During the most recent presidential election cycle, the American electorate was scandalized. Statements made by two Republican senatorial candidates about their opposition to abortion in cases involving rape occasioned an avalanche of outrage with condemnations, recriminations, and death threats following swiftly upon each of their remarks. In a famously divided political climate, unity suddenly, somehow appeared. This curious event allows us to pose the question: what is a scandal?
From a certain distance, each instance of scandal has the same structure: an outrage is followed by a swarm of accusations, and these accusations quickly become unanimous. Pressure then mounts for any hold-outs to “issue statements,” and for the accused to confess to their crime. And, finally, when even the accused adopts the outlook of his accusers, a wave of relief invariably follows. In the midst of a public outrage, the accused become the perceived cause of the roiling, seething cultural cauldron which they only appears to produce.
However infelicitously phrased they made have been, the now “infamous” statements made by Akin and Mourdock were not remarkable in themselves; many pro-life politicians oppose the prenatal murder of innocent children without exception. But, amid the miasma of a bitter political contest, Akin and Mourdock became the scapegoats that offered a temporary relief from the unending, all-encompassing strife of the campaign. Thus, when the mainstream media descended on Akin and Mourdock with all the dispassionate composure of a pogrom, they did, indeed, carry out the vaunted social function they constantly claim for themselves – but only because they appeased the people by becoming their virtual mob. Instead of speaking truth to power, journalists opposed the truth with a naked display of power, whipping up anyone who would listen into a frenzy of rage.
The Mourdock-Akin affair shows us how thin and weak is the veneer of civilization that prevents outbreaks of violence – and how quickly it can be shaken. We have more in common with the pagan brutes sated by bloody rites and the mollified mob of medieval witch-hunts than we might care to admit.
But were Mourdock and Akin the victims of blind chance? Or is there a deep connection between their unequivocal opposition to abortion and the savage reaction they encountered? Why was it that statements involving the odious and emotionally charged crime of rape solicited such violent responses?
Before proceeding further, we should state an embarrassingly obvious fact: the common exception conceded by some politicians for abortion in cases of rape is a glaring contradiction on its very face. If abortion is murder – the horrific destruction of an innocent unborn child – why would the context of conception mitigate the sacredness of the child`s life, let alone justify its violent death? By what perverse logic can the sins of the father be adduced as grounds for prenatal capital punishment?
The limits of rational thought are so clearly exposed in this ugly, absurd exception, and so obviously substituted with the mechanics of primitive myth, it is a wonder that it passes the world by in plain sight. And when incest, the other component of this common exception, is considered, the anxieties of primeval society surface in our so-called civilized world by name. That incest, the taboo of all tribes and culture, should be linked with rape as dual-justification for child-murder illustrates with distressing directness what kind of dark psychological shadows are conjured with this scandalous issue.
Indeed, the very ideas of incest and rape causes logic to short-circuit. In the same way that these acts blur the crucial restrictions which allow society to function – free consent and family structure, respectively – their very mention chases away clear thought. How else could the outrageous substitution at the heart of the so-called “rape exception” – in which an unborn victim dies in lieu of the criminal who sired it – pass for sound public policy?
When any exception allowing abortion is tolerated – for the reasons of rape, incest, or any other crime more appropriate in a Greek tragedy than the modern world – the horrible crime of unjust murder is given a place in society, and the ancient hunger for violent sacrifice, quietly quelled.
Christ came to free us from sin and its structures, to expose the lies that enable these rituals. His was a willing sacrifice which offers, once and for all, what the endless iterations of infanticide, on Moloch’s archaic altars down to our own day, can never give: true peace. But ours is a world that calls itself enlightened even as it descends into darkness, and flatters itself with the crown of progress even as it slides back to the most rudimentary rituals of human culture, practicing savage, if unrecognized, rites.
Respect for all life, without any kind of exception, is a rare and brief phenomenon in human history. More common is the occurrence of scandal, that irrational frenzy which, as long as it lasts, makes murder make sense. Thus, when life is defended without exception, society is suddenly and painfully deprived of a class that can be killed to keep its fragile peace. And victims, unfortunately, are always easy to find: be they the politician who oppose abortion or the innocent children who these brave statesmen attempt to defend.