Saturday, August 11, 2012

I really hope my God isn't sexist

I wonder if God knows why I'm a feminist. I wonder if he understands, or just thinks it's some new-fangled thing all the kids are talking about it.

I mean, he's God, of course he understands. And my take on feminism is it's all about loving others- that's what God wants Christians to do anyway! The idea that God supports me in this- maybe it doesn't FEEL true, but that's what I said faith was. Surely God is all for it.

But then...

Exodus 22:16-17 "If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins."

Exodus 23:17 "Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord."

So the first verse there- that's terrible. A women should marry her rapist. That's terrible. The second example is also sexist but way more subtle- the men have to come "appear before the Sovereign Lord", but the women don't, because, who cares about them.

The answer I've heard for why God wanted a woman to marry her rapist goes like this: Well, if she wasn't a virgin, no other man would want her, and she wouldn't be able to get married, so she'd be really poor. That's how the culture worked back then, and God set up this policy so at least there would be someone to take care of her.

God, don't you realize this is terrible? Do you really think women are less important than men?

And here's my attempt at an answer.

Let's look at the injustice that exists in American culture. Black people are less likely than white people to graduate high school or college. Women get paid less than men. (I'm making some big generalizations here, but you know what I'm talking about.) So, what do we do?

Okay. Well, we could ignore the problem. Don't do anything to address the difference. Awesome, then it just perpetuates itself. That doesn't help anything.

Well, we could put some affirmative-action programs in place, to help minorities get into college. But if their high school education wasn't that good, they're going to be totally screwed in college. Also, what if white people just assume the minorities are totally not qualified, just getting into college because we need to be "diverse" or "politically correct"? Then that just reinforces the existing racism. It pits one group against another.

My point is that as a society we need to do something to address this injustice, but every possible solution is going to have problems. In every case, there will be something that someone can complain about. There's no perfect solution. You can't just "fix" racism.

Similarly, back when God gave Moses the law, the culture God was working with was INCREDIBLY SEXIST. There really was no good solution for what to do for a woman who got raped. This was the best policy God could come up with, without some kind of creepy mind-control to magically make everyone stop being sexist.

Yeah. Hopefully, God didn't actually think this was a GOOD idea. Hopefully, he knows the whole thing was terrible, and he is working to somehow bring justice for the women oppressed by the stupid sexist societies that have existed throughout history.

That's all I got. What do you think?


For more posts about the book of Exodus, click here.


  1. The marry-her-rapist thing seems pretty obviously meant to provide support for women who would have gotten no support otherwise from their culture.

    The following verse that states that she wouldn't HAVE to marry him (if her father said no), but the rapist would have to pay the bridal price regardless. I don't know how great that price is but I'd guess it's significant.

    People like to say religion is the source of mysoginy. Well, this is not true.

    - If Christianity were true, then misogyny existed before God said anything about it, excluding the Eve-from-Adam thing. But then again, that's not necessarily misogynistic. God probably doesn't think man is inferior to dust, right...? (as in Exodus).

    - If Christianity were false, then people invented misogyny and put it in the Bible.

    Either way, it's man-made. People who criticize the "evil" in the Bible fail to realize that all of the "evil" in the Bible is man-made.

    1. By "as in Exodus" I meant that was the first time God mentioned the whole marry-your-rapist thing. It's probably better to refer to it as take-responsibility-for-your-raping.

    2. But people could also make the argument that religion perpetuates misogyny. There are rules in the bible (Old Testament, and the "wives submit to your husbands" stuff in the New Testament) which I think are there because the culture they were given to was sexist (though I guess they were a good idea at the time). And then people now use that to say that women should not challenge authority, women should not be pastors, etc.

  2. Sounds like blasphemy to me.

    "Hopefully, God didn't actually think this was a GOOD idea."

    As a Christian, you should should be very careful in implying that God has done something evil- saying that he has done something terrible?! He is God! We as humans can't always understand why He does what He does. We have to trust what He says and, in the end, something good comes out of it. He will be glorified.

    1. Thank you- it's not every day I get accused of blasphemy.

      So which of the following is your view on this:
      1. Actually, making a woman marry her rapist is AWESOME.
      2. It's pretty terrible, but we're not allowed to say so.

      Also, have you read the psalms? People had every kind of emotion imaginable, and they straight-up told God. Sometimes it gets pretty direct and accusatory.

      I love God and I trust God, and I'm just calling 'em like I see 'em.

    2. One thing that is often not realized is that there was also a law in Exodus (not sure of the chapter right now) that said that if a man took a slave wife and failed to give her food, shelter and love, she could walk away free, able to marry anyone she wanted. Situational laws like this were viewed as we view case law today (the principle established by the particular case applies to all similar situations). So this law was considered to apply not just to slave women, but to everyone. If your spouse neglected or abused you, you could leave and be free to remarry.

      So if a man seduced or raped a virgin, he had to marry her-- because if he didn't, she'd be considered "damaged goods" by that society and would probably never be able to marry. But if he married her and then treated her cruelly or neglected her needs, she could leave him without a stain on her character, and be free to marry anyone she liked-- as an honorable woman of Israel.

      No, it wasn't perfect. Yes, God was accommodating a sexist culture. But it wasn't the horrible trap that it sounds like. It was, in fact, probably the only way that that culture would have accepted for a seduced or raped virgin to salvage her life.

    3. I sense some sarcasm, so let me first clarify that I did not mean to insinuate that you committed blasphemy. What I meant to say is that what you are implying in this post is that God could give aspects of the law that are bad or even evil. To say that God commands us to do something evil IS blasphemy. I am not trying to be confrontational, but as a fellow Christian, we should call each other to repentance.

      We might not understand all of God's logic (His thoughts are not our thoughts) but we are to trust in what He says. I will concede that in some cases in the Mosaic law, God allowed for our hardness of heart, and that might be the case in this instance.

      Honestly, your second point bothers me more. I think that your objection there gets more at the underlying issue. The fact that God commanded the men of the congregation to go to the temple does not mean that women do not matter. God gave men the responsibility of being the spiritual heads of their homes and thus they went to the LORD as the representative of their entire households. We see this idea as far back as Genesis, when even though Eve fell to temptation, God confronted Adam as the head, and his sin led us all to sin because he was our representative. I don't want to get in to why is is NOT just a cultural artifact that God made things this was, since that would take a lot of time and a lot of space, but I believe that it is good that God ordained things this way.

      I think that it is also dangerous to state that Paul also was beholden to the patriarchy of his culture. Remember, the Holy Spirit inspired the words of the Bible, so even if Paul was a sexist, God would have prevented the error. It is very dangerous for us to use our culture to dictate what the Bible means (especially when you consider the rampant sin in our own culture). We should instead pray for God to conform our beliefs to the Bible, even when it goes against our own cultural conditioning.

      Finally, yes, many of the Psalms do display many strong emotions, but they end by trusting in God's goodness. I think that Job is instructive here. God's response to his questioning is to point to His own power and majesty and note that Job has no right to tell God how He should be. And Job agrees.

    4. Annonyous, I'd just like to say that your male-centric understanding of these texts is not shared by all Christians, and I really doubt if Paul would affirm that your understanding reflects his intended meaning. You say it's dangerous to use our culture to dictate what the Bible means-- but you are, in fact, reading through your own culture by not taking into account how different Paul's words would have sounded to his original audience, in their original historical context. Paul wasn't claiming male headship as some kind of divine mandate-- he was merely acknowledging its sway in the culture of the people to whom he was originally directing his words.

      Has it occurred to you that you yourself might be capitulating to ancient cultural understandings, because your distance from them makes you fail to recognize them for what they are?

    5. Kristen- you brought up some good points about the other laws about a wife being mistreated- that makes a lot of sense.

      Anonymous- so the real issue we're disagreeing about is male headship? I don't want to get into a huge argument either, so I'll just say this: I think God made men and women with differences, to reflect different parts of God's character, in general. But I have never heard any good argument that says forcing individual men and women into certain roles and restricting them from other roles, just based on gender (and not, you know, abilities), is anything other than sexist and unjust.

  3. Sounds like USING YOUR BRAIN to me.

    As a human being, you should be very careful implying that we don't have the right to question everything.

    If you can't evaluate what you believe, you have nothing and you are not free.

    1. Amen, amen, amen. I believe Christianity is strong enough to take whatever accusations I can throw at it. A very weak faith is one that's afraid to even ask these questions.

  4. Whoa, I'm confused, how is that scripture about being raped? It doesn't say "sleeps with her against her will" - it sounds like something for two people who have sex outside of marriage.

    1. Okay, that verse I linked from Exodus isn't super-clear- it says "seduces" but in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 you get the same thing but with the term "rape" in there.

  5. The term "rape," first off, is never found in the Old Testament the concept being a recent legal invention (only two or four hundred years old.) Originally, the term meant the taking by force of any thing: lands, property, rights, et cetera. Thus, the phrase "rape and pillage, plunder and kill" is a couplet repeating the same idea twice in two differerent phrases using different terms.

    So the term does not occur at all in the text, but replaces an "extinct" concept (a concept no longer understood by anyone, but scholars) with a current concept that is roughly similiar in the idea presented.

    Second, I think both passages (Exodus 22.16-17 and Deuteronomy 22.28-29) are God's answer to Genesis 34 (or if you like 2 Samuel 13) like God's answer in Deuteronomy 24.1-4 which is explained in Matthew 19.8 and Mark 10.5-9.

    btw, I always find Matthew 19.10 extremely amusing. It must be a streak of misogyny. Ah well, I ain't perfect...

    1. Thanks for your input. About the term "rape" not being in the bible- yeah I was noticing that the passages seem to assume the woman has no choice in it, that sex is just a thing that happens to her, so there's no distinction between rape and consensual extramarital sex.

      Which I obviously think is really messed-up.

    2. Why do you think it is messed-up?

      What is the distinction between what you call consensual extramarital sex and what the Bible calls adultery?

      There is a significant number of Bible passages that refer to an idea of rape. Potiphar's wife, Tamar - David's daughter and Absalom's sister, and a number of verses concerning a woman who is sexually active in a rural location to be held innocent, because there was no one to hear if she called out. That no one hearing if she cries part indicates, to me, that if she were in a urban location and cries out, then even if the perpetrator eludes arrest, she should be held innocent. If this is the proper interpretation of those passages, then the bar is still very high, for she must be ready to die rather than be sexually violated.

      However the bar seems much higher for a man. For instance there is nothing holding a man who is sexually active with a woman in a rural location from being executed. The law is written in such a way in Exodus 22.16-17 that if a man is seduced by a woman who is otherwise unattatched he must pay the bride price for her and if her father allows he must wed her and cannot for any reason stop supporting her for her whole life. The consequential weight on the man is always equal or greater.

      I think our current legal system would benefit from some form of continual monetary payment for the support of every rape victim directly from the perpetrator. Don't you?

    3. I was referring to a distinction between rape and adultery (which I called "consensual extramarital sex"). The lack of a distinction is "messed-up" because it assumes women have no sex drive (or if they do, it doesn't matter anyway) and they just do whatever the man wants- seems like the idea of a woman having a CHOICE doesn't even occur to anyone.

      Also the lack of distinction between rape and consensual sex is something that's really wrong with modern Christianity's emphasis on women's purity/virginity. It tells rape victims that their life is ruined (and also it was probably their fault) because virginity is The Most Important Thing Ever.

      You pointed out the double-standard in how men and women are punished for adultery. I assume this is because men are generally physically stronger than women. Also it does give the woman the benefit of the doubt- is that a good or bad thing? (Because women can rape men too...)

  6. thanks for stopping by Kmareka. I think that if you read the Bible as history, you are free from the necessity of rationalizing harsh ancient laws in a society very different from ours. I think of a recent news story about a teenage girl in the Muslim world forced to marry her rapist. She committed suicide.
    Women who want to find principles of equality, respect and regard for the value of all people will find many passages in the Bible to support this, and a few denominations, such as the Quakers, that live nonviolent principles.

    1. Yeah- maybe the bible is meant to teach us about God by showing how people related to God throughout history, so it is greatly affected by their culture. (And I totally agree about finding very strong messages about equality/respect in in life/teaching of Jesus.)