With Gay Pride parades occurring in various parts of the country, it seems like an appropriate time for a little soapbox I’ve been saving up on the “God hates shrimp” phenomenon.
“God hates shrimp” is a parody of the Westboro Baptist Church’s famous “God hates fags” messaging. The point of the satiric counterprotest is to say: Hey, if you folks are so committed to a literal reading of the Bible’s prohibitions on homosexuality, shouldn’t you also be observing its prohibition on shrimp? (Or wool-linen blends, or whatever–pick your favorite absurd-sounding Levitical proscription.)
As a gay man, I have really mixed feelings about this. Yes, it’s nice to see folks standing up for my people. But “God hates shrimp” signs make me more uncomfortable than anything else.
Two things: First, “God hates shrimp” relies for its rhetorical effect on the presumed absurdity of biblical injunctions against shellfish (or mixed fabrics, or whatever else is being held up as the other thing God supposedly disapproves besides sodomy). To folks of a secular frame of mind, that absurdity may seem self-evident. Christians who don’t regard themselves as bound to keep kosher may perceive the requisite absurdity. But it’s rather a spit-in-the-eye to observant Jews, no? I get that the intended target of “God hates shrimp” is fundamentalist Christians. But unintentionally, those satiric “God hates shrimp!” signs are also saying, in effect, “Kosher is stupid!” I, um, can’t march behind that banner.
Second, the “God hates shrimp” parody isn’t really fair to the Christian biblical inerrantists it’s targeting. In its more sophisticated form, the unspoken logic of the parody is: “If you Christian fundamentalists are going to go around quoting Leviticus to condemn homosexuality, don’t you have to also accept all the other prohibitions in Leviticus? But you clearly don’t, which shows you don’t actually believe the Bible is binding in all it says after all. So why can’t you accept that the prohibition on homosexuality isn’t binding, just as you accept that the prohibition on shrimp isn’t binding?”
The problem with that line of argument is that a smart biblical inerrantist has a ready answer: “We’re not bound by the prohibition on shrimp because the New Testament says so. But,” they continue, “the New Testament does reiterate God’s disapproval of homosexuality. And that’s binding.” Smart biblical inerrantists don’t quote Leviticus to explain their opposition to homosexuality. They quote Romans 1. And the “God hates shrimp” parody doesn’t really work as a response to Romans 1.
If your eyes are glazing over at this point–too much biblical prooftexting for you? You just wanted a quick laugh that would let you feel intellectually superior to fundamentalists, and now you find yourself out of your depth?–let me sum it up for you this way: The “God hates shrimp” parody is poking fun at a straw man. Christian biblical inerrantists make a more sophisticated argument than “God hates shrimp” gives them credit for. “God hates shrimp” says, in effect, “Conservative Christians are stupid.” But they’re not.