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The High Cost of Hatred: My Brief Conversation With Fred Phelps

March 21, 2014

The High Cost of Hatred: My Brief Conversation With Fred Phelps

We've just received the news of Westboro Baptist Church's long-time pastor, Fred Phelps passing. I've been following Phelps for years.  In conversations with others which involve Phelps, I sometimes have to explain to those who don't recognize his name that he's the "God hates fags" guy. The usual response is, "oh yeah" as Phelps own hatred has gained quite a notoriety,

I've also spent the past few years telling people that there's a little Fred Phelps in every person who subscribes to a dualistic religion, you just have to speak to them long enough before it comes out. A dualistic religion is one in which there are those who are 'in' and those who are 'out.'  Those who are saved, and those who are lost. The Chosen, and the infidel.  There are religions which are not dualistic, like Bhuddism, but not many.

I'm intrigued with this concept because throughout my life live known a lot of Christians who proclaim their devotion to Biblical Christianity, including Jesus' command for a person to love their neighbor as they love themselves. Because Christianity is normally presented as a dualistic religion, it's interesting to me that if you talk to a Christian long enough, they will eventually tell you who is in and who is out.  (Hint: They are always in.  People they don't know, are out.)

To a logical person (and I try to be logical) there is only a matter of where one draws the line between who is in and who is out. Fred Phelps stated many times that he was only doing the 'will of his Father.'  The truth is, there is Biblical support for Phelp's actions. (Yes, there is Biblical support for the opposite of Phelp's actions, too.)

This reminds me of a quote from Sam Harris's book, Letter to a Christian Nation:

"The problem, however, is that the teachings of the Bible are so muddled and self-contradictory that it was possible for Christians to happily burn heretics alive for five long centuries. It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed outright (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently--though isn't it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed."

Yes, Christianity can pretty much justify anything anyone would want to justify using the 'Word of God.' So where does this leave us today?

It was a few years ago I was holding philosophical debates with people on that great empirical platform where only the most intellectual among us debate (Twitter) when I sent out a comment about how the religious use fear-mongering for profit and votes. This was during the days of birtherism, death panels, Obama is a Muslim-Communist and the government wants to pull the plug on Grandma.

Shortly after this I received a reply from someone who spoke as though he was Fred Phelps.  I won't try to quote it because I can't find the exchange. During those days I was using twitter accounts which couldn't be traced back to me, and now I can't find the conversation and probably not even the account the conversation was on. As my memory recalls, though, the response stated that I had no idea how much his mission for The Lord had cost him. I immediately verified the account was used by Westboro Baptist, and I don't remember any more of the conversation.  What I take from this is that hatred has a high price, higher than anything I would want to pay.

Today after the passing of Phelps, I find myself optimistic.  Maybe it's related to what the satirical news publisher The Onion has just posted, entitled:

"Fred Phelps, Man Who Forever Stopped March Of Gay Rights, Dead At 84". 

How could say it be said any better!

I'm enjoying reading the comments on the various articles about Phelps passing.  There are some who have been greatly affected by Phelps and his mission of hate, and they are having a hard time forgiving,  I totally understand that.  There are those who don't understand the harm that Phelps has done, likely because they subscribe to the same religion as Phelps.  I totally get that, too, though I wish they could see Phelps actions as everyone else does.

There are those who say that no one should rejoice over Phelps passing.  This is what I don't understand. One does not have to hate the man to be glad he no longer walks the Earth. By pretty much any Earthly measure, the man was evil and his only accomplishments on Earth were to spread pain and suffering. I am one of those who believes the world is a better place because Phelps is dead.

Personally, while I won't waste my time or emotion on hatred of Phelps, I'm not going to 'forgive and forget'. Forgetting the evil that this man has done would only aid in allowing it to happen again.  I've seen too many of the religious be convinced to forgive and forget, only to allow heinous acts to happen again, and I want no part of that.

What is really fascinating to me is the fact that the increased acceleration of acceptance of the LGBT community can be traced back, in no minor role, to Fred Phelps.  His actions have indeed brought about more quickly that which he condemned the most.  What greater justice could there be than that?  The only thing I've read that's better is from those who have remarked that they are have made donations to human rights groups in the name of Fred Phelps.

I think I have finished this article, so I can go make a donation to the Human Rights Campaign in Fred Phelps name.  I hope you're having a good day, too.

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Bruce Horst resides in Houston, Texas with his wife of 30+ years and his youngest son Nick.

His passion is making peoples' lives better through technology, as he works by day as a senior programmer and by night building his Internet of Things.

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