Saudi Arabia's Biblical Justice

Lately in the news, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has pardoned a rape victim who had been sentenced to prison and 200 lashes. This brutal sentence was handed down because the woman in question was meeting a male friend in public without an escort – violating the country’s repressive sharia laws – when she was attacked and raped by a gang of men. Although the rapists were also arrested and sentenced, the punishing-the-victim ethic of Saudi Arabia’s antiquated and backward laws had caused an international outcry. (Reportedly, the woman’s friend was also assaulted and raped; apparently he was not pardoned.)

The international community was right to raise an outcry, and it’s good to hear that this woman was spared, after everything else she’s already been through. I have no doubt that perversions of justice just as bad happen every day in Saudi Arabia and other Islamist theocracies, but at least in this one case, some good was done.

However, I do wonder if the Christians who joined in the protest fully realize the implications of their position. I’ve written before about how most modern believers are better and more ethical than the Bible, possessing the wisdom and moral insight to see many of its teachings for the primitive and cruel superstitions they are. This case is a telling illustration of that principle, because the actions of the Saudi state were actually in accord with the Bible’s model of justice.

I’m not just referring to the Old Testament’s instruction to stone rape victims (Deuteronomy 22:24), though there is that. I’m referring to something more fundamental.

According to Christian theology, God deliberately laid down a set of laws – the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament – that were impossible for humans to obey perfectly, no matter how dedicated they were or how hard they tried. Since God is absolutely holy, he decreed that the punishment for failing to follow these impossible laws was death. This would have put humans in a hopeless situation, except that in New Testament times God sent Jesus to shed his divine blood, and thereby grant humans an undeserved, unmerited forgiveness and excuse them for their inability to follow the law.

The parallels are striking. The Saudi authorities, too, laid down an impossible, unrealistic set of laws – the sharia laws, which condemn women to lives of slavery and enforced ignorance. They decreed death as the punishment for breaking these cruel laws. And then, when a woman broke those laws, they chose to grant her a pardon from the punishment which they themselves created, and they consider this a great instance of mercy.

In both cases, we can rightfully stand dumbfounded, and point out that there’s nothing merciful about “saving” someone from a cruel and irrational law that you yourself created! That behavior shows, at best, a warped sadism in unjustly condemning someone to death, then withdrawing that sentence at the last moment and expecting them to be flooded with gratitude for your benevolence.

The right course of action, the one that would be both merciful and just, would be to enact different laws in the first place, laws that were rational and fair. That way, no one would be condemned for absurd non-crimes, and the people who did commit legitimate wrongs would have a chance to atone. A system of laws based on reason and justice would strip away the absurd dogmas within which human beings suffocate, and move us closer to a world of enlightened humanism where the cruel dictates of ancient religions would fade away.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://wearethefounders.com Trendy Hipster

    I’ve compared how Jesus’ crucification being a forgiveness for original sin to being pushed out into water when you don’t know how to swim, and the original “pusher” is the only thing that can save you. I was surprised to hear a response to the effect of “don’t be mad he pushed you in, be glad that he’s saving you!”

    No thanks.

  • OMGF

    I wonder how many Muslims are saying to themselves, “See, if she had followed the rules, this wouldn’t have happened. We are so wise to punish this type of behavior because it will make women think twice before they go out and get themselves raped.” How barbaric.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Although it wasn’t in reference to this incident, Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric said something similar a while ago, blaming women who are raped for tempting their attackers by dressing immodestly and going out in public.

    Addressing 500 worshippers on the topic of adultery, Sheik al-Hilali added: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it..whose fault is it – the cats or the uncovered meat?

    He went on: “If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Right. Because women are never raped inside their homes.

    Like that makes any difference, but still.

    Sheesh.

  • Dutch

    I didn’t catch the full story, but didn’t something like this happen in New york? A Muslim father killed or accused of killing both of his daughters because they wore western clothes and was an embarrassment to the family. No need to look only at Muslim countries. This sharia law is in Europe and Canada as well.

    I think America is more fortunate because other cultures are more easily absorbed. I know quite a few Muslims, and some never see the inside of a mosque. They sell liquor and engage in other Islam prohibited activities. This may be why many Imans are advocating violent jihad, it may be they know Islam will not stand up to the many freedoms enjoyed by western society. This is purely conjecture on my part, but makes sense to me.

    Dutch

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Re: the Australian Muslim cleric – Doesn’t he realize that he’s saying that Muslim men have no more dignity or self-control than alley cats? While I despise the Islamic norms regarding women, I believe that Islamic beliefs about their men are also demeaning. Muslim women have to be covered from head to toe because weak, helpless Muslim men can’t control themselves if they see bare ankles or wrists, or Allah forbid, feminine smiles. If that’s the case, which is really the weaker sex? I honestly don’t understand how either men or women can believe that Islam is a worthy religion.

  • OMGF

    I honestly don’t understand how either men or women can believe that Islam is a worthy religion.

    There are quite a few religions that could equally be wondered about in the above sentence.

  • Alex Weaver

    Re: the Australian Muslim cleric – Doesn’t he realize that he’s saying that Muslim men have no more dignity or self-control than alley cats? While I despise the Islamic norms regarding women, I believe that Islamic beliefs about their men are also demeaning. Muslim women have to be covered from head to toe because weak, helpless Muslim men can’t control themselves if they see bare ankles or wrists, or Allah forbid, feminine smiles. If that’s the case, which is really the weaker sex? I honestly don’t understand how either men or women can believe that Islam is a worthy religion.

    There are quite a few religions that could equally be wondered about in the above sentence.

    Hey, come on! It’s not like Christianity insists that men are weak, hopeless, wicked beings incapable of controlling their sinful urges on their own.

    …wait a minute…

  • Dutch

    Good point Alex

  • Samuel Skinner

    It is just like the T-Shirt from Jesus and Mo (it’s a webcomic). “Please remain covered to stop my uncontrolable lust”.

  • Fight_for_truth

    Islam give women so much right that you people still have not given them til this day.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    That claim is especially risible in light of the brutal injustices that women have suffered in every nation where Islam is the official religion. The cruel backwardness of Saudi Arabia or Taliban Afghanistan are the two most obvious examples: women forced to wear suffocating black shrouds in public, forbidden to hold a job or get an education, forbidden to drive, forbidden even to leave the home without the escort of a male relative, even to seek emergency medical care. Iraq is increasingly joining those two in ignominy, as violent thugs seek to enforce Islamic law on all women against their will. In countries from India to the Netherlands, female freethinkers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Taslima Nasrin have been harassed, hounded, and threatened by violent Muslim fanatics. Across the Middle East and even in Europe, Muslims have brutally murdered or mutilated female relatives who refuse to submit to these barbaric and backward laws.

    Few religions have much to boast about on the topic of women’s rights, but at this moment in time, Islam is far and away the most violent, backward and oppressive one in the world when it comes to that subject. You’re not fooling anyone.

  • Fight_for_truth

    Islam give more freedom to women and give this right when others were still barbarians. Iraq and Afghanistan is political matter which the Atheist government of the West is responsible. Islam give more right to women than any religion, government, group or Atheists. Truth always triumph over falsehood.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    Perhaps you would care to share some evidence for this claim?

  • DamienSansBlog

    Specifically, which freedoms and rights Islam gives to women, especially as compared to “atheist” Western nations. The right to free speech? The right to employment? The right to education? Et cetera.

    Grateful thanks.

  • Alex Weaver

    Islam give women so much right that you people still have not given them til this day.

    Like what?

    So far, the only right I’m aware of Islam sanctifying for women is “the right to remain silent.” If you want to stop your handwaving and give some examples, feel free.

  • Alex Weaver

    …still waiting…

    (Actually, I take it back. I *think*, though I’m not sure, that there are some Islamic republics that have permitted women to serve in actual combat roles in the military or reserves…though I may be mistaken, and as far as I’m aware this is not due to egalitarianism but to perceived necessity. Anything else?)

    Didn’t think so.

  • http://dailyatheist.blogspot.com/ Strappado

    I thought this blog post was pretty excellent. Talk about playing God!

  • Alex Weaver

    BTW: still waiting…

  • Alex Weaver

    Still….

    …ah, hewwiddit.

  • Samuel McQuigg

    In response to your paragraph: ‘According to Christian theology, God deliberately laid down a set of laws – the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament – that were impossible for humans to obey perfectly, no matter how dedicated they were or how hard they tried.’ God had separated out a people from the nations, the Israelites, descended from Abraham through Isaac. Since man’s original rebellion through Adam in the garden of Eden it has been impossible for man to live up to God’s standard and it as impossible for us to do it now. The Israelites were to be God’s people on earth showing God’s nature, love. The law was given to them to restrain them, not to punish them, (just as we have civil law today to restrain society) so that they would live differently from the nations around them. The punishment was dramatic because God wanted them to understand just how important this was. Jesus’ sacrifice is pretty much as you described except for being for the ‘inability to follow the law’. Jesus’ sacrifice was to reconcile a fallen world back to it’s loving Creator, because God wants an intimate relationship with everyone of us to show the love He has for us. Just as parents (should) guide their children with a set of do’s and don’ts so God gave the law to guide us in the right direction and prevent, as much as possible, the natural perversion that people would fall into without those restraints and dealing with those people who chose to break the law. When asked, Jesus said the 2 main laws were to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. I’ve run out of space. :(

  • Samuel McQuigg

    Also, about the ‘stoning of rape victims’: it was only for those who lived in cities, who could have called out and got help, and therefore could be seen as committing adultery, not being raped. Women raped in the country who could have called out, but not been heard by anyone, were not stoned to death.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Since man’s original rebellion through Adam in the garden of Eden it has been impossible for man to live up to God’s standard and it as impossible for us to do it now.

    Which makes it a bad standard.

    The Israelites were to be God’s people on earth showing God’s nature, love.

    Which is why he commanded them to commit genocide on all the surrounding peoples.

    The punishment was dramatic because God wanted them to understand just how important this was.

    And god can only indicate how important something is by using draconian measures?

    Jesus’ sacrifice was to reconcile a fallen world back to it’s loving Creator, because God wants an intimate relationship with everyone of us to show the love He has for us.

    Funny. He never calls, he never writes. Usually, when you want to have a relationship with someone, you talk to them. (This doesn’t even address the nonsensical idea that Jesus dying in a brutal fashion somehow allows some sort of reconciliation for crimes that god had us commit in the first place – i.e. that god had to kill himself to allow himself to forgive us for crimes that he himself had us commit…truly mind boggling.)

    Also, about the ‘stoning of rape victims’: it was only for those who lived in cities, who could have called out and got help, and therefore could be seen as committing adultery, not being raped. Women raped in the country who could have called out, but not been heard by anyone, were not stoned to death.

    Citation please? I don’t recall that being in the Bible.


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