Friday, October 26, 2012

Rape, theology and the antiabortion movement

It's a very disturbing twist to the antiabortion movement that they not only oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest. But in pursuit of that goal, they actually wind up giving more-or-less explicit justifications for rape, as Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana have gotten publicity for doing.

Adele Stan gives a roundup of some of these absolutist positions in Republicans' Shocking Positions on Rape and Pregnancy Aren't Outliers -- They're Central to the GOP Agenda Alternet 10/25/2012. She makes an important historical point:

With the takeover of the G.O.P by the religious right, beginning in 1976, the party’s position on abortion has been on a slow and steady march toward deepening misogyny. Women are to be punished not just for choosing to have sex, but for being sexual beings at all -- for having vaginas, if you will.

Although evangelical Protestants, who now comprise 26 percent of the U.S. population, were not always so draconian in their views on abortion, the movement’s alliance with the Roman Catholic Church -- which prohibits any exception, even to save the life of the pregnant woman -- has led to the present-day, Dark Ages dictates of the religious right on matters of women’s sexuality and sexual vulnerability.
I would quibble a bit with the 1976 date; what we today know as the Christian Right didn't start emerging in the organizational forms we know today until 1977-8 when fundamentalist minister became outraged at the Carter Administration's denial of tax breaks to the racially segregated private Bob Jones University.

But the Protestant adoption of the absolutist Catholic fundamentalist viewpoint is an important historical point.

I noticed a while ago that there was an inconsistency in people saying that aborting a fetus that could not survive outside its mother's body was taking a human life but that exceptions for rape and incest were okay. I connected this with conversations in which people expressed their support for antiabortion politics by saying that if a woman/girl gets pregnant, she should have to pay the consequences. In other words, pregnancy was a punishment for the sin of having sex outside church-sanctioned arrangements. Or maybe even for having sex and all.

Democratic shyness at offending the sensibilities of men and women who think the church, the state and a husband should be able to dictate everything a woman does with her ladyparts has generally discouraged them from discussing the retrograde, mean-spirited, punitive moralism that lies behind the antiabortion movement.

We've reached a point in the development of this movement, though, in which guys like Todd Akin Richard Murdock and their supporters of both sexes are "desublimating" that underlying meanness. It's not so much that they actually care about the precious little Jesus fetuses they claim to be defending. They're mainly angry at women - or sluts and prostitutes as chief Republican Party ideologist Rush Limbaugh refers to them - "not just for choosing to have sex, but for being sexual beings at all -- for having vaginas, if you will," in Adele Stan's words.

This is not to discount the theological side of this. Though as so often happens with matters of sex, theology is tossed on the stormy waters of passion. (And hormones.) Jeffrey MacDonald writes about Richard Mourdock: the theology behind his rape comments Christian Science Monitor 10/25/2012:

In awkwardly wading into theological waters, Mourdock apparently aimed to affirm the belief – widely held in Evangelical circles, in particular – that God's sovereignty knows no limits. It is a concept that has strong ties to 16th-century Swiss religious reformer John Calvin, who saw in scripture and day-to-day events evidence of a hands-on God. Mourdock showed, however, how tricky it can be to apply the doctrine in discussing tragic events.
This is probably worth remembering when we hear discussions about the controversy over "New Calvinism" in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), still the largest US Protestant denomination.

David Van Biema reported for Time back in 2009 on The New Calvinism 03/12/2009:

Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don't operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, "everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world" — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle's pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom's hottest links.
Like in other areas, President Obama's centrist politics and posturing prevent him from confronting this ideological nastiness as directly as the President and the head of the Democratic Party should, as Sarah Posner observes in Obama’s Wrong Answer on Leno Religion Dispatches 10/25/2012:

President Obama was on Jay Leno’s show last night, and the late-night host asked him about Richard Mourdock’s statement about pregnancy caused by rape as a “gift from God” and something “God intended.”

Obama responded, “I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas. Let me make a simple proposition. Rape is rape. Rape is a crime.”

He doesn’t know where these guys come up with these ideas? I know he was trying to demonstrate the outrageousness of Mourdock’s views, but we all know where they come up with these ideas: fundamentalist Christianity.

Obama went on, “The second thing this underscores, though,” (and here is where I’m hoping he’d say, “this is exactly why we don't want to mix religion and politics.”) But no, Obama said, “is this is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s health care decisions. Women are capable of making these decisions... for politicians to want to intrude on this stuff is a huge problem.”

Of course that’s a huge problem, but isn't there another huge problem: that Mourdock thinks that because he believes he knows what divine intentions are, that his religious views get to dictate policy? Wouldn't it be just as problematic if Mourdock were a female candidate?
The Democrats and pro-choice advocates have to get beyond the now-standard Democratic bromides about how they are individually personally against it but want it to be "safe, legal and rare", or something to that effect. They also need to insist that abortion laws need to be consistent with the medical fact that a fetus is biologically an integral part of the mother's body until the end of the second trimester, when it reaches a stage that it could possibly survive outside the mother's womb. That was a foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. And despite the imaginary tales the antiabortionists constantly churn out about the alleged miracles of medical advances, that is still the case.

The belief that a fertilized egg becomes a human being at conception is a theological one, not a medical one. And in a secular society, laws about pregnancy, abortion and birth control should not be made on the basis of theology. There really is a freedom of religion issue and an issue of the establishment of religion in play with the abortion issue. The Democrats need to start making those points, and in the process remind people that freedom of religion is not just a fundamentalist slogan to justify enacting their theological beliefs into law for everyone else to have to follow.


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