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God Hates Fags: The Rhetorics of Religious Violence

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 229
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  • Book Info
    God Hates Fags
    Book Description:

    2007 Choice Outstanding Academic TitleAt the funeral of Matthew Shepard - the young Wyoming man brutally murdered for being gay - the Reverend Fred Phelps led his parishioners in protest, displaying signs with slogans like Matt Shepard rots in Hell, Fags Die God Laughs, and God Hates Fags. In counter-protest, activists launched an angel action, dressing in angel costumes, with seven-foot high wings, and creating a visible barrier so one would not have to see the hateful signs.Though long thought of as one of the most virulently anti-gay genres of contemporary American politics and culture, in God Hates Fags, Michael Cobb maintains that religious discourses have curiously figured as the most potent and pervasive forms of queer expression and activism throughout the twentieth century. Cobb focuses on how queers have assumed religious rhetoric strategically to respond to the violence done against them, alternating close readings of writings by James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Jean Toomer, Dorothy Allison, and Stephen Crane with critical legal and political analyses of Supreme Court Cases and anti-gay legislation. He also pays deep attention to the political strategies, public declarations, websites, interviews, and other media made by key religious right organizations that have mounted the most successful regulations and condemnations of homosexuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9019-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: The Last Safe Group to Hate
    (pp. 1-21)

    Early in 2001, a group of parishioners from Kansas’s Westboro Baptist Church, led by Reverend Fred Phelps, descended upon Fort Collins, Colorado. They were protesting Colorado State University’s official response to the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority’s 1998 homecoming float. This float had gained notoriety primarily for the not-so-subtle references to the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard, who had just been pummeled and tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard’s assailants had left him to die in a pose that Laramie law enforcement officials and the mountain biker who had discovered his body thought...

  5. 1 The Language of National Security: A Queer Theory of Religious Language
    (pp. 22-52)

    The conservative, Christian speech against queers patrols American citizens. It achieves its force, in part, because religious language is thought to be a secure form of language. Its semantic security reveals something unique about religious rhetoric, at least in the United States: there’s something about Western religious language—mostly white Anglo Protestant Christian religious language—that makes one feel its importance for reasons well beyond the actual content the language communicates. According to the National Association of Evangelicals, the number 1 statement of faith is, “We believe the Bible to be inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.”² One...

  6. 2 James Baldwin and His Queer, Religious Words
    (pp. 53-78)

    James Baldwin understood that the sovereign power of religious words could still be a powerful form of minority complaint. I focus on the example of Baldwin because his writing is iconic for both race and queer politics.¹ We should consider how, as a writer, he was immersed in the complicated relations between queerness, blackness, and religious rhetoric, but he told us a story that is different from what people often tell us about African American religious responses to a racist American culture. Baldwin’s use of religious rhetoric was not merely a “conjuring” or “signifying”² use of religious rhetoric; nor did...

  7. 3 Like a Prayer
    (pp. 79-113)

    James Baldwin was not the first writer of queer and African American experience to use the rhetorical race feelings made possible by religious hate speech. So in this chapter, I want to give Baldwin a history. I start with Jean Toomer and hisCane, published in 1923. Throughout the last section of Toomer’s book—and with much ofCane—the prevalence of a specific kind of religious language is striking. Rather than detail a kind of Christian belief, the religious rhetoric emphasizes the deep conflicts the central character, Kabnis, experiences as a displaced African American teacher in a racially hostile...

  8. 4 Rights as Wrongs
    (pp. 114-148)

    Baldwin, Toomer, Crane, and Williams are perhaps a strange collection of writers to be considering some of the predecessors and practitioners of strategic political manipulations of the religious hate speech I describe in this book. But by taking us through a tour of these writers, I wanted to emphasize the necessity of thinking about the figurative in contemporary politic actions. My aim is to iterate that the insights garnered from theoretical and literary critical work have been, and will continue to be, critical for queer politics. In fact, I join Lee Edelman, who argues persuasively just how ironical, if not...

  9. Conclusion: Our Aberrant Future
    (pp. 149-184)

    Although critics and activists discovered that they could use the hateful Christian rhetoric to make queers “like race,” the religious right has been quick to notice as much.² They’ve figured out that their “special rights” campaigns backfire—that accusations of hate and homophobia have enabled queers to make a claim that they are a targeted minority, much like a racial minority. In 2003, less than a decade afterRomer v. Evans, Mission: America, just one of the many cyber evangelical ministries on the Internet, asked its readers to be on the watch for queer accusations that the religious right is...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 185-216)
  11. Index
    (pp. 217-228)
    (pp. 229-230)