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Okay, I've had a bad day of apologetics recommendations. (Well, just two actually, but anyway.) I don't seek this stuff out, but in two separate places it's been recommended to me and so I'm being actively encouraged to get pi***d off.

The second (and far more annoying) of the two recommendations came from talk_religion in this entry. The piece of apologetics they link to says "oooh btw the verse in the Bible doesn't say girls must marry their rapist" and then goes on to say "stupid atheist should have known better".

(Please note: The two quotes above were paraphrased from the general gist of the article for the purpose of summarising and comic effect.) 

The apologist give three reasons why they disagree.

The first reason is that the word might be translated differently, which seems a little odd considering that the team of translators who wrote the NIV translation felt that it made sense to use the term rape. Not least since the passage in question paralllels the previous bit.

In fact, to make things simpler for everyone here's the text in question:
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, 27 for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
The two passages are clearly meant to deal with similar issues, but the apologist claims that the first can be translated as rape but that the second shouldn't be. (He doesn't even say that it's an entirely unacceptable translation. He just says that his version makes more sense. *shrugs*)

The writer goes on to give a list of several writers (originally cited by a guy called Bahnsen) who all apparently think the verse meant "seduction" not "rape". This doesn't really show much except that making excuses for Bible verses has a long tradition. I hardly think he's going to be able to excuse the verse demanding a punishment of stoning for adultery by showing all the religious people who oddly didn't want that punishment to be part of their nation's laws. That a verse was so horrible that people have been long making excuses for it, doesn't show that the horrible meaning wasn't the correct interpretation.

That said, many of the quotations provided do not actually rule out rape at all. Take this one from John Calvin:
John Calvin: “The remedy is, that he who has corrupted the girl should be compelled to marry her, and also to give her a dowry from his own property, lest, if he should afterwards cast her off, she should go away from her bed penniless” 
A woman was still considered "corrupted" whether the sex was consensual or not. And either way, the woman would have a tough time afterwards encouraging anyone else to take her on. The structure of society meant that women relied on men for their wellbeing. (They were still expected to work, unless they were ultra-rich, but they were not able to own or inherit land and the expectation was that they would be under the authority of a man, one way or another.)

The second reason he gives is because of parallels in another book of laws (Exodus). He helpfully tell us it's a parallel of Exodus 22:15 which states:
But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.
Yeah, he meant to write Exodus 22:16, but anyway...

Actually the Bible is used to repeating bits and chopping and changing. There are two stories about Noah and the Ark, but one of them says Noah must get two of every animal, while the other requires him to get more of the kosher animals (after all, he needs something to feed his family). Similarly here both verses make the requirement of paying the father for his daughter's lost virginity. However, in Deuteronomy it demands that the man marry her too.

I will note, however, that the whole idea that the translation should be seduction not rape is a huge misnomer anyway. Back then the understanding of things like rape was not the same. Women were considered property and the main focus was on the state of that property, not on the wellbeing of the woman. A girl's virginity belonged to her father and was given by him to a suitable husband. Upon the contract of marriage the girl went from being a virgin/maiden in her father's possession, to being a wife in the possession of her new husband. Like with a pet, her owner would have obligations towards her.

The third reason is the only one I felt it necessary to comment on. And that was this:
The third reason is that, to interpret the law in Deut 21:28-29 as a rape is to make God the commander of a morally heinous command.
Oh I'm sorry. It's horrible, so we'll have to change it, eh? After all, that's obviously how you should read the Bible. You don't go into the Bible looking for moral truths. You go into the Bible interpreting it especially so it fits with your existing understanding of morality, don't you?

For me, this was quite enough. No need to make a big long explanation (as I have done above). This alone was enough to show how daft this whole thing was. I gave the following response:
So the reason it can't be translated as "rape" is because that would be horrible....

Yeah, that's some pretty lame apologetics right there.
Then I found myself following up with this:
I do wonder what his explanation is for punishing a woman who loses her virginity outside of marriage with stoning....
(Deut 23-24)
And that's when I got the following response and the naivety managed to quite severely enrage me. (I kept my annoyance restrained obviously, but even so. Grrrr!):
Well, ask. The website itself deals with a lot of biblical stuff and in interesting ways. He or she (there are two) might make it a blog post.
The basic gist of this response being "hey, if there's still some stuff you aren't sure of, maybe they can explain!" The commenter didn't seem to understand from my nice and restrained response to the initial article quite how ludicrous I would find this. My stance is that the initial article (which they recommended) was rubbish and quite possibly intentionally disingenuous. As such, I have little reason to think any follow-up articles won't be similarly rubbish and disingenuous.

The first line of my response to them was this:
There are tons of apologetics websites out there. What's so special about this one?

I'm not really terribly interested in apologetics, wherever it comes from. The fact is that there is tons of sexist stuff in the Bible and plenty of religious people who want to offer excuses for it.
I then looked into the article further and found a number of issues, and I'll quote the rest of my response below. The main discovery however, was that they were actually responding to an article from Michael Martin (amongst other things, the editor of the "Cambridge Companion To Atheism"). The article he wrote is available online and the point of it was not to start whining about particular verses in the Bible, but to respond to the idea that atheists can't have objective morality. His argument was intended to demonstrate that looking to the Bible for morality doesn't work and if there's one thing that the apologetics article failed to demonstrate in response to that, it's that the Bible is a clear source of moral precepts. In fact, they've shown, at very least, that there are clear language barriers and cultural barriers to interpretation, if not actually unconscionable recommendations for the treatment of women.

The rest of my response is quoted below. Including the bit where I get annoyed by yet another mistake in his references, this time for a passage from Aquinas. Grrr!:
The NIV translators actually use the term "rape" and that would have been produced by a whole team of translators who would most likely have been Christians. That particular interpretation clearly isn't as silly as this writer makes it out to be. ("Oh if they'd only checked out a commentary they'd know they were wrong." - Um, yeah, whatever...)

In fact, now I come to look into the references at the bottom, the piece this was responding to was by Michael Martin and contained not only the example which I mentioned, but also another example in the book of Numbers (where Moses advises his men to capture women as spoils of war).
Michael Martin was observing a clear trend throughout the Bible of viewing women as property, not being picky about a single verse as the article you quote suggests.


Annoyingly they've missed off a 4 in their reference to Aquinas. (It should be question 154, not 15.) They seem to have chosen this source in order to demonstrate that people of the time would have trouble distinguishing between seduction and rape (though it's not a great argument, since Aquinas seems to do quite well in distinguishing them). In any case, the argument that people in the past were not great at recognising rape is part and parcel of Martin's argument that women were considered more as property than as people.

Aquinas' argument also doesn't serve to show that rape was taken seriously. His talk similarly revolves around the status of the marriage contract. He says that a rape should not undo an existing marriage contract, but still seems to consider the possibility that a man may be expected to marry a woman he has raped. Certainly he says it is up to the father, but Aquinas mentions that the virginity of the daughter has been stolen from the father, so it is still a matter of property disputes.

It's also worth noting that Aquinas finishes with the claim that it is impossible for a husband to rape his wife because he has a contractual claim over her.

All in all, I think this source serves to show quite clearly that religious texts are a poor source of morality, just as Michael Martin's article intended to demonstrate. It is quite clear from all this that the reader often needs to specifically interpret the text to fit with a decent moral framework if they don't want to come out with horrible demands. After all, who wants to bring back stoning for adultery? Any takers?

x-posted to apololgetics 


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 27th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
What's so hard about saying, "Women were property back then and the Bible treats them like property. We know better now." All these aplogetical backflips are required only if one wants to hold onto inerrancy (which, I know, is a really hard pill to swallow).
Nov. 8th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
Don't be lazy
It's pointless to say "what's so hard about saying..." and then offering a solution that requires less thinking, less examination of the evidence, and deliberately casts a person and their views in a negative light. This is mental laziness. We don't normally live this way. For example, imagine if I said "Gravity? Don't give me gravity. What's so hard about saying that the magic pixies make things fall, and that is that? All these physics backflips are required only if one wants to hold onto science."

How about this, Cyranothe2nd: Where evidence is available to be examined, we examine it instead of dismissing the whole scenario as mentally arduous so that we don't have to concede a single point?
Nov. 8th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Don't be lazy
Look at the evidence?

Any decent historian will accept that in those Biblical times women were treated as property, and not just by the Israelites. That's just how things were.

Maybe you are right to say Cyrano is slightly misrepresenting things though. After all, not everyone seems to know better now... :P
Nov. 9th, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
Re: Don't be lazy
One ting: One of those examples are true and one is not. Gravity exists. Women used to be treated like property. Complicating that with the social and biological contingencies behind such a belief is all well and good (and ought to happen imo) but the statement itself is factual. The apologetical backflips are required when one attempts to be intellectually lazy and hold onto a version of Biblical inerracy that is just not tenable, for many reasons. If anything, *that* is the solution that requires less thinking and less examination of the evidence.
Nov. 8th, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
The discussion in talk_religion was so full of rape apologism and misogyny that I actually found it a little frightening and difficult to read.

Part of me wants to join that community to try and back you up, and the other part of me is unsure I'd be able to have a civil and productive conversation with people who argue that there's basically no way anybody can ever know if a woman has been raped if nobody heard her scream. The level of sheer skin-crawling horror gets worse and worse the longer I think about the implications of people thinking about rape accusations this way.
Nov. 9th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
I'm biased towards women's rights apparently.


Probably more of a complement than I deserve. ;)
Nov. 9th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, well. Fuck that person for trying to derail the conversation by turning accusations of rape into something men have more reason to be afraid of than women have to be afraid of rape. Men don't have to fucking live their entire lives scheduling every waking moment around reducing the likelihood that they'll be accused of rape. I can't even leave my apartment and get in my car without figuring out the safest way to do it, because if I so much as have earbuds in while I walk across the parking lot, I'll be blamed for what comes next.

So much rage. So fucking appalling. I really hope that no actual victims of assault are still following that conversation, because the sheer amount of rape apologism in there is really really disturbing.

I joined, so tag me to come back you up next time there's some serious dehumanizing of women occurring. But my God. This conversation has sort of gone past the point where I can stomach interacting with that callous, misogynist, ignorant, bullshit-spewing asshat.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )



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