Thursday, October 25, 2012

Providence and evil

On Facebook, Jeremy Pierce offers characteristically intelligent analysis of a current kerfuffle. Keep in mind that he's speaking off the cuff. I'll just reproduce his end of the exchange:

Richard Mourdock is being attacked for believing Genesis 50:20. It's not about abortion or rape but divine sovereignty, goodness.

    Jeremy Pierce I would have thought it was pretty obvious that what he was saying is that God has created a life, and that life is a gift, regardless of its origins. It's perfectly compatible for good to come out of something bad, and therefore it undermines the argument that abortion is all right merely because the pregnancy resulted from rape. That makes quite a lot of sense. It basically identifies the genetic fallacy in the argument for abortion in rape cases.  
    Jeremy Pierce It's not a sexual ethics argument. This isn't an issue of whether the sex or rape is allowed but what's morally allowable afterward. His point is that not being responsible for being in a situation doesn't remove responsibilities that incur merely from being in that situation. Like the baby on the doorstep situation except that you're also the biological parent and thus have at least a prima facie responsibility to care for the child.

    Jeremy Pierce On the specific point of Mourdock, though, I think some of the complaints assume he's speaking of the rape as good and not the more obvious antecedent, the child. And there's also a further confusion of something's being good in itself vs. used by God for a good. You have to take it the former way also to get their interpretation, and if he did mean to refer to the rape as intended for god he'd almost certainly mean the latter. Standard theodical point in discussions of God and evil. 

    Jeremy Pierce There is another assumption, though, that we have a responsibility to take care of what God entrusts us with. 

    His comments assume he means the pregnancy. That's what I've been saying. But some of his critics are taking him to mean the rape. 

    Jeremy Pierce He's not trying to argue against the person who doesn't think a fetus has moral status. He's trying to argue on behalf of the view that once you have that the rape exception isn't justified. And he isn't arguing for passivity but for proactive care for those entrusted to us. 

    The reason to your question in the second comment is that he's a politician, and people who can just give the simplest and most careful argument are usually incapable of getting elected to public office. I don't pretend that politicians are going to make the best arguments for their views. But I do get irked when their opponents take them to be saying something totally implausible when there's a much more charitable and likely meaning. The idea that he thinks God must endorse the rape as good flies in the face of what Christians have always believed about theodicy, going back to Gen 50 but also including the very cross itself, which Peter twice in Acts says was an evil act on the part of Jesus' murderers but was part of God's very plan. So accusing him of thinking the rape is justified is also accusing him of not partaking in the very great tradition of theodicy that his statement sure sounds like it stands within. 

    The last few sentences of your second comment seem to me not to distinguish between something's being good in itself and something's being bad but allowed because it serves a higher good. Suppose Mourdock meant to affirm the rape itself was something God deliberately allowed. I suspect he might believe that. Anyone with a view of divine sovereignty that's stronger than open theism must do so, since they accept that God knew it would happen and didn't stop it. I don't think that's what Mourdock's actual statement was about, but suppose it was. It doesn't follow that he endorses rape as good, because it doesn't follow from taking God to have allowed it to happen to serve some higher purpose that God endorses the evil act itself as morally allowable. It's only open theists and hyper-Calvinists who would disagree with that. And I think these critics of Mourdock must be assuming there's no view in between hyper-Calvinism and open theism, because the argument makes no sense unless there is no such middle ground. But that middle ground is exactly where we find the majority of Christians both historically and now. 

    Jeremy Pierce I'm not trying to evaluate his argument, just complaining that he's being grossly misinterpreted and strangely being taken as outside the mainstream. The things he's saying are well within the mainstream. 

    Jeremy Pierce And these same critics say nothing about Mourdock's opponent's co-sponsorship of the infamous "forcible rape" bill, which for Ryan means he approves of rape and can even be used against Buerkle, who got them to remove that language. 

    Jeremy Pierce Gen 50:20 has to do with being sold into slavery by one's own brothers and being separated from one's family for decades. I wouldn't say we can compare easily which is worse when you compare that to rape, but surely it's a great evil that the Bible nonetheless can say quite clearly was intended by God for good, even though the people who did it intended it for evil. What it shows us is not anything directly about rape but that God can intend evil by someone's greatly evil act. The cross is the prime example of this principle. In one sense it was the most evil act in the history of humanity. Yet it was fully intended by God as the most good act of God in all of history. 

    Our valuation of our circumstances is perspectivally-located, and sometimes our circumstances and perspective can lead us to be sensitive to truths that others cannot see, but sometimes they can lead us to ignore truths that others can see. Someone in that position is seeing it as good or bad in terms of what she would normally expect, how evil what happened is, how the results differ from what she would normally and should normally expect, how easily she can bear it, and so on. She is not thinking from the perspective of the one whose existence began through that terrible act. There are real people out there who were conceived as a result of rape. I'm not going to tell them that their very existence is an evil or that God didn't want them to exist. Ideally someone commenting on such issues would be able to take into account the experiences of both people. Mourdock didn't do that, and he can be faulted for that. 

    But his critics have completed failed in taking account the existence of these real people whose origins lie in a very evil act but who nonetheless are created by God, made in his image, and have the full worth of any person. They are also the children of the woman who was raped and not just of the rapist, despite how this issue is usually presented (as if they're his child, and their mother ought therefore to have no connection with her own child because of that fact), which just furthers the notion that there's something wrong with them that children of rape can often have. 

    As I've said above, his reasoning falls short of a good argument. As Jonathan said, would need to bring in other things to make it work, and once those are there this stuff isn't necessary (but I do think they add something, even if they're not necessary). But I think the critics are being unfair, and I think they're criticizing not just this particular view of his but something fundamental to Christianity.

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