After the Wrath of God:
AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion
by Anthony M. Petro
Oxford University Press
Reviewed by Alina Oswald
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]RID, slim disease, plague, God’s punishment…for almost thirty-five years, the AIDS epidemic has been called many names meant to reflect various facets of life affected by the disease itself. Some names target certain communities; others are meant to instill fear, even panic. Of all these names, “punishment from God” may resonate the strongest with most individuals, believers as well as non-believers. After all, who’d want to be the target of God’s punishment, for any reason?
While many books offer various accounts of the history of AIDS, none so far has really taken a closer look at the AIDS crisis as seen mainly through a religious prism. In his first book, and the first book of its kind, After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion, Anthony M. Petro, who is assistant professor of religion at Boston University, attempts to shed some light on the subject of AIDS as God’s wrath.
But don’t expect a post-apocalyptic read on AIDS as a punishment from God, because After the Wrath of God is no such thing. Rather, it’s an in-depth documentation of the history of the epidemic in the U.S., seen through the eyes of various Christian religious denominations. The book also takes into account opinions from both sides of the aisle, from the Religious Right to ACT UP. Also, in After the Wrath of God, the author doesn’t stop at the AIDS epidemic, but further discusses topics such as homosexuality, marriage equality, as well as abstinence and monogamy, and their role in shaping the epidemic.
After the Wrath of God is neither a summer read nor for just anybody. Rather than explaining why or if AIDS is indeed God’s punishment or what would happen after God’s wrath, the book focuses on the hope, and the role of religion, in winning the fight against AIDS. After the Wrath of God shows, ultimately, that sometimes opposing religious, activist, and political views can converge to help us work together to achieve a greater good—in this case, to stop the ongoing AIDS epidemic.
Alina Oswald is Arts Editor of A&U.