The Logic of Fred Phelps and the Weird Westboro Baptist Church
"God Hates America."
So says Fred Phelps of Westborough Baptist Church. Fred says alot of other weird things, but of course you would expect weird from a preacher whose church mantra is "God hates Fags." I'm sure you've heard this genius on CNN, MSNBC or maybe FoxNews. If not him maybe you've seen his his crazy-eyed daughter. They have a really charming schtick. They like to do picket protests at funerals, specifically they love to go to soldier's funerals, and the funerals of homosexuals. They achieved notoriety, in fact by doing just that at Matthew Shepard's funeral (There is-or was- an image of Matthew Shepard's head bouncing on flames, with a ticker that counted the days he had been in hell, on their web-site.) They carry signs that say all sorts of nasty things, "God hates fags" of course, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and the pithy, "America is Doomed." For some reason they also like "Don't Worship the Dead," as a picket sign. On one of their video broadcasts, which you too can see, if you can stomach it, on youtube.com or at googlevideo, they explain that people should not pay attention to the "fag enabler who is dead, but they should just accept God's punishment."
At the very least this not an ecumenical church.
Fred's thesis is that all the bad things that happen in this country or to its citizenry is the obvious product of God's hand. 9/11? God putting the smite down! A school bus crash where a student died? Praise be to God. Phelps is ready to thank God for any number of horrible things that happen. He believes that God let the White House be deceived by a host of liars, and thus lead them Iraq so he could kill American soldiers. The school bus accident mentioned above was a punishment for the citizens of Alabama. Hurricane Katrina? No brainer. All of this punishment seems driven-according to Phelps- by God's deep and abiding hatred of gay people.
The criticism of Phelps and his church is not exclusively secular, there are a considerable number of voices against his message that come from both liberal Christians as well the Christian Right.
There is a difference though, in these critiques. Liberal Christians just condemn the general message of hate (and may be in different philosophical places regarding the status of homosexuality as a sin). Whereas the Christian Right generally agrees with the main point, God, does hate fags, which it says rather clearly in the old testament. Jerry Falwell for instance wasn't nearly as happy about 9/11 as Phelps and his crew, but he did blame feminists, homosexuals, etc, etc for it. "Look what you did!" Falwell said to homosexuals, feminists and others during an interview. Still though, God gets his smiting on according to Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and their ilk. Katrina was God's wrath in their eyes too. The big difference between the Christian Right and the Westboro is that the Christian Right holds to the notion of Salvation through the acceptance of Jesus Christ. Liberal religious folk,tend not to see God's righteous hand in every action-just occasionally when something really, really good happens.
Which just goes to show how good people are at believing silly things based on scant, okay, okay, completely absent evidence. According to Phelps, God tricked Bush into going to war in Iraq....so he could kill American Soldiers? Jesus Christ! This is the almighty and powerful God, why doesn't he just kill them already. It seems like an awful lot of subterfuge for the most powerful being in the Universe. He could snap his fingers and 3000 soldiers could've fallen over dead in an instant, all their hearts missing or something else "divinely" inspired. Why do it so that it just looks to most rational people like bungled, dishonest leadership, bullets and bombs? Katrina resembled a hurricane to me, with all the random damage storms tend to impart to a landscape. A school bus accident that was really God's vengeance on Alabama? An auto accident? Hmmmmm. Now a school being lifted from its foundations and hurled into space...now that would be quiet a teaching aide. Unbelievably cruel. Not terribly efficient. But that is God. At least as he is portrayed in the Old Testament, an instantiation much beloved for some reason. Clearly God's works are identifiable not by some objective standard, but the subjective standards of believers.
Fred Phelps is a moron, no question. His followers, are not intellectual giants either. But it seems like all people who believe in Godly intervention seem to engage in this strange reasoning. It is a reasoning deeply uncoupled from reality. Perhaps there is a God. It doesn't seem terribly likely. And we certainly can't tell from his "works." By that I mean his hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and accidents. All of which need not be explained the supernatural rather than natural causes.
In closing, many churches not of the Phelps persuasion have taken to counter-picketing. To which I say, good on ya lads and lassies. It isn't likely that you will change any hearts and minds as you are all reading the same book and there really isn't much objective criteria you could turn to that would be useful argument settlers. Its all pretty much a battle of lit-crit. Perhaps its time though for a different approach. Instead of arguing over which reading of the bible is correct, why not just put it away. There is no need to hold up "God loves America," or "God hates America" picket signs. Even if such an improbable being exists, the evidence that it loves any country clearly doesn't.