WHAT DOES “GOD INTEND”? by Carol P. Christ

Indiana Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s statement that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something God intended” not only shows an appalling lack of empathy and distain for the experiences of raped women, it also is bad theology.

The controversy ignited by Mourdock provides a good opportunity to discuss the theological mistake of “divine omnipotence” also known as the “zero fallacy.”  Mourdock’s belief that God intends the pregnancies of raped women is rooted in the notion that “whatever happens” is the will of God.

The theological category of “divine omnipotence” means that God is all-powerful.  It also means that God has all the power. From this it is said to follow that everything that happens must in some way be the will of God.  Such views are held not only by many devout believers, but also by everyone else who asserts that “there must be a reason” when bad things happen.

The notion that a good God is responsible for all the events that occur in the world is rendered questionable by every bad thing that happens–particularly by bad things that happen to good people. This was the question of Job, and there has never been a satisfactory answer to it. If God can intervene to stop the innocent from being harmed, why does he not do so?  God’s failure to stop rape suggests that either that God is not good, or that a good God chooses a really bad outcome, or that God is not the cause of everything that happens in the world.

Charles Hartshorne called the notion of divine omnipotence the “zero fallacy.” If God has all of the power, then God indeed must be the cause of everything that happens in the world. But if God has all of the power, then we have none, or zero power.  If all individuals other than God have zero power, in fact there is no world, but only the illusion of a world.  If God is the only actor, then God is the rapist, the rape victim, the child born of rape.  The world is a divine dance with not even an audience to watch it.

If on the other hand, God does not have all of the power, and individuals in the world have some power, then the power that God does not have must be sufficient to affect the course of events. If this is so, then rapists–not God–are responsible for rape. In that case we can and should attribute rape to the (misguided) wills of human beings.

If God did not “cause” the rape, then it follows that God also did not “cause” the fetus conceived as a result of rape.  If this is so, then it might follow that there is also no divine “intention” to tell a woman that she must bear a child conceived in rape.

Murdock’s retort that God does not cause rape but God does cause conception makes no sense. Either God causes the things that occur in the world or God does not.

The conclusion of this line of reasoning is that we human beings are responsible for the choices we make. The most appropriate person to make a choice that affects her own body is the woman herself.  This was the conclusion in Roe v. Wade. Real people in the real world really do have to make hard choices, because our world is created by a multiplicity of wills—not all of them intending the good of the whole.

Does this mean there is no God? Or does it simply mean that God’s power is not the power to determine all of the events that occur in the world?  Process-relational philosophy suggests that God’s power is a power of persuasion, not coercion.  In feminist terms, God’s power is power with, not power over.  In process-relational philosophy, the power of the Goddess is the power to inspire, influence, and persuade the other actors in the world to make choices that will lead to the greatest harmony and satisfaction of the greatest number of individuals in the world.  This truly is love divine, all loves excelling, the divine “intention” for the world.

Theology does make a difference in our lives.  This is why it is important for women to have the tools to understand and criticize theologies and the power to articulate thealogical alternatives.

Richard Mourdock thinks he has gained votes with his views on rape.  Let us show him and the Republican Party that distain for the experiences and judgments of women has no place in American politics.  The right to control our own bodies is not negotiable.

Carol P. Christ, a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement, has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute

Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women. www.goddessariadne.org

12 thoughts on “WHAT DOES “GOD INTEND”? by Carol P. Christ”

  1. Brava! As usual, a very cogent argument. I like the idea that the Book of Job is actually a Greek tragedy. I learned in a comparative lit class in graduate school that Job was written about the time of the great Greek tragedies and addresses the same kinds of issues. If we pay attention to Greek theology (which is called mythology because if it’s ours it’s real theology whereas if it’s theirs it’s mere mythology) we see gods and goddesses that are a lot like us. Fallible!


  2. “The conclusion of this line of reasoning is that we human beings are responsible for the choices we make. The most appropriate person to make a choice that affects her own body is the woman herself.” Nuff said – this sentence says it all. I am one who believes that nothing happens for no reason but in the context of each persons personal responsibiity for the choices they make of what happens to them. We can either choose to become angry, bitter and lash out at the world or process what has happened and help others facing similiar circumstances.


    1. I’m not sure if you understood what I said. Of course we can choose our response to the things that happen to us (or at least we can try to do so, sometimes, events are overwhelming). And surely the best response to suffering is to help others who face similar circumstances. Still, I do not believe rape, genocide, or war happen “for a reason” if by reason we mean that there was a divine intention there or that someone was meant to learn a karmic lesson. If a multiplicity of wills create the world in which we live, then some things happen by chance, some things happen because others choose and we are in the way, and some things happen by our own choice. Realizing this has been a great relief to me, because I no longer have to ask, “why is God/dess doing this to me?” It also makes more sense of the world as I understand it NOT to have to tell myself or others that bad things happen for a reason. I can make good come of something bad (sometimes), but that does not mean that the bad thing needed to happen.


      1. I think I understand where you are coming from Carol. It’s an age old dilemma isn’t it? Do we have free will or not? Are we just pawn on the divines chess board or do we get to choose our next move. Some things that happen, especially to good people, do seem senseless. Definitely a topic for the ages!


  3. Carol —

    Thanks for this post. It argues effectively against the lack of logic in Mourdock’s statement. I find it interesting that Whitehead sees God/dess as having the power of influence, i.e. power-with. I usually think of this type of power as human, and of divine power as “power-from-within.” How does this last type of power fit in your theaological understanding?


  4. Nancy my theology is that there is a divine presence/person who is always “with me” and “with us.” I do not think “I am Goddess.” So for me, the power of Goddess is power with. The power of Goddess is also in the world who is her body, so in that sense Goddess’s power is also power within. I do not think that I am in any way divine and I resist the “you are Goddess” phraseology. I am limited. My love is not love divine, all loves excelling, but limited to what I can love.


  5. While reading in your article of Mourdock’s apparent belief that everything is God’s will, I was reminded of the crude response to Calvinism which I heard once in a class: “So if I rape and kill someone, it’s not *my* fault — it was God’s will, because if it wasn’t he would have stopped me?”

    What a terrifying justification this cruel god has become to bitter and fearful little men!


  6. I have always felt that conventional religion promotes certain mental aberrations in believers. I feel religion encourages masochism when they emphasis the purifying effect of suffering. The greater the suffering the greater the spiritual benefits. The emphasis on sufferings as a purifying agent is actually a retrograde idea. Why should we submit ourselves to such slavish mentality when the socalled Supreme Being-God or Goddess has endowed us with the power of discretion, intelligence and will to act. Why should we be fearful of our Father/Mother. The real act of blasphemy is to disregard these faculties that has been gifted us. And when will we muster enough courage to tell the “mouth-pieces” of God to shut their mouths so that we can hear what He/She whispers to our inner heart.


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