Richard Mourdock, who might be elected to the US Senate from Indiana, said he was opposed to abortions in the case of rape the other day, and a whole lot of people got hopping mad. But it looks like more than a few missed his point. What the dude said was that the conception and not the soul-crushing violence of the assault was a gift from God. All life is a gift from God. And one must take the gift that is presented. He said this. He looked into his heart and spoke from his core beliefs. We all have our beliefs. But he is working to get elected at present, to make governmental policy, and that is a problem.
Ancient representations of the Buddha often show him seated upon a lotus flower. This is because the pure white lotus blooms above water turbid with mud and slime. The Buddha’s enlightenment – like the lotus – was a form of purity arising out of a conundrum of filth. I suppose the dude in Indiana to have reasoned in a similar vein when he spoke of God’s gift arising even from a crime of humiliating violence and degradation.
His expression of faith, while doubtless sincere, is a religious judgment. He speaks of the intervention of a supernatural being into the lives of rapists and their victims – into the lives of all women who conceive in love as well. He speaks of a gift from God, a material interaction between the divine and the corporeal. And here the image of a gift is a metaphor. Conception does not come wrapped and ribboned. The word “gift” is a poetic expression of faith, of a way of ordering and understanding a world which is sometimes beyond ordinary understanding. Religious expressions frequently resort to metaphorical language because that is a way we can speak of wonderful and extraordinary things.
There are a number of ways to speak of wonderful things.
The Buddha, sitting on his lotus flower, is also sometimes called a gift. Having achieved enlightenment, he was free from the cycle of birth and death and rebirth. He left our understanding of things behind, became something other than a man. And yet he remained among men, compassionately helping us with our suffering. Buddhists speak of a kind of giving that is perfect – dana paramita – a selfless giving that gains nothing for the giver. One teacher says you should practice giving so that you become like a fire that burns itself out, leaving no ash behind. Having no conception of a consciousness anything like this, we fall back upon poetic language. We can call it love, but we just don’t know. We are left with the wonder. We cannot be certain, because we are incapable of understanding the consciousness of the Buddha.
Would the dude in Indiana settle for a Buddhist conception of conceptions?
I think he would not. His is a religious conviction ossified in certainty. I have heard nothing of doubt from him or his supporters, nothing of the tolerance of alternative understandings. In this way he has hidden his metaphors from himself and largely done away with wonder and faith. Being certain is not believing. Being certain ends investigation and the desire to expand your understanding because the tale is already told. Being certain is also a sure way to extremism and intolerance.
Such certainty is perilously close to blasphemy to the extent that lays claim to a knowledge of the mind of God. “I know this is what is real, and I know it beyond all doubt.” Is a candidate for the US Senate from Indiana really so theologically gifted? Is anyone? How holy is the holy, anyway? I mean is anyone among us capable of certainty about God’s will?
Generally speaking, strongly held religious beliefs are a very bad foundation for governmental policy. Mourdock believes in his heart that the government has an interest in determining the legal and medical options available to the body of a woman who has been assaulted in the most demeaning, humiliating and depersonalizing way. And he believes this because of his theology. That’s a crock. In theologies and biologies, alternatives exist. This is why we do not establish religion in America. This is why we do not predicate public policy and law upon religious conviction.
There are too many ways to understand our wonderful existences for us all to settle on the rock-hard certainties of some dude in Indiana who has learned not to doubt and so not to believe. We owe it to our conviction to that which is greater than us to be humble in our confidence.
Don’t get me started on the Popol Vuh.