Steven Ain’t No Giant: Notes on Crystal Gems as (anti-)Watchers

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In the myth-making that is Enoch literature (and to a lesser degree the book of Jubilees), the Watchers are angels sent by God to protect humanity. However, many Watchers fall because they lust after and cohabit with human women. Their offspring were known as the Nephilim, supposedly gigantic figures.[1] Moreover, the Watchers give humanity illicit technological knowledge (weaponry, medicine, astrology). The Watchers who rebel are finally bound up by God, leaving 10% free to misguide non-Jews.

It is unclear if Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe draws upon this mythos, but there are certainly parallels. The Gems are extra-terrestrials vastly more powerful (in terms of technology and powers) than humans. In this case, the Gems are roughly equivalent to angels, with the Diamond Authority (Diamond, Blue Diamond, Red/Pink Diamond, Yellow Diamond) [2]  as functionally equivalent to deities. In Message Received, Peridot describes the Diamonds as flawless, fitting with their namesake (diamonds are virtually indestructible and can only be destroyed by other diamonds).

However, SU flips the script on the Watchers mythos. The Gems are malevolent from the perspective of earth, whose empire is meant to colonize other planets and eradicating the organic life in the process. Until this point, the Crystal Gems’ rebellion has largely been unexplained, but presumably Rose Quartz as the leader wanted to protect the organic life on earth.[3]  The Watchers script is flipped: it is not the Godlike Diamond Authority who are good, but rather the rebellion itself is good. Rebellion far from being a bad thing as it is in Enoch literature is portrayed as integral to the existence of organic life on earth. The abrogation of the rigid Gem hierarchy is what leads to the development of human civilization on earth (similar to the Watcher’s mythos in Enoch literature).

Rose Quartz even has parallels with Watchers in that she falls in love with a human, leading to the birth of Steven. This script is flipped as well: a figure read as a woman falls in love with a human male, the inverse of the Watchers mythos. Moreover, the script is flipped because in Enoch literature, the copulation between angels and human women seems to be the product of lust not love.

Again, it is unclear whether the parallels (and inversion of discourse) between Steven Universe and Enoch literature is intentional. However, the inversion of the discourse produces interesting results. SU does not envision the social hierarchy of the Gems as good. Enoch literature like various literary text of the Hebrew Bible, envisions hierarchies as good. Abrogation of this hierarchy resists imperialist (the Rebellion, and Rose Quartz’ leading the rebellion against the view that organic life on earth is inferior and thus worthy of obliteration), racist (Pearl’s participation in the Rebellion, who are supposed to be “servants”), and queer antagonistic discourses (Garnet’s participation in the Rebellion). I am interested to see where Steven Universe goes with what precisely happened during the Rebellion.

[1] Though in later literature, the Nephilim are described as giants, they are only giants in Numbers 13:33. Read synchronically, the Anakites described as Nephilim in Numbers are also giants in Deut 1:28 as well as the Emim. There, they are not described as Nephilim, but rather Rephaim. The account of the Nephalim in Gen 6:4 does not mention the Nephilim being giants, but only the heroes of old (המה הגברים אשר מעולם אנשי השם ‘they were the valiant men from old, men of renown’).

[2] It’s ambiguous whether it is a Pink or Red Diamond. Interestingly, Pink/Red Diamond appears only in some of the art that we find in various Gem locals. My speculation at this point is that Rose Quartz and Pearl were part of Pink/Red Diamond’s group. Pink/Red Diamond perhaps supported or even launched the Rebellion against colonization of earth leading to her destruction by the other Diamonds (hence why her motif is lacking in other Gem locales).

[3] It is still unclear why Pearl decided to join Rose Quartz. It is also not exactly clear with Garnet either, although reading into “Steven’s Birthday” it seems that Ruby’s accidental fusion with Sapphire was abhorrent to the rigid hierarchical system of the gems (Sapphire is aristocratic while Ruby was a “common soldier”). The love between the two Gems and their fusion seems to be the reason for their joining the Rebellion. Amethyst emerged from the Kindergarten after the end of the Rebellion, and protects Earth because it is her home. Peridot joins the Crystal Gems because she believes that Earth has unique

 

Kevin DeYoung’s Hermeneutic

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Some time has passed since answering DeYoung’s 40 questions. What my friends Keegan, Tapji, and I noticed was that one must accept DeYoung’s hermeneutical framework in order to answer his questions. Each of us, I am sure, felt a sense of emotional exhaustion due to accepting this hermeneutical framework. Likewise, I felt that the who point was that one would throw up their hands and just not do the 40 questions, and in that way, it would make DeYoung’s questions look unanswerable (and in my mind, that seems like a tactic of “look my questions have stumped those liberals!”). John Short offered an alternative 40 questions that get somewhat at some of my own questioning throughout answering the questions. But I just wanted to offer a reflection on answering those stupid 40 questions.

At this point it seems like a broken record, since I have asked this question continually but it is worth repeating, in that listening to a record repeatedly, for me, indicates an important message: conservative Christians focus so much on their queer antagonism being accepted as a legitimate part of Christian tradition, yet rarely speak out against other forms of queer antagonism. There is a significant disavowal on their part that their emphasis on “traditional marriage” (whatever this term really means) they do is marginalize a whole group of people. Yet rarely do they speak out against other forms of oppression against queer people.

Here, I think about the fact that queer people are more likely to be in poverty or homeless than their cisheterosexual counterparts. Moreover, there are more cases of drug abuse, and mental illness, which in my mind correlates with the ways in which society excludes and marginalizes people. Also insert issues like job discrimination, housing discrimination, or the fact that queer people of color still face police brutality. Or that queer immigrants face violence against the US state in detention centers, as Jannicet Gutierrez recently protested before President Obama. I cannot help but think about the racist and transphobic violence inflicted against CeCe McDonald, and that because she defended herself against this violence she still was deemed guilty by the judicial system. Transwomen continue to be murdered. Pastors will say that queer people need to caged up, and unsurprisingly conservative Christians either offer a tepid response or none at all.

These are all issues conservative Christians are often silent on. None of them deal with same-sex marriage. To be honest,  I care little about Same Sex Marriage because of all of the issues enumerate by Dean Spade and Craig Wilse. Nevertheless, it is difficult for me to accept conservative Christians who say their opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in Christian tradition alone (as if religious tradition is somehow exempt from producing bigotry or enforcing it). Why? Because they’re silent on all the other forms of oppression that queer people face on a daily basis. It is as if their opposition to same-sex marriage symbolizes their opposition of the moral goodness of queer life and culture.

What does not surprise me is that DeYoung asks if one will support Christians who will face bullying and the potential lack of religious freedom. This willfully ignores the violence faced by many queer people today. So it is not just that DeYoung has a rather myopic hermeneutic, but he is also a revisionist, ignoring the actual violence and oppression faced by queer people, as this huffington post article critiques about Christians “being oppressed.” Again, unsurprising because many conservative Christians frame their struggle as somehow akin to the struggles faced by minorities under Nazi Germany (again ignoring that LGBT people were among those persecuted and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, or even that Nazi ideology was buttressed by the anti-Jewish teachings found in Christianity).

Here is where DeYoung and I differ hermeneutically. The Haggadah plays a central role during Pesaḥ, recounting the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The exodus is central both to me personally, and functions as the national founding myth in Judaism (to the extent that Rashi wonders why the Torah begins with creation not the Exodus). The exodus plays a central role in my political imagination, and in my desire to see the liberation of various groups of people. For Christians, Jesus is the image of God’s character. For me as a Jew, it is through the liberation in Egypt and the desire for new ways of life. As Moses says, החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך “life and death I have set before you, a blessing and a curse and you will choose life so that you and your offspring may life” (Deut 30:19). Here, I take life not just to mean a physical way of life, but the way life is conceptualized, in the hopes that lives that are typically not valued will be valued, and advocating for a society that values the lives of those who are marginalized.

Lastly, I think our hermeneutic differs to the degree that Judaism has put more stock in historical experiences than Christianity. For many Christians, it always comes back to “doctrine.” Jews have overwhelming supported SSM, at least I believe, because of the lived experiences of oppression. This in part ties into the experience of exodus, but it also ties into the anti-semitism that Jews have faced in Europe and the United States. As Yitz Greenberg notes, “Judaism is a midrash on history.” Thus, lived experience plays a central role in how one practices Judaism, and lives faithfully to God.

I am sure that these interpretations do not adhere DeYoung’s hermeneutic, but then again, I find his interpretation of Scripture to be rather bland, simplistic, and lacking a depth of flavor like mayonnaise.

40 Questions For Christians Now Waving a Rainbow Flag

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Kevin DeYoung at Gospel coalition is asking these questions of queer Christians and their allies. There are obvious problems with interrogating these Christians, as if the onus is on queer people to defend their position, when one could easily respond by interrogating DeYoung: why do you advocate a position of marginalizing and oppressing (at least in effect if not intentionally) populations of gender and sexual minorities because you don’t agree with them? Granted I am Jewish, and I shouldn’t be answering these questions, I decided to do so anyways because Christian rhetoric has implications for the public sphere.

Edit: My friend Keegan and I were working on them together, you can find her answers here.

Edit 2: My friend Alan also answered the 40 questions, which you can find hir answers here.

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated? 

This question is tricky because I have largely been critical of queer movements focused on marriage. I think marriage is largely an economic institution, meant to secure property and move it from family to family. Given there are so many queer people in poverty, in many states, those who are trans or do not fit into the gender binary can still lose their jobs without recourse to the legal system. Queer people of color will still face violence in our legal system and against police brutality. That being said, even though these are issues I feel even conservative Christians could support, they have largely been silent, or defend it on the basis of their beliefs (“I can’t support a queer person who identifies the way they do” or a “christian business owner has the right to fire whomever s/he wants to.”), despite the Bible’s overwhelming message to care for the poor (and queer antagonism is a large reason for poverty). Moreover, I still support an individuals right to get married regardless of their relationship configuration. Despite my argument that same-sex marriage won’t save us (that is, queer identified people), which I have long believed, I have also long believed that the government shouldn’t discriminate against an entire population of people.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

Well, I’ve never really changed my mind on the issue. I’ve always been supportive (and I too am queer). Deuteronomy talks about צדק צדק תרדף “righteous righteousness you must pursue” (Deut 16:20), which granted is about the judicial process, but I think it functions as a hermeneutical key for me. Indeed, there are any number of passages about caring for the socially marginalized, to support them and to feed them. While these passages are socially contextualized to talk about marginalized groups in ancient Palestine (the widow, orphan, and resident-sojourner), the root of the message is that one must care for and provide for the marginalized. I can’t also help but think of passages in Isaiah, where YHWH talks about liberating the marginalized, to break them out of prisons, to be a herald to the poor (Isaiah 42; 61). Because I think intersectionally, I cannot separate poverty from the social conditions that create them (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.).

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

Genesis says, “it’s not good for man to be alone.” I think the whole narrative itself helps us think about this a little more deeply. In Genesis 2, God begins by recognizing that it isn’t good for Adam to be alone. The first thing he does is create animals. It is only through recognizing that Adam doesn’t seem himself compatible with these animals does God create a human counterpart. In other words, God allows the human to decide who is and is not his counterpart. The question is, why don’t we emphasize this aspect of the story, which seems to promote the idea that humans have some agency over whom they desire.

I also just think to the passage in Paul (here I am limiting Paul to his seven authentic letters, where we can clearly discern him as the author: 1 and 2 Cortinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, and Romans), where he talks about celibacy being a gift and encouraging people to marry who couldn’t curb their lustful desires. Personally, I disagree with Paul on that issue, and feel that people should be able to have sexual relationships outside of marriage. But so much of Christianity posits marriage as an institution for procreation, and someone y’all clearly privilege is talking about it as if it’s not.

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

Well, I am kind of an outsider on this issue, but I feel like the beloved Disciple or the Disciple’s following Jesus around have homoerotic potential. These aren’t specific verses, but I don’t work in the context of proof texts, because I don’t consider them to be the smoking guns many evangelicals believe. Nevertheless, these relationships I think positively depict the attraction of several men to this one man, even if this isn’t a sexual attraction, there is still an element of homosociality, if not homoeroticism (and honestly, we should challenge the notion that attraction to another person is based only on a sexual attraction).

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

Although I think Jesus is a failed messiah (and depicting him as an hypostasis of God is a later development), I think that’s something only God knows. More importantly, we have little historical evidence about what the actual Jesus thought. The Gospels are about how each community thinks about Jesus in relation to their community. I don’t see why queer Christians aren’t allowed to think through those same things on their terms. The great flaw of Protestant Christianities is ignoring that communities formed these texts for their communities. I am pretty sure that Paul might be baffled today that Christians are reading his epistles as if they’re equivalent to the Old Testament.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

If you’re talking about Matthew 19, there are two issues I see. First, literarily, Jesus is using Genesis 2 to prohibit divorce tout court. Again, we have little historical evidence for what Jesus actually preached. This is what the author of Matthew thought Jesus would say, and the author likely presumed marriage between man and woman as a normative position. Moreover, Jesus is talking specifically about divorce, so it seems in bad form to say, well he cites this approvingly, thus it must be so. This is a culture where gender and sexual minorities would probably have been shamed. Jesus was part of that culture, so who knows.  Second, Jesus contradicts the Torah, which clearly presumes divorce as normative. So I feel like maybe we want to be more careful in asserting this passage so seriously (why not ask, “why do you take this passage so seriously when Jesus clearly contradicts the Torah.”)

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

πορνεια is a rather elastic term, but given the cultural norms, I am willing to be it focused more on fornication, prostitution, and adultery.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

Two things: Paul is doing that common prophetic posturing (see Amos’ oracles against the nation to lull the audience into a false sense of security in order to critique the audience), and so one needs to understand the rhetorical thrust of Romans 1. He’s lulling the Roman church into a false sense of security. He is making a statement that will appeal to his audience, and thus there is some irony in Christians using it as a proof text.

Second, I feel it worth repeating that Paul would likely be baffled his epistles are being treated as equivalents to scripture. Romans 9-11 depicts Paul wrestling through God choosing Israel, and begins by saying “God chooses who he wants to choose (implying he can also reject what he has once chosen)” and ends by asserting that the whole thing is a mystery and Israel will always been chosen.” Paul changes his mind and contradicts himself because he’s like the Dear Abby of the early Jesus Movement.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

I believe that is what they teach, but does this mean that I have to whole-heartedly accept them? No.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

*shrugs*

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

the diversity of gender and sexuality? The issue is that hermeneutics are contextually conditioned and that different groups have interpreted many passages in the bible differently, so why is this generation any different with respect to its social issues. Did you know that despite y’alls preaching Romans 1 opposed lesbianism that the early church fathers thought the acts in Romans 1 referred to women having anal sex with men or with men outside marriage? Or that Rashi thought Deut 22:5 was thinking about men cross-dressing in women’s only spaces to have sex with them (so anti-cuttlefish)?

To be honest, I’d rather have an interpretation that didn’t justify the marginalization and oppression of a whole population of people in the US.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

This question is essentialist because it is presumes that there isn’t a diversity of opinion in other parts of the world. The other tricky think that DeYoung ignores here is the centuries of Imperial Christianity that have erased the gender and sexual diversity elsewhere in the world. This gives an appearance of “universalism,” when in reality, the violence Christian empire has done to other cultures has erased cultural diversity. That being said, Christianity’s use of the bible to marginalize and oppress gender and sexual minorities is problematic and this is done in places other than the United States.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

I think this is very difficult to tell. Obama clearly hid his support for same-sex marriage for some time to court conservative voters. Clinton could have changed her mind for popularity’s sake. But let’s also not forget that many conservative politicians court these conservative voters by making a stink when they really don’t care much about whether people of the same gender

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

No. In fact, all the data suggest that economics plays a key factor in whether children will do well in life, and thus, doing better with two parents is usually because that child will be raised in a situation of economic security (thus, the gender of the parents is irrelevant).

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

see above. Also, many same sex couples have to conscientiously choose to become parents. With cisheterosexual couples there is risk of an unexpected pregnancy, which can result in raising a child in a situation where the two people are not financial secure.

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

Both have a role in promoting healthy relationships, but I don’t see why either should be privileged to determine this. I think same-sex couples are just as good of parents (and likewise, I think single parents can successfully raise children).

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

I think that’s up to the individual couple. Clearly there are legal and economic benefits to marriage though.

18. How would you define marriage?

A contract between two consenting adults that they love and support one another.

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

Clearly Abraham and Sarah were allowed to marry one another even though they were half siblings (cf. Genesis 20).

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

Clearly Jacob was allowed to marry both Leah and Rachel (along with having booty calls with Bilhah and Zilpah) (cf. Genesis 29).

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

The point of this question seems to be advocating the slippery slope position, which is bad argumentation. Let’s focus on same-sex marriage here.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Yes, an age where both adults can legally consent  (18 years of age?).

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

We already have things like common law marriage or benefits for domestic partners?

24. If not, why not?

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

As long as it doesn’t harm queer people in any direct and indirect way (e.g. a queer person doesn’t lose their job because a Christian boss doesn’t accept their “lifestyle.”)

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

Will you speak up on behalf of queer people when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened? My issue with this question is that queer people can still be fired in many States without legal protection, and conservative Christians won’t speak up in defense of these queer people. If you can say yes to my question deflecting yours, I will say yes to speaking up for Christians (granted their religious freedom is ACTUALLY being threatened).

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

Why have so many conservative Christians remained silent about shaming and bullying of queer people? If those groups are actually being bullied, then yes, but I would like to know why evangelicals and Catholics remain silent about bullying against queers.

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

Maybe we should focus on those opposite-sex relationships first, before we hone in specifically on LGBT relationships (this puts LGBT people under the microscope in the expectation that they MUST perform better than opposite-sex couples).

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

No, because they have both consented to that social configuration. But I don’t think straight couples should be disciplined either.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

Unless its an open marriage, then adultery is breaking the contract the couple has made between one another.

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

I guess thinks like poverty are a bigger issue for me than sexual issues.

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

Ruth 1:16-17

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

Again, God commands us to continually pursue justice (Deut 16:20 to refresh you), and I think that justice shapes my understanding of love, and the proper kinds of relationships people should have.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

It depends on the decision. In reference to protection of queer people in all facets, I feel that Christians have been abysmal at loving the Other. Here I am not talking about same-sex marriage specifically. Again, I think this puts a lot of onus on queers to be loving and forgiving: when will evangelicals repent for the horrible actions against queer people they have justified or ignored because we supposedly “brought it upon ourselves.”

On the other hand, if you like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate, it’s easy for me to love someone and disagree with their decision.

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

It hasn’t. In fact, in coming out, I have felt closer to God and the Torah.

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

I’m not an evangelical.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

I’m not an evangelical.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

I’m not an evangelical.

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

conservative evangelical Christians and their myopic focus on antagonizing queer people (cf. Romans 2)

On Queer Theology

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Perhaps I am getting older, and moving into the curmudgeon state of existence much earlier than expected, but there is a sense that I get when queer theology, which is that it often re-centers Christianity as important, especially in the US. Let me be honest and say that queer theology has been formative for me in the sense that it has allowed me to think outside of the box as an interpreter. Yet, there are manifestations of queer theology, especially the more popular ones that come across as assmiliationist. Because the US is still overwhelmingly Christian, it functions to allow queer theology to be grafted onto the proverbial tree of Christianity. Overall, the discourse of queerness and religion in the United States is not about religion, so as much as it is about Christianity. The debate about same-sex marriage is really about whether the US is a Christian nation. Sometimes it feels as if the
As a Jew, queer theology often revives implicitly anti-Jewish discourse. One will still hear queer Christians argue that “Christians follow Jesus not the Law,” which promotes supercessionist rhetoric: the law is antiquated, calcified, and bigoted. The law is normative, and Jesus is queer. Moreover, one can still hear queer Christians naming queer antagonistic Christians as “Pharisees,” which was used as coded language to describe Jews. In the end, queer antagonistic Christians are seen as being like us Jews, who are more concerned with interpreting the Torah than following Jesus. Now obviously, I am not sure most queer Christians think about the anti-Judaism implicit in this discourse. Yet, that’s part of the problem when so much discourse about queerness and religion in the US is really about Christianity’s uncomfortable relationship with diversity.
This kind of anti-Jewish rhetoric also sounds strange, since following Jesus quickly became the norm across Europe and the Americas. Those who do claim adherence to the Law (Jews) are actually those framed as queer, since they live outside of the norms of Christian society, and for most of European and US American history, Jews were often marginalized because of their Jewishness. Moreover, European culture often considered Jewish men and women to be queer because Jewish women were seen as much more assertive and “masculine,” while Jewish men were seen to be “feminine,” and often implicitly homosexual. Overall, the reuse of anti-Jewish rhetoric in queer Christianity ignores the hegemony that Christianity has. It in fact obscures the fact that Christianity is a privileged discourse, even as most US Americans know very little about queer theology.
In many ways, these thoughts have been a long time coming. Along with the anti-Jewish rhetoric in queer Christian discourse, queer theology buttresses the Bible, and attempts to center it as a part of queer religious experiences. The obvious problem I have with this is that there is anti-queer sentiments in the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament. Indeed, these sentiments are few and far in between. Moreover, these sentiments do not line up with our notions of gender and sexuality (they didn’t know of homosexuality as a medical category, for instance). Yet, it surprises me that we don’t focus more on the experiences of queer people, their stories, their practices. I hesitate to use the term queer hagiography, since such terminology projects religiosity onto queer narratives that I am not sure is appropriate. Nevertheless, there is much about arguing how the bible is queer, never about saying “well, queer narratives are worth our study, our investment.” It seems to me that queer theology can often privilege a conservative discourse that attempts to project queerness in the past. Here, I would rather focus on the queer and now. Yes, our queer ancestors are always worth veneration. But we mustn’t make too much of attempting to justify queerness by trying to always find it in biblical narrative.
My current frustrations with queer theology derives from the fact that in queer religious circles “religion” and “faith” are thrown around, when in actuality, religion equals Christianity. For me and others who are not Christian, this is alienating. So much of queer religious experience is about justifying queerness and Christianity. To some degree, this makes sense: Christianity is so hegemonic in the US that queerness is most directly a threat to Christianity. Even so, these kinds of conversations about queerness and religion come across as attempts to re-center Christianity in a way that allows it to be hegemonic, while still being inclusive to queers. Many of us who aren’t Christian want Christianity to be de-centered altogether. At what point do the queer voices(either religious minorities or the non-religious) that fall outside the hegemony of Christianity get to weigh in on their perspectives, and their narratives?
I am not sure of where to go from here. But as I joked on twitter a few days ago, I might break up with queer theology for a while.

Where I Kvetch About Dreher’s Religious Freedom Rhetoric

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I have long been a critic of Rod Dreher’s. Initially, I found his criticism of big government and big business interesting. While we will likely always diverge politically and religiously, I used to respect Dreher’s more nuanced approach to religious conservatism. What I have realized over the years is Dreher is not that nuanced. It is only that his rhetoric appears much more nuanced. In reality, Dreher often reinforces the rather shallow critiques of religious (read: Christian) conservatives. Dreher’s main defense of religious freedom against what he perceives to be the success of the sexual revolution (even though queers were not participants in the sexual revolution, but rather that even the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s itself was heteronormative) the trope of “it’s not queer antagonism, it is just religion.”
There have always been several ironies that I have found in Dreher’s thought. Most of them relate to Cornel West’s critique of Alasdair MacIntyre (as representative of communitarianism). West argues that while MacIntyre critiques the liberal focus on individualism, MacIntyre relies on a communitarian argument that presupposes the liberal state because it demands religious freedom for believers. Dreher is no different as far as I can tell.
The mantra of “it’s not queer antagonism, it’s just religion” presumes religion as an apolitical sphere of private activity, an activity outside the discourse of public morality (or ethics). Yet, it’s not that simple because Dreher like most religious conservatives demands that a) there should be a robust civic Christianity but b) like religion in the private sphere, this robust civic Christianity should be above the reproach of ethics or morality. Dreher wants Christianity to be the foundation of the political, yet he doesn’t want the contestation and agonism that comes with politics. I also think Dreher ignores we (he and I as religious outsiders) benefits from the freedom of religion because civic Christianity has often been primarily a Protestant endeavor that sought to exclude religious outsiders (both within and outside Christianity).
Reliance on liberal principles is no surprise because the notion of religious freedom applying to individuals is a liberal reading of the Constitution (the importance of the Incorporation Doctrine of the Fourteenth Amendment, an Amendment often opposed by conservatives, if not de jure, then de facto). Again, this only highlights the fact that while Dreher and other conservatives oppose liberal principles, they often rely on those very principles. The issue is that the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution also allows for equal protection, which directly conflicts with how much religious freedom a person has. Where does religious freedom end and equal protection begin? Dreher’s articulation of this and defense of a more maximalist approach to religious freedom leaves his response underdeveloped.
This leads me to another point in the myopic view of Dreher and other religious conservatives. The religious conservatism of Dreher is myopic because it presumes society would be better if Christianity remains the foundation of morality and politics. Yet, even when Christian discourse maintained (I still think it maintains a very public role despite the kvetching of Dreher and people like Franklin Graham), there was no consensus on what those kind of politics should look like. Of all the political debates that US society has had throughout its existence, there have been Christians on both sides of those debates. We might think of the Civil Rights Movement as the great triumph of Christian morality, but we shouldn’t forget that religious conservatives and moderates often supported Jim Crow. Virtually all moral debates have had Christians on both sides of the issue. Civic Christianity doesn’t change uncertainty. While one might attribute Christians who supported Jim Crow to not practicing an “ideal form of Christianity,” this assertion is a deflection, and it fails to address that Christians throughout history have held morally dubious political, moral, and religious public civic positions.
More to the point, Dreher wants to position his version of religion as the ideal form of civic Christianity. Why should anyone accept this premise given the varieties of civic Christianity? Problematically, Dreher wants to position queerness outside of the Church as akin to the secular. Yet, some of the most vocal supporters of queer inclusion (and same-sex marriage) are themselves Christian religious leaders. Again, this is part of my previous point, but emphasizes that Dreher can only imagine a queer antagonistic form of Christianity as a legitimate form of civic Christianity. But this is a problem because those who support queer inclusive Christianities don’t think they are practicing cafeteria Christianity (and if “cafeteria religion” is a credible analytical category, which I don’t think it is, then Dreher’s form of Christianity is just as much a “cafeteria Christianity” as progressive Christians). Rather, they envision queer inclusion as an extensions of the religious obligation and practice.
To conclude, Dreher’s analysis of religious freedom is dubious. For Dreher, civic Christianity relies on being outside of reproach, problematic because Dreher’s form of civic Christianity deemphasizes equal protection while bolstering religious freedom to an unrealistically high precipice. The issue, of course, is that other forms of morality are displacing some within Christianity. As someone identified with queer politics, I question how much this is really the case (queer antagonism won’t dissipate with Same-Sex Marriage). But Dreher’s complaints strike me like how person A is deemed as suppressing free speech when they criticized the racism/homophobia/sexism/etc. of person B’s speech (or actions). It really is like the whiny teenager who claims they’re being marginalized when really they already have everything.

Political Zionism and Capitulation to Terrorism

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Chemi Shalev notes that a call for a French aliyah is not does not fulfill the historical narrative of zionism so much as it is a capitulation to terrorism. He states,

It gives its instigators a prize they could never have dreamed of: a frenzied flight of Jews, at best, or the complete elimination of Jewish presence in France, at worst. By encouraging mass emigration, Israeli politicians could very well be helping terrorist fanatics finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.

Yet, the either/or Shalev suggests is unmerited because political zionism relies on the historical claim (whether real or imagined) that Jews will be oppressed in whatever land we live. Therefore, we need a homeland (read: State) where we can be secure from anti-semitism. In other words, it never seemed Herzl’s political zionism intended to seek elimination of anti-Semitism because his historical claims take it as an quasi-ahistorical fact: non-Jewish populations would always commit acts of terrorism against Jewish populations.

Shalev, I think, wants some distance from this part of political zionism because in the end it requires acts of terrorism against Jews to be a viable narrative. There are, of course, various forms of zionism (I can only think of the Arendt-Buber vision of the Jewish homeland as a binational state, where Jews and Palestinians cooperate). Yet, this is the image that prevails. In fact, it is difficult for me not to see a connection between this narrative and fear of African refugees, where the security apparatus brings out the worst in the Israeli population, such as racist attitudes towards non-Jews: any outsider becomes a potential anti-semite.

Is there a right way? critiquing those who critique the masada myth

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More and more Christians seem to have turned towards taking the Sermon on the Mount to heart, with its plea to turn the other cheek. Yet at the same time, the (especially white) Christian turn towards the call to nonviolence of Jesus tends to promote a blanket condemnation of physical violence. Sarah Moon, for instance, has noted how nonviolence in (often white evangelical) Christian circles is a position of relative privilege. Because many of us do not face physical violence daily, it is disingenuous to police others who do face subjective (physical) and objective (ideological and symbolic) forms of violence routinely. It is not to say that I am anti-pacifist, but rather, that Christian pacifists can lose sight of other forms of violence in their blanket condemnation of physical violence. One must take into account other forms of violence that complicate the simplistic view violence is only about physical retaliation (or even whether physical forms of might be triggered through ideological or systemic violence). The support of nonviolence goes so far as to promote certain visions of the historical past, namely, Jean Vanier sees the Jesus myth as superior to the myth of Masada. Daniel Boyarin does something similar concerning rabbinic Judaism. Thus, we have three myths: the Jesus myth, the Masada myth, and the Yavne myth. Each functions as a particular response to Roman imperial hegemony. Yet, in their insistence that either the Jesus myth or Yavne myth is superior to the Masada myth, Boyarin and Vanier miss the mark concerning the violence of imperialism.

The Yavne myth recollected in Bavli Gittin 56a-b is juxtaposed against the Jewish nationalists, where Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai and his nephew (“the Father of Lies”) argue about how long the Jewish nationalists will allow Jerusalem to be shut up during siege. The idea that Jewish nationalists fought heroically against outsiders (Rome), and committed suicide rather than submitting to Roman imperial hegemony is critiqued in the Yavne myth. In trying to appease the Romans, Rabbi Yoḥanan correctly predicts that Vespasian will become the emperor of Rome. After a conversation between Rabbi Yoḥanan Vespasian, a messenger comes to tell Vespasian that the emperor has died. Because Rabbi Yoḥanan correctly predicts this, and is granted a wish, which he replies, “Give be Yavne and its sages, and the dynasty of Rabban Gamliel, and doctors to cure Rabbi Ẓadoq [who had been fasting in order to save Jerusalem].”

Boyarin is correct that the Yavne myth promotes a different image of Judaism than that of the Sicarii because it a) proposes abandoning Jerusalem altogether (the seat of both political and cultic power); b) Judaism’s (at least rabbinic) de-emphasis of territoriality altogether. Rabbinic Judaism advances a kind of cosmopolitanism in light of Roman imperialism. As Boyarin notes,

Rabbi Yoḥanan’s story makes nearly explicit allusion to Josephus, since according the the latter, it was he who announced to Vespasian that he had become emperor. This helps to establish an intertextual connection between the texts and promotes contrast of their values. The Babylonian Talmud’s Rabbi Yoḥanan prefers life and the possibility to serve God through the study of Torah over everything else. He is willing to abase himself, pretend to be dead—a virtual parody of the Masada suicide?—make peace with the Romans over/against the Jewish zealots, even to sacrifice Jerusalem, in order that [rabbinic] Jewish life and Torah might continue (Boyarin 2002, 52; Italics for emphasis).

While the Jewish nationalists responded to Roman imperial hegemony through physical violence, the Rabbis were willing to appease Roman imperial hegemony in order to promote the survival of their culture. Again, the Yavne myth itself suggests a critique of the Masada myth.

Although Vanier does not use the terminology of the “Masada myth,” he proposes that Jesus’ statement regarding violence is superior to that of the violence against Rome espoused by the Sicarii. In Becoming Human, Vanier juxtaposes Jewish nationalists over against the ideals of the Jesus Movement. Vanier implies that Jewish nationalists would have been considered terrorists by Rome:

For many centuries the Jewish people had been overrun by foreign powers: first by the Babylonians [sic], then by the Persians, later by the Greeks, and then by the Romans. The Jewish people, naturally, hated this foreign domination. Crushed in their dignity and freedom, they sought liberation, often through violent means. “Freedom fighters” might be the term the Jewish people would have used to describe those who recorded to violence. The Romans, of course, would have considered them terrorists (Vanier 1998, 146; italics for emphasis).

Although Vanier appears not to make a value judgment on the Jewish nationalists, I believe the statement, “The Romans, of course, would have considered them [Jewish nationalists] terrorists” indicative. Moreover, Vanier positively evaluates the ideals of the Jesus Movement (“turn the other cheek” [Matt 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-8]) against the tactics of the Jewish nationalists. As Vanier later explicates, only non-violence can break the chain of violence (ibid; 147-8). Like Boyarin, Vanier evaluates his own religious traditions positively against the Masada myth. However, both authors ignore that all three myths (the foundation of the Jesus Movement, the Masada myth, and the Yavne myth) are responses to Roman imperial hegemony. This leads me to the question in the title of the blog post, “is there a right way?” More specifically, “is there a right response to imperialism?” This leads me to other questions as well, namely, why focus only on subjective violence?

In Violence, Slavoj Žižek notes two other forms of violence, ideological violence and systemic violence. Ideological violence is the violence perpetuated by “racism, incitement, or sexual discrimination” (Žižek 2008, 10). Systemic violence, for Žižek, is the kind of violence played out under capitalism itself, it is a violence that can be no longer attributed to individuals themselves because it involves the kinds categorization that makes certain forms of life more livable than others. As Žižek later states, systemic violence is the kind that “involves the ‘automatic’ creation of excluded and dispensable individuals from the homeless to the unemployed, to the ‘ultra-subjective’ violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious, in short racist, ‘fundamentalisms'” (ibid., 14). Here perhaps one should replace capitalism with Roman imperial hegemony, but the notion of a kind of symbolic violence, to allude to Bourdieu, which cannot be attributed to individuals.

For instance, rabbinic Judaism and the Jesus Movement contain their own forms of violence. Rabbinic Judaism is exclusionary, particularly the exclusion of women from public forms of religiosity and participation in shaping rabbinic discourse. “Turn the other cheek” might seem immediately pacifist, but this framing of the Jesus Movement as non-violent ignores the early Jesus Movement had an ideology of eschatological violence: violence is simply deferred to a future time and enacted by God (Interestingly Žižek treats this over against “eye for an eye,” where Žižek argues that “turn the other cheek” can lead to resentment and desire for revenge leads to other modes of oppression [ibid., 190]). Because both privilege a critique of subjective violence, Boyarin and Vanier romanticize the movements that they privilege.

More importantly, Boyarin and Vanier, indicated in their ignoring the violence of Roman imperial hegemony, ignore the multiple layers of violence. Not only is there a privilege in choosing one response to imperialism as a better one, but also it ignores that the violence of Jewish nationalists pales in comparison to that of imperial Rome. This is not to say I side with Bar Kosiba and those who committed suicide at Masada. Yet, it is worth questioning, “is there a right response to imperialism?” Doesn’t this very question already obscure the violence of Roman imperial hegemony? It might be the case that the Sicarii drew upon Roman manifestations of power to critique Rome (i.e. suicide as a form of honor), as Boyarin notes. The Sicarii might have also been thugs, slaughtering those living in Ein Gedi, for instance. Nevertheless, it seems more apt to critique the violence of Roman imperial hegemony. After all, the Sicarii exist as a response to the imperial powers that be. This is neither to side with the Sicarii, nor to say that one cannot agree with Boyarin and Vanier. Rather, it is to focus more specifically the (subjective and objective) violence of imperial power. In such a way, historiographically, I want to align myself much more with Sarah’s discussion of privileged pacifism, and suggest that this privilege can frame the way that we view the past.