Richard Mourdock’s God

by Benjamin Studebaker

It is not every day that I have a reason to talk about an election in my home state of Indiana. Recently, Indiana republican candidate for senate Richard Mourdock was asked whether or not he believed abortions should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. This was his answer:


We’ve talked about abortion on the blog before, in which I claimed that there is a valid argument against abortion rights but that this argument rests on premises with which I happen to disagree (namely that all human life is morally equivalent regardless of psychological sophistication). This argument from Mourdock is, however, not that argument, but an argument that when women get impregnated from rape, god wanted it to happen and to have an abortion is to interfere with the will of god. What’s most interesting about this quote is not its implications for the abortion debate, of which there are few, but what it indicates about Mourdock’s religious and ethical beliefs, and that’s what I aim to discuss today.

There are two possible situations here:

  1. Richard Mourdock is lying when he says he’s thought about this quite a bit or just does not understand what it means to think about this quite a bit.
  2. Many elements of Richard Mourdock’s ethical and religious beliefs can be deduced from this comment.

If Mourdock lied when he said he has taken the issue seriously, or, even worse, doesn’t know how to take moral philosophy seriously, then that raises other concerns about his character and ability. For now I will assume that Mourdock is truthful, the he believes wholeheartedly in what he said. With that in mind, there are several things we can learn about Mourdock from this:

  1. Richard Mourdock is a determinist who rejects the notion of free will and believes rape, when it happens, is always for the best in this best of all possible worlds and in accordance with the will of god.
  2. Richard Mourdock wilfully submits himself to an authority that, as he understands it, embraces the consequences of the first point.

Each of these has further implications however, far more interesting even than the claims themselves. I will take each in turn.

First, how do we know that Mourdock is a determinist and rejects free will? Mourdock is saying that rape is part of god’s plan. If rape is part of god’s plan then, unless Mourdock believes that rape is not particularly nefarious (and I will give him the benefit of the doubt here), then all things, even those that seem to us to be nefarious, are the will of god–for surely, if something as awful as rape is the will of god and not a product of human beings defying the will of god, then all things less bad than rape are also god’s will. If Mourdock does not accept that all things are god’s will, then the question must be put to him as to why rape is god’s will, but not other far more positive things. In order to remain logically consistent, Mourdock will have to accept a determinist position. Following this logic, several other things must also be true:

  • For example, if all things are the will of god, homosexuality is the will of god, but simultaneously, so is the fact that people oppose homosexuality. As a consequence, god is constantly self-contradictory, because he creates beings and behaviours that he simultaneously attempts to destroy (one need not only consider homosexuality–all behaviours listed as “bad” by god are examples, because it must be god’s will that they happen and god’s will that they not happen simultaneously). It follows from this that, as Mourdock understands it, god is extremely inefficient.
  • If there is a heaven or hell for Mourdock, whether or not a person goes to one or the other is predetermined by god and consequently completely arbitrary. It follows from this that god is not fair or just but arbitrary for Mourdock.
  • The above positions are actually consistent with Calvinist Christian teaching–however, Mourdock has not stated that he is a Calvinist, which means that Mourdock likely is in violation of the teachings of the branch of Christianity with which he affiliates, as most branches of Christianity reject determinism.

Now let’s consider the second point–that Mourdock willingly embraces a god who he thinks is of the above nature. This means that Mourdock will submit himself to a diety that is contradictory, arbitrary, and forces him to violate his religious background. The question this raises is that, if this sort of authority is, in Mourdock’s eyes, legitimate, what kind of authority is not legitimate? If it is morally acceptable for god to be contradictory, arbitrary, and make people violate their religious beliefs, why is it not also acceptable for government and for laws to be contradictory, arbitrary, and to make people violate their religious beliefs? If Mourdock rejects the latter, he is rejecting the notion that we are created in god’s image and that to try to behave in a godly manner is wrong. He may believe that, but I consider it unlikely–most of Christian teaching tells us to behave morally as god would behave. If god behaves in a contradictory, arbitrary, anti-freedom of religion manner, then it stands to reason that we should do the same.

Now, let’s be clear here–most Christians do not believe any of the above because they do not believe that what is conventionally thought of as moral badness is “god’s will”. Usually Christians instead argue that this behaviour is an exercise of free will, that it contradicts god’s will and that it is something that one will be punished for in the afterlife. However, Mourdock’s stated beliefs fly in the face of mainstream Christian teaching and lead to a variety of extremely controversial theological positions, that, as we have seen, also have political implications. There is nothing in Mourdock’s moral background to prevent him from enacting laws that contradict each other, or are made on an arbitrary basis with no justification, or that force people to violate their own stated religious beliefs. Mourdock’s official position, if he can be believed, involves accepting a god who is blatantly and openly irrational. It is a kind of deliberate embrace of the irrational and a conflation of irrationality with authority. Mourdock’s highest order being is a being who is both extremely powerful and extremely irrational, prone to contradiction and arbitrary behaviour. This means that Mourdock himself has no basis for allegiance to rational thought, fairness, justice, or consistency of any kind. It means that all behaviour, from where Mourdock is sitting, is the work of god and consequently all behaviour is ultimately good behaviour.

This is a kind of god-led moral nihilism in which god creates everything and therefore everything is good, but god also condemns some things and therefore some things are good and bad at the same time. A person living under this ethical system cannot tell right from wrong, because all behaviour is ultimately right. Decisions don’t matter, because all outcomes are god’s outcomes, and therefore all outcomes are good outcomes.

The final problem with this is that Mourdock himself constantly makes moral claims about what is right or wrong–for instance, he says that abortion is wrong. But if the fact that some people rape other people is god’s will, then the fact that some people abort their babies would also have to be god’s will. Mourdock’s argument against  the right to abort rape babies is consequently the very same argument that someone coming from precisely the same theological direction could use in favour of the right to abort rape babies. Here’s where the entire logical artifice breaks down for Mourdock, because his position can be used to justify any behaviour of any kind, yet he maintains that only some behaviours are right and some wrong. It is a nonsense philosophical view. If Mourdock is truthful, if he really has thought quite a bit about this, then Mourdock’s mind is not capable of consistent, logical, rational thought. It follows from this that either Mourdock is a liar, a fool, or illogical. Therefore, those who vote for Mourdock are voting for someone who is a liar, a fool, or illogical. There may be some utilitarian basis for voting for a liar if he otherwise does good things (though I doubt many of Mourdock’s supporters are utilitarians). There is no basis for voting for a fool or an illogical person, and those who do so are either deliberately harming the state for their own amusement or are themselves fools or illogical people.