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Posted at 02:11 PM ET, 10/24/2012

The Mourdock mistake — war on grammar and philosophical quagmires


Look, I’m more of a Kantian, really. (Michael Conroy - AP)

History’s greatest minds have wrestled with these questions. What does God intend to happen? Is there a God? Should Mitt Romney pull his ad from the Indiana Senate race?

Now Senate candidate Richard Mourdock from Indiana is wrestling with the first question, and Mitt Romney’s campaign is wrestling with the third. And all the people who showed up for the Todd Akin barbecue are assembling with blazing torches and marshmallows.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised by all the outcry against Mourdock.

Here’s what he said:

“I believe life begins at conception. The only exception I have, for to have an abortion, is in the case of the life of the mother. 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.”

This is hardly new. If it weren’t for the statement about divine intent, he might almost be able to squeak by. I disagree with everything involved in this remark, but it’s a sadly mainstream statement, as Extremely Pro-Life statements go. Why all the indignation just now?

Voters in Indiana aren’t confronting a choice between pro-life and pro-choice candidates. All three candidates are pro-life, some with more exceptions than others.

As Dave Weigel points out, the Democrat in the race, Joe Donnelly, joined Todd Akin in sponsoring a bill that tried to create a separate category of “forcible rape,” although his spokeswoman told the AP that he was unaware of the language at the time and urged its removal afterwards.

But listen to Donnelly now:

“I think rape is a heinous and violent crime in every instance. 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."

Look, can we — can we just — argh —

First, this isn’t just the war on women. This is the war on grammar. It requires completely unconscionable grammatical contortions to think that Mourdock is saying rape, not just pregnancy from rape, “is something that God intended to happen.” What he said was bad enough.

Unclear antecedents have been the bane of this election.

Grammatically speaking, this reminds me of the “You didn’t build that” controversy. Except now, many of the people who said absolutely they were sure of President Obama’s antecedent are turning up on the opposite grammatical side. “When President Obama said ‘that,’ he meant ‘business,’” they point out, “but when Mourdock said ‘it,’ he meant ‘life.’”

I am fine just objecting to what he actually said. We don’t need to go beyond that.

But second, can we call a halt to this?

There are few less productive exercises than watching your senate candidates argue about Who Can Best Divine What God Wants When Rape Is Concerned.

One part of the electoral process I dislike intensely is watching candidates for public office very gently and delicately and respectfully murmur soft phrases into microphones about the sanctity of life and how best to respect rape survivors. You know how best to respect people? Let them make their own choices, guided by their own beliefs — which may, or may not, match yours.

When someone running for senate is issuing statements along the lines of: “I, a true Hoosier, know God better than my opponent does. He is confusing Final Causes and Efficient Causes!” you know that something is deeply, deeply wrong.

Are we really going to sit down and discuss the will of God? Because I am supposed to go bowling sometime in the next sixty years.

“watching richard mourdock struggle with the Problem of Evil is very moving 2 me,” quipped Gawker’s Max Read on Twitter.

Who bears the consequences of horrible acts? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? What is the nature of the Divine?

But, more fundamentally, why are we debating Who Knows God Best in a race for the U.S. Senate?

That’s the real stumper.

By  |  02:11 PM ET, 10/24/2012

 
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