Americans like their candidates religious, but not really religious

So the Republican senate candidate from Indiana has gotten himself in hot water for saying that pregnancy resulting from rape is the will of God:

“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

On the one hand, God intended the baby to happen.  On the other hand, God didn’t intend the rape that resulted in that gift from God, which is sort of confusing.  This is somewhat different from the “legitimate rape” comment that got another Republican senate candidate into trouble.  The latter was just bad science; the former is theology.  As I say, I find the theology somewhat confusing, but not absurd, from a Christian perspective.  Bad things (like rape) happen as a result of free will; God permits them even if He doesn’t approve of them.  But God is in favor of life, and He is certainly opposed to the unjustified ending of life.  And presumably that is the case Mourdock was trying to make.

Kevin Drum makes the point that this is a pretty conventional religious belief. It’s just not the sort of thing a politician (in particular) is supposed to say out loud:

What I find occasionally odd is that so many conventional bits of theology like this are so controversial if someone actually mentions them in public. God permits evil. My faith is the only true one. People of other faiths are doomed to spend eternity in Hell. Etc. There’s a lot of stuff like this which is either explicit or implied in sects of all kinds, and at an abstract level we all know it. Somehow, though, when someone actually says it, it’s like they farted in church. Weird.

I don’t find it particularly odd, though.  Americans like religion, but most of us are not especially religious when it comes to actual dogma.  So people like Mourdock or Rick Santorum who are really religious make us uncomfortable.  And they make the mainstream media, who are even less religious, even more uncomfortable.  So good politicians always skate around the implications of their (supposed) religious beliefs, because they don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

I see all of this from the perspective of a lapsed Catholic.  For example, Catholic theology is about as clear about abortion as it is about anything.  Abortion is murder.  Murder is a mortal sin.  People who commit mortal sins will go to hell. So, to a true believer, the fifty million or so American women who have had abortions since 1973 are going to hell (except for those who subsequently repented).  So are the doctors and nurses involved in the abortions.  Maybe all the politicians who vote in favor of abortion rights are going to hell too.  It would have been great if someone at one of those primary debates had asked Santorum about all those people going to hell.  (Santorum, by the way, thinks the Mourdock controversy is “gotcha politics.”)  I wonder if Santorum would have been a good enough politician to skate around it?

“Treat every goodbye as if it were your last one.”

Tough times in my little town.

The much-loved minister of religious education at our Unitarian church saw her house burn down a few weeks ago.  Everyone got out safely, although she was slightly injured. Her family was just settling down from that trauma when her five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer.

What’s up with that, God?

Meanwhile, the much-loved captain of the high school hockey team went to the doctor for a checkup and found out he had advanced testicular cancer.

Last year, a graduating senior was fatally injured in a freak car accident.  The parents kept him on life support long enough for everyone to say goodbye to him.

The class speaker at this year’s high school graduation reminded us of another event that happened fifteen years ago. One evening while the family was visiting their grandparents on Cape Cod, his mother kissed him good night, and he went to sleep.  He never saw her again.  Suffering depression as the result of injuries suffered in a car accident, she apparently abandoned her car and walked into the ocean. Her body was never found.

“Treat every goodbye as if it was your last one,” her son told his fellow graduates.

They cheered him to the rafters.  The town has held fundraisers for the hockey player.  The school started a scholarship to honor the memory of the kid who died in the car crash.  The church has raised money for the minister, organized meals for her family, visited the little girl in the hospital…

One of the benefits of Unitarianism’s theology-free approach to religion is that it doesn’t have to tie itself into knots explaining how God could allow a five-year-old girl to come down with cancer, or a loving mother to feel she had to walk into the ocean to rid herself of the demons in her brain.  Theodicy is stupid and unnecessary.  What matters is how we all — in our church, in our town, in our world — join together to help ease the suffering that is part of the price of being alive.