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What the Bible Says About Rape

Christians of many stripes are scrambling to distance themselves and their religion from Republican comments about rape. But a literal interpretation of the Bible is quite disturbing.

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The Bible is loaded with divinely sanctioned rape babies. The Bible both depicts  and scriptsa world in which women have no choice about who they are given to. Daughters can be given in marriage or sold outright, slaves can be sent by their mistresses to bear proxy babies, virgin war captives can be claimed as wives, widows can be forced to submit to humping by their brothers-in-law until they produce sons. Presumably any of these women can be laid at any time, at a man’s discretion, much as is the case in parts of Afghanistan or analogous Iron Age tribal cultures today. In such a world, a significant portion of babies conceived will be the product of non-consensual sex. In other words, rape.

Christians who like to retroactively sanitize the Biblical record because they insist that it is the literally perfect word of God often sanitize it quite literally. They want to think of these women as willing participants in sexual unions with benevolent, high status patriarchs. What slave girl wouldn’t want one? In reality we are talking about forced sex with primitive desert tribesmen whose cleansing rituals mostly focused on their hands and feet rather than their genitals, armpits or teeth. Airbrushing the Bible to the point that it doesn’t condone rape requires that we deny much of what we know about human history and biology.

If we are ever going to move on from Iron Age conflicts, it is imperative that people understand the Bible in its own context, not as a literally perfect prescription for how we should live today but as a record of our very imperfect ancestors struggling to live in community with each other, instinctively seeking patterns that worked within a given ecological and technological context to create a stable, functional society in which men, women, and children could thrive.

As we now know, many traditional gender scripts and sexual rules once served to ensure that men could invest their energy in their own genetic offspring. The saying, “mama’s baby, papa’s maybe” reflects the reality that humans are only partially monogamous, that both men and women have reason to cheat, and that at the level of evolutionary biology males gain advantage if they can control the sexual behavior of females in whose offspring they will then invest their time and energy. The Abrahamic virginity code, which evolved before the time of contraception and paternity tests, ensured a greater degree of confidence that men were in fact raising their own children. A woman who bled on her wedding night was unlikely to be carrying another man’s sperm or fetus or to have formed an emotional bond that would result in an ongoing extramarital liaison. By increasing male confidence that the offspring of their wives were their own, the virginity code may have increased the investment of men in pregnant women and dependent children, helping both to survive in a harsh desert environment where producing food was hard work. 

The harshness of this environment and human frailty within it probably contributed to another aspect of the Mourdock mentality that so plagues many Abrahamic adherents. From the time we humans have first been able to understand our plight as suffering, mortal creatures we have struggled to transcend it. But much of life’s hardship cannot be transcended; it must simply be endured. In the time before modern science this was even more true than it is today. Consequently all of the world’s great religions cultivate acceptance or resignation as a virtue. Islam literally means submission. Buddhism centers itself on the absence of desire, on “living into” what is. Christianity teaches that God’s actions are not for us to question. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding.” “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Submit, accept, don’t question. In all cases, submission has a hierarchy: men are to submit themselves to the will of God or to the divine flow; women are to submit  both to the will of God and to the will of men.

 
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