On ISIS, Sex Slavery, Rape Culture, and Religious Fundamentalism

I recently read a disgusting story involving ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/Da’esh and the plight of female sex slaves traded between its members. I relayed the following story to my class and asked them for their initial thoughts on slavery, but specifically on sex slavery and the exchange of female sexual slaves between men.


The story stated that a wealthy ISIS operative owned a female slave. (This is apparently not uncommon in this culture.) This ISIS operative then sold two of his daughters in marriage to another ISIS operative to be wives for him. (Again, remember that polygamy, or having two or more wives at once, is not unlawful in this culture. There is some question about having two sisters as wives at the same time.)

To one of the daughters he sold in marriage he also gave his female slave as a gift to the daughter to be her slave. However, when that daughter could not bear children for her new husband, she gave her husband that same female slave to have sex with him and bear children for him. The female slave bore him two children, but his wife claimed both boys as her own children.

Later on, one of her husband’s sons by the wife’s sister (his other wife) also had sex with the female slave.


This was the plight of one woman–a sex slave–as told in the story.

I placed the above story on a powerpoint as I read it to my class. I then asked my class for their reactions to this story.

“Barbaric!” said one student.

“Horrible!” said another.

“Who would do that?” asked yet another.

One exasperated student chimed in, “How is this legal? How is this not banned by Islam?”

“Well, this is the problem with Islam!”, replied another male student. “They have slavery and they don’t respect women.”

Most students were disgusted. One student was near tears. “How could they treat women like this?” she muttered. “Those poor women. They never had a chance.”

Another determined student bellowed from the back of the room: “This is why we need to defeat them. ISIS. We can’t let this happen!

And before I could respond, he continued: “And this is why we have to keep them from coming here to the United States. Any religion that allows THIS in its so-called “holy book” should not be allowed in this country!”

And there it was. I stood silently, looking down at the ground.

After a deliberate, silent pause, I looked up, looked around the class, and then said, “Note that I didn’t include any names in this story. Let me replace the words ‘ISIS operative’ and ‘female slave’ with some actual names and I want to ask you the same question.”

I clicked on my laptop and the following story appeared in place of the earlier one.


The story stated that a wealthy MAN NAMED LABAN owned a female slave NAMED BILHAH (Gen. 29:29).(This is apparently not uncommon in this culture.) LABAN then sold two of his daughters (LEAH AND RACHEL) in marriage to another MAN NAMED JACOB to be wives for him. (Again, remember that polygamy, or having two or more wives at once, is not unlawful in this culture. There is some question about having two sisters as wives at the same time.)

To RACHEL he also gave his female slave, BILHAH, as a gift to RACHEL to be her slave (Gen. 30:3). However, when RACHEL could not bear children for JACOB, she gave JACOB BILHAH to have sex with him and bear children for him (Gen. 30:4). BILHAH bore him two children, DAN AND NAPHTALI, but RACHEL claimed both boys as her own children.

Later on, one of JACOB‘s sons, REUBEN, by RACHEL‘s sister (LEAH) also had sex with BILHAH (Gen. 35:22).


“Now how do you feel about this account of sexual slavery?” I asked the class.

The students stared at the screen, some with wide eyes and open jaws.

Our boisterous student protested from the back of the classroom: “That’s not the same! That’s a long time ago. That’s a completely different context.”

“Actually,” I replied calmly, “It’s the exact same story, just with the names changed.”

“Yeah, but…” one student chimed in, “…this is different. This is from the Bible. This is different.”

“You’re right!”, I responded, “This is the birth of ancient Israel.”

I continued, “Isn’t it fascinating that the twelve tribes of Israel are the result of a polygamous marriage–a man married to two women at once, in fact, two sisters, which is explicitly banned in Lev. 18:18: (“And you shall not take a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”)–and two sex slaves, Bilhah and Zilpah.”

I reiterated: “The twelve tribes of Israel are the product of one man, two wives, and two sex slaves.”

“OK,” one student interrupted, “…but this was God’s plan. God was OK with this. God didn’t punish this. This was part of his plan.”

I retorted, “First of all, you’re right. Gen. 25:6 says that Abraham had sex slaves (concubines).”

I continued: “In Exod. 21:10, God says you can have multiple wives: “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” So does Deut. 21:15-16: “If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn.”

“In Deut. 22:28-29, God says that if you rape a woman, you are not put in prison, but God says you must pay a fine to her father, and you must marry her and never divorce her: “If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.”

“In Num 31:17-18, God says you can slaughter a city in battle, but spare the virgin women and force them to be your wife: Num. 31:17: “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

“In fact, this one was so popular, the Bible talks about it a second time in Deut. 21:11-14: “Suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.”

“So yes,” I continued, “The Bible says that God commanded and/or allowed all these various forms of marriage.”

“Second,” I continued, “That’s exactly what ISIS would say. ‘This is God-ordained. God is OK with this’.”

Some students smiled, recognizing the crux of the lesson I was giving that day. Others sat silently, slowly absorbing the logical paradox and the cognitive dissonance they never before recognized. They saw that what they condemn today in Islam as practiced by ISIS is the very same practice that produced ancient Israel, at least according to the Bible.

Some students refused to see it. Others saw it, but couldn’t believe it. Others understood completely.

And this was the first lesson for the day: that what many condemn as atrocious in other religions, they embrace blindly in their own religion. Sexually abhorrent behavior is condemned when other religions practice it, but is often accepted as normal when it takes place in one’s own religion. We condemn the text of the other religion’s holy Scripture, until of course we realize that the passage is actually from our holy book.


I illustrated a second problem: Fundamentalists of one faith tend to assume that all adherents to other faiths are also literal fundamentalists, and because their Scripture says it, they all practice it to the letter today. This is not the case.

We know this is not the case because very few Christians and Jews are strict literal fundamentalists today. To be sure, there are many Christians and a few Jews who follow a strict, literal fundamentalist view of Scripture (or at least believe themselves to be doing so). But most Christians today do not. Most Christians understand that many biblical commands–many from God’s own mouth like endorsements of slavery and commands of genocide–are simply relics of the past–commands and acts done by a less civilized society thousands of years ago that are simply dismissed by today’s Christians.

Most Jews–specifically Reform Judaism–do not adhere to a strict literalist interpretation of Scripture. They are the first to say, “We know what the Bible says, and we understand that Jews in the past may have practice this, but we have matured as a society and we simply do not do that any more.” And Reform Judaism has a long, beautiful tradition of updating the biblical rules and establishing new moral regulations as society had progressed and become more civilized that do away with much of the abhorrent behavior described (and often commanded by God) in the Bible.

And yet some conservative Christians are strict literalists. They interpret the Bible literally, and believe that every word of both the Old and New Testaments to be the inerrant, infallible, unchanging Word of God. And it is most often these Christians that project their hermeneutic–their way of reading Scripture–onto Muslims, and falsely assume that all Muslims interpret the Qur’an in the same way. They believe that since all Christians should read that Bible fundamentally, all Muslims do read the Qur’an fundamentally.

This is simply not the case.

The fact is most Muslims do not interpret the Qur’an in a strict literalist manner. A majority of Muslims around the world have also updated and adapted their Islamic moral teachings to do away with the most horrific and problematic teachings of the Qur’an–in the very same way that most Jews and Christians have done with their Scriptures.

And yet, there are certain sects of Islam–in our present case, Wahhabi Islamic Militant Jihadists, who comprise the core of ISIS–who want to see the world interpret the Qur’an in the same strict literalist manner that they do. And they want their fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture to be the civil law of the land, governing all peoples, whether they are Muslim or not.

Ironically in America, this is the same desire of strict literalist Christians, who want to legislate their fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible over all Americans, whether they are Christian or not, and turn civil law into the Christian equivalent of Shari’a law.

Christian fundamentalists see all Muslims as Islamic fundamentalists because they don’t know any other way of reading Scripture. And as a nation we cannot allow fundamentalists of any religion to govern our country and turn the United States into ground zero of a religious war.


There was one additional point from the above sex slave exercise that I shared with the class: the reason that sexual misconduct against women is largely dismissed, excused, and tolerated today in this country is that it is interwoven into our predominant religious beliefs. Sexual slavery is part of the Bible. Bigamy. Polygamy. Rape. The taking of prisoners of war (the pleasing virgin ones) as wives. This is part of the Bible. Not only that, this is part of the Bible often commanded and authorized by God.

The rape culture that exists today in the U.S. that terrifies women, and which many men fail to recognize, is the result of a problematic theology that has either accepted, openly or tacitly, or has largely dismissed the problem of the sexual mistreatment of women because of the very unwillingness of many Christians to critique these same practices in the very Scripture that they claim to be their moral authority.

Or put another way, because Christian fundamentalists in America are unwilling to acknowledge that there are horrific, amoral teachings and practices against women in the Bible, they resist addressing, or often even acknowledging, the culture of misogyny that exists in America today. For if they acknowledged the poor treatment of women in America today, they would at some point in the discussion have to question the teachings and practices involving women in the Bible, and fundamentalists are simply never going to do that.

So we get what we get: the belief that if the Bible is OK with the very rape culture it details in verse after verse, and the misogyny, and the suppression of women’s voices, and their authority, and their freedom of expression–and if God inspired his Holy Word–then it can’t be all that bad today. Right?

And this is the problem.

 

Dr. Bruce Wells on “Sex Crimes in the Laws of the Hebrew Bible” – ASOR Podcast

cast_outListen to the excellent Friends of ASOR Podcast interview with Dr. Bruce Wells, Professor of Hebrew Bible in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, who recently authored the article, “Sex Crimes in the Laws of the Hebrew Bible” in Near Eastern Archaeology.

 

On Facebook, Fox News, and Intersexuality

I swear, the people at FoxNews aren’t just idiots, they’re proudly ignorant idiots, mocking that which (and those whom) they do not (and refuse to) understand.

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson refers to "intersex...whatever that is".

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson refers to “intersex…whatever that is”.

Facebook recently added additional gender options to its traditionally dichotomous male/female profile preferences. The gender terms provided by Facebook have been known for some time by those studying gender and sexuality, and have been explained to the public by professionals on several occasions.

So you can imagine why it may come as no a surprise to many that numerous pundits at Fox News not only do not know what many of these terms mean, but openly mock them.

Listen to the audio on the movie here.

Let me Google that for you: intersexThese are news people. They are supposedly investigators. So why mock intersexual people (or individuals exhibiting an intersexual condition) by saying on air “whatever that is”, when you can just as easily Google it.

Again, Tucker Carlson saying the words “whatever that is” in reference to intersex individuals is either evidence of incompetence as an investigative journalist, or sheer mockery of intersexuals.

Fox News personality Todd Starnes mocks intersexual individuals.

Fox News personality Todd Starnes mocks intersexual individuals.

And when Todd Starnes, host of the radio program Fox News & Commentary and a regular guest on Fox & Friends, says on Facebook,

“In the beginning God made man and woman…but Facebook decided to improve on the original models.”

or the idiotic

“What if you identify as a pine cone or a chicken or a weed whacker? Facebook doesn’t offer those options.”

and concerning “gender-fluid” individuals, who fluctuate somewhere on the spectrum between male and female, Starnes joked,

“You might want to have a roll of paper towels handy — just in case.”

I shake my head. It’s not news. And it’s a poor attempt at comedy. It’s a feigned ignorance for the purposes of mocking very real persons.

Intersexuals are not hypothetical individuals, and they are far more prevalent than you might think. Depending on the definition, about 1-1.7% of all live births – one or two out of every hundred people you know – show some form of sexual ambiguity, with 1 in 10 of those requiring optional surgery to assign them to a traditional male or female sex category.

I’ve blogged on this issue before. The case of Caster Semenya is but one higher profile example of an intersexual individual being questioned in the public spotlight.

And intersexual individuals are not new. There are photographs documenting intersexual individuals dating almost as far back as photography itself. Hell, the Greeks wrote complete myths about intersexuals in an attempt to explain their (divine) origin.

But it is this continued, deliberate ignorance of the existence of intersexual individuals – and the complete apathy concerning learning about them – that explains why so may religious conservatives (including those at Fox News) make the ignorant arguments they do concerning same-sex marriage. To put it simply, the existence of intersexual individuals implodes all arguments they make both about their opposition to anything but heterosexual marriage, and their claims that individuals choose their sexuality and are not born or “created” that way.

To argue age-old gender related religious arguments like “men are the spiritual leaders” and “women cannot be elders in the church” and “marriage is only between one man and one woman” falsely assumes that all individuals are either male or female. This is simply not the case, whether the Bible acknowledges intersexual individuals or not. Remember, science is not the Bible’s strong suit, and there are many realities of the modern world that the Bible simply does not acknowledge (for instance, that disease is caused by germs and not possession by evil spirits).

Intersexual individuals (formerly called Hermaphrodites after the Greek god Hermaphroditos, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, who, according to Ovid, fused with a nymph (Salmacis) resulting in his possessing the physical traits of both a man and a woman) are very real individuals who do not fall into the traditional male-female dichotomy. Additionally, intersexual organisms are very common in nature. For example, clownfish (of the subfamily Amphiprioninae) of “Finding Nemo” fame are sequential intersexuals, with all specimens being born initially male, but with the largest fish in the group transforming very naturally into a female for reproductive purposes. (Remember that next time you watch the Disney favorite!)

Again, if you are going to argue that God made people, then God made intersexual people the way they are. (Right? Because “God don’t make no mistakes.”) They certainly didn’t “choose” to be intersexual; they were born that way. And while many intersexual individuals are proud of who they are and of the way they are, many others struggle with acceptance in a society so obsessed with sexuality and sexual conformity (especially to conservative religious traditions).

So tell me, praytell, who can intersexual individuals marry? Can they serve in leadership roles in a church?

These are real questions about real people, and the idiots at Fox News are too ignorant to know what they are, too stupid to look it up, and to bigoted to do anything but laugh at them. There is no excusing it. It is sheer mockery. They mock what they do not (and refuse to) understand because it does not fit their religious right wing narrative.

It is not news; it’s public social mockery of that which is “different” or “outside” and “beyond” the conservative worldview resulting from the religious blinders imposed by the Conservative Evangelical Republican political machine.

Episode Six of Bible Secrets Revealed – “Sex and the Scriptures” – airs today at noon/11 central

Don’t miss episode 6 of the six-part series “Bible Secrets Revealed” on History.

The final installment, entitled “Sex and the Scriptures“, debuts today, January 23, 2014 at noon/11 c. (And fair warning: it pulled a TV14 S-D rating.)

The episode explores:

“Millions of people around the world look to the Bible for moral guidance about marriage, faith and family. But could the Bible contain contradictions, or hidden meanings, that challenge our beliefs about what is right–and what is wrong–when it comes to human sexuality?”

If you missed the first five episodes, you can watch them for free online at History‘s “Bible Secrets Revealed” website.

Remember to tweet your feedback with the hashtag #BibleSecretsRevealed.

And send your questions to Bible History Daily, where I’ll be answering some of them and providing more in depth explanations of the material covered in the show.

UPDATE: Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Suspended Indefinitely after Anti-Gay Remarks

Phil Robertson. Photo by Karolina Wojtasik/A&E.

Phil Robertson. Photo by Karolina Wojtasik/A&E.

A&E has indefinitely suspended Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson after his anti-gay remarks.

Good for A&E. Bigoted Christian fundamentalism does not belong in the public realm.

“A&E has placed Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus following anti-gay remarks he made in a recent profile in GQ.”

A&E issued the following statement:

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” A&E said in a statement. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

Good. Bigotry has no place on TV, or in Christianity for that matter.

As I said earlier, they know the show is on the decline, and they have enough speaking engagements lined up in the conservative Christian community to make plenty of money and sustain their business for years to come.

“It seems that the Duck Dynasty folks have finally reached that point that Tim Tebow reached when he realized that he was approaching the final days of his “day job”, and he decided to leverage what was left of his popularity into one final evangelistic appeal before his time on the public stage was done. I believe that’s exactly what Robertson meant when he said: “Let’s face it. Three, four, five years, we’re out of here,” Robertson told GQ. “You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”

The sooner, the better.

Right on cue, here come the anti-gay comments from Duck Dynasty

Proud Rednecks. Proud Christians. Proud Southerners. Proud Bible quotin’, gun totin’, pro-Jesus, anti-gay redencks.

If this is describes you, then here are your role models.

Phil Robertson's anti-gay comments are receiving backlash from the LGBT community. (L-R) Willie Robertson, Phil Robertson and Si Robertson attend the A+E Networks 2012 on May 9, 2012. (Andy Kropa/WireImage) | Andy Kropa via Getty Images

Phil Robertson’s anti-gay comments are receiving backlash from the LGBT community. (L-R) Willie Robertson, Phil Robertson and Si Robertson attend the A+E Networks 2012 on May 9, 2012. (Andy Kropa/WireImage) | Andy Kropa via Getty Images

We’ve seen that as the Duck Dynasty folks become more popular nationally, their fundamentalist religious beliefs are coming more to the forefront.

From their Restoration Heritage Church of Christ roots at Harding University, to their upcoming involvement in a fundamentalist Christian propaganda film, and now, right on cue, here come the (explicit) anti-gay remarks in an interview with GQ.

Comments include gems such as:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” [Phil] Robertson told GQ.

“That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying?

But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

and

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

and

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job,” Robertson told GQ. “We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about Jesus – whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ‘em out later.”

Yes. “Homosexuals, drunks, terrorists.” All equal threats to your well-being.

I shake my head.

It seems that the Duck Dynasty folks have finally reached that point that Tim Tebow reached when he realized that he was approaching the final days of his “day job”, and he decided to leverage what was left of his popularity into one final evangelistic appeal before his time on the public stage was done. I believe that’s exactly what Robertson meant when he said:

“Let’s face it. Three, four, five years, we’re out of here,” Robertson told GQ. “You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”

Duck Dynasty: The Tim Tebow of Rednecks.

For more:

HuffPo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson-gay_n_4465564.html

GQ: http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=1

CBS: http://houston.cbslocal.com/2013/12/18/duck-dynasty-star-a-vagina-is-more-desirable-than-a-mans-anus/

In response to Jim West’s “narrowly concerned” spittle

A Haredi man spits at a passerby.

In response to Jim West’s continued, passive-aggressive attempts to defend his oppression of the civil rights and privileges of same-sex couples by taking every chance possible to turn any news story into a shot against those who support marriage equality, here’s my response to his latest rhetorical spit-curse in the direction of those whose blogs he feels ‘to narrowly’ focus on the defense of the rights of same-sex couples. (And it is a spit-curse: an unprovoked shot at those with whom he disagrees on a certain issue while routinely passing by a completely unrelated topic. Some Haredim do it to tourists in Jerusalem; Jim does it to other bloggers online.)

Jim wrote:

Today’s term:  ’Narrowly concerned‘.

Narrowly concerned: n. a person who is terribly concerned for ‘marriage equality’ but totally silent about the deaths of 1000 Bangladeshis.

My response:

I’m guessing it’s because no one rallies to the defense of the Bangladeshi sweat shop owners, advocating to suppress the rights of the sweat shop workers. No one calls the near slave-like conditions the “natural order” of business in a capitalistic society, and no one argues that calling for workers’ rights is “angry advocacy” by quoting passages instructing slaves to obey their masters, parables teaching workers to work for their agreed upon wages (Matt 20), and instructions for women to remain silent.

EVERYONE realizes that this is a tragic situation and EVERYONE is calling for reform and punitive action to be taken against those who oppress these women, UNLIKE those who oppose marriage equality, who grasp for reasons to continue to deny gay couples the civil rights and privileges their oppressors enjoy.

The reason you don’t see a fight over this is that people are smart enough in THIS scenario to realize that one group is suffering under oppression/lack of civil justice, unlike same-sex marriage, where there are still people (believe it or not) who think that it’s OK to oppress another group because either their religion or their tradition (usually as the result of religion) tells them to do so.

CAN YOU IMAGINE someone rallying to the defense of the Bangladeshi sweatshop owner? CAN YOU IMAGINE a scholar arguing that these women “had it coming” because “they knew what they were getting into”, while quoting Matthew 20:13 over and over and over again, claiming it’s the “revealed” word of God. Because THAT’S what those who oppose same-sex marriage look like to the now majority of Americans who support marriage equality for same-sex couples.

That’s probably why. It’s easy to condemn the universally condemnable. It’s much more difficult to stand up for the oppressed minority and condemn the establishment. If I’m going to be “narrowly focused” on a blog (as if I have the free time to “report” redundantly on and condemn everything in the news as some do), may it ever be in defense of those who must fight against a bigoted populace AND the religious authorities who empower and perpetuate their oppression.

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