Bildad the Shuhite and Todd Akin the Republican

Moralism is an expression of self-righteous pride.

That’s where it always winds up. Always. But it doesn’t always start there.

Sometimes it starts in fear.

Think back to those archetypal moralists: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. Job’s three friends, it is often noted, are good friends to him right up until the point when they start talking. Then things go downhill pretty fast and they make themselves out to be such fools that thousands of years later their names are still synonymous with foolishness.

But put yourself in Bildad’s shoes and try to imagine this story from a Shuhite view.

Job is the best person you know. He hasn’t done anything wrong. Ever. And yet his life has suddenly and ferociously been reduced to misery. He has lost everything — his family, his wealth, his home, his health. All of it was swept away in a single calamitous day, just like that.

There you sit on the ashes, in the debris of what was once a happy, prosperous life, but where now nothing remains except pain, loss, rubble and suffering.

That would have to be terrifying.

Job seemed safe, but now you realize he wasn’t. And now you know — in terms too vivid to deny — that you are not safe either. Now you know that safety is never anything more than an illusion. Everything you know, everything you love, everything you rely on could be swept away capriciously and suddenly, without explanation and without recourse.

That’s intolerable. How can you carry on, knowing that?

In the best lines from Job’s friends we see them grappling with that. We see them trying to confront the terrifying contingency and fragility of the human condition. “Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward,” Eliphaz says.

But it’s more than they can bear. They see it, but they quickly look away.

They need an explanation, and so they latch on to one. If only Job somehow deserved all of this pain and calamity. If he had done some evil thing for which this was some kind of just punishment, then safety might still be possible. If Job would only confess, admit to some sin, then we could know to avoid that sin and, thereby, to avoid his fate.

If suffering is always earned and deserved, then suffering can always be avoided. We might still be safe.

And so — desperately, out of fear — Job’s friends retreat into moralism and the illusion of safety it promises them.

That, I think, is often one attraction of moralism: the false promise of safety from calamity and capricious suffering.

And that, I think, is part of why the magical, victim-blaming urban legend recently repeated by Rep. Todd Akin remains so popular throughout the religious right, throughout evangelicalism and American Catholicism, throughout the Republican Party and throughout America.

I don’t think it’s the only reason, or even the main reason, for this, but I think part of the reason that Akin and so many others cling to this weird, cruel, moralistic nonsense is that it offers the illusion of safety and protection from capricious violence and suffering.

How can one carry on if one knows that life-altering violence could strike, unbidden and undeserved, at any time for anyone? By imagining that the victims of such violence somehow deserve it, while we do not, meaning that we are safe.

That line of defense won’t entirely manage to keep the fear at bay, though. Doubts and facts will work their way over and around it, with counter-examples eroding its ability to shield us from fear. As much as we need to or want to, we won’t quite be able to sustain the idea that all such victims have somehow earned their suffering. We will know of, or hear of, or even simply imagine the hypothetical possibility of, some victims we are unwilling or unable to dismiss to such a fate. And thus we bolster the moralism of victim-blaming with the second part of Akin’s urban legend — the fantastical idea that in the rare case of a virtuous, undeserving victim, there will be some kind of magical, biological defense to protect them from the consequences of this calamity.

Sometimes moralism starts in fear. That fear is understandable and unavoidable. That fear is deeply, sympathetically human. The humans experiencing such fear, just like Bildad et. al., deserve a measure of our sympathy even while we must not hesitate to condemn the self-righteous pride and the epic foolishness of the moralism that such fear ultimately produces.

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  • Tonio

    Excellent analysis by Fred, particularly the last sentence.

    A really dumb question – why can’t such people simply believe that they themselves deserve any of their suffering as individuals, and remain neutral on whether other people do? Seems to me that this would offer the same illusion of safety from capricious violence and suffering. Or do such people believe that they deserve their own prosperity while attributing their suffering to luck or fate or whatever?

  • Vermic

    I dunno.

    Bildad’s fear and vulnerability is easy to understand.  Tomorrow, for all he knows, it could be him who gets the boils. 

    Todd Akin knows that no matter how bad his day may get, he never has to fear becoming pregnant.   He doesn’t have to moralize in order to feel safe, because he is safe.  Whatever’s fueling Akin’s particular misconception on this issue, I don’t think it’s the same thing that stirred Job’s friends.

  • Twig

    I think, if you’re not directly friends with someone who finds themselves in horrible distress and loss through no fault of their own, it’s also much more convenient to pretend they must have done something wrong.

    If you look around at all the people you know, and the ones they know, etc, and the lives that they lead and their outcomes, I think it’s possible to put the measure of random, life-altering misery due to unexpected outcomes as high as maybe one in five?

    That’s a lot of random stuff that just happens.  Which is really inconvenient to admit to if you’re trying to raise money or win votes or polish the edges of your image as Person In Charge and In Control of All the Things.

    As you’ve said, nobody’s really in control, and even if they are it never lasts long.  We build up myths to people after they’re gone, to make it look like they knew what they were doing and that everything was predestined – but as far as I can tell, it’s just not true.

    So yeah, do you admit to the truth and the fragility and the uncertainty, or cling to what sells?

    I think it’s the atrocities perpetuated and condoned for the sake of convenience that horrify me most of all.

  • One of my counselors said something interesting regarding the horrible things people say to people who are suffering. She unfortunately knows suffering entirely too well: she suffered several miscarriages before adopting her last child, so she’s heard all the horrible things people say to people who are suffering. Still, she said, she somewhat understood because at least they were trying. Most people just flat-out don’t want to be around people who are in pain; she can remember going to the supermarket and just seeing people run from her. She told me that no one wants to be around someone in pain. So as awful as the things they were saying were, she respected them because at least they were trying. That kind of gives me new perspective on Job’s friends even if they’re still wrong.

    Word of advice: just say, “I’m sorry,” nothing more, nothing less.

  • Fusina

    I learned that fear is what determines far too many of our responses to things. And while Akin doesn’t have to fear pregnancy, he can fear rape…

    Regarding just saying “I’m sorry” to someone in pain, a hug can help more than words, and I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of both.

  • aunursa

    Is it appropriate to ask someone who is suffering, “Is there anything you need?  Is there anything I can do to help?”  Or should you keep silent unless and until the suffering person has actually asked for help?

  • The advice I usually get here is specific offers of assistance are better than generic ones, which jives with my own experience as well. I also try to downplay the inherent power differential. So, I would say that “I’m on my way to the store, can I pick anything up for you?” or “Is it OK if I mow your lawn?” or what-have-you is usually better than “Is there anything you need?”… perhaps with a “Is there anything else I can do?” tacked on at the end.

    Of course, that depends on having a close enough relationship that I have a clue what they might need.

    Failing that, my normal approach to offering assistance is to talk to closer friends of theirs and ask what so-and-so might need.

  • Jim Roberts

    Well, he’s not a complete monster. Bildad’s motivation wasn’t just what had happened to Job, but to his family and his property as well. Assuming Akin has children or is related to those who do, he can fear for them and, in so doing, make that fear his own.

  • nemryn

    “they make themselves out to be such fools that thousands of years later their names are still synonymous with foolishness.”
    Er, maybe only among certain demographics? I’ve never heard those names used like that. Or at all, really.

  • CoolHandLNC

    It is **always** appropriate to ask “is there anything I can do to help”, but this can be done without words. When someone is grieving or otherwise suffering, often the best thing you can do is simply to be with them, in silence.

  • Lori

    I had never considered that and it’s a really good point.

    It’s probably also worth noting that Bildad wasn’t simply fearful for himself, he was actually trying to help Job. He tells him that if Job will just confess surely God will wake up and bless him. The destruction of Job’s life is so complete that Bilbad seems to believe that appeasing God is the only way to repair the damage. (Which was actually sort of true, so there’s that.)

  • Lori

    Based on my experience, this is true. Simply asking if there’s anything you can do to help can seem overwhelming to someone who is in so much pain that aren’t thinking clearly. Making a more narrow offer makes it easier to make a decision.

    I think a specific offer can also sound more genuine. Asking “Is there anything I can do?” is often heartfelt and totally sincere, but sometimes it’s just a thing people say. At times it’s just another social ritual and the expected response is, “No, but thanks for offering.” I’ve seen people who were clearly shocked to be told that yes, they could do X in the same way that people are often surprised when they ask how someone is and get an honest answer instead of some version of “fine.”

  • fraser

    I think Fred’s being too charitable. Bildad was trying to offer sympathy. Akin’s closer to Joshua the Insurance Adjuster announcing that Job obviously doesn’t deserve sympathy since he clearly set up the whole thing to cheat the insurance company.

  • LoneWolf343

     No, but he can definitely be raped. His backhanded argument was that if a woman who was raped got pregnant, it was because she was really compliant, e.g. it wasn’t “legitimate” rape.

  • LL

    Eh, I think Fred’s giving Akin and his ilk too much credit. 

    I’m gonna stick with my initial assessment: People are stupid. 

  • flat

    just being there for somebody else can help him, sometimes you say the best things by not saying anything at all but just by being there.

  • Well, there is one additional fringe benefit of moralism. It absolves you of ever having to feel sympathy. If suffering is always a consequence of behavior, then there’s no need to feel bad for people – they brought it on themselves.

    This is no small thing. A lot of people seem to have trouble sympathizing with people who are different than them. Moralism gives them an excuse.

  • RidgewayGirl

    I don’t think that men really feel that they might get raped, do they? 

  • Green Eggs and Ham

    Ok, but Bildad hasn’t thought through his own logic to its end.  If Job is vulnerable to suffering because he deserves it and he is a very good man, then shouldn’t Bildad be even more afraid because he himself is not as good as Job?

    And I agree with others, Akin doesn’t get a sympathetic read from me.


    I don’t think that men really feel that they might get raped, do they?

    Some do.

    IME, they’re mostly thinking in terms of being anally penetrated by another man without their consent, rather than in terms of consent more broadly.

    I do expect that most men would say that penis-in-vagina intercourse cannot involve the man being raped, which may be what you meant. Actually, I expect that most people would say that, regardless of their gender.

    Though, here again, some do.

  • Jessica_R

    I’m sorry, this is another time where I’m back to my soapbox of Sometimes An Asshole Is Just An Asshole. I actually don’t have to feel any sympathy for Aiken, not if he’s going to do me the grievous harm of trying to take my autonomy away. It’s a classic silencing technique, using the tone argument to try to make the oppressed play nice with their oppressors or get dismissed as angry or shrill. Well fuck that. 

    I don’t care if he’s scared deep down or not because intent is not magic, all that really matters is action. And his actions are to make the world a less safe place for me as a woman, and a little less able for me to make decisions over my own body. So fuck him, and fuck the misogynist horse he rode in on. 


    shouldn’t Bildad be even more afraid because he himself is not as good as Job?

    In terms of objective risk assessment, absolutely.
    It hasn’t been my experience of humans that we’re especially good at objective risk assessment.
    In particular, we tend to treat low-probability events that we model as within our control differently from equally low-probability events that we model as outside our control.

    So saying “It’s OK, I can be saved from hardship, all I have to do is be a very good man!” feels more reassuring for many of us than “It’s OK, I can be saved from hardship, all I have to do is be lucky and have God (the hurricane, muggers, cancer, whatever) always target my neighbors instead,” even if an objective risk assessment suggests that I’m less likely to become a very good man than I am to be lucky.

  • Every time this sort of thing comes up, I just have to wonder at how ancient it all seems.

    The concept of people inviting suffering upon themselves is very similar to a belief held in early imperial China. It was widely understood that immorality had a real and tangible effect on people’s lives. To pick something that’s germane to the topic at hand, sexual licentiousness could lead to physical illness or infertility. The Buddhists took it a step farther, writing stories in which people who had premarital or extramarital sex dropped dead, often quite horribly.

    To extend it further, they also believed that the emperor (or “polestar monarch” in Confucian thought) was so cosmically significant that his immorality could have a negative impact on the whole nation. That might explain those people who are more concerned with the President’s personal life than his policies – they’re merely carrying out a 2000-year old tradition.

  • fraser

    I’d say they definitely don’t feel it’s natural, the way it’s “normal” for a woman who goes out alone and actually touches demon rum to get raped because y’know, guys can’t handle seeing a hot woman without losing all control so it’s not really their fault because evolutionary psychology!

  • ohiolibrarian

    Akin’s only fear is that he will not be able to exert control over ‘his women’. His wife, daughter, mother … and what kind of man would he be then? After all if women can control their own reproduction … and provide for themselves financially, well, they may no longer put up with him.

    Fearing loss of unearned privilege is not quite the same as fear of fate/God/bad luck.

  • B

    On the other hand, there’s:

    used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought,
    ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible
    things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I
    take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the
    universe. ”   – Marcus Cole, Babylon 5.

    (I admit, I didn’t really watch the show much, but I always liked this quote.)

  • veejayem

    I think it is appropriate to offer assistance, since someone might just be feeling too overwhelmed to ask for it. I believe that suggesting something tangible ~ offering to babysit/ look after a pet/ a lift to the hospital, etc. is better than a generalised offer of help.

  • Now you know that safety is never anything more than an illusion. Everything you know, everything you love, everything you rely on could be swept away capriciously and suddenly, without explanation and without recourse.

    That’s intolerable. How can you carry on, knowing that?

    Existential acceptance.

  • Catherine

     I suspect that most people have heard of them as “Job’s comforters” – ie people who stand around saying things that make matters worse.

  • LoneWolf343

     When I was in college, I had a guy nearly lay his naked nuts on my shoulder. It happens.

    That guy was a real exhibitionist, in retrospect.

  •  There was an incident where a male friend of mine was fed free drinks by another man until he passed out on the feeder’s bed. (He and another friend had gone to this man’s apartment already sensing that he was “sketchy” but hey, free drinks.  We’ve all dried out since then.) My other friend  called a taxi and managed to drag drunk friend off the bed and down the stairs, with the predator literally grabbing and chasing them all the way to the front door. 

    So yeah, random awfulness can happen to whoever, in keeping with the main theme here. 

  • Attymix
  • gocart mozart

    Shepherds Of The Nation lyrics
    Down with sex and
    Down with pot, heroin.
    Down with pornography,
    Down with
    Down with vice lechery and debauchery.

    We are the new
    Shepherds of the Nations.
    We’ll keep on our guard
    For sin
    and degradation.
    We are the national guard
    Against filth and
    Perversion and vulgarity,
    Keep it

    Down with nudity,
    Breasts that are bare and pubic hair.
    are here to cleanse humanity
    From the man in the raincoat’s
    Pale faced
    So sodomites beware.

    We are the new centurians,
    Shepherds of
    the Nation.
    We’ll keep on our guard
    For sin and degradation.
    We are the
    national, guard
    Against filth and depravity,
    Perversion and
    [ From:
    it clean.

    I visualise a day when people will be free
    From evils like
    perversion and pornography.
    We’ll cast out Satan and we’ll set the sinners
    So people of the nation unite.

    Put all the pervs in
    Bring back the birch, and the cat of nine tails.
    Bring back corporal
    Bring back the stocks
    And the axeman’s block.
    righteousness prevail.

    Down with nudity and hard core magazines.
    bring religion back
    And keep our country clean.
    Keep it clean.

    are the new centurians
    Shepherds of the Nation.
    We’ll keep on our
    For sin and degradation.
    We are the national guard
    Against filth
    and depravity.
    Perversion and vulgarity,
    Keep it

  • AnonymousSam

    Akin isn’t just stupid. Stupidity wouldn’t entail trying to draft legislation which claims that women who were raped actually weren’t, while claiming to have women’s best interests in mind and wanting to protect them.

  • Scott P.

    Bildad the Shuhite? Heretic! All true believers follow the creed of the Sandalites!

  • While fear can partly explain victim-blaming, it is not enough. Particularly when we’re talking about rape culture.

    It’s the misogyny. Many of the loudest rape cheerleaders are in fact rapists. That other people go along with this is partly fear and partly misogyny. 

    Akin is afraid — afraid that men like him won’t be able to rape any more, afraid that women will insist on being treated like human beings with control over their own bodies. He’s afraid of losing privilege and power. So there is fear at the root of his vileness, and he is obviously a pathetic, puny man. But the fear does not come from the same place as the fear of a woman who insists she could never be raped because she doesn’t wear short skirts. It is a different fear.

    Men can be raped, but I’ve never known a boy or man who changed the way he lived because of that fact. I’ve never known a girl or woman who did not change the way she lived because she could be raped. It’s a very different world out there for us.

  • Daughter

    I remember being in junior high when a speaker was doing a presentation about rape and sexual assault. Three boys were acting up and cracking jokes during her presentation, so she called them out. “Do you think this could never happen to you? You think you could never be raped? Is that why you’re not taking this seriously?”

    The boldest of the boys laughed and said that of course he’d never get raped.

    She responded, “OK, but what about your sister? Or your mother? Or your girlfriend? Could one of them ever get raped?”

    At that, the audience got really quiet, including the three boys. “So this does apply to you,” the speaker then emphasized.

    I think that was the most effective way to handle it. If she had, instead, talked about the fact that men and boys do get raped, maybe even giving statistics, they could have still dismissed it, thinking they weren’t the type of guys something like that could happen to.

    It was a lot harder to dismiss the possibility of rape happening to a girl or woman they loved.

    So that’s the question for Akin: even if he thinks he’d never be affected by this, what about the women in his life?

  • Seriously. I pity Akin, but that is very different from feeling any sympathy for him whatsoever. He is, right at this moment, making the world a significantly less safe place for me, making it much more likely that I won’t be taken seriously if I am raped, making it more likely that I will be raped in the first place, and trying in every way possible to bring back a world in which it’s perfectly legal for a man to beat and rape his wife, i.e. me. He works against the most basic interest I have as a human being, the interest in controlling my own body, every chance he gets. Loudly. Without shame. Sympathy? Fuck that noise.

  • What I don’t get is why more people don’t try advocating for a societal system that makes mistakes and mishaps easier to recover from, rather than harder?

    The simplest example would be to make the welfare state stronger. :(

  • Wingedwyrm

    Please bare in mind that Bildad was also operating from the notion that God was in control of all that happens.  That means that if Job honestly didn’t deserve what had happened to him, that not only was nobody safe, but that God was a capricious and evil thing and admitting that would be exactly the invitation to more suffering.

    In other words, Bildad was acting under the assumption that God wasn’t evil, and he just happened to be wrong.

    Aikin is acting under the same two assumptions.  1.  God is in control of every single thing.  2.  God doesn’t make people suffer when he doesn’t have to.  Therefore, there must be some reason why a raped woman, now pregnant, is being forced to be pregnant by a all-controlling but not-evil God.  But, working with that assumption requires one to pick up on and protect God’s not-evil actions by supporting what, if these women didn’t deserve to get pregnant, would actually be evil.

    I also imagine that a varient of Survivor Guilt could be a good motivation for Bildad and crew.

  • SisterCoyote

    Or do such people believe that they deserve their own prosperity while attributing their suffering to luck or fate or whatever?


  • Tonio


    admitting that would be exactly the invitation to more suffering.

    Why would that be an invitation? Was the god in the story threatening to annihilate any human who quested its motives?

  • Wingedwyrm

    Think from Bildad’s perspective.  If he is faced with a God that will cause suffering to someone who has done absolutely nothing to offend him, can he trust that said God would refrain from causing suffering to someone who does offend him?

    And, do I need to prove that such reasoning yields a correct conclusion rather than that such reasoning would, within the confines of Bildad’s perspective, be reasonable?

  • Tonio

     See, I find myself doing the opposite. If someone mistreats me, my first thought is that it’s likely I did something to provoke the person, or that there was something about me that the person doesn’t like. It doesn’t occur to me that the person might simply be a jerk. But it does when the mistreatment is directed at someone else. But when something fortunate happens to me or someone treats me especially well, my first thought is that it’ may be too good to last, or I might make a mistake and piss off the person. In other words, people’s opinions about me and treatment of me feels like it’s totally under my control, as illogical as that sounds.

  • Tonio

    Ah, good point. That part of the story wasn’t clear to me.

  • Dan Audy

    Men can be raped, but I’ve never known a boy or man who changed the way he lived because of that fact. I’ve never known a girl or woman who did not change the way she lived because she could be raped. It’s a very different world out there for us.

    While you may not know of it that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  Men almost never speak openly rape, sexual assault, or abuse because of how our culture demeans men who do so as being unmanly.  The treatment of rape and sexual assault as being exclusively female issues is part of the problem that renders them invisible issues.

    A major factor behind the US black community’s anti-gay attitudes is directly related to the high rates of incarceration and subsequent prison rape.

  • Men can be raped, but I’ve never known a boy or man who changed the way he lived because of that fact.

    So, I don’t really know how to respond to this.

    I have in general learned that when rape is being discussed on the Internet, bringing up male rape is generally viewed as derailing. And since I have no desire to derail such discussions, I don’t bring it up. And that’s fine; I don’t need to bring it up in discussions on the Internet. Insofar as it’s an important issue in my life, there are safe places where I can talk about it; not everywhere needs to be such a place.

    But if it’s not OK to talk about it, can we please not talk about it?

    Bringing it up solely in order to dismiss it is… well, it seems unnecessary.

  • nemryn

     Huh, I’m not familiar with that phrase either. I’m not trying to deny that people use it like that, but I suspect that it is not a reference that sticks in the “general community awareness” in the same way that ‘Solomon’ or ‘Jezebel’ or ‘Goliath’ do.

  •   I don’t think that men really feel that they might get raped, do they?

    There are communities and subcultures where the threat of prison rape is considered a key component in keeping the proles in line.

  • Emcee, cubed

    If you are a male and have not been a victim of sexual assault/rape, has the possibility of being raped ever been a factor in your day-to-day decision making?

    For most women I know, that possibility affects several decisions they make on a daily basis, whether they have been a victim or not. I’m pretty sure this is what Lliira is referring to. I don’t think she is saying that men who have been raped don’t change their lives. But I think it’s pretty rare that a man who hasn’t been a victim would think of it in making routine choices.