December 13, 2010
The long trajectory of our slippery historical slope
Ever since some asshole of a leftist professor I'd never heard of before was discovered to be screwing his 24-year old daughter, there has been a raging debate over incest in the blogosphere. (Hmmm... I don't like the way that came out; I think I should say "debate in the blogosphere over incest.")
For a great example of the emotions this generates, see the comments to this post by Ann Althouse. (FWIW, I don't think there is a constitutional right to incest; nor do I see anything in the Constitution giving the federal government the right to prohibit incest. Or murder. Or "sodomy.") My personal opinions about "sodomy" laws have about as much to do with what I think about incest as what I think about sexual harrassment. As I have explained countless times, I think the most important factors in deciding what should be illegal is whether there is harm and if so who is harmed. (As well as who is complaining.) But these are not necessarily of constitutional dimension.
M. Simon already wrote a post about the incest issue, but alas! all I have done is to have left a flippant comment about Lot. According to the Bible, Lot offered his daughters to a mob that was threatening to break in his door and rape an angel. Bad as incest is, I think I'd still have preferred incest to rape at the hands of a mob, but that's just me, and I'm not Lot's daughter. (This touches on my admitted personal confusion about sex; I have never been able to understand why sexual touching is considered worse than, say, being punched in the face. If given the choice, I would prefer an unwanted touching of my genitals over a violent physical assault.)
So I thought it was time for a brief look at the historical immorality of incest. I figured the Bible would be as good a place to go as any, and in Leviticus, the punishments for incest (and a few other religious crimes) are spelled out. If the text is to be believed, the following statements were made by the God of the Old Testament:
9 "'Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.
We know how well that is enforced, don't we?
But cursing one's parents is not a sex crime. The punishments for the sex crimes follow:
10 "'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife--with the wife of his neighbor--both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.
11 "'If a man has sexual relations with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
12 "'If a man has sexual relations with his daughter-in-law, both of them are to be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.
13 "'If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
14 "'If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
15 "'If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal.
16 "'If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Okay with all of that? I'm not, but I'm still not seeing any punishment for father-daughter sex. Why in the world might that be? Nor does the long list of sexual prohibitions in Leviticus 18 even mention father-daughter sex. Again why? The law forbids sex between all sorts of relatives, but not between a father and a daughter.
However, there is this catchall at the beginning (at Leviticus 18:6):
"No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD."
So that would definitely include father-daughter sex, but still, the punishment is not listed.
The punishments are not all the same; some are death penalty offenses, some not. Fascinatingly, a man having sexual relations with his daughter-in-law commits a worse crime than a man having sex with his sister, or even his mother, for while the former is considered a "perversion" meriting the death penalty, the latter only merit public removal from the people.
17 "'If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They are to be publicly removed from their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible.
18 "'If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people.
19 "'Do not have sexual relations with the sister of either your mother or your father, for that would dishonor a close relative; both of you would be held responsible.
20 "'If a man has sexual relations with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless.
21 "'If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.
22 "'Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you.
To which I would add another question. How can sex without a condom be illegal when sodomy cannot?
I don't see why sodomy should be the be-all and end-all. There have long been and there are now lots of sexual restrictions, which come and go largely for cultural reasons. Back in the supposedly uptight Victorian times, respectable men frequented prostitutes, whore houses flourished, and it wasn't a big deal. Nowadays, visiting a prostitute is considered a more serious moral disgrace than it was then, and it can be a very serious crime -- one which can bring the additional charge of money laundering.
How can sex for money be illegal when sodomy cannot?
In many locales, doctors are not allowed to have sex with adult patients, professors are not allowed to have sex with adult students, and these prohibitions have been applied to opticians, pharmacists and nurses.
How can sex with patients be illegal when sodomy cannot?
Forgive me if I can't find any coherent set of moral rules which would cover all sexual behavior. It wasn't even coherent in Biblical days. And the only sexual offense listed in the Ten Commandments was adultery, which was then defined as a man having sex with a married woman other than his wife.
It seems to me that incest is one of those things which is so rare that most people do not and would not do it. Those who do it, though, are probably not the least bit concerned about the law, so I doubt any law (whether in the form of a modern law or a religious "thou shalt not") would have much effect.
It's interesting that they did not charge the professor's daughter, though, because they were both adults. Another hopeless inconsistent double standard.
Such hopeless inconsistencies are as old as Leviticus.
And if we are to use Leviticus as the measuring stick for morality, I think "we" have clearly been on a slippery slope ever since "we" stopped executing people for cursing their parents.
MORE: From the comments:
how can not having health insurance be illegal?
UPDATE: Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and a warm welcome to all.
Comments welcome, agree or disagree.
posted by Eric on 12.13.10 at 04:05 PM
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