Atheist? Don't make this insanely stupid argument!

Actually, I had intended to keep religion out of my blog, but browsing the web, especially youtube, I see this increadibly stupid argument being made over and over again. It is so deeply annoying that I feel a need to break my own rules and rant about it anyway. The argument, I am talking about, starts with a scripture quote and then goes on rumbling how misogynistic the bible is:

If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he
must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman
because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.
-- Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT

Really? I hate to play the apologist here, but what you guys cite as an example for misogyny is in fact the exact opposite. That verse is actually, as ridiculous as it may sound, about granting women rights, protection and even social security. What you are doing is taking it out of (it's cultural) context!

Ok, after reading the previous paragraph, take five, calm down, relax and allow me to explain how I can make such incredibly insensitive statement and even more importantly, what makes the original argument so insanely stupid and easy to counter that you should not use it unless you want to deal a quick blow against a completely clueless believer.

Let's start with a few premises:

  • Social security, retirement pension and health insurance are all concepts that came up along with industrialization. Before that, the only safeguard against starvation in old age or while being too sick to work was to have a family that could and would care for you.

  • In pre industrialized societies, having a daughter means raising a child that will eventually leave your household to live with the family of her husband (at least in a patriarchy - in a matriarchy it's the other way round) and will therefore not contribute to your old age pension. In such societies, it is only reasonable to ask for compensation.

  • The bible leaves no doubt that women were/are to be treated as property. As such they either belong to their parents or their husbands and enjoy virtually no rights nor freedom, especially not when it comes to their own sexuality. In other words: Considering wifes to be property has the side effect of making it socially acceptable for their respective owner to decide upon when they must or must not have sex, without asking for consent.

  • The "biblical society" was a patriarchy and men were most concerned about illegitimate children. You cannot blame them for this though. Given the agricultural state of the middle east, the idea of feeding children that were not your own must have been a nightmare.

  • Without pregnancy test or contraceptives being available at that time, the only way of making sure that you are not marrying an already pregnant woman was to insist on her being a virgin. A woman that had lost her virginity was therefore pretty much off the marriage market.

So, with these premises in mind, what does Deuteronomy 22:28-29 actually mean in it's historical context?

When a man had raped an unmarried/young woman in old Israel, he had literally turned her into "damaged goods". She would not have been able to find a "respectable" husband afterwards and therefore she would also not have been able to start a family of her own. The implication of this being that the crime deprived her of any chances to gain what was then considered to be social security, health insurance or old-age pension.

As much as any feminist today must shiver with the mere thought of a woman being sold to her rapist, this is not what it was seen as in those days, at all. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes a law suit where the cause of action is not so much the violation itself but the consequences it bears on the victim's future. Namely, the financial loss she could be expected to suffer by not being able to start a family for her own support. The court rule is an attempt to make the violator pay damage repair by forcing him into a marriage and (most importantly) denying him the right to divorce, which he normally would have had (Deut. 24:1-2). In other words: what we see as adding insult to injury today was actually putting the woman in a very strong legal position back then. She became financially secured in a way she could not have archived by a regular marriage.

Now, one could of course point out the insanity of forcing a woman to live with an abusive husband. This, however, is only insane by modern day standards. In biblical times, women generally did not pick their husbands themselves. The idea of a love marriage is a relatively new concept in western societies and has only been around since the romantic era. Before that, marriage was typically arranged by the family and about support, political influence or financial benefit.
In ancient Palestine, a woman's consent was not a requirement to anything. The rule of thumb simply was: you married whom your family picked and you had sex when your husband decided to have it. Women were not emancipated and thinking of domestic violence as a crime did not cross anybody's mind (including the women's - compare it to the situation in poor Arabic countries, where women, subject to the same treatment, do not rebel either). Whether or not it was ok to force a woman into having sex pretty much was only a question of whether or not you were married to her.

So, what's the conclusion here? The laws in the bible were created by a bronze age society for a bronze age society which, given the circumstances and available resources, had to set their priorities differently than we do today. The kind of harm, we can nowadays easily compensate with modern medicine or insurance systems, was often a matter of life and death back then.
Biblical law is in no way suitable for us to build our morality on any longer. We cannot use it as a guide, let alone as a guide that should be followed literally. At best it can teach us what society looked like in ancient times, but quoting Deut. 22:28 -29 as an example for cruelty against women, when it was, in fact, meant to and even accomplished the exact opposite, is a gross misrepresentation. Quote mining is a tactic, commonly employed by theists and one should not embarrass oneself by stepping down to that level.