Why God’s Intentions Are Irrelevant

Richard Mourdock, Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, explained his opposition to rape exceptions to abortion bans last night: “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Read Irin Carmon’s post at Salon, about how and why this sort of talk is becoming more commonplace in the GOP.

There are reasons beyond the sheer misogyny Carmon documents, though, why these sort of justifications shouldn’t be given any credence in our politics.

We’ve become far too tolerant of religious explanations and religious excuses for public policy decisions. The media says, ah, he’s a man of faith, so we’ll just question the public policy implications of what he’s saying, rather than the theo-excuses he’s making for legal restrictions on half the population’s medical decisionmaking. But really we should be questioning why politicians are given a pass when they undergird their policy positions with God’s will.

Does God intend climate change, and the global catastrophe that will ensue if it’s left unchecked? Does God intend that some hardworking people will make a lot of money, while the slothful will stay poor, and deserve it? Does God say taxes are wrong? Does God say women should be submissive to their husbands? Does God say slavery is sometimes justified? Does God say we should all own guns? Just because some people answer “yes” to these questions doesn’t mean their interpretation of God’s intentions should dictate law and policy.

As I discussed yesterday in my post about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated (and why the culture wars aren’t yet over), the Democrats have become far too tolerant, indeed supportive of, religious talk in politics. Many Democrats will of course condemn Mourdock’s position because of its misogyny and utter absence of empathy (both perfectly justified condemnations). But will Democrats stop invoking religion, too? Once you tolerate religious talk in politics, you have to take all comers, from the biblical literalists to the soft civil religion types. And if you tolerate religious talk in politics, where do you draw the line on what’s an acceptable religious justification for policy, and what is not? (“I don’t think God intends that” isn’t a sufficient response to comments like Mourdock’s.)

Every time a politician invokes a religious justification for a policy position, he or she should be compelled to articulate a non-religious one. That goes, too, for any Republican who wants to weasel out of endorsing Mourdock’s position on rape exceptions; they should have to articulate a non-religious reason why they support other restrictions on abortion.

We now have a wealth of information on the growing religious diversity of Americans, including the growing number of Americans who don’t believe in God, question God’s existence, or believe in God but refuse to belong to an organized religion. It’s starting to look like God is intending that we stop invoking him in political debates.

 

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email