Rape & Religion

Abduction_of_SitaAmericans heard the reprehensible comments by some Republicans during the presidential race of 2012: U.S Rep Todd Akins spoke “legitimate rape” and Richard Mourdock said, “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”

Keeping with the tradition of religion used to suppress and degrade women, in India, during the midst of protests over a deadly rape case, the fascist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party – a Hindu Theocracy party) had local Cabinet member in MP blurted out: “One has to abide by certain moral limits. If you cross this limit you will be punished, just like Sita was abducted by Ravana.” (source)

If you will remember, Sita is the heroine and Ravana was the villain in the Hindu Ramayana.  So it is not just Americans who use their religion horribly, everyone does it. But for each of those examples, I can find many more Christians and Hindus using their religion to strengthen the good too. Religion is a powerful tool.  Since it is a manipulative tool — I am all for disempowering its hypnotic influence on the susceptible.

Picture credit: a still from the funny parody on the Ramayana called Sita Sings the Blues.

This post is part of my Ramayana series.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

26 responses to “Rape & Religion

  1. Maybe you could do a whole post on Sita Sings the Blues? Besides being generally wonderful, it’s subversive in ways you’ve foreshadowed in (e.g.) your “rehabilitating Ravana” post.

  2. Hey David: Hey, good to see you. Indeed. I should get around to it. You are indeed right. Interestingly, I just watched the German Movie called “The Ninth Day” where an altered version of Judas was used by a former priest to deceive himself and he used it to try and manipulate another priest. Religious myths are powerfully manipulative — they need to be disempowered. No one would use Greek mythology or Harry Potter themes to try to manipulate others, would the? Your writing also hints at the need to disempower Buddhism too, no? (at least in that way).

  3. Yup! Although my approach to that is to propagate counter-myths, while clearly labeling them as myths. I think fiction is a powerful way of knowing and being and doing, as well as a powerful way of manipulating, for some of the same reasons.

  4. TWF

    I’m not sure that it’s good to see that stupid is universal, but I guess that means we’re all the same (in a manner of speaking), which also means that there is some hope to overcome such backwards thinking. 🙂

  5. It is important to remember that the misogyny in Hinduism and as it manifests in Indian culture was part and parcel of Christianity in centuries past. It is also important to remember that misogyny, to less violent levels, is very much at work in all Third World cultures. The Chinese also kill daughters and the Africans also abuse and rape females of all ages with horrendous regularity.
    The sad thing is that the horrors of this woman’s death are nothing new either in India or many other parts of the world, and ‘raping’ a woman to death with an iron rod, rifle, stick or whatever, has been used by soldiers in war for time immemorial – including recent wars in Vietnam, Iraq and no doubt Afghanistan.
    But it is about more than religion. The Indians at least have some excuse given the massively high levels of illiteracy, poverty and ignorance which exacerbate such discriminatory beliefs.
    The caste system also plays a part in that it divides people into superior and inferior across many levels and women are always inferior to men. Hinduism teaches that evil forces pass through women and forces for good pass through men. If you are born a woman it means you were evil in your last life. Ditto for the blackness of your skin, disability and being of lower caste.

  6. @ David: good points

    @ TWF: LOL. Yeah, that is one of the first insights that drew me out of Christianity — that “stupid” is universal — deeply universal. Seeing all of our similarity with just outer superficial coatings deceiving ourselves, is what became clear.

    Rather basic insight, I’m afraid. It is embarrassing how long it took for me.

  7. Interesting posting Sabio. I didn’t know of there two people nor about their sayings. Mourdock sounds like a completely disgusting person:
    and the problem is that he doesn’t realize it.

    What a great example of how one can justify *anything* if one brings in god as an “explanation”. He says that rape is bad, but the fact that a baby is conceived due to rape is god’s plan.

    Afterwards, he said he “regretted”, but not really…. Listen to the first video in the link above, where his “regret” does not contain a refutation for his idiotic statement. In fact, he said he regrets, but he still believes in god’s plan! Translating his 1.5 minute utterance into ordinary language, he actually said:
    “God abhors violence, therefore god abhors rape, but it is still part of his plan when a woman becomes impregnated due to rape.”

    What a narrow-minded, irrational, illogical, stupid asshole!

  8. Hey Sabio,

    Maybe you can help me with this. Like you I have nothing but contempt for religious ideas that promote suppression or violence toward other humans, or non-humans for that matter. The whole notion perplexes me a bit.

    What I find myself wondering is, where did this all begin. When did it become okay (in the collective mindset) for men to treat women as property or worse. And further, why? Why would a society embrace such practices? It has always baffled me that we can treat women or any other human with such disdain. It seems that somewhere deep in our ancestral past there has to be some root for this practice. There are societies that have historically valued women in society and their creation myths reflex this, but those societies are few and frankly, I don’t know what their stance is with regard to rape.

    All the best,

  9. Hey, welcome back Sabio. I certainly agree many right wing Christians (and disturbingly many of them are in office) are total misogynist creeps. And Murdoch could be one of them.

    However, worth noting that many Christians really do see children as a blessing from God. The really do think they are there to offset evil and it’s not all that surprising to me that some might think pregnancy from a rape is a sign that God is at work. It sounds sick to us (and it is a tad sick) but not as sinister as it sounds at first. I’m 100 percent non religious and pro-choice just for the record.

    Also worth noting that many texts including the Bible are misinterpreted or interpreted with selfish interests in mind; I don’t think we can ever be sure that awful sounding text was meant to be anything but a symbol of something else in human nature.

  10. However, worth noting that many Christians really do see children as a blessing from God. The really do think they are there to offset evil and it’s not all that surprising to me that some might think pregnancy from a rape is a sign that God is at work.

    Well, this shows how irrational this religion is: even if we accept that children are a blessing from god, why would god choose to have a woman impregnated by rape? What kind of god is this? If anyone (who has an elementary brain) considers this argument then he or she will immediately realize that this kind of belief leads to a contradiction. Let me spell it out explicitly:
    Axiom 1. God is omnipotent.
    Axiom 2. Children are a blessing from god.
    Axiom 3. Rape is bad.
    Axiom 4. God is good.
    Fact 1. A woman is raped and remains pregnant.
    Syllogism: Fact 1 and Axiom 2 imply that the child born by a raped woman is god’s blessing. Using Axiom 1 we see that it is god who decided this. Using Axiom 3 we further see that god decided to do something bad.
    Conclusion:God does some bad things.
    Corollary: Using the Conclusion and Axiom 4, we see that god does some things which are simultaneously good and bad.

    In the above, the only thing that is certain is Fact 1 (experimental observation). Also, we all agree (even Mourdock) that Axiom 3 holds. Therefore we conclude that one of the axioms, 1, 2 or 4, is wrong. Which one?

    At this point, anyone (with elementary logic) will conclude that there is something fishy with a religion which accepts Axiom 1 and Axiom 3 and Axiom 4 and should immediately reject it.

    Since there are people who do not reject this religion (e.g., Mourdock), we must conclude that they do not possess elementary logic.

  11. Erratum. Please replace the penultimate paragraph by:
    At this point, anyone (with elementary logic) will conclude that there is something fishy with a religion which accepts Axiom 1 and Axiom 2 and Axiom 4 and should immediately reject it.

  12. @Takis well you make a logical point but my point does not hinge on Christians being logical. It might be a simple as a Christian seeing the baby as some consolation for the traumatic rape. When I said the baby was viewed as a blessing, I don’t think that means the Christian per se thinks the rape was a blessing too.

    I agree it’s not rational; my point was that it’s not necessarily sinister. I think many Christians would agree that rape is horrifying but the baby is just a product of biology and not the same thing as the rapist (again, keep in mind I’m saying this as someone who grew up in a small New Hampshire town; I don’t share their views).

  13. Please note too that by acknowledging that the rape or pregnancy has some sort of “meaning”, we fall into a sort of religious thinking trap ourselves. A rape is not a sign from “above”, good or bad. Neither is pregnancy.

  14. Amelie:

    I was not cirticizing you, I only made a logical argument, based on your posting.

    Also, I did NOT ascribe any meaning in the rape or pregnancy. I was only saying that if the statement labeled as Axioms are accepted and if the statement labeled as Fact holds then we reach an absurdity. By the way, I (and you) do not accept the Axioms, so I (and you) do not reach the contradiction.

    Sure, the baby is not the same thing as the rapist, but, as demonstrated above, if a person thinks that the baby is “god’s blessing” *even when* this baby is the result of a rape, then this person is an idiot.

  15. Takis, agreed, I was just sharing a back and forth debate. No personal judgments from either of us. Obviously nothing about a rape is a blessing. I would say however, from a biological standpoint, that a baby (more accurately, a fetus) is a living thing. Not saying anything about cognition or pain etc, just that it’s a living being and barring a glitch, will grow into a healthy baby.

    That baby is the product of a rape; I would assume many if not most women would want an abortion. That’s a choice I fully and actively support. However – it must be acknowledged also that this blob of a living thing is a byproduct of the rape and I also would not think it crazy if a woman made the personal choice to consider it their own baby and want to nurture it.

    Therefore I think it’s inappropriate for any man to put their 2 cents in on a woman’s choice however I do not think saying a baby is a blessing is the same thing as claiming the rape is a blessing.

  16. Agreed. I would never argue that the woman *must* have an abortion in case of rape. Rather, that it would be her choice to do as she likes. It would be sad, however, if she decided to keep the baby on the basis of religion alone. (Imagine a situation where the woman does want abortion but, because of religious beliefs or pressure from religious environment, she decides to keep it.)

  17. @ Takis & Amelie: You two seemed to have had a very good day. It was fun reading your conversations. Thanx for stopping in.

    @ endless: Good to see you again, buddy. I see primate males treating the females very poorly. It seems deep in our genes. Well, except where the males don’t bond, as in bonobos, apparently. But personally, I am suspect of idealized past cultures where women were generally honored — very suspect. But I am not well read on anthropology.

  18. In understanding rape there are physiological factors which need to be taken into account. Rape is common in war and always has been and sexual arousal is common in the face of death. Research has shown this, in the case of men who are executed. In addition war brings men a sense of power and that sense of power is usually expressed over those who are weaker, which brings women into the equation.
    It is also a known fact that conception rates are much higher in situations of war trauma. No doubt Mother Nature has her own reasons for ‘ensuring’ life in the face of death.
    Given that pheromones provide ‘chemical signals’ between men and women in regard to receptivity and fertility, perhaps unconsciously, these signals are more evident in situations of fear, danger, death, war etc.
    So the presence of sex in situations of violence is partly physiological. We expect rational human beings to be able to exercise mind control over basic physical urges but again, this becomes difficult in the ‘heat of the moment.’
    And the subjugation of women by men has most likely arisen from the fact that people can always know their mother but might have to guess their father. Men had to control women to ensure that the children were their own. Men could control women because generally they have greater physical strength and are not compromised by ‘weakened situations’ of menstruation, childbirth and lactation.
    But misogyny, particularly in religion, is sourced as much as anything in the fact that the religions of the patriarchal age were determined to destroy the Goddess religion they replaced. And to do that, the Great Mother as metaphor and all her manifestations as human women had to be seen as evil and a threat.
    There’s a very good book called When God Was a Woman, by Merlin Stone.

  19. @Takis,
    Yes, a woman should always choose to abort or not and never more so than in cases of rape. Even in rape the child is half hers. Modern societies are more accepting however of such children and one can only hope that those which are not, and those religions which do not, will catch up in time.

  20. Ros: Happy new year🙂
    Totally agree. It’s up to the woman to decide (as long as she decides freely), and, whatever her decision, society should not stigmatize her.

  21. Takis: Happy New Year to you also.🙂
    I think the good thing is that at least in the developed world women are freer to make such a decision than they have ever been before.

  22. As for the question “when or where” did males generally begin treating females like awful, domineering cads, the answer is most likely to be found in the Neolithic transition — the domestication of plants and animals resulted, over thousands of years, in property concepts and patriarchal or male dominated structures. One might say that among other things being domesticated, males wished to domesticate females.

    Primates are not good models for what males may have been like in our ancestral past because there is so much variation. Bonobo chimp males are subordinate to females and treat them kindly, whereas common chimp males are dominant and quite nasty. Gorilla males treat females in their group or harem quite well, whereas baboon males are selectively nice. All this variation usually correlates to the underlying group structure.

    Human group structure irrevocably changed during the course of the Neolithic transition. Our best model for male-female relations before this comes from foragers or hunter-gatherers. These are egalitarian societies (in general) and women have high standing. Women are able to freely choose partners, and marry-divorce as they choose. They are, in general, highly esteemed members of the group or society. Hunter-gatherer ethnohistory generally shows that males do not naturally treat women in the horrid kinds of ways that we have unfortunately come to expect in societies that produce food, have property, and are stratified (in terms of wealth and social standing).

    Hi Sabio — long time no see!

  23. @Cris,

    The difference no doubt is because human beings are not animals. Given that there was a matriarchal age before the patriarchal, when God was perceived as ‘feminine’ it is logical to suppose that women were better treated at that time – long after the neolithic- as can still be seen in the remnants of ‘matriarchal’ societies which can be studied today and which were studied in the past.
    Repressing the ‘old religion’ of the Goddess, and those who represented it, women, has to be a major factor, if not the major factor, in the development of misogyny and men projecting onto the feminine feelings of fear and hatred. In addition, the patriarchal age has not only given us distorted views of what is feminine but it has crippled men with distorted views of what is masculine. Those views have been particularly destructive and deadly for women but also for society as a whole. More to the point, they have been deeply destructive for men, who have had to deny and/or repress their feminine qualities, or those qualities we all possess but which we define as feminine, just as women have had to do until recent decades, at least in the West, with that which we have chosen to call ‘masculine.’

  24. @ Cris:
    Thanx for stopping in again, mate.
    If you will note, I mentioned the Bonobo issue above also. It shows, though, that other apes have differences in their treatment of females and these differences did not evolve because those apes had “property concepts” that caused that development. So it seems difference in how to treat females, in the ape lineages, can alter even without story telling, god worshipping and other such cultural reinforcements.

    If males could be altered to hinder their bonding capacity, we may become a bit more peaceful like bonobos. Is it simply something as simple as that? Did this bonding develop for some adaptive advantage or it is merely a spandral of some other changes.

  25. Sabio — in my previous comment, I used the phrase underlying structure and was not clear about what that means. The variation we see in primate social structure appears to be heavily influenced by ecology. Anthropologists think that bonobos have such an unusual (matrilineal) social structure because they live in an isolated, unusually resource rich environment. There is little or no competition over resources and territory. This lack of resource (or “property”) competition gives rise to a situation where matrilines can become dominant. We can see in this, or at least I hope we can, the relevance to property concepts. When humans stopped sharing widely and freely available resources, and began competing within the group over resources by making property claims, this corresponds to the Neolithic transition. The bonobo situation, therefore, is parallel to the one being discussed here.

    Another good example of primate variation in male-female relations comes from orangutans. Large, mature, dominant males typically claim a vast territory; females within that territory are usually treated quite well. But because territories are scarce and fiercely protected by dominant males, large numbers of mature but not dominant males have very few mating opportunities. They mimic females by failing to develop large cheek pouches (characteristic of dominant males with large territories), and they act like juveniles so that they can get close to fertile females. These males will then force a female to submit, and treat her quite nastily. It has even been called “rape.” There is a direct correlation here between lack of resources, limited territories, and male behaviors toward females.

    In most primate cases, the underlying male-female behavior can be explained with these kinds of structural, ecological, or “property” correlations. I hasten to add that there is usually a phylogenetic or genetic element, but this appears to be quite flexible depending on the ecological setting. It is the underlying structure that fundamentally changed (for humans) during the Neolithic transition, and in all food-producing, property-claiming societies, women’s status vis-a-vis men has been downgraded from what it is (or was) in hunter-gatherer societies.

    Ros — humans are in fact animals; we belong to the animal kingdom, chordata phylum, mammal class, primate order, and hominidae family. We are apes. This aside, there is no archaeological, anthropological, or historical evidence that there was ever a “matriarchal age” before a “patriarchal age.” As is true of other primates, some (though not many) human societies have been matrilineal but this is quite different from matriarchal. I can’t think of a single, evidence-based example of a truly matriarchal society. Hunter-gatherers are egalitarian, and they are the best proxies for humans during the long course of the Paleolithic. Women in such societies have roughly equal status, and males in those societies do not allow women to be abused. If you are hunter-gatherer male who abuses or dominates women, you will soon be beaten, chastised, killed, or ostracized (i.e., kicked out of the group, which is usually a death sentence).

  26. @Cris,
    I know that human beings are defined as animals and belong to the animal kingdom but patently we do not because we have a capacity to think and reason which exists in no other animal…. at least in the same way, although our ability to know how or if they think or reason is limited.But for the moment humans are far and away the most effective of the animals and therefore, I believe, are held to different standards of accountability. In essence that is what I was trying to say.
    And actually there is a great deal of evidence that a matriarchal age existed before the patriarchal age in archeological, anthropological and historical terms. And I would add in religious given the ‘rantings’ of the male priests against the evils of the ‘old religion,’ the goddess in particular and women in general.
    I guess the interesting question I would put is where do you think this ‘hatred’ and abuse of women and the feminine comes from if there is no other possible ‘source’ than that which you state.

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