Monday, March 22, 2010

The God Box

I've been trying to select my next book that I wouldn't ordinarily choose to read or think I won't like. I considered Jodie's review of Alex Sanchez's novel The God Box and decided that even though it doesn't qualify as a book I wouldn't ordinarily choose to read--as I read everything I can on the subject--I dreaded having to read it because of the anti-gay attitudes I was pretty sure I'd have to experience.

I teach a sophomore-level class called "Relationships and Dialogues" at the college I commute to, one that attracts a lot of regional small-town Christian students who get their first taste of a larger world at college. I've seen students announce that they don't "approve" of homosexuality. I've heard them tell stories about how their families and churches have taught them to "love the sinner, hate the sin." And I've gotten less patient with these attitudes over the years. As Jodie observes in her response to my comment about how weary I felt about needing to read The God Box, it's painful to start from scratch every time with a new "batch" of students.

Painful but necessary. So I read the book, and indeed, as Jodie's review points out, the purpose of the fiction is to use the two main characters as mouthpieces. Paul--the narrator--speaks for the Christian anti-homosexual camp and his openly gay friend Manuel speaks for the homosexual acceptance camp. Paul brings up all the main verses of the Bible usually cited by the anti-homosexuals and Manuel discusses their possible meaning and implications, usually citing other Bible verses in response. As nice as it is to see a more-than-usually-even battle of the Bible verses, though, there's more to this novel than that.

Paul also brings up arguments like "AIDS is God's punishment for gay people" so Manuel can rebut, complete with another Bible verse:
"I think that's the wrong image of God, the one that Jesus came to correct. I believe suffering is just a sucky part of life--everybody's life. As Jesus said in Matthew: God 'makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust.'"

The book also offers the satisfaction of seeing Manuel poke holes in the posing of those who say they can "cure" homosexuality and the very strong satisfaction of watching Paul's father stand up for him when the pastor of his church equates the existence of a gay-straight alliance club with "an incest, bestiality, and pornography club."

Those satisfactions almost make up for having to read sections like this one:
"In government class that morning the topic was the U.S. Constitution. Almost immediately someone brought up the proposed amendment to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional. A couple of guys on the football team said some pretty nasty things about gay people, while other classmates uttered stupid stuff like 'If two guys can get married, I should be able to marry my dog.'
Big laughs, while Mr. Proctor simply smirked and allowed it.
I sat silently, taking it all in and wanting to crawl out of my skin. Then I noticed, a couple of seats away, Stephen Marten's lip begin to quiver."
...almost. But not quite.

It's unpleasant reading, but it is a book that could change someone's mind or even save someone's life, so I'm glad to have finished reading it. Have you ever had someone quote anti-homosexual Bible verses at you? This book can give you more responses.


Amanda said...

I really want to read Sanchez's other books, but I don't know that I can handle this one right now in my life. It seems a bit...too much. With everything that's happened around me in the last two years (involving religion and homosexuality), I don't think I could stomach this one right now.

bermudaonion said...

Holy cow! I find it unbelievable that young people today can have such attitudes toward homosexuality. That does sound like an important book.

hcmurdoch said...

I read God Box and think it is SO well done. He really puts both sides out there (reading his personal post script at the end shows how he can do this). The students at my high school who have read it really enjoyed it as well (that's from both boys and girls).

Jeanne said...

Amanda, I felt like you do, but made myself read it so I could know whether to recommend it to anyone in the new class I meet next week.

Kathy, sad but true. I think attitudes are getting more accepting with each generation, except for the "Christians" who have had hate preached at them.

Jeanne said...

HCMurdoch, This is the first book I've read on the subject that didn't bash Christians. In fact, as you mention, his afterword includes how to find his website ( and go to the "Spirituality page, with links to diverse religious groups that accept gay and lesbian people."

Jodie said...

It really sucks that we have to be reading books like this to give us arguments to combat the opposition with. I'm not Christian, I don't even beleive in the deity they're saying makes being gay such a terrible thing, but if I use that as your argument well they can just call you a sinner and move on so I think this is a really important book for people with no religious background, as well as for gay teens who are religious. It sucks that you have to deal with attitudes like that, but maybe you change peoples minds, which is extraordinary considering how hard that is to accomplish.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I think it would be interesting to hear the arguments that they use for and against with the accompanying scripture, but it just doesn't seem as if there is quiet enough plot.

Jeanne said...

Jodie, yes, some of those folks will just call anyone who argues with them a sinner and dismiss them. Even the Bible verses can be used as a version of name-calling, and they've heard the "but do you eat shellfish" reply before and dismissed it somehow.

Nicole, it's true, there's not much plot, and what there is of it is entirely predictable.