Posts Tagged ‘westboro baptist church’

Fred Phelps, former patriarch of the organisation perhaps most globally renowned for sincerely and consistently committing to its core principle of hating literally everybody else on the planet, has died.

His church made a name for themselves by parading as close as they were legally permitted to the highest-profile funerals they were able to attend, waving placards of hate and bigotry at anyone who’d glance their way, revelling in the ire they elicited from anyone with an ounce of sense or compassion.

On the surface, homosexuality seems to be their main bugbear, but the entire human race is an object of such apparent fear and revulsion to these people that just about every sin, real or imagined, committed by anyone not a member of their immediate family, gets swept into the blanket condemnation of “fag” or “fag enabler”. You needn’t have committed any crime more grievous than failing to belong to their insular clan of a few dozen extremist zealots, and you’re rendered an unperson in their eyes, dismissed with the most disgusting monosyllable their stunted minds can conceive. They incite people to shout and yell right back at them, and count every verbal tussle as a victory. They continue to be the gold standard of meatspace trolls.

They are all terrible people, and by all visible measures, Grampa Fred was the most cruel and hateful of the lot. He played a key role in keeping the church’s venomous momentum going, and in exacerbating the suffering of numerous grieving families at their most vulnerable moments. I suspect many will struggle to see much sadness in his passing.

Apparently there won’t be a funeral for anyone to vengeance-picket, but there was a counter-demonstration at the WBC’s latest protest. Here’s the sign they held up:


That is unquestionably how you’re meant to do it. That is what we do when someone loses a family member. That is the sentiment we extend to the recently bereaved. We don’t withhold basic compassion, or lace it with sarcasm or passive-aggression or revenge-gloating, simply because it’s happening to the wrong sort of people.

So that’s one reaction that I found worth noticing. The other, also pointed out by the Friendly Atheist, is from Nate Phelps.

While some of Fred’s thirteen children have continued to be involved in the church, Nate was one of those who got the hell out of Dodge as soon as was feasible. He’s committed himself for years to campaigning against everything his family’s church stands for. Hemant highlights this line from Nate’s comments on the death of his father:

I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been.

Nate’s pretty cool. As much as it might bring a sense of relief or even joy to many, it’s worth trying to remember that even the death of someone like Fred Phelps is a sad thing. It’s sad that his life was so dominated by bitterness and hatred, continuing along an inevitably miserable path to its equally bitter and hateful conclusion. It’s sad that his twisted infatuation with spite and malice never gave him a chance for him to claw back anything worthwhile from life, and now he never will.

The key thing, as well, is not to begrudge anyone who doesn’t feel inclined to be quite so magnanimous. I mean, the WBC are awful, and if I was ever going to be able to sympathise with the idea of seeking catharsis by performing the Macarena on someone’s burial plot, Fred Phelps is your prime candidate. For many people still taking the kind of abuse he was notorious for every day of their lives, it may all be too sore. You can understand why some folk feel entitled to their morbid jig.

But I’m a comfortably middle-class straight white guy, a position which sometimes comes with certain expectations. I have nothing invested in this, nothing that needs venting. The Westboro Baptist Church has never caused me any level of distress which I couldn’t nullify by changing the channel away from the Louis Theroux documentary I was watching. So I don’t need to find relief in celebrating Fred Phelps’s death. I have no excuse not to be the most betterest person I can be.

So. Compassion for the Phelps clan, and how they must be suffering to seek such solace in lashing out so violently. Compassion, too, for those bearing way worse emotional scars than me, at the church’s hand, and for whom it’s too much to expect them to dig deep into their hearts and find anything but resentment and frustration.

Love all the humans. Turns out the answer never really changes.

Classroom discussion questions

1. Shit, has it really been over a month since anything happened here?

2. Where the hell have I been?

3. How do I ever expect to get anything done if this is my general rate of productivity?

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Worst title ever. Let’s forget my poor, fatigued brain even come up with it and move on to the important stuff.

Two grand-daughters of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church (famous for loudly and unwaveringly Hating Fags on God’s behalf), have left the church they’ve grown up in and been part of their whole lives.

For decades, it was all they knew, and now they’re outta there.

I am fascinated by shit like this.

I mean, the Westboro Baptist Church is a bewildering and hypnotically fascinating phenomenon in itself. They cheerfully revel in the contempt they inspire in almost literally every single person who encounters their message of hate and intolerance. They seem to sincerely take any publicity as good publicity, and their obsession with deviant sexuality and persistence in making as obnoxious a noise as possible are central to their monumental feat of unwaveringly trolling the entire country.

But some of them really seem kinda nice.

I mean, did you see Louis Theroux’s documentary about the time he stayed with them? It’s not the only time they’ve happily invited media scrutiny and been entirely candid about just what a small-minded shit their god is, but it’s one of the most accessible. If you’ve read much about the Church already, the show probably won’t contain a lot of astonishing facts, such as that most of its members are not easy people to like. Grand Patriarch Fred, in particular, is twisted with genuinely unsettling fury and disgust at the world. Watching the children being indoctrinated with dementedly homophobic dogma isn’t easy, either.

But some of the young adults – possibly including the two girls who left, I think, but you know how I feel about research – seemed much more personable. Louis genuinely seemed to get on with them at times, and not just because he has a superhuman patience. They were friendly with him, engaging, chatty. They didn’t seem to act unkindly to him at all. They believed he was an appalling sinner whose depravity in the eyes of God was such that he was destined to suffer deservedly in eternal hellfire… but that isolated belief didn’t seem to impinge on the rest of their worldview.

And now it seems like that worldview’s getting left behind.

They’ve not suddenly become devoted skeptics, or even atheists. The “revelation” they’ve had isn’t one of rational enlightenment; it’s still a fundamentally flawed logic that’s led them to their new conclusions. But despite remaining orthogonal to reason, some glimmer of compassion has overcome a lifetime’s inculcation of hate.

If things were how I was taught, God would be cruel and unkind; God cannot possibly be cruel and unkind; therefore, things are not how I was taught.

That’s the basic gist of how it goes. It’s still an obviously faulty argument, but the motivation driving the cognitive biases in play here is fantastically different than what you tend to see in the Phelps clan. And it seems they feel it strongly enough to take their leave of their entire family, who they must have known would shun and publicly disavow them if they strayed from the path – they’d seen it happen to other family members, after all. And yet from somewhere has come the determination to stick to what they believe to be true, even now that it’s actually costing them something meaningful.

I don’t want to get too celebratory and prodigal-son-ish here. It’s a long road from the Westboro Baptist Church back to decent society, and most of it’s still ahead of them. But still… it’s a heck of a first step to have taken.

More on this from JT, Hemant, and much of the rest of the internet.

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– Has it really taken this long for the Westboro Baptist Church to get around to hating football? This can’t be the first time on this particular crazy train for such dedicated contrarians.

– Justin Bieber, ice giants, and big floofy dogs, together at last.

– Cory Doctorow’s blogging and tweeting about it is kinda making me wish I was at the Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin. I are proper nerd.

– The latest case of othering, on my other blog: Israeli extremists harass children.

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Fred Phelps is a hate-group leader, and a loathsome fucktard. The Westboro Baptist Church, which he founded, regularly pickets military funerals, and seems to take great pleasure in loudly telling pretty much everyone that God hates them, from gays to Catholics (with equally liberal use of the epithet “fags” in either case).

He also regularly beat his thirteen children, and seemed to relish the pain he caused them almost as much as the thought of almost everybody on the planet burning in Hell for eternity. This is according to one of his children, Nate Phelps, who has spent some time attempting to distance himself from the physical abuse, and mentally abusive religious indoctrination, of his childhood, and who has recently begun speaking publicly about his upbringing in the Phelps household. Read about him from someone who saw him speak. I’m going to have to try and hear more from him. It’s a close to unique perspective he’s got.

Oh, and as Ben Goldacre points out: the Daily Mail is campaigning both for and against the cervical cancer jab, at the same time, depending on whether you’re reading the British or Irish edition of their paper. This seems to be the most demonstrably disingenuous, dishonest, irresponsible, cynical approach to journalism it’s possible to imagine. Any kind of consideration of facts, knowledge, or any other basics of journalistic reporting appear to have gone entirely out the window. It’s all just about selling a story, and it’s rather depressing.

I’m sure there was one more thing… but I can’t find it. So have a Jenny McCarthy body count widget instead. 152 dead so far, watch it keep on ticking!

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Fred Phelps continues to be fucking hilarious. I know there’s no way, realistically, that his entire existence (and that of his whole family) is one extended joke, awaiting his eventual deathbed punchline, “… The Aristocrats!” as some people have hypothesised. And yet, there does just seem to be something unreal about him, which makes it impossible for him to be scary in the same way that plenty of other bigoted nutjobs are.

I mention him now only because my homeland is the most recent subject of God’s hatred, according to his latest video, due to consisting “almost entirely of sodomites”. He must know something about my friends that I don’t, but I can’t help but feel a kind of national pride at such an accolade. Maybe we could get some sort of ad campaign going, and get the numbers right up to 100%.

He didn’t really say anything worth recounting, but it’s good to see he’s not mellowing in his old age.

P.S. Not posting anything seems to do wonders for my hit count. I should try it more often.

P.P.S. Aw crap, did I miss Pancake Day again?

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Good news, everyone! The government can no longer insist that you prove your relationship is genuine for your marriage to be considered valid! Admittedly this was only ever really a problem for immigrants who were going to have to leave the country in less than three months, but who says foreigners who don’t want to be deported can’t find love too? Even very sudden and conveniently timed love which just happens to result in full residency rights.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid compares polygamous religious sects to organised crime, with one specific Mormon denomination particularly in mind. Reading this article, it sounds like polygamy is the least of their problems. I think Futurama already beat me to a “Godfellas” pun.

And finally, the clear and unequivocal message gets through, that God hates Fred Phelps. That must be what this means, right? Or maybe elemental misfortunes aren’t always a divine judgment on the victims. Maybe that only applies when it’s someone else being burned or flooded or earthquaked or tornadoed.

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