Why do I love Fred Phelps?

For those who don’t know who Fred Phelps is, I envy you. Fred Phelps was a preacher and head of the Westboro Baptist Church. He was best known for his adamant views against homosexuality and protesting at the funerals of US soldiers. He and his followers would show up with signs that read “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God For Dead Soldiers”, “America is Doomed” and other incendiary statements about what he believed God felt. He died last Wednesday and outside of his followers, mostly members of his extended family, it is hard to imagine anyone will be mourning his loss.

By all accounts he was a truly despicable man. He exhibited no love or compassion towards anyone. He would beat his children. He celebrated the deaths of people who were killed by anti-gay violence, people who died from AIDS and soldiers who died in combat. He caused tremendous hurt to countless people already dealing with great sadness and grieving the loss of their loved-ones. He fuelled the hatred that has caused so many young people to take their own lives and for others to act out violently against their peers. While he never pulled the trigger himself he most certainly has blood on his hands.  Perhaps worst of all is that he involved children in his salacious acts and poisoned their minds with his hateful rhetoric.

So why do I love a man who is so diametrically opposed to everything I believe in? The simple answer is because I love everyone. Still, simple doesn’t always mean easy. When I made a commitment to love everyone I knew it would be hard. I knew that there would be cases like this that would test my resolve. It would be easier to simply dismiss him as a crackpot and just not care… but I do care. Fred Phelps thrust himself into my world, into the lives of people I care about, into the media spotlight and into the national consciousness.  I couldn’t simply ignore his existence. If I was going to love EVERYONE then I was going to have to find a way to love him as well.

His beliefs about God and homosexuality are certainly extreme but so is the belief of loving everyone. Fred Phelps and I may be polar opposites but when it comes to holding extreme beliefs we have something in common. While I don’t share his views I can’t help but admire his conviction. I don’t know I could ever believe anything that strongly.

It’s not like he invented hate. While his particular verbiage in interpreting the Bible is unique he was hardly alone in his position on what the Bible says about homosexuality. If you believe as Fred Phelps did that God is omnipotent and the ruler of everything then what other conclusion can be drawn from the 9-11 attacks and dead US soldiers other than God hates us. It’s got to be troubling for those who believe that God is on our side. Most people can find some other explanation or rationalization for these events but if you take certain parts of the bible or certain beliefs about God to their logical conclusion, you wind up with Fred Phelps.

One thing I can say about Fred Phelps is he forced people to take a stand. You were either with him, or against him. Thankfully most people decided that they were against him. It’s hard to say what effect Fred Phelps had on the gay rights movement but he certainly helped our cause more than he did his own. He made people think. He caused people who were perfectly comfortable hating gay people to become uncomfortable with their beliefs. For the longest time I suspected that he was a one man false flag operation. Like a good conspiracy nut, I became obsessed with trying to find evidence to support this theory, but in the end I came up empty-handed. Fred Phelps really was the man he portrayed himself to be.

Fred Phelps was also a champion for the First Amendment although I’m not sure he saw himself that way. He was vehemently opposed to the freedom of religion part but he sure embraced the freedom of speech part. At least one case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. I had my doubts as to whether the constitution was strong enough to endure such an hideous attack but even Fred Phelps could not cause us to abandon our values. As a result, the people responded with their own brand of free speech showing love and respect for the targets of his hate. Gangs of motorcycle riders would show up at military funerals to drown out the protesters. Even the threat that the Westboro Baptist Church would be protesting would cause people in support of the event to turn out in droves.

During his time on this planet, Fred Phelps made a difference. He was fueled by the worst in himself but he brought out the best in others. When I look at my country today, compared to how it was before Fred Phelps began his picket line crusade of hate, I see a stronger and more tolerant nation. Obviously, I don’t give him all of the credit, but overall I believe we are better for having known him. He set an example by the way he lived, in his case, it was a bad example. We all have a role to play and this was his.

That is not meant to justify anything that he did. I still don’t believe that the ends ever justify the means. The means must be justifiable unto themselves and I don’t find anything to justify the means used by Fred Phelps; but they were not my means. It’s not up to me to justify them. Perhaps he will find his justification now that he is dead but I doubt it. From my perspective I see a lonely man who lived a life of anger, torment and fear. His actions caused him to become estranged from some of his own children, disbarred by the State of Kansas and later prevented by the federal court from practicing law altogether. Near the end of his life he was even excommunicated by the church that he founded.  It’s almost tempting to feel bad for the guy, but I don’t.

The only thing I can feel is love. There is no other emotion he can cause me to feel. He could not inspire me to feel hate, anger or disgust. He could only inspire me to shine light upon the darkness. The struggle to see his humanity has made me a more compassionate and forgiving person. For that, I do love him.


Why do we have laws?

When I ask people this question I usually get a response along the lines of ,” Without laws we would have anarchy” to which I have to wonder if that would be so bad. It’s not like this highly regulated litigious world in which we live is paradise. Laws have not eradicated all of the problems associated with people living together. Also, law has not been a constant in human history but an invention which probably only dates back five thousand years and has changed dramatically over the course of history. There is no evidence or reason to suspect that the early, mostly egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies had a system of laws and some of these societies have still managed to survived until this day. Granted, they don’t have planes, trains or automobiles but they also don’t have war or crime.

Anyway, I’m not here to argue in favor of anarchy. I think that if we simply turned off the legal system one day that the results would be disastrous.  Laws may not be necessary but they certainly seem necessary in modern societies. I want to ask the question of why laws have become necessary, what that says about modern society and what are the benefits and consequences of having a law based culture.  Certainly this could constitute a person’s life work but it’s not my life work. I just have a few ideas that I want to get off my chest.

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have laws because, as a species, we kind of suck. We say that laws are the foundation of our civilization but the very fact that we need laws just tells me that we are not very civilized. If we accept that we need laws then we also need to swallow the bitter pill of reality and accept that we are not evolved enough to live without them. The fact is that human society has evolved far faster than human biology.

Certainly societal, as well as technological advancements, have been aided by the invention of laws but what if laws have also had the unintended consequence of hindering biological evolution. My limited understanding of evolutionary biology and natural selection tells me that over time desirable traits in a species will get replicated while undesirable traits will become muted. Is it possible that laws have allowed people to reproduce and pass along traites that if it weren’t for these laws would have been eradicated long ago? I know that is a dangerous idea and rings of Social Darwinism, but seriously, if murder was legal I’m pretty sure that the genetic trait causing someone to think killing a member of their own species is a good idea would quickly be removed from the gene pool.

Actually, that is a pretty sensitive subject for me. It’s not really something I can joke about so I will leave that to Louis C. K.

I don’t even think I could write a song about it but thankfully Soul Asylum has done that for me.

I certainly don’t need a law to tell me that murder is wrong. I have evolved past that kind of thinking as I think most people have. These laws really only apply to that class of people who are not as evolved as us. These are the people we call criminals. We need laws so that we can identify who the criminals are. That’s why I don’t understand the gun rights advocates who claim, “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” That seems like a brilliant idea! We could eliminate crime by just rounding up all the gun owners and removing them from society. Problem solved. Of course I don’t believe that criminals are a class of human singled out and removed. Besides, we already have drug laws to do that.

And then there are the laws that have nothing to do with morality, identifying right from wrong and conveying it to the masses too unevolved to figure it out on their own. There are plenty of laws which serve the whole of society and allow us to function in this modern world. Traffic laws, food safety laws, building codes and environmental protections attempt to serve the common good by creating uniformity, predictability and by reducing the potential for harm. Still, in a more perfect world we could probably handle this through education with standards, guidelines and traditions.

The real reason why we need laws is because they are essential to enforce a hierarchical system. In order for the powerful to retain power they need to the rule of law. Historically laws have been written by the rulers to benefit the rulers. Even in our modern liberal democracy laws are written by the powerful and primarily serve to preserve the hierarchy while giving the illusion of equality.

This is not to say that human and equal rights protection laws are a bad thing. I’m just saying that they are only necessary in a hierarchical society. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, obviously, but you only need to grant freedom of speech to people who are not free.

Ahhh… there is so much more that could be said about all this and I’m sure that I will in the future. For now I am hoping you will help me out by posting your thoughts in the comment section.

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