The Christian’s Rapist Wit
Very often, in their critique of atheist morality, Christians will appeal to certain actions which nearly all people in Western societies find immoral, in the hopes that atheists will be unable to provide a reason why such an action would be immoral, and thus finding themselves opposed to all of society.
Previous postings on this blog have, I think, established that this is not the case, and that atheists can, in fact, point to an objective moral standard in condemning certain actions. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to flip the onus, as it were, and examine the Christian worldview’s stance on certain actions, and whether or not this stance is in opposition to society.
One common action, for example, is rape.
Before going further, a clear definition for rape should be established. I’ll use the following: “the forcing of another person to submit to sex acts, especially sexual intercourse.” In other words, non-consensual sex.
So what is the Christian position on rape? I will examine the only standard that Chrisianity provides for determining morality, the Bible, and see what I find.
The Old Testament
The clearest laws concerning rape are in Deuteronomy 22, which proscribes three different situations:
1) An engaged girl is raped in the city
“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor's wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
2) An engaged girl is raped outside the city
“But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.”
3) A single girl is raped
“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.”
In all three cases, the laws indicate that rape is in fact immoral, but why, exactly? In the first case, both the man and the woman are found at fault for the rape, because the woman did not cry out to attract help (the difference between “did not” and “could not” seems to have been immaterial to the morality of the situation). But what was the crime? Not violation of the woman’s rights, as most of us would think, but violation of the husband’s right of property.
In the second case, the woman is not found guilty of the crime simply by circumstance- it is recognized that being away from others would have made cries for help ineffective, even if she was able to make them. But just as in the first case, the violation is of her husband’s rights of property, not the woman’s personal rights.
The third case is slightly different- the woman involved does not have a husband to claim property rights, and so no death penalty is levied against the perpetrator. But, as an unmarried woman, her father does have some rights of property against her, so the rapist need only pay a small fine, and gets the punishment(?) of marrying her.
Would the Christian whose daughter was raped insist on the payment of 50 shekels of silver and hand his daughter in marriage to the rapist?
The New Testament
But surely, Jesus brought a new covenant, and would have clarified things for later Christians?
In Matthew, during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Although Jesus clearly says that lust is immoral, he’s saying it in the context of adultery. For adultery to occur, one person has to be married. Therefore one may, by Jesus’ own statement, lust after any non-married person, as long as one is not married either. So again, we find a moral distinction made between married and unmarried people, leading to the conclusion that lust of one unmarried person for another is perfectly permissible within the Christian worldview, leaving the Deuteronomic law intact.
But surely, the apostle Paul could not let such a horrible law slip by! To be assured, Paul does address marriage and sexual purity, but he, like Jesus, does so in a specific context. From his first letter to the Corinthians:
“Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
Paul starts off pretty well- if men should not touch women, then men shouldn’t be able to rape women, right? But then Paul goes on to clarify what he means:
“But to avoid fornication, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.”
So in other words, Paul would prefer men and women to avoid sex altogether, but since he knows that fornication, or consensual sex between unmarried men and women, would result, then he reluctantly allows for sex within marriage, if only for that reason.
And we already know one sure-fire way to enter into marriage- straight from Deuteronomy.
But once within marriage, Paul says something interesting:
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
It seems like Paul is advocating rape within marriage. That is, whenever the husband wants sex, he has the rights of authority over his wife’s body. Non-consensual sex is rape with or without a wedding ring. Now, to be fair, it could be argued that the wife has the right to rape her husband also, but do two balanced immoral acts add up to one moral act?
So when little Johnny Christian is fired up with lust for an unmarried girl (permissible by Jesus), he can rape her, pay her father 50 shekels of silver and marry her (permissible by Moses), and then he’s free to force himself on her as much as he wants (permissible by Paul)!
No wonder so many Christians try to argue for the rights of rapists!