Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Does the Bible Condone Rape?

            So there’s this Atheist and Theist debate page on Facebook that I’ve been following lately. I can’t say that I recommend this particular page to anyone; you have to wade through a lot of ignorance, vitriol, and insults from all sides to find even the tiniest nugget of something worth discussing in any depth. One subject that has come up on this page repeatedly is the question of whether or not the Bible condones rape. And I have to say that I find many of the Christian defenses against this accusation to be highly misleading, if not outright lies. Many are encapsulated in the dishonest little meme seen below, and I thought I might address them.


            We’ll start with the bit that the meme references as being the verse atheists use to make the accusation. Specifically, it’s Numbers, Chapter 31, Verses 17-18, which reads:

            31:17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by lying with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.”

            For context, these are the orders that Moses gave to the Israelites after discovering that they had spared the lives of some of the Midianites he had previously ordered them to kill (for the crime, bu the way, of accepting the Israelites into their community, intermarrying with them, and inviting them to their religious ceremonies). Aside from the explicit genocide, there are clear implications for what will happen to the virgin girls who the fighters are to “keep alive for yourselves,” but it’s not explicitly stated. This gives the Christian a bit of wiggle room to claim that this verse is not calling for rape. But, interestingly, it’s the very verses the meme calls in defense that clarify exactly what is going to happen to those young virgins.

            Let’s jump to the most relevant: Deuteronomy 21, verses 10-14:

            10:14 When you go out to war against your enemies, and Yahweh your god gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 and she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go into her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.”

            The meme presents this as “the captive women are allowed a time to mourn before they marry,” which is clearly disingenuous. They are allowed a period of mourning before their captor rapes them, after which they may be kept as a wife or turned out of the house. Requiring a waiting period before raping a captive does not make it not a rape. Calling her a wife does not make it not a rape. This is clearly going to be the fate of the captive virgins from Numbers 31. At no point in any of this is it even remotely suggested that the woman’s consent is desired or required; they are captives. When people accuse the Bible of condoning rape, they aren’t “conveniently ignoring” this verse; it is part of the accusation.

            And what of the laws regarding rape in Deuteronomy 22 that the meme also claims we ignore? Are they clearly against rape, as the meme suggests? Let’s take a look at them, starting with Deuteronomy, Chapter 22, Verse 23, which is the first verse that appears to directly address rape.

            22:23 If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them out to the gate of the city and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

            So this is a very specific situation: the rape of a betrothed woman. Note that the offense with which the rapist is charged is not presented as being against the woman, but against her fiancĂ©/husband. Note also that if the woman didn’t call for help, the sex is assumed to be consensual and she is therefore also put to death. Which means any woman who is sexually assaulted under these laws is in a terrible position: she can attempt to call for help and risk her attacker killing her, or she can stay silent in the hopes that her life will be spared and nobody else will find out. She is then forced into the position of having to collude with her rapist to keep the assault secret, because at that point her life is forfeit.

            Moving on to the very next verse:

            25 But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.”

            Again, this is specifically the rape of a betrothed woman. The rape itself is not the issue, it’s the violation of another man’s property. Also, it’s worth pointing out that elsewhere in the law it is specified that a man may not be put to death on anything less than the testimony of two witnesses. Given that this rape law very clearly specifies that it only applies when there are no witnesses around, how would it ever be prosecuted? It can only ever be one person’s word against another, and it seems impossible to see how this law could ever be justly applied.

            But the final rape law is the most damning, and it comes in the very next verse.

            28 If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

            Here we find out what happens to virgin women who are not betrothed or married. And again we see that the offense is not against the woman, but against the man who owns her: in this case, her father. All that is required is that the father be financially compensated for the loss of a marriageable daughter. The woman herself is handed over to her rapist to be assaulted at his leisure for the rest of his life. Again, nowhere is it implied that the woman’s consent is desired or required for any of this. If anything, this law incentivizes men to rape eligible women whom they are otherwise unable to convince to marry them.

            Incidentally, there is no law that says anything about raping non-virgin, unmarried women (which would include widows).

            I would contend that none of these laws are actually “against rape,” so much as being against violating the sexual property rights of the men who own the victims. When atheists say that the Bible condones rape, we don’t “conveniently ignore,” the verses this meme calls on to defend the Bible. Those verses are evidence for the accusation.

            I’m not bringing this up to score points against Christians. I sincerely believe that the vast majority of Christians are absolutely opposed to rape. I sincerely believe that the vast majority recognize that compelling a woman into a forced marriage before (or as a result of) raping her is still rape. If anything, the desperation with which such dishonest memes attempt to deny that these verses say what they so clearly say betrays how deeply their creators understand the monstrousness of these instructions. In order to think of their religion or their God as moral, the only recourse is to deny these instructions or pretend they don’t mean what they plainly say. Most religious folks are better people than their holy books would have them be.

            I’m bringing this up because these defenses are dishonest. It offends me to see people telling outright lies, especially when they are so easily checked. It derails conversation and inhibits understanding. I understand why they may feel the need to do it – why they may even be lying to themselves – but that doesn’t mean I think it’s excusable. What good is it to hold a faith, if holding it is based on a lie?