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Friday, October 15, 2010

Speak Up

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for  October 15, 2010

Malice drinks one-half of its own poison.
                                                  Seneca

There is something so uniquely American about the little “Church of The Phelpses,” the splinter Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas whose very ugly public messages about God hating fags, and Jews and Catholics and dead soldiers has landed it before the Supreme Court. Like so many American religious sects, this one was self-created, and while it claims to be “Baptist,” the Southern Baptists Convention has denounced and disavowed any connection to the Phelps. Also like so many other self-created sects, it holds what some consider to be decidedly different beliefs, and is run by a powerful preacher-man and his small band of family-followers. (Eleven of his thirteen children are lawyers; a handy profession, considering.)

But Fred Phelps is nothing new. While his theology might be a bit twisted, Fred and all the other little Phelpses are still the descendents of the fierce, sin-obsessed American preachers thundering eternal damnation for the wicked, a line that runs through Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” to Bible thumping fundamentalist tent revivers promising damnation and hell to card players and hooch-sippers, right down to the fictional but quintessential Jesus-hustling huckster of all time—Elmer Gantry.

“You cannot preach the Bible if you don’t preach God’s hate!” Phelps says in a recent Time magazine article on the family. Indeed. No namby-pamby God of Love nonsense espoused by latte-sipping limousine liberals for these rock-hard American theologians.

And that, to me, is what makes this case so interesting. Just what is it about the beliefs that Fred and his daughter Margie are expressing that has people so upset? That “God Hates Fags?” That can’t possibly be a problem in a country publicly obsessed with homosexuals, including the delightful spectacle of certain politicians who first denounce gays then get caught later footed-tapping in airport bathrooms or flying off on vacations with their boy-toy “assistants.”

Or a Congress dragging its feet on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Or with hysterical citizens hastily passing state laws denying equal marriage rights to gay people, like the California Prop 8 initiative that was funded by huge infusions of money from Catholic and Mormon churches. Or with gay hate-crimes that regularly show up on the police blotter. Fear and loathing of gay people is a dark thread that runs deep in our homophobic culture and is powerfully driven and justified by “Christian” religious belief. So, while many might consider Mr. Phelps’ protest signs to be impolite or crude – the word “hate” makes nice people, respectable people, uncomfortable -- the basic belief about God’s hatred on those signs, while extreme, cannot be said to be utterly alien to what a great many Americans already secretly believe.

And a good many people believe that war is an abomination and that soldiers are murderous “baby-killers” engaged in a sinful enterprise that violates one of God’s own Ten Commandments. And there is nothing alien about the beliefs that Jews killed Jesus and Catholics are in a league with the Pope-Devil himself, and Mormons are un-Christian heathens and President Obama is the anti-Christ and our white country is being taken away by scary colored people, and the End Times are Near, and O God! O God the gay people are coming, and can’t you hear the black helicopters yet? All of these are fear-driven beliefs that are brought out from under our dark rocks during fearful, tough times and used to manipulate the frightened into furthering the ends of the unprincipled.

And when Mr. Phelps or any of the other little Phelpses show up with signs declaring that Americans are going to hell, I dare say they’re only saying out loud what many of their fellow citizens may be secretly feeling. Says Mr. Phelps, in that same Time article, “When asked if hearing about a soldier’s death really makes his heart swell with joy, Phelps nods as if he’s just been offered a sandwich. ‘Because we’ve been telling people that God is going to do this to them. Because that’s the way God rolls.’”

So what is it about what the Phelps are doing – standing on public property telling people how God rolls – that has people so riled up? Is it their discourtesy? Lack of manners? I mean, most people have the common decency not to show up at funerals to yell at a parent that God hates their dead kid. That’s tacky. But then, most people also don’t show up at Planned Parenthood clinics to yell at young women entering for medical care that they’re baby-murderers and are going to hell.

But the Constitution, thank God, protects the tacky, the rude, the indecent, the deluded, the cruel and the mean. It also protects the Phelps and their hate-filled messages of human-loathing, divine wrath and sin, weird sexual obsessions, cruel family dysfunctions and gleeful rage.

What remains unclear is whether or not the radical, judicial activist Supreme Court will rule narrowly on this case, or use the case as it has in the past to open up the broader questions the Phelps case raises in order to legislate from the bench.

In the meantime, the case certainly has generated a lot of discussion and I can only hope that it gives rise to just as many questions. Here’s two: If what the Phelpses believe is factually correct, that God actually does hate fags and Jews and Catholics and soldiers, and anyone else not in the Phelpes-approved pantheon, why would anyone get upset at them for stating the obvious? And if their declarations are false, why would anyone waste a moment of their time getting upset over what a bunch of delusional liars have to say about anything?

And here are two questions that will likely never be answered: Just what is it about the American character that creates the kind of toxic culture that nurtures poisonous people like the Phelps? And supports and rewards with high ratings and abundant advertising dollars, a 24/7 media that excitedly serves up their outrageous malice du jour to a celebrity and scandal addicted public?

If historian Richard Hofstadter is correct, that the “paranoid style” is the way Americans roll, then Fred Phelps is simply the ugly part of our American DNA, not only our legacy, but our future as well.

It is not a comforting thought. But knowing that our Constitution will continue to protect the double-edged right to speak out, is.

17 comments:

Sandra Gore said...

The kind of hatred you are talking about is not exclusive to American culture. It exists everywhere. We just have an Oprah Winfrey system of exposing our innards on TV. Look what happens in Africa every day. It's focus on our differences that creates the division and animosity. The rescue in Chile shows man at his best when religion, politics, nationality and race are excluded from the picture.
"From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate." Socrates

Anne R. Allen said...

I think the solution to all this could be explained by Dana Carvey's Church Lady. Mr. Phelps and his predecessors in the KKK, the Nazi party and other "god is hate" communities worship the god of hate. Fine.

Since Jesus is the god of love, obviously, the Phelpsists worship his opposite. That would be...Satan!

These people are Satan worshipers. They should get free speech, but they should also be called what they are.

Mike Green said...

Religion is for people that can't handle drugs..Lilly Tomlin.

Wurd Verifycatchun rests, as in the argument rests

Churadogs said...

Sandra, I suppose what's interesting to me is the separation between what we think of ourselves (the face we prepare for public and civic show) and how we really are (little Phelpses) that's part and parcel of The American Myth. Many countries of the world are equally dark hearted but they don't pretend to be anything other than dark hearted. We spend a great deal of energy polishing up the smiley-faced myths that we tell ourselves and when the mask slips, it's always interesting. America's no better than she ought to be. The problem comes because we think we are. From that, both tragedy and comedy ensue.

Alon Perlman said...

"Because you ask stupid questions"

It's not as much with what we did (Though the Greek Colonel's regime, Sha's Peacock throne, replacing Allende, has specific consequences, in each arena). It's because we belive our own mythography over our actual History.

Spectator said...

Excellent article, and very well written, Ann.

You write about the substance of civilization: The "in" group versus the "out" group. It is an effort to sustain "in"
culture.

The case that you write about is a tort action seeking damages by the plaintiffs for the words and actions of the defendants.

Read the Koran. If you, as a religious Muslim, believe that the words written are the words of God, then the destruction of other cultures, or individuals with different beliefs, is
a duty that will lead to heaven, and a noble pursuit.

Hence the dancing in the streets by Muslims world wide when 9/11 occurred, and the very slow criticism of the action by even moderate American Muslims, who were mostly silent.

Of course, all of this starts with the inculcation of young minds: those least likely to discover the sophistry within the concepts that they are being taught.

Your reply to Sandra shows a disregard of our culture and a total lack of understanding of myth and the reason therefore. Did you ever consider that most Americans KNOW who, what, and why we are, and it is based upon history?

Mike said...

Well said Jon...

Spectator understands and is open to reality that there are several sides to the issue and of "our" culture... but opened mindedness has never been an issue for Ann and the dwindling few who have blindly followed her one-view rants of corruption by those she disagrees with when she doesn't get her personal way...

From world wide religious beliefs to local sewer decisions, there are no simple answers except in the minds of the radical extremists on both ends of the spectrum...

Alon Perlman said...

well wrote again BTW Chura.
My earlier post had a line Starting that got left out.
"Why do they hate us?"
then-"Because you ask stupid questions"

Spectator- America has been a mixing pot of innovative ideas but somewhere about when when we let our Steel Industry lag behind, we started on a path toward self -insufficiency.
I say we, then - I was being educated by the Israeli educational system with short of a year's break to learn "Petite chien" in England. When I came here, Gunn High school Paaalo AAlto, Sr. year, I had to take a pre-test for the American History and institutions. I know I got one question wrong;
Which party came first, GOP or Democrats? I answered Democrat not knowing "Grand Old Party"
I ranked second highest on the Pretest. Gunn High school, a high percentage of Stanford University Professor's kids, still ranks in the top 100 HS's in the US.
Think about it. There still is an Isolationist mentality helped along by a more recent "Anti Intellectualisem" that has nothing to do with Genuine gumption or salt of the earth pragmatisem.

Churadogs said...

John, you need to pay closer attention to those "man in the street history" surveys; Americans are really, really, really poorly educated about their own history. Huge swaths of them believe Washington chopped down the cherry tree. (Heck, a huge swath of them think Obama is a Muslim and Sadam Hussein was involved in 9/11 and Ronald Reagan didn't balloon the deficit and Sarah Palin is qualified to be President.) And when they're given the chance to put REAL, often very ugly and complex history into the text-books, the Texas Board of Education has a fit and rips it out, claiming it's too "negative" or "socialist." And when people are given the "real" history of so much of what this country has been up to for 200-some years, they get mad. They claim you hate America and want the terrorists to win and other such ridiculous nonsense. They want the lie, even though it's the lies that create so much trouble for them.

As for muslims dancing in the street -- a tiny handful did that on TV while millions and millions were horrified and reached out to the U.S.in great sympathy. Alon is right; 9/11 was political blowback from our governmental policies, NOT our religion. As for believing the Koran, like the Bible the Koran can be cherry-picked to justify all kinds of evil. Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, whether they're religious or social or political.

And Mikeee, you just embarass yourself when you write drivel like that. Embarassing.

Mike said...

It is too bad that Ann has lost touch with reality...

Churadogs said...

Awww Mikee, I see you're back at it, making stuff up again. I'm telling you -- like clockwork. Embarassing Pavlovian clockwork.

Spectator said...

Ann: Please excuse my ignorance of your Pavlovian clockwork analogy. Can you explain in the context of a Skinner Box?

Social and political fundamentalists? Interesting use of these words. Of course you are referring to Marxists and Progressives. However, it could be considered that people who support the constitution are "constitutional fundamentalists". Put me in that group. I am glad that my thought is separated from the anarchists, progressives, Marxists, and others who would destroy the US.

By the way: What is the "real history" of what the US has been up to? Is it the production of one of the highest standards of living, the production of freedom, the vast amounts of money given for humanitarian needs, or the tolerance of fools?

As to "man in the street history" it always seems to me that the interviews are taken in New York City among young folks raised in their progressive/socialist schools. The interviews are always agenda based. You surely have understood "the dumbing of America". It is deliberate to make people think like you.

Alon: Despite the fact that I graduated from UNC as an English Major with a religion minor, and received a MBA from Stern, I do not understand your post. I do not dispute the validity, I simply do not understand.

Alon Perlman said...

What's to understand?
A person educated outside the US, scores higher than American educated persons, on an American history and institutions test, given on the first day of the class.
It is my personal experience, in my limited access to two public education systems (I did also mention a brief attendance in British schools). It is anecdotal in nature, and therefore could have no statistical validity.

I treasure the constitution, I wish many more of my fellow citizens had taken your path to erudition, or in it's absence, could apply their yanqui ingenuity to recognize the palaver of the snake oil salesmen of all persuasions.

And as for the "political blowback" Ann refers to, in response to my post; True for Greece.

But; As for the Afghani fed by US donated grain baked into flatbread in a bakery attached to a Madrassa built by Saudi Oil protection-Money?
rel=”nofollow>Western civilization-American freedoms, "to think for oneself" Those are threats to the way of life and self identity of those "Traditional" cultures. And Islam is a religion that dovetails well into the cultural mindset of cultures that do not celebrate "Individuality" as we do.
It is one reason that Islam and Marxism did not clash. (Afghanistan 1980's is the exception that proves the rule, this goes across many cultures many histories). It is also the youngest religion and did not need to flex its way through the Industrial revolution.

And it is; A few Million dancing in the streets, and many millions horrified.

We don't just have the constitutional freedom to tolerate fools, we had the economic freedom and geographical isolation to BE fools. And to not learn lessons from our external actions.. And until recently, our economy could sustain "fools" in comfort. As the dominant cultural force of the 21 century we did no worse than “someone else” would had. But post USSR collapse? We actively closed the window of opportunity, if there was one. And we exercised our freedom to vote based on what our educations showed us.

Those are laborious sentences above, I can't shift responsibility to either educational system. Sorry.

Alon Perlman said...

Sorry about the link in the post above. If you want to view it; pressing F11 will tell you more about US Afghan relations then I can. but clicking this link here will give you a concise idea

Churadogs said...

John, time to google Skinner and Pavlov and Clockwork. And please keep in mind that most people who cherish the constitution often don't have the foggiest notion about it's creation or the context it was created in nor the ability of it's meaning to change over the years (the genius of it which the Originalists overlook, alas.) And beware of your mantra-speak i.e. "progressives" = destroying America. Teddy Roosevelt would disagree withy your equation. Or do you think National Parks "destroyed" America?

Spectator said...

Alon: Thank you. I understand.

Ann: You did not clarify my question.

I am aware that Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive. The creation of National Parks was a boon to future generations of people and children. Too bad the progressives of today saddle our children and grandchildren with debt in an effort to nationalize corporations, banking industry, mortgage industry, etc.

I think it would be very hard to cherish the constitution if one did not understand the contents. It is not the health care bill that was voted on without being read by the progressives. Today progressives = Marxists = government control = slavery.

Churadogs said...

John sez:"Today progressives = Marxists = government control = slavery."

When you write stuff like that, it tells me your brain has gone into Fake Mantra Mode and is gone dead.