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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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Christians of many stripes are scrambling to distance themselves, their religion, or their God from Republican  comments about rape. The latest furor is about Washington State congressional candidate John Koster, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and  added for good measure that “incest is so rare, I mean it’s so rare.”  Before that, it was Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock, who  said, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” backed up by Texas senator John Cornyn insisting that “life is a gift from God.” These men share the  January sentiment of Rick Santorum:  “the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you.”

Those Christians who see the Bible as a human, historical document have the right to distance themselves. Those who see the Bible as the unique and perfect revelation of the Divine, essentially dictated by God to the writers, do not. The fact is, the perspective that God intends rape babies and that such pregnancies should be allowed to run their course is perfectly biblical.

I am not going to argue here that the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. It doesn’t. The Bible writers had no concept of conception, and no Bible writer values the life of a fetus on par with the life of an infant or an older child. One does say that God knows us while we are developing in the womb, but another says he knows us  even before. Levitical law prescribes a fine for a man who  accidentally triggers a miscarriage. It is not the same as the penalty for manslaughter. Therapeutic abortion is never mentioned, nor is the status of the fetus that spontaneously aborts. Under Jewish law, a newborn isn’t circumcised and blessed until he is eight days old, having clearly survived the high mortality peri-natal period. For centuries the Catholic Church believed that “ensoulment” occurred and a fetus became a person at the time of quickening or first movement, sometime during the second trimester.  

However, if we take the viewpoint of biblical literalists and treat the Good Book as if it were authored by a single perfect, unchanging Deity, then a man is on solid ground thinking that rape babies are part of God’s intentions. Consider the following Bible teachings:

The Bible never teaches that women should have a choice about sex. The Bible makes a clear distinction between forcible stranger rape and other forms of nonconsensual sex, condemning the former while  sanctioning the latter in many, many circumstances. The fact that conservative Christians – or politicians who are pandering to a Conservative Christian base--keep fumbling with these distinctions is no accident. According to the commands of Yahweh, a man can give his daughters in marriage, keep concubines, have sex with his wife’s servants, or claim a desirable war captive as his own sexual property after a series of rituals to purify her. In no case, including in the New Testament, is the woman’s consent required for sexual contact.

Male female relationships in the Bible are determined by a property ethic. The punishments for rape have to do not with compassion or trauma to the woman herself but with honor, tribal purity, and a sense that a used woman is damaged goods. A woman herself may be  killed for voluntarily giving up her purity. A rapist can be forced, essentially,  to buy her. In the Ten Commandments, the prohibition against coveting a neighbor’s wife is part of a broader prohibition against coveting property that belongs to another man: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17NIV).

 
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