[ by Charles Cameron — Christian theology on two-fold logic, and its crucial importance in understanding the role of evil and the question of theodicy, with an aside concerning Islamic theology on the breath of life in utero, hence also abortion ]
As I shall say more than once, my own interest here is not in discussing the merits or demerits of a recent political debate, but to add a couple of theological nuances for our consideration.
Richard Moursock is reported to have said:
I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
Joe Donnelly is reported to have responded:
The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in, does not intend for rape to happen — ever. What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.
Mourdock then apparently responded:
What I said was, in answering the question form my position of faith, I said I believe that God creates life. I believe that as wholly and as fully as I can believe it. That God creates life. Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think that God pre-ordained rape? No, I don’t think that. That’s sick. Twisted. That’s not even close to what I said. What I said is that God creates life.
Similarly, Rick Santorum is reported to have said:
I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. We have to make the best of a bad situation.
My sole intention here is to add in a note or two about theology — I explicitly do not address the moral, political, legal and gender ramifications of this issue.
We are accustomed to think in terms of what I’d call “single-track” logic: the logic of Aristotle’s excluded middle. Christianity however, in its gospel-based forms, on occasion uses a “two-track” logic, in which something can be both timeless and temporal, or both the will of God and a clear defiance of that will.
An example of the first can be found in Christ saying of himself, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8.58).
On the face of it, that’s ridiculous – Christ appears to be claiming to have preceded Abraham, who is commonly called “our father Abraham” (Avraham Avinu, Rab in Yoma 28b cf. Genesis 26.3, cf. also Abeena Ibraheem in the Qur’an, 22.78). If single-track logic obtains, that’s a fair and reasonable critique.
The clashing tenses of the two verbs, however, gives us the clue that a two-track logic is at work: that Christ is claiming to be in eternal presence, in a manner that logically “precedes” Abraham’s admittedly prior place when considered in terms of a purely temporal sequence.
That piece of two-track logic doesn’t have any direct bearing on the politics of abortion in today’s USA, although it was a scandalous enough paradox to the Jews Jesus was addressing that the next verse states:
Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by…
I have quoted it first to make the point that two-track logic is at work in the sayings of Christ in the New Testament – but the key reference point illuminating what Moursock and those of like mind might say concerning an act both being in flagrant defiance of God’s will and also in some way partaking of it would be the betrayal of Christ, resulting directly in his arrest and crucifixion – the hideously cruel form of capital punishment used in that time and place.
Matthew 26.24 indicates that the betrayal and death of Jesus are the means by which a sacrifice is made, in fulfillment of prophecy, and then goes on to point up a double moral:
The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.
Reading that, it’s clear that within Christian two-track logic, an outcome (in our contemporary case, fertilization) can fall within the will of God, while there is “woe unto that man by whom” that outcome was brought willfully and sinfully effect.
Thus considering a child born of rape a blessing in its own right may — from a strictly theological standpoint — coexist with the idea that the rape should be abhorred and the rapist subject to whatever punishment the law may provide.
I should briefly note here two other pieces that address parts of the same issue:
Sarah Sentilles, Rape and Richard Mourdock’s Semi-Omnipotent God, posted at Religion Dispatches
G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Richard Mourdock: the theology behind his rape comments, posted at the Christian Science Monitor
Obviously, I am not impressed with Christian theological commentaries that miss the “twofold logic” at work wherever evil is encountered in a good creation.
The case of the betrayal of Christ is the clearest possible indication that God can will the outcome of an act which is in flagrant opposition to his will. The gospels state and Christians believe that Christ’s betrayal itself, not just the consequential salvation of the world by virtue of his sacrifice, was foretold in prophecy: in this sense, even the betrayal was part of the divine will, though as we have seen, that in no way excuses Judas from his complicity in deicide.
To be perfectly clear: it is my opinion that only the twofold logic I have pointed to satisfactorily approaches the age-long question of theodicy or the problem of evil, which I hope to return to in an upcoming post.
It is perhaps worth also noting here that the Qur’an suggests that life enters the developing body of a child in the middle of the second trimester, 120 days after conception — although we should also remember that “40 days” can mean “quite a while” in Semitic cultures, if Hebrew figurative usage us anything to go by.
Thus we read in the Qur’an, 5.12-14:
And verily We did create man from a quintessence (of clay). Then We placed him (as a drop of sperm) in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood. Then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump. Then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh. Then We developed out of it another creature (by breathing life into it). So blessed be Allah, the most marvellous Creator.
Expanding on this, in the premier hadith collection, Sahih al-Bukhari (# 3036), we read:
Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said:
Each one of you is constituted in the womb of the mother for forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his deeds, his livelihood, his (date of) death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into him…
I am indebted to commenters on Juan Cole‘s post Mourdock, Rape as a Gift of God, and Islamic Sharia on his informed Comment blog for the impetus to research the question of life in utero from an Islamic perspective.
Wisdom traditions may differ across centuries and cultures…
In closing, let me repeat: this posts presents footnotes on points in theologies, and is not intended to make a statement or give any indication of a political opinion.
My personal keen interest is in how our valuation of our human situation would change if more of us had an acute sense of two-track logic as it applies to “eternity within the temporal” and its corollary, the mutual interdependence of all that is.