdock, who has been endorsed by Mitt Romney, has caused a stir by calling children conceived of rape ‘gifts of God.’:

Here is his statement:

Mourdock’s position appears to reflect a theology of predestination, that events in this world are preordained as God’s will. As he later explained, God does not will sin or rape, which is a human choice. But he does will that life come into existence, so that a conception occurs in rape is divine will even if the rapist’s action is not.

Mourdock’s position is also taken by some Muslim religious scholars who interpret Islamic law or sharia:

I believe that the value of life is the same whether this embryo is the result of fornication with relatives or non-relatives or valid marriage. In Sharia life has the same value in all cases.

Sheikh M. A. Al-Salami, Third Symposium on Medical Jurisprudence

The problem with Mourdock’s position, which is shared by some advocates of Islamic sharia, is that it is a theological one. That this is so is obvious in Sheikh Al-Salama’s fatwa, just as it is obvious in Mourdock’s diction. Ironically, US evangelicals who have attempted to pass laws in state legislatures forbidding the use of sharia or Islamic law in the American system would in this case be disallowing Sheikh Al-Salami’s position, which is identical to that of Mourdock.

But apparently it is all right with them if Christian sharia is imposed on us all.

Mourdock’s and Al-Salami’s belief that an impregnated egg in a human is immediately a full human being with full legal rights is a modern fundamentalist belief uncommon in the history of Christian or Muslim theology. (To be fair, many Muslim authorities differ with Al-Salami on this position).

No purely secular philosophy holds this position, since it is rationally absurd. It would require that we view all early miscarriages as tragic deaths of human beings and give funerals to all the eggs that become detached from the uterus three days after conception and flow away in the toilet. Out of 4.4 million confirmed pregnancies a year in the United States, about a million end in miscarriage. Those miscarriages that occur in the third trimester are tragedies and I don’t mean in any way to detract from them. But those that occur in the first trimester are obviously not deaths of human persons. Should we name these deceased eggs? Have memorials for them? All you have to do is think about it a little bit to see how ridiculous Murdock’s and Al-Salami’s position is.

There is no conceivable secular purpose that could be accomplished by requiring raped women to bear to term the eggs impregnated by force by their attackers. All laws in the US have to have a secular purpose. Mourdock wants to impose on all Americans a ban on all abortions because of his peculiar theology, which is a violation of our first amendment rights. There is no difference between Mourdock aspiring to legislate for us all based on his theology and Muslim fundamentalists’ attempt to impose sharia on their societies.

Even Sheikh Rachid Ghanoushi in Tunisia has disavowed any attempt to put sharia in the Tunisian constitution. American Republicans often have more hard line positions, wanting a constitutional amendment forbidding all abortion, which they want to put into the constitution because of their Christian religious theology. And, some Muslim jurists disagree, allowing abortion on a wide range of grounds, including rape and incest (indeed, this position was more common in the medieval tradition).

Sometimes our fundamentalists are worse than theirs.

38 Responses

  1. The American Taliban – which is what the extreme Christian fundamentalists are, in fact – would have everyone follow their doctrine or be stoned. Oh, they deny it and they might not institute public floggings. But they are just as ferocious in their flagrant distortion of Jesus’ supposed teachings as the Taliban is of Mohammed’s lessons.

    How did this happen in America?

    We’ve always been plagued by a few religious nutjobs from time to time but what we are seeing today in the United States is unprecedented. Some of the crazies actually run for president – yes, I’m speaking to you, Michelle Bachmann – and the Republican Party took her seriously for a while.

    We are a far distance from what Thomas Jefferson thought Americans would be: He predicted that most would end up atheists or, at worst, Unitarians.

    • Why the bulk of the Christian Right has strongly adopted conservative economic policies is also perplexing to many (especially as Jesus strongly identified with the poor and as the great majority of evangelicals are not rich).
      One important reason is as evangelicals have experienced political success, they have had to make important compromises. Thus it has been commonplace to hear evangelical preachers peddle Republican myths of trickle-down prosperity. While evangelicals over 50 years of age grew up hearing a lot of sermons about the perils of wealth such is rare today. It is much more common to hear leaders of the Religious Right speak on the miracle of supply side economics. Is it mere coincidence “that the so-called ‘prosperity theology,’ a kind of spiritualized Reaganism, flourished among evangelicals during the 1980s?” According to the prosperity gospel, wealth, fame and power are manifestations of God’s work, proof that God has a plan and design for believers.

      Also, it’s important to remember that Christian Fundamentalists “are not biblical literalists, as they claim, but ‘selective literalists,’ choosing the bits and pieces of the Bible that conform to their ideology and ignoring, distorting or inventing the rest. And the selective literalists cannot have it both ways. Either the Bible is literally true and all of its edicts must be obeyed, or it must be read in another way.” While the Bible (Leviticus 18:22) says that a man who has sex with another man is an abomination and should be killed, a “literal reading of the Bible [also] means reinstitution of slavery…Children who strike or curse a parent are to be executed…[M]en are free to sell their daughters into sexual bondage…” link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

      • I think there is an easier explanation: people, not just those in the Christian right, tend to adopt positions that the other members of their political coalition support, on issues that are not of top importance to them.

        Thus, Christian rightists who don’t really have strong feelings or fully-formed beliefs about taxation and the welfare tend to adopt the position of those movement conservatives who do have strong beliefs on those questions. After all, those nice people who agree with them about abortion and prayer in public schools 1) really seem to know what they’re talking about, and 2) have the same values I do about religious issues.

        • The wedding of the Christian right and the neo-liberals is completely contradictory. The small-government people, one would think, would not want government getting involved in private matters such as women’s uteruses or personal religion. After all, Ayn Rand was not only an atheist but a critic of religion. So why do they agree with religious and social conservatives? I believe that it all goes back to the Red Scare. Communism and socialism are not only feared and loathed because of their big-government economics. They are also godless and a threat to Judeo-Christian values. Those who are neo-liberals AND Christian conservatives are schizophrenic, and therefore, dangerously on the edge of a catastrophic and possibly violent psychotic breakdown (in my humble opinion).

  2. I am not familiar with Sheikh M. A. Al-Salami and his position, but I think there are some important differences between Christian and Islamic doctrine on the point raised by Senator Murdock:

    1. Islam says that the unborn shouldn’t be punished for the sins of the Mother or the Father, this much is agreed upon.

    2. Islam says that this act was permitted by God, but not that it was predestined or desired by God. That is a rather large difference.

    3. Islam says that the soul is breathed into the unborn at 120 days, not at conception. Again a large difference.

    So even the most “fundamental” of our Muslim “fundamentalists” are, as you note, worse than those of the Christian tradition.

  3. While the abortion debate is a tough one, I would like to point out that the most common Sunni position is that abortion is allowed until the 120th day as this is when the soul is breathed into the foetus (and thus it becomes a “person” with rights).

    As such miscarriages etc after 120 days gestation (ie midway through the second trimester) get the full funeral service and prayer according to most scholars.

    I can’t recall any major schools having the soul breathed in prior to 40 days (always lots of minority positions though), think the Shia are at 10 weeks or so (given they don’t rate Bukhari), certainly not on insemination.

    From a secular standpoint the key question must be again when the offspring has “rights”, bearing in mind that you can’t really use the concept of a soul in a secular standpoint. Nor can you use the argument of the baby being able to survive for itself outside of the woman’s womb (in my humble opinion) as this line of argument would indicate that parents need not have any obligations to exert their efforts/bodily functions to provide food and shelter for newly born babies who could not survive without their care.

    It is incredibly difficult, but I think all that can be done on this particular argument is to go with the will of the majority in any given country as to what determines an acceptable cut off for abortion given it is not possible to determine secularly (in my opinion again) when a baby has “rights” while still in the womb, but noting that a secular government typically has a responsibility to protect the rights of those who cannot protect themselves.

    Once the offpsring has “rights” according to the populace/government/our laws, the origin of conception cannot have an influence on the permissibility of abortion as the principle that all life that has “rights” has the same value is, I would put forward, an eminently sensible one that must be accepted in a secular society.

    So conception is too early to have rights, birth too late, and while Mr Mourdock may believe that life starts at conception, the vast majority of Muslim Scholars (and Muslims) do not.

    • These debates over the time of “ensoulment” have existed in Christianity and Judaism as well. The traditional Christian position is roughly 26 weeks / 180 days, or the first two trimesters, though there’s certainly variation.

      Placement of ensoulment near the time of viability is typical, because that makes *sense*.

      “Ensoulment at conception” is a *distinctly minority* viewpoint which has historically been held only by a few sexist crackpots, like Augustine.

  4. I disagree with the comment: “Sometimes our fundamentalists are worse than theirs.”

    I wouldn’t make a comparative statement when talking about religious fundamentalists. I think they all share the same position “at the bottom of the pile” in matters of progressive morality.

    The real difference I see between fundamentalists in the West and in the Middle East (for example) is that in the latter region their thoughts unfortunately appear to translate into everyday politics and the lives of people unchallenged, whereas in the West it can still be debated.

  5. And while Americans continue to be distracted over the abortion hot-button issue, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer & no one addresses THAT problem.

    • These are not unrelated issues.

      1. In an unrestrained capitalism of ever-skyrocketing inequality, people demand some form of hierarchy or status to feel better about themselves at the expense of others. We really don’t enjoy “meritocracy” unless we’re the 1%. Yet we hate equality too. So all the old, possible forms of inequality are back on the table. Patriarchy, as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, ties many right-wing ideas together, but it certainly requires for women to be seen as “different” such that they can be discriminated against when useful to keep males from freaking out.

      2. The capitalists need cheap labor to serve them, and more consumers to sell to. Babies also put pressure on parents to earn more money.

      • “Yet we hate equality too. ”

        Nice to finally see this out in the open, in print. United we aren’t, and no amount of bumperstickers will make it so. Outside of their social tribes, Americans increasingly don’t much like each other, don’t accept each other, suspect each other, fear each other, seek advantage over each other, push compliance to their own beliefs, seek protection from each other, seek adjudication of dispute from outside the locale. This outcome is not an accident. The work leading to it has been constant over a long period of time and continues. It has helped make the herd more herdable, more responsive to both the whip and the drover’s soothing lullaby.

        If you don’t happen to like that outcome, don’t act it out. It is really as simple as whether or not in a democracy citizens lead the government, or vice versa. The present, with responsiveness of elected officials virtually identical to cemetery occupants, is the versa.

    • Super390 has it right. Having a child is the #1 predictor of declaring bankruptcy. Rich people can afford to have unplanned children; poor people cannot.

  6. I used to think that a rule against murder (of a person actually born) was a rule with a secular purpose, that purpose being to allow all persons actually born to lead their lives with little fear of being murdered and allowing their friends and families likewise to live free of a fear of such a murder.

    Now I’m not sure. A baby doesn’t fear being murdered, and the rule saves the baby no fear. Of course it could save the parents and other relatives from some fear.

    But what of people who view the foetus as alive and fear that it might be “murdered” by abortion? Would not such fear justify a “secular” rule against abortion?

    I fear it’s all merely a matter of legal line-drawing. I draw the line at born-alive-and-drew-breathe. But I recognize that others draw the line elsewhere.

  7. What’s a parallel to this sort of thinking, and maybe even implicit in it, is the “traditional” view of women as “vessels.” That is, the issue of where life begins might be argued, but what is not up for discussion is the choice of a women to continue with a pregnancy: her role being understood.

  8. The problem when politicians wade into these sensitive matters that deserve more than 5 minutes of attention, is that compassion is utterly lacking. Since September 11th as the power struggles have grown, but the level of compassion has plummetted.

    What gets lost in this debate is that quality of life *IS* a key part of being “pro-life” and the death penalty is anti-life. I am a traditional Catholic and have encountered cases of rape and attempted abduction in my family, so these issues have been contemplated. If one is going to play the Christian card, life doesnt end if one is fortunate to make it outside the womb. Such work isn’t even 1/8 done.

    We have too many children living in poverty in our country and that is wrong. Yet we see programs for education, food distribution, housing slashed. How can this be?? At one point, a stupid row recently ensued in Texas over Planned Parenthood’s alleged role in health programs in that state, resulting in health programs being temporarily cut. Who suffered? Low income women and children. I may not agree with all of Planned Parenthood’s programs but they do offer alot of services and the conduct of that campaign was just sheer vindictiveness.

    The focus has been utterly lost on raising quality of life standards for all kids in our country and THAT needs to be put back on the table to be addressed because THAT is pro-life. It’s also hypocritical to call for death penalty or punishment without a trial, or drone assassinations, and claim to be pro-life.

    I scratch my head as to why this candidate from Indiana was sourcing the Sharia. On one hand, I am glad he was researching the Sharia. I hope he keeps researching and comes across the passage “لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ” and, with extra effort, looks into sources written by American Muslim scholars on how this idea might have influenced Thomas Jefferson when he wrote our Constitution

    • Very wonderful comments. I would add about Planned Parenthood, though Catholics believe birth control is a sin, I would argue that Planned Parenthood has single handedly driven down the abortion rates by providing contraception. I do not have exact numbers but common sense would say to me, that the number of unplanned pregnacies prevented is substantial. I am very confused on christian views regarding contraception. It isn’t just single women that use it…plenty of married women use it as well. It is very expensive to have children!

  9. Christian LITERALISTS are unable to take responsibility for their own actions. One of their actions has been to systematically deny full personhood to women. Rather than face the consequence, they seek a divine solution(deus ex machina) for the crimes of violence against women.

  10. Arguably his position isn’t actually that crazy, assuming Christian beliefs.

    I don’t agree, but I don’t really think people should be shocked – plenty of Christians believe in predestination. In fact, it probably exists, although I don’t think it’s caused by God or that there’s any design to it or that women should be banned from having abortions in these circumstances.

  11. the issue is that fundies want to impose their view of LIFE on others. whether they be Christians or Muslims or whatever belief system, the forcing of religious beliefs on others is what these Taliban following Fundies have in common.

    the idea that some people can think and come to differing opinions is what is not allowed here. the Christian Taliban and Muslim Taliban, etc, all agree their views must be followed by everyone. no exceptions, no ifs ands or buts.

    that is what is so ironic about the Hatred towards the Muslim Talibans by lots of so called Christian Americans. it is this casting of judgment on others by our own “self-approved and self-ordained” Christian Taliban. our own Christian Taliban loves doing this to fellow Americans. that is the real problem of violating the separation of church and state. “holier than thou” attitudes lead to no good.

    Judge lest ye be judged only applies to the Fundie Muslims, apparently. not so for the pompous, so called “Christian Fundies” here in America. such rapacious glee at imposing their religious views on everyone. so very “Christ like.” not!

  12. The problem with these men remarking about “rape” is they find it unremarkable inasmuch as they (as “males”) are not usually the subjects of attack. I fundamentally believe that children conceived and born to those who have a genuine concern for each other will most likely succeed in whatever society into which they are introduced. Needless to say, those born without the requisite emotional commitment by their sires and dames (hopefully, “Dads” and / with “Moms”) are at a disadvantage. Those born to a rape victim are a constant reminder of traumatic event(s). Moreover, I suggest that the “men” who have such a casual attitude about rape put themselves in position where they might be found to be suitable subjects for involuntary coitus (or a substitute therefor). Their minds, they may be a changin’!

    • It is interesting you say men being put in that position as I have known men who were raped. There are plenty of men and boys who have been raped but they cannot speak out because of the human desire to humiliate. Which if you really want to break that down, is a form of rape to the human spirit.

  13. Dr. Cole,

    As for Christian doctrine, the Catholic Church has always held that abortion is intrinsically evil regardless of any circumstances including rape, incest, and life of the mother. However, it is true that there has been a development of doctrine over the last 20 centuries as to exactly when human life begins. Both Augustine and Aquinas posited that an embryo is fully human sometime after conception but while still in the womb (for Aquinas it was when the mother could feel the fetus move). I think biological science, ironically, has helped the Church to formulate it’s current position as beginning at conception.

    However, we live in a free society where only laws that can stand up under the scrutiny of reason should be passed. So, I want to suggest that the reasonable course is to conclude that life does in fact begin at conception. Modern science does support this as the embryo at conception is in full possession of a distinct genetic code. If this is not sufficient reason than where do we draw the line? Is it 120 days and not one minute more or less as Islamic law mandates? What if we are wrong? Should we not error on the side of caution here? I remember a congenial discussion I had in college with a fellow student who said quite innocently, “But, we don’t know when life begins.” The answer immediately popped in my head: “Then why are you killing it?”

    • The Catholic Church has not always held that position on abortion. You should read Wolfgang P. Muller’s excellent legal history _The Criminalization of Abortion in the West: Its Origins in Medieval Law_ (Cornell, 2012) for a detailed discussion of the evolution of the Church’s position.

      • Kristina, the Catholic proscription of abortion can be traced back to the first century in the Didache: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”

    • Religions have agendas, just like everything else. In fact, I stopped believing in God because it became obvious that His followers’ worldly agendas were all that mattered. What’s your agenda in making women something less than fully free, and thus less than human?

    • David, you’re wrong about Church history. The Roman Catholic Church likes to lie about its past history.

      It’s dug up people who were *minority* thinkers (as with the quotes you’ve found), who did not actually represent policy or doctrine during the period, and misrepresented them as the mainstream of Catholic thought. Mistranslation is also used to misrepresent early thinking.

      In fact, Roman Catholic hostility to “pre-quickening” (first & second trimester) abortion dates mainly to the mid-19th century.

  14. Firstly, I would like to point out that I do not want to be associated with the views of Mourdock and his peers. They are fighting a losing battle, abortion has come to stay. If the GOP teabaggers should outlaw abortions, illegal abortion clinics and abortion holidays abroad will flourish. The 1920′s alcohol prohibition did not mean the end of drinking in the US. It did, however make ridiculous much money for a lot of mobsters. Drugs is illegal in the US too, but the legal ban on drugs seems not to have culled the usage of drugs either.

    Second, I would like to point out that the sarcasm handed out over people who would like to bestow legal rights to a foetus is uncalled for. This is clearly straw man argumentation, professor. I do not think anyone is arguing for FULL legal rights for a foetus, such as the right to bear arms, hence firearms could be registered under the name of a foetus. Or the right to a decent funeral, as you point out would be impractical for eggs detached three days after conception.
    However, arguing for protection for the legal right of a foetus not to have its life development ended by chemical treatment or surgery is not “rationally absurd”.

    What is rationally absurd is that, at least here in the old world, a mother will for a certain period of the pregnancy be able to require government assistance in terminating the pregnancy, but after crossing some quite random time limit, doing anything that could hurt the foetus is a felony. It is like the magical 120th day in Islamic law: the foetus becomes a unborn child, a small human with legal rights. Arguing to move this magical transformation threshold closer to conception is not rationally absurd.

    • Obviously, Norwegian, the goal is not to eliminate abortion, but to keep it criminalized as a boogeyman, a way to permanently smear the reputation of women and those who believe in equality as essential to humanity.

      Why was alcohol made illegal? The politics of American bigotry against Catholics and Jews. Protestants turned against alcohol very conveniently when they were being flooded by these immigrants and needed to posture about having superior morality.

      The proof of this? Only 4 years after alcohol, the “Catholic” drug, was relegalized after a catastrophic realignment of the American political system putting the immigrant party in charge of fixing the mess made by WASP greed, marijuana was outlawed. You know, the “black” drug.

      Many laws exist not to eliminate behaviors, but to stigmatize them to signal the arrangement of the caste system. It’s actually desirable that “those people” keep acting in an outlaw way, to strengthen the will of Good Americans to oppress and exploit them in every way.

  15. Here is what I think about all this…

    I was raped and became pregnant and did not abort my baby. Why would I punish a human being by not choosing to bring it into this world… it was not my baby’s fault that I was raped. I think that people are missing the whole point of all of this… we are talking about a life and whether or not we should terminate it or not. Am I affected by the rape? Yes… but that does not mean that I have the right to take the life of my baby.

    I also don’t think that God condones rape and he definitely does not condone murder which is what abortion is anyway.

    I am so thankful for my kiddo and I would go through what I went through to have my baby all over again. This baby is a blessing in the face of rape.

    • Congratulations on exercising choice. Others may not feel the same way, or give a damn what you think “God” does or does not condone.

      • Please, this reader was not advocating any laws, etc. She was presenting another way of looking at the issue, from a very personal perspective. She specifically said this is how SHE sees the issue. SHe said nothing about imposing her own views on others.

    • I too was raped and CHOSE to not abort. The key word here is I chose that path for myself. The decision was made easier because I had supportive and loving family around me who helped me through this. I was not able to care for the child myself as I had just burried my husband who died of cancer and shortly after this the rape occurred. It took over a year of counceling and therapy for me to get to the point where I wasn’t suicidal. My baby died during childbirth…likely a result of intense stress that I was under during this process. I would not choose to go through that experience again. I would never never never take that choice away from another person. I know the HELL I went through and realize that not everyone has the same kind of support that I did. Abortion is not murder…this is a religious notion that you have and there is supposed to be seperation of church and state. We are guaranteed under the constitution of the United States of America the right to abortion. It is a right of privacy issue. If abortion became illegal, or criminal then you would prefer to put women in prison who were raped and get abortions? For how long? And doctors that perform the abortions? For how long? Do you prefer to see women who get abortions get the death penalty? Because in some states pre-meditated murder has an automatic death sentence penalty. These questions need answers!

    • Pregnancies can kill.

      You have the absolute right to decide what happens with your body — and if you choose to try to bring a baby to term, go for it.

      On the other hand, pregancies frequently threaten the lives of women. Google “pre-eclampsia”. (We are beginning to understand the evolutionary reasons why pregnancies frequently threaten women’s lives.)

      Women need the right to save their own lives and health, even if it kills the non-viable embryos within. That’s just basic human rights. The adult woman has to have more rights than an embryo — which is, in technical medical terms, a parasite.

  16. Juan, I’m with you on all the substantial points you made in this post. We’re in complete agreement. But, on one detail I think you’ve overstated something. Like everyone else, I don’t know when a potential human developing inside the mother becomes a human person. It does seem obvious to me that the embryo is not a human person in the initial days and weeks after conception. But late in the first trimester, around the 10th to 12th weeks of the pregnancy, the possibility that the fetus is a “person” seems quite plausible to me. In many cases parents will have known about the pregnancy for nearly two months by this time, and the unborn potential human has taken on some sort of identity in the anticipating parents and family.

    And by the way, a very large minority (perhaps 20-25%) of fertilized eggs don’t end up as live births. I remember reading in Alison Jolly’s “Lucy’s Legacy” that some studies suggest huge numbers of pregnancies spontaneously fail so early in the pregnancy that the mother never suspects she has been “pregnant” at all.

    Maybe instead of “But those that occur in the first trimester are obviously not deaths of human persons,” we could just agree that “…those that occur in the first weeks of the first trimester are obviously not deaths of human persons.”

  17. If men could get pregnant there would be an abortion clinic on every corner and the morning after pill would come in a wide variety of flavors.

  18. Thank you for posting this video. I watched the short clip and heard the sentence, “life is that gift from God”. But you entitled the post “rape as a gift from God”. Is there another video clip where he makes that statement?

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