NEED WE STILL ASK WHY? Theodical Futurism and the Sinthomosexual God.
Sinthomosexual- Coined by Lee Edelman in his book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004), the term refers to either a person or state of being that intentionally takes up a position outside of and opposed to traditional social and moral norms for the purpose of disrupting them.
On August 3, 2019, twenty-one-year-old Patrick Crusius entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and opened fire, killing twenty-two people and injuring another twenty-four. Directly after the attack, Crusius drove to a nearby intersection and turned himself into the police, identified himself as the shooter, and admitted to targeting Mexicans. (1) Thirteen hours later, Connor Betts opened fire in downtown Dayton, OH, killing nine people, including his sister, before he was shot to death by local police officers. (2) In this case, at least initially, the shooter left authorities very little clue to his motive, let alone a racially motivated one. In fact, newspapers have pointed out his being a registered democrat (3) and self-proclaimed "leftist" "antifacist." (4)
Mere hours later, Ohio Republican State Representative Candice Keller took to Facebook to share her thoughts on who should take responsibility for such tragedies. "Why not place the blame where it belongs?" Keller says before providing a long list of reasons why someone would commit such acts of violence. Beginning with the "breakdown of the traditional American family" thanks to transgender folks, same-sex marriage, and "drag queen advocates," she touches on a wide variety of political issues, from kneeling during the national anthem to open borders and lax child discipline, to point out what she sees as a cultural demoralization. To Keller, the "culture" liberals advocate "totally ignores the importance of God and the church," inevitably resulting in mass violence. (5,6,7) There is no denying the political significance of the conversation sparked by Keller. Much of the media discussion since the El Paso shooting, including statements from the majority of Democratic presidential candidates, has been dominated by the question of whether President Donald Trump has encouraged (through rhetoric similar to Keller's) these acts of violence. (8) In an all-to-familiar tone, the El Paso shooter himself states in his manifesto that his views predate Trump and his campaign, using the phrase "fake news" to describe any attempt to blame Trump for the massacre.
In his book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Lee Edelman discusses at length the politics of opposition, arguing that the right vs left dualism creates and recreates what he calls "reproductive futurism," the shared goal of an infinitely safe and recognizable future which will always inevitably exclude someone. In identifying this concept, Edelman seeks to address the societal problem of marginalizing that which threatens what Jacques Lacan calls "the symbolic" or "the symbolic order," that which superimposes meaning and morality for any person born within a society. For many, like Candice Keller and Patrick Crusius, the symboliccarries a shared desire for a "native" and "traditionally moral" culture, to which open borders, "drag queen advocacy," same-sex marriage, and a lack of Christian faith are all imminent threats. Edelman's point is that this devotion to an absolute "good" targets and isolates people, often those already pushed to the margin, the most intense examples in this case being Hispanics, Muslims, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Edelman's answer is for the marginalized person ("the Queer") to embrace its societal position. Rather than attempt to blend with the existing culture, Edelman suggests the radical opposite, introducing what he calls, the "Sinthomosexual," the figure who questions the validity of preponderant notions of morality. In order to address the continuing insistence that the only "good" society is a Christian society, this paper takes a close look at the biblical narrative of Job, a story known for its unique style and content.
In this paper, I will be arguing that the book of Job, the poetic book of the Hebrew Bible, provides a space of theological understanding and even sympathy of Edelman's conception of the sinthomosexual in regard to his notion of the "good." Focusing on the theological differences between the prose-style prologue/epilogue with the poetic dialogues, I will discuss the ways the narrative of Job fits within the theoretical framework of Edelman's No Future. To do this, I will look primarily at Edelman's discussions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) and Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), to demonstrate that the paradoxes in the book of Job provide a useful context for understanding Edelman's greater argument that the moral standards of our society are often upheld at the expense of others.
This paper will begin to discuss the theory of reproductive futurism by demonstrating how it can be understood through what is known as theodicy, or an attempt to understand and explain why a loving God would allow suffering. Taking a moment to closely investigate the details of the book of Job, I will demonstrate that the theological implications of the book of Job are complicated, or perhaps fully realized through the lens of Edelman's No Future, reflecting and revealing what I call theodical futurism. Ultimately, I argue that the conjunction of Edelman's polemic with that of the story of Job is not only important for understanding meaning broadly, but also relevant theologically and theodically, that is to say, relevant for the understanding of the relationship between human suffering and divine justice, as well as broader societal questions of ethics and morality.
Theodicy and Reproductive Futurism
In his 2008 book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer, Bart D. Ehrman begins the chapter "Does Suffering Make Sense?" by detailing an extremely brief history of human suffering both on the micro (namely cancer) and macro (the bubonic plague, the influenza outbreak of 1918, and the current AIDS crisis) levels to discuss the ways the Bible does or does not provide answers to why these sufferings exist. (9) He points out that many public figures, almost exclusively evangelical Christian men, rely on the Bible as a source of answers and have often rationalized disease epidemics, natural disasters, and horrific events, such as the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, as God dishing out some kind of punishment for our own human wrongdoing. Many of their rationales reference the fate of children either through abortion or lack of conception in the first place, either because of homosexuality, feminist calls for contraception, or other challenges to so-called Christian family values. As the Reverend Jerry Falwell stated on September 13, 2001, while speaking on The 700 Club in direct response to the 9/11 attacks,
The abortionists have got to bear some burden for [the 9/11 terror attacks/ because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen." (10)
A significant percentage of explanations for why God would want to punish an entire city, nation, or the world have pointed to the existence and activity of LGBTQ+ groups and individuals. Zionist Christian Pastor John Hagee famously claimed that Hurricane Katrina was God punishing the city of New Orleans for scheduling a gay pride parade. (11) Pastor Kevin Swanson of the Reformation Church of Elizabeth, Colorado, blamed the devastating 2018 California fires on the state being the first in the United States to legitimize what he called "the sin of homosexuality." (12)
Dr. Ehrman quickly rebukes these interpretations, questioning why God would choose to punish those of the LGBTQ+ community over all others by immediately turning to the suffering of innocent children infected with AIDS "through absolutely no fault of their own." This again invokes the role of the innocent child in searching for theodical answers,
It is not only homophobic and hateful but also inaccurate and unhelpful to blame [the AIDS] epidemic on sexual preference or promiscuity. Unsafe practices might spread the disease--but why is there a disease in the first place? Are those who suffer the unspeakable emotional and physical agonies of AIDS more sinful and worthy of punishment than the rest of us? Has God chosen to punish all those AIDS orphans? ... This isn't God who is creating excruciating pain and misery; it certainly isn't something human beings have done to other human beings; and I see nothing redemptive in the innocent young child who contracts AIDS, through absolutely no fault of her own, and who can expect nothing but the nightmarish torments that the disease produces. (13)
Ehrman then turns to the book of Job, the story of an innocent man suffering at the hands of God, as a source of explanation for the suffering of "orphans" and "innocent young children," the suffering he gives as proof that there is no reason for suffering, let alone a God-given one.
But there is a complicated politics at work here, a politics thoroughly explored by Lee Edelman in his 2004 book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. In this polemical work, Edelman questions the use of the image of "the Child" as that which perpetuates what he calls "reproductive futurism," a system of societal ordering which casts aside those that would challenge the symbolic order by essentially rejecting the theoretical Child: that which guarantees a continuation of human existence and establishes a moral code, a "structure" of heteronormativity to which all are subject. (14) This heteronormative structure is visibly valorized throughout the Hebrew Bible, when Abraham is assured a progeny as numerous as the stars for upholding the covenant with God.
Within this argument, Edelman places the figure of the "queer" as that which resists and even opposes this social structure, against the rationale of hope and faith in a future, a future from which the queer will always be left or pushed out. (15) Assuming the oppositionality of politics, the queer is posited within this framework as that which paradoxically opposes the logic of opposition itself which defines identity and subjectification, thus refusing "history as linear narrative in which meaning succeeds in revealing itself--as itself--through time." (16) Queerness, according to Edelman, is that which destabilizes meaning itself. It calls into question the otherwise unquestionable validity of reproductive futurism, which is strengthened through the continued utilization of the image of the Child and emboldened through the marginalization and demonization of queer folks.
If we apply this theoretical framework to the arguments made by Ehrman, not only does the persistence of reproductive futurism as a stabilizing structure become clear, but his reasoning also begins to fall apart. Although Ehrman is also arguing for a lack of meaning (at least when attempting to understand suffering), by simply mentioning "AIDS orphans" and the "young innocent child who contracted AIDS," he is attempting to generate an immediate reaction on the part of the reader. Ehrman hopes that we will be moved by the image of a sickly child, blameless for its own suffering, begging the question, "why?" while simultaneously providing us an ostensibly comforting answer that "there is no reason." If we are to associate this meaningless suffering with divinity, the only answer is to reject God, for a God that would cause the little children to suffer for seemingly no reason is no God of Ehrman's. (17) But, as Ehrman insists, there are answers to be found within the narrative of Job, so this paper must consider this possibility before connecting Job to the themes of theodicy and the natural reproductive order things.
Job: The Story of Guiltless Suffering
The book of Job is a unique one indeed. Not only is its structure noticeably distinct from other books of the Hebrew Bible, it is also unusually exploratory of differing theological viewpoints. (18)
Structurally speaking, the narrative is built as a series of poetic dialogues, which are framed between a prose folktale prologue and epilogue. In the prologue, the Satan or "the Accuser" (19) comes to God who then brags of his servant Job as being "blameless" and "upright." The Accuser is unsure, arguing that Job is merely obedient because he has been blessed by God and that if God were to take away all he had given him, Job would curse God, ultimately falling from his position of righteousness. Indeed, the author makes it clear that Job is quite blessed in addition to his being upright; at this point in the story, Job has an estimated seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred oxen, five hundred donkeys, and many servants, not to mention his three daughters and seven sons, making him the "greatest of all the people of the east." (20) But since the Accuser has presented this challenge to God, God agrees to let Job suffer, and all at once Job's livestock die or are stolen, his servants are all killed, and his children are crushed by a fallen house. The narration makes clear, however, that "in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing." (21) But the Accuser is not convinced and argues that if God were to physically harm Job himself, that Job would falter in his blamelessness. God agrees, and Job is then put through horrific pain, covered in sores he has to scrape off his body with a broken piece of pottery. His wife pushes him to "curse God and die" but Job asks, "Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" making clear his retention of integrity. Job's three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, all come to visit and comfort him, sitting with him in a silence which ends the prologue. (22)
The epilogue, a mere ten verses, continues this folktale style of story, concluding that after all Job's suffering God decides to return all Job had lost twice over, and his seven dead sons and three dead daughters are replaced with brand new ones, and, interestingly enough, Job decides to give the daughters an inheritance alongside their brothers. Job then dies at the ripe old age of 140, having seen the coming of four generations of his lineage. (23)
The rest of the narrative, which are poetic dialogues between Job, his friends, a youth named Elihu, and eventually the divine, make up the vast majority of the book. The prologue and epilogue only take up less than three of the forty-two chapters. Many scholars concur that the dialogues noticeably differ from the prologue and epilogue in terms of the style, theology, and language, and they suggest that these were written by different authors at different times. For example, Job's character is noticeably depicted as humble and penitent in the prose narrative at the beginning and end of the book. "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (24) But within the dialogues, Job is full of complaints: "Let the day perish when I was born...Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?... I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." (25)
The Book of Job has been formed over time into its current whole through consolidation of these different narrative threads. This helps to explain a few discrepancies and contradictions within the narrative, one of which is central to my argument: the theological differences in understandings of suffering and divine punishment. Specifically, on the one hand, there is the linear narrative of the prologue and epilogue, where Job's unfailing faith is tested, found worthy, and rewarded. This suggests that God rewards and punishes humans on the basis of merit. Job passed the test of God's will. On the other hand, however, there is the continuing theme throughout the poetic dialogues--the back and forth conversations between Job and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and Job's confrontation with God--which suggests a very different story. It is this story that will provide the narrative's harmonization with Edelman's discussion of queerness and destabilization of the notion of the "good," which is premised on reproductive futurism.
Theodical Futurism and the Sinthomosexual God
Job's three friends present to Job what they see as the only commonsensical explanations for Job's suffering from within the context of their stable world order, beginning with Eliphaz: "Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same...Their Children are far from safety, they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them." (26) Bildad asks similar questions: "Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If you will seek God and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place." (27) Then, Zophar offers his answer: "Know that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves...For he knows those who are worthless; when he sees iniquity will he not consider it?" (28) The three friends of Job here take as assumption that Job's suffering is due to some wrong he or his children have committed, that God would not punish him if this were not the case, for within their theological worldview God rewards the faithful and punishes the wicked.
Considering for a moment that Job's friends are correct, as this would effectively make sense of the events of the prose narrative, what would this mean of God's will, given his full awareness and insistence that "[Job] still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason?" (29)
While reading Edelman, the senseless suffering of Job, and the emotional impact it elicits in the reader, initially recalls the character of Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Edelman writes,
His 'withered little hand' as if in life already dead, keeping us all in a stranglehold as adamant as the 'iron frame' supporting his 'little limbs'; his 'plaintive little voice' refusing any and every complaint the better to assume its all-pervasive media magnification, in the echoes of which, year in and year out, God blasts us, every one; his 'little, little' figure parading its patent vulnerability with the all- too-sure conviction of embodying the ruthless spiritual uplift, the obligatory hope for the future to come. (30)
Quickly one might notice a bit of a connection between Tiny Tim and Job, whose vulnerability is also graphically described throughout the narrative in a similarly "plaintive" fashion. "My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt, my skin hardens, then breaks out again"; but it is within the friends so-called comfort of Job which we find this "ruthless spiritual uplift" Edelman is critical of: "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy." (31) It is through Job's friends in which the reader is comforted in the redemption of Job and in the end can find some kind of "hope" in a possible future. But, like Edelman, Job is not at all satisfied with this answer:
If it is a matter of justice, who can summon [God]? Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse. I am blameless; I do not know myself; I loathe my life. It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the eyes of its judges--if it is not he, who then is it? I will say to God, do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the schemes of the wicked? (32)
Speaking to what Edelman calls a "truly hopeless wager," that is, "attending to the persistence of something internal to reason that reason refuses...deliberately sever[ing] us from ourselves, from the assurance, that is, of knowing ourselves and hence of knowing our 'good'," (33) Job demands an explanation he knows he may never receive, much less understand. Unlike his friends, but like Edelman, Job attempts to call out what he sees as a meaninglessness in the world order (the Lacanian-psychoanalytic symbolic order), a fruitlessness in attempting to find solace in a morality one can never hope to fully understand as anything other than an unjust, unbalanced system which protects the strong and preys on the weak and vulnerable.
As Edelman points out, "A Christmas Carol would have us believe we know whom to blame already, know as surely as we know who would silence the note of that plaintive little voice," and immediately, we are struck by the image of the scowling, angry, cold, child-hating Ebenezer Scrooge. (34)
Scrooge, for Edelman, signifies what he calls, the "Sinthomosexual," the figure that rejects futurity, asserting itself as that which stands against the idea of a future at all by existing as the very antithesis to the fiction of stability in reality. Edelman, a trained literary critic, paints Scrooge as the queer who stands up against the image of the Child, and by extension reproductive futurism. He assumes a stance which actively denies Tiny Tim a future, for no reason other than his own enjoyment, an "enjoyment alien to that of the community at large, and alien, more importantly, to the very concept of community at all." (35)
At the very same moment, however, Edelman reminds us (without explicitly naming) who is actually to blame for this "dreaded pedocide." (36) He suggests that perhaps when we see the crippled Tiny Tim at the church, we aren't at all reminded of "who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see," but rather "who made the lame beggars lame (and beggars) and who made those blind men blind" (37) in the first place. Bart Ehrman brings up this very issue to ask,
Why? Many readers have taken comfort in the circumstance that once Job passed the test, God rewarded him. But what about Job's children? Why were they senselessly slaughtered? So that God could prove a point? Does this mean that God is willing--even eager--to take my children in order to see how I'll react? Possibly the most offensive part of the book of Job is at the end, when God restores all that Job had lost-- including additional children. Job lost seven sons and three daughters and, as a reward for his faithfulness, God gives him an additional seven sons and three daughters. What was this author thinking? That the pain of a child's death will be removed by the birth of another? What kind of God is this? Do we think that everything would be made right if the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were 'replaced' by six million additional Jews born in the next generation? As satisfying as the book of Job has been to people over the ages, I have to say I find it supremely dissatisfying. If God tortures, maims, and murders people just to see how they will react--to see if they will not blame him, when in fact he is to blame--then this does not seem to me to be a God worthy of worship. Worthy of fear, yes. Of praise, no. (38)
In response to Ehrman's dissatisfaction, Edelman's polemic shows us that the comfort people feel for the redemption Job receives is a satisfaction not of the replacement of lost property, or even of lost children, but a regaining of a lost future. I would argue further that the satisfaction Ehrman is looking for is what I would call theodical futurism: an insistence that a just God, a God that is worthy of worship, must be able to answer for the death of the innocent Child. This God must somehow justify the child who suffers for no reason, and whose suffering is solely the responsibility and will of God alone.
From the perspective of No Future (what I would argue is the perspective of Job as well), the ending of the book of Job is no more or less satisfying than that of the ending of A Christmas Carol. These endings are designed to "preserve the fantasy" of reproductive futurism (or theodical futurism in the case of Job), granting reprieve to the sinthomosexual Scrooge insofar as he is willing to reject himself, providing the readers a security of their own future by becoming "a second father" to Tiny Tim. (39)
In the case of Job, it is only after God gives Job "twice as much as he had before" that his "brothers and sisters and all who had known him before"--those who had "failed" him, "forgotten" him, "abhor[red]" him, and "estranged" themselves from him during his undeserved torment--come to him to show him sympathy and comfort "for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him." (40) It is only once they recognize that God himself had committed this evil, a recognition I stress is only gained through God's restoration of Job, that they are willing to provide company and comfort.
I would be surprised if the dissatisfaction felt by Ehrman, as well as the positionality and importance of No Future, weren't also felt by Job himself. As I will discuss in the next section, Job ultimately receives no actual answer from God explaining why this suffering occurred, and it is in fact God, not Job, whose evil begs redemption in the end. Thus, if there is any sinthomosexual within the narrative of Job, it is God himself, through his lack of keeping to any clear moral code and challenging Elihu's all-to-sure moral conviction that Job suffered because he deserved it. Furthermore, the theodical significance of the book of Job, particularly for the task laid out in No Future, lies not in its attempt at an explanation of human suffering, but rather in its insistence that suffering is in fact meaningless.
Authority, Opposition, and the Queer Irony of the Sinthomosexual
I have already touched on the poetic dialogues between Job and his so-called friends above, in which they persist in their accusations that Job, or his children, must have done something wrong to anger God. They continually insist that God does not punish the righteous and only punishes the wicked, but Job is more than convinced of his own righteousness and consistently rebukes their charges, opposing their theological moral claims by declaring what he sees as obvious injustice:
Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their children are established in their presence, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them. Their bull breeds without fail; their cow calves and never miscarries. They send out their little ones like a flock, and their children dance around. They sing to the tambourine and the lyre and rejoice to the sound of the pipe. They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. (41)
Ehrman suggests this injustice might be less repugnant if there was some notion that the innocent and faithful would be rewarded in some afterlife while the wicked finally received their proper punishment, but as with most books of the Hebrew Bible, there is none. (42) But again, Ehrman's comment makes clear this desire of his, and likely many others, for this theodical futurism, in which God can provide some explanation for his allowing of such injustice. But, as I mentioned above, and will show below, God provides no answer for Job regarding justice at all.
Throughout the poetic dialogues, Job regularly asks that God give him an audience that he might defend himself against God, but it is only in his final speech in which his words seem to reach God, as this is Job's final statement before being confronted by God:
O that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) O that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me like a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him." (43)
Following these final words of Job's, after which his three friends had given up on convincing Job of his guilt, a fourth and final figure, unmentioned before his speech, decides to share his thoughts on the matter. Elihu, the youngest of the crowd, had apparently been waiting to speak out of respect for his elders, but at this point he expresses that his anger won't allow him to stay silent any longer. He begins the longest speech of the entire book by rebuking the other friends for not saying anything to refute Job's statements. He claims to be speaking in defense of God, then proceeds to say little the others hadn't already said before. Scholars agree, (44) partly because he goes unmentioned anywhere else in the book, that Elihu's speech was a later addition to the narrative. As such, there are some points that are worth noting.
After essentially accusing Job of blasphemy for focusing on his own righteousness rather than the righteousness of God, Elihu makes several statements that help clarify God's later response to Job. First, Elihu calls upon the other wise men to join him in his accusations of Job, "Hear my words, you wise men, and give ear to me, you who know; for the ear tests words and the palate tastes food. Let us choose what is right; let us determine among ourselves what is good." (45) This statement is intriguing, particularly after his admission that he was young in years, as he comes across rather confidently that he knows, or at least can determine, what is essentially "right" and "good." He positions himself as God's defender, as a seemingly last-ditch effort to teach Job some kind of lesson he has not yet learned: "Therefore, hear me, you who have sense, far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. For according to their deeds he will repay them, and according to their ways he will make it befall them." (46) Appearing yet again is this position that God is just and judges solely based on merit, adding for effect the suggestion that anyone with "sense" would accept this position.
Going even further, Elihu then claims to speak for God himself, "Bear with me a little, and I will show you, for I have yet something to say on God's behalf. I will bring my knowledge from far away and ascribe righteousness to my Maker. For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you." (47) Whether Elihu is referring to God or himself as "one who is perfect in knowledge" is unclear, but what is clear is Elihu's belief that he is speaking only truth, and that God's justice is absolute and unquestionable. In this certainty of the natural order of things, are we not reminded of Edelman's "all-too-sure conviction of embodying the ruthless spiritual uplift, the obligatory hope for the future to come?" (48) And by contrast, should we not recall what Edelman also suggests as the desired positionality of queerness, a queerness that would "sever us from ourselves, from the assurance, that is, of knowing ourselves and hence of knowing our 'good?'" (49)
From Elihu's self-assured statements, we can begin to understand his role in the symbolic order of theodical futurism. From this perspective, Elihu can be seen as the epitome of heteronormativity constructed within the social order, relying completely on the stability of his own sense of moral reality which he so desperately holds on to as absolute truth. But as Edelman shows us, any absolute notions of "truth" and "reality" are anything but stable, and as we begin to unpack God's refusal to answer to Job's questions of divine justice, Elihu's harsh criticisms and accusations of blasphemy ring utterly hollow. In this context, the sinthomosexuality of God becomes increasingly plausible.
The rest of Elihu's speech seems to serve as a kind of introduction for God's grand entrance. This introduction alludes to God's righteousness and sense of justice, but its principal function is to intimidate Job and to underscore God's sheer power, authority, and dominance over puny humanity. Elihu declares, for example,
Listen, listen to the thunder of his voice and the rumbling that comes from his mouth; God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend; From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds; The Almighty--we cannot find him; he is great in power and justice, and abundant righteousness he will not violate. (50)
Leaving us with this bold final statement reasserting God's righteousness, it is in this moment in which God suddenly appears before Job. After this, there is no longer any mention of Elihu, and Job's friends don't appear again until the epilogue, which suggests an intimate encounter between Job and God.
However intimate, the encounter can only be interpreted as terrifying. God appears to Job not as a voice calling from above, nor as any earthly being, but as a whirlwind, or better understood as a storm or tornado, assuming the presence of lightning, thunder, and a strong wind coming from heavenly chambers. God then begins his series of speeches directed toward Job, which primarily take the form of unanswerable questions, clearly mocking Job's complaints and claims of defensibility:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare if you know all this. Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Anyone who argues with God must respond. (51)
Instead of responding to Job's complaints, God dismisses them by simply resorting to his position of authority. His defense is a more than satisfactory offense. He asserts his superiority, belittles Job, and invalidates Job's right to even question his creator and knower of all things. God's power play has its intended effect. Considering the fact that these questions possess no possible answer, Job's response is again reminiscent of Tiny Tim's "plaintive" manner. "See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer twice, but will proceed no further." (52) Job is presumably awe-struck, but offers no definite capitulation, instead deferring any further response until the very end. God's response is again calling for Job to gird up his loins like a man, a phrase meant to suggest a kind of battle for which Job must be prepared, before asking the question, "Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?" (53) As perhaps the only time this happens, God seems to acknowledge his understanding of what Job has been asking for, which is an explanation of what Job sees as injustice for which he believes God should have to answer.
But God doesn't answer Job's critique, and instead, ironically tells him to take up the task himself of ridding the world of that which Job finds deplorable:
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger and look on all who are proud, and abase them. Look on all who are proud and bring them low; tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then I will acknowledge to you that your own right hand can give you victory." (54)
Like Edelman's No Future, God is suggesting an impossible task (and an ironic task at that): the reordering of meaning with the promise of gaining virtually nothing. But most significantly, God (or rather the Biblical author) presents this irony as the closest Job is going to get to a satisfactory answer to his demands.
For Edelman, through his reading of Paul de Man's Aesthetic Ideology (1996), irony serves as the literary challenge to the ostensible reality that narrative attempts to stabilize. (55) If narrative is the logic with which meaning is figured linearly, irony, as "syntactical violence," is that which reveals and disrupts the fantasy of sensical linear signification and identity formation, albeit "inextricable from the articulation of narrative as such." (56) Inextricable from the narrative of the book of Job, the irony that God poses challenges any and all conceptions of "right," "wrong," "truth," or "good" within said narrative, to the dissatisfaction of anyone devoted to theological propriety. The mocking which Job endures seems tantamount to a grade schooler being lectured by a scornful teacher: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know!" This ultimately renders Job virtually speechless, devoid of any sense of opposition: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise (submit) myself and repent (am comforted) in dust and ashes." (57) Not only this, but God appears to enjoy this whole process, an appearance of excitement that suggests God's own kind of puissance, excess, or death drive: that which drives the sinthomosexual's rejection of that which claims to provide moral meaning.
The sinthomosexual figure of God in the book of Job does theologically what Edelman proposes politically. Edelman's proposition is for queerness to accept and embrace its own negativity, the value for which lies in its challenge to the value of the social itself. For if queer theory's efficacy, as Edelman argues, lies in opposing oppositionality itself, (58) then politically this means taking up a position not only outside of but oppositional to a politics built on opposition. If oppositional politics determines and reproduces the governing fantasy of reproductive futurism, (59) the "side" the queer must take is the side that questions any absolute notion of an inherent "good" in the logic of reproductive futurism. This is a "good" that every political platform accepts unquestioningly. This is because questioning this "good" would question the narrative realization of a future worth striving for. (60) Ohio State Representative Candice Keller makes the case that Obama, homosexuals, and leftist liberal culture are to blame for domestic mass shootings because they ignore the importance of God and the church. However, mass murderers like the ones in Poway, CA, and Christchurch, New Zealand, base much of their justification on Biblical scripture. This is an inherent opposition that keeps politics polarized. Ultimately, the fact that there are people, such as the El Paso gunman, who believe there is an inherent "good" in killing as many people as possible to protect a supposed culture from moral degradation, is a problem that may never be addressed.
Looking back at the story of Job, the theology found within both the prose narrative and poetic dialogues is unequivocally oppositional. The story begins with the Satan, also called the Accuser, challenging the notion that the blameless Job could be righteous for any reason other than his expectation of a reward. Thus begins the test. Job's suffering is then never free of opposition, his friends questioning every single response Job has. They can't understand a notion of suffering that doesn't involve an oppositional theology in which there is always a notion of an absolute "good" that is divinely and justly governed. God, however, completely rejects, opposes, even scoffs at the notion of an oppositional theology that justifies itself based on false propriety, on the fantasy of a God concerned with human justice made real by theodical futurism. Job's constant inquiry of "why?" is swiftly silenced by God's uniquely non-sensical, even fantastical explanation that there is no reason. By effectively saying "That's just the way it is," the book of Job itself queers the presupposed order of things. There is no nomos; all is anomaly.
"Need We Still Ask Why?"
In the final chapter of No Future, Edelman formulates the figure of the sinthomosexual with that of the murderous birds in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). Intriguingly, Edelman emphasizes the meaninglessness embraced, or rather championed, by the sinthomosexual figure by capturing the enigmatic draw of Hitchcock's film. Curious film goers, critics, and even characters within the film asked "What do the bird attacks mean?" (61)
What do the bird attacks mean? 'What do you suppose made it do that?' wonders Melanie Daniels after the first gull gashes her head. 'What's the matter with all the birds?' asks Lydia Brenner following a full- scale assault on the children celebrating her daughter's eleventh birthday. 'Why are they doing this, the birds?' young Cathy inquires of her older brother, Mitch, echoing the question that an overwrought mother poses to Melanie in the wake of an attack on the center of Bodega Bay: 'Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this?' But why, we might ask, need we still ask why? (62)
In response to the series of questions posed by the characters, Edelman asks the poignant question this paper also rhetorically poses: "But why, might we ask, need we still ask why?" (63) For Edelman, the clear purpose of the pedocidical birds is argued most persuasively by Robin Wood as "the possibility that life is meaningless and absurd." (64) For many, the equally pedocidical God of the book of Job suggests nothing more than the same possibility.
For Bart Ehrman, however, this explanation is not good enough:
Does the fact that he's almighty give him the right to torment innocent souls and murder children? Does might make right? Moreover, if the point is that we cannot judge the cruel acts of God by human standards, where does that leave us? In the Bible, aren't humans made in the image of God? Aren't human standards given by God? Doesn't he establish what is right and fair and just? Aren't we to be like him in how we treat others? If we don't understand God by human standards (which he himself has given), how can we understand him at all, since we're human? Isn't this explanation of God's justice, at the end of the day, simply a cop- out, a refusal to think hard about the disasters and evils in the world as having any meaning whatsoever? (65)
Given the discussion formulated throughout this paper, I am quick to question what exactly Ehrman is looking for in Job. The dissatisfaction he expresses in Job's "redemption" seems now to miss much of the point. Does the book not seem to question the very notion of a "right" at all? Is it not made clear that "human standards" of what is "right and fair and just" are not necessarily concerns of God? Or at least, that they take on a different meaning? Is it really a simple cop-out for a theological manuscript to question the very notion of meaning?
I turn once more to Edelman for what would likely be his response to Ehrman: "Rather than expanding the reach of the human, we might insist on enlarging the inhuman instead--or enlarging what, in its excess, in its unintelligibility, exposes the human itself as always misrecognized catachresis, a positing blind to the willful violence that marks its imposition." (66)
The narrative of Job undeniably argues that there is an irreconcilable gap between God and humanity, a gap which God himself spends considerable time making clear to Job by way of endless boasting of his "comprehension of the expanse of the earth" and ability to "draw out Leviathan with a fishhook." (67) In the end, God speaks to Job's three friends, telling them "you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has," a final gesture on the part of God that, although still provides no answer to Job's demands, squashes the theodical futurism these three friends held onto so tightly and which tormented an already unfairly tormented Job. Additionally, if we recall correctly, the story's ending includes a rebuke of God, which makes clear the "evil that the Lord had brought upon [Job]." (68) Despite the story's reimbursement-like resolution, the reader is reminded to be aware that the God of Job is not a just ruler as Elihu so vociferously proclaims. The reckless assumption to know what is right or just blinds Elihu and his many allies to the suffering Job endures; a suffering not due to his or anyone else's sin, but to an unwarranted accusation of potential infidelity.
Perhaps, as realized through the frame of No Future, the resolution of Job is not meant to be a resolution at all, but rather an uncomfortable and unsatisfyingly brief end to the queerest story in the Bible. This is a story that, if taken seriously, could call into question much, if not most of the religious rationales that rely on the Bible to determine morality and judgment. In the end, Job (or rather the author) seems to understand better than most the potential absurdity of social order, as Job's three daughters are not only given names--Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-hap-puch--a rare occurrence in the Hebrew Bible, but it is also noted that they are provided an inheritance alongside their male siblings, which the New Oxford Annotated Bible notes as simply "an unusual practice." (69)
In this increasingly polar and hostile political environment, Job and Edelman provide important reminders that judgment is often nothing more than assumption, an adoption of cultural values that are superimposed on anyone born within our society and maintained through the discrimination and marginalization of vulnerable peoples.
(1.) Cedar Attanasio, Jake Bleiberg, and Paul J. Weber, Police: El Paso Shooting Suspect Said He Targeted Mexicans, ABC News (2019).
(2.) Kevin Williams et al., "Gunman Killed Sister, Eight Others in Second Deadly U.S. Mass Shooting in 24 Hours," The Washington Post (August 4 2019), accessed August 10, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/08/04/nine-fatally-shot-dayton-including-suspect-day-after-mass-shooting-texas/.
(3.) Jennifer Doherty, "Who Is Connor Betts? Dayton Shooting Suspect Identified by Police," Newsweek (August 4 2019), accessed August 10, https://www.newsweek.com/who-connor-betts-dayton-ohio-shooter-1452491.
SAMUEL B. DAVIS
(4.) Paul P. Murphy et al., "Dayton Shooter Had an Obsession with Violence and Mass Shootings, Police Say," CNN (August 7 2019), accessed August 10, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/05/us/connor-betts-dayton-shooting-profile/index.html.
(5.) Alex Horton, "Ohio Republican Blames Mass Shootings on 'Drag Queen Advocates,' Colin Kaepernick and Obama," The Washington Post (August 5 2019), accessed August 10, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/05/ohio-republican-blames-mass-shootings-drag-queen-advocates-colin-kaepernick-obama/?noredirect=on.
(6.) Interestingly, while many are quick to point out the harm in blaming those who are the targets of violence, not a single news article on Keller's words mentions her concern for the importance of God and the church, or anti-Semitism.
(7.) Keller's rhetoric, although dubbed abhorrent, is not off base. On the contrary, she won her senate seat as an extreme conservative, echoing much of President Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric. Even when disregarding nativism, the morals she champions are highly political and ring strongly with Christian evangelicals.
(8.) Philip Rucker, '"How Do You Stop These People?': Trump's Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Looms over El Paso Massacre," The Washington Post (August 4 2019), accessed August 10, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-do-you-stop-these-people-trumps-anti-immigrant-rhetoric-looms-over-el-paso-massacre/2019/08/04/62d0435a-b6ce-11e9-a091-6a96e67d9cce_story.html.
(9.) Bart D. Ehrman, God's Problem : How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer, 1st ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 162. Italics my own.
(10.) Goodstein, Laurie. "Falwell: Blame Abortionists, Feminists and Gays." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, September 19, 2001. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/19/september11.usa9.
(11.) Pastor John Hagee on Christian Zionism, directed by Terry Gross (NPR, 2006), https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyld=6097362?storyld=6097362.
(12.) Curtis M. Wong, "Pastor Blames California Wildfires on State's Embrace of Lgbtq Rights," Huffington Post (August 6 2018), https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kevin-swanson-california-wildfires_us_5b68552ae4b0de86f4a391ae.
(13.) Bart D. Ehrman, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer, 164.
(14.) Lee Edelman, No Future : Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Series Q (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 2-3.
(15.) Ibid., 3.
(16.) Ibid., 4.
(17.) Ehrman, 162.
(18.) Michael David Coogan et al., The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version, Augm. 3rd ed. (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 726.
(19.) To be distinguished from the later "devil" who becomes known as the adversary of God. Here "the Satan" is one of God's heavenly beings, the one who travels about the Earth accusing humans of wrongdoing.
(20.) Job 1:1-5
(21.) Job 1:13-22
(22.) Job 2
(23.) Job 42:7-17
(24.) Job 1:21
(25.) Job 3:3, 11; 7:11
(26.) Job 4:7-8; 5:4
(27.) Job 8:3, 5-6
(28.) Job 11:6, 11
(29.) Job 2:3
(30.) Edelman, 41-42.
(31.) Job 8:21
(32.) Job 9:19-24
(33.) Edelman, 5.
(34.) Ibid., 42.
(35.) Ibid., 43.
(38.) Ehrman, 171-72.
(39.) Edelman, 47.
(40.) Job 42:11
(41.) Job 21:7-13
(42.) Ehrman, 181.
(43.) Job 31:35-37
(44.) Michael David Coogan, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Carol A. Newsom, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, College ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 758.
(45.) Job 34:2-4
(46.) Job 34:10-11
(47.) Job 36:1-4
(48.) See note 20.
(49.) Edelman, 5.
(50.) Job 37:2, 5, 9, 23
(51.) Job 38:2-7, 16-18; 40:2
(52.) Job 40:5-6
(53.) Job 40:8
(54.) Job 40:10-14
(55.) Edelman, 23-24.
(56.) Ibid., 24.
(57.) Job 42:2-6
(58.) Edelman, 24.
(59.) Ibid., 17.
(60.) Ibid., 7.
(61.) Ibid., 119.
(63.) Edelman, 119.
(64.) Ibid., 120.
(65.) Ehrman, 188-89.
(66.) Edelman, 152.
(67.) Job 38:18; 41:1
(68.) Job 42:11
(69.) Coogan, Brettler, and Newsom, 771.
Attanasio, Cedar, Jake Bleiberg, and Paul J. Weber, 2019, Police: El Paso Shooting Suspect Said He Targeted Mexicans, ABC News.
Coogan, Michael David, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Carol A. Newsom, 2007a, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, College ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Coogan, Michael David, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, 2007b, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version, Augm. 3rd ed, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Doherty, Jennifer,2019, "Who Is Connor Betts? Dayton Shooting Suspect Identified by Police," Newsweek. Accessed August 10. https://www.newsweek.com/who-connor-betts-dayton-ohio-shooter-1452491.
Edelman, Lee, 2004, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Series Q Durham: Duke University Press.
Ehrman, Bart D., 2008, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer, 1st ed, New York, NY: HarperOne.
Pastor John Hagee on Christian Zionism. Directed by Gross, Terry. NPR, 2006.
Horton, Alex, 2019, "Ohio Republican Blames Mass Shootings on 'Drag Queen Advocates,' Colin Kaepernick and Obama," The Washington Post. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/05/ohio-republican-blames-mass-shootings-drag-queen-advocates-colin-kaepernick-obama/?noredirect=on.
Murphy, Paul P., Konstantin Toropin, Drew Griffin, Scott Bronstein, and Eric Levenson, 2019, "Dayton Shooter Had an Obsession with Violence and Mass Shootings, Police Say," CNN. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/05/us/connor-betts-dayton-shooting-profile/index.html.
Rucker, Philip, 2019, '"How Do You Stop These People?': Trump's Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Looms over El Paso Massacre," The Washington Post. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-do-you-stop-these-people-tmmps-anti-immigrant-rhetoric-looms-over-el-paso-massacre/2019/08/04/62d0435a-b6ce-11e9-a091-6a96e67d9cce_story.html.
Williams, Kevin, Hannah Knowles, Hannah Natanson, and Peter Whoriskey, 2019, "Gunman Killed Sister, Eight Others in Second Deadly U.S. Mass Shooting in 24 Hours," The Washington Post. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/08/04/nine-fatally-shot-dayton-including-suspect-day-after-mass-shooting-texas/.
Wong, Curtis M., 2018, "Pastor Blames California Wildfires on State's Embrace of Lgbtq Rights," Huffington Post, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kevin-swanson-california-wildfires_us_5b68552ae4b0de86f4a391ae.
Samuel B. Davis is the Lead Co-Editor Sam Davis will proof his own article as well as the Interview with Dr. Orsi. As a student in both the UNC Charlotte Religious Studies Graduate Department and Women's and Gender Studies program, Sam is currently completing a master's thesis on how the Vatican's handling of sexual abuse by priests is represented and depicted by Catholic news media. Last year, Sam helped organize a graduate conference titled, "Sex and Religion," sponsored by both departments to which he belongs. That conference was held at UNC Charlotte's Center City Campus in the spring of 2019 and was a primary inspiration and source of material for this journal issue. Sam lives in Charlotte, NC with his beautiful, supportive, and talented partner Amanda and their two cats.
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|Author:||Davis, Samuel B.|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2019|
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