When you reach the bottom of the barrel, start digging.

From the Opelika-Auburn News (2008-03-07):

Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for protesting and picketing funerals and memorials of fallen soldiers, is planning to picket at the Sunday afternoon funeral of 18-year-old Auburn freshman Lauren Burk, according to the group’s Web site. Burk was killed Tuesday night. Police are investigating her death as a murder.

Westboro Baptist Church, established in 1955, is an Kansas-based organization lead by Pastor Fred Phelps.

The group is also planning to picket the funeral of Eve Carson, UNC student body president who was killed Wednesday morning.

Both funerals are listed on the WBC site’s online picket schedule for Sunday.

First the Phelpses came to picket the funerals of men murdered by gay-bashers.

Then they came to picket the funerals of AIDS patients.

Then they came to picket the funerals of soldiers killed in combat.

And now, having given up any pretense of having a particular target other than humanity and simple decency, they’re just showing up to any old random funeral, so long as they know that the news media will be in the area.

What they are doing now is no more, and no less, evil than what they did to Matthew Shepard’s family. I would say that the cruelty here is more bizarre, but it’s not, really, when you understand some basic facts about the Phelpses. They have shown repeatedly, by their words and their deeds, that they thrive on being hated and provoking reaction. There is literally nothing at all that is beneath them, as long as it gets their names and their websites in the news yet again. And it will.

14 replies to When you reach the bottom of the barrel, start digging. Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. bosco

    Louis Theroux did a special on the Phelps for BBC 2. It was called “The Most Hated Family in America”. Google video used to have the whole thing, but all I was able to find were these segments.

  2. Francois Tremblay

    What’s wrong with picketing dead soldiers? I don’t see any of us with enough courage to do it.

  3. Rad Geek

    Francois,

    You mean, other than trying to score a political point by exploiting the grief of bereaved family and friends on one of the single worst days of their lives?

    Even if the Phelpses were picketing soldiers’ funerals in order to spread an anti-war message, it would be despicable and gratuitously cruel to mourners who did absolutely nothing to deserve it. But, in any case, they’re not even doing that. They are picketing soldiers’ funerals in order to get their website mentioned in the news, so that they can get more people reading about how their terrorist God is smiting gay men, AIDS patients, soldiers, and apparently now just random college students, in order for Him to prove a point about the U.S. government’s fag army, etc.

    The Phelpses deliberately hurt innocent people in order to provoke anger and hostile reactions, because they can thereby get more attention for themselves. Callousness and contempt for the feelings of your fellow human beings is not courage. Exercising some minimal decency and compassion in the pursuit of your goals is not cowardice.

  4. Presto

    Not to mention the fact that protesting at funerals is strategically idiotic. Phelps’ protesting has done much to make non-Christians think that all Christians are cruel, evil, judgmental people. Matter of fact, If I was a cop or someone who wanted to alienate anarchists from potential supporters and sympathizers, I would hold a funeral protest while waving anarchist flags.

  5. Rad Geek

    Presto,

    Well, how strategically idiotic it is depends on what your strategic aims are. I think that picketing random murder victims’ funerals will succeed just as well as all of their other pickets in helping them to get what they’re after — primarily public notoriety and secondarily fodder for their self-image of persecution and martyrdom. Phelps et al. have never given a good god damn how many people hate them, or how many people project that hatred onto conservative Christianity as a whole, as long as they and their websites stay in the news.

    Actually, I don’t really think that anarchists ought to make decisions about political strategy in light of what will make anarchism most popular, either. (The goal is anarchy, not necessarily more anarchists.) But I think that this kind of tactic would be both foolish and completely unethical, for other reasons.

  6. Anon73

    For some reason this episode reminds me of a quote I heard somewhere. “The hater and the hated - two sides of a cracked mirror.”

  7. shiva

    Are those the dickheads who run that website “godhatesfags.com”?

    I’ve always wanted to create a parody of that called “godhatesflags.com”, using Christian scriptures to argue that patriotism and the existence of nation-states are blasphemy against God. (There are actually a surprising number of Bible verses that can be interpreted to say just that.)

    I’m not sure if i would want to do it actually pretending to be some kind of anarcho-Christian, or as an obvious, Onion-style parody tho…

  8. Rad Geek

    shiva,

    Yeah, the Phelpses (or Westboro Baptist Church, which consists almost entirely in Fred Phelps and his direct descendents) are the God Hates Fags people. They’ve now got a second project, God Hates America, where the basic idea is that the September 11 attacks, campus shootings, and pretty much any other death, destruction, or mayhem that happens in the United States these days, is God’s vengeance against America for the fact that we don’t hate fags as much as the Phelpses’ God thinks we ought to. Hence the picketing of soldiers’ funerals and, now, the funerals of random murder victims.

    For what it’s worth, I think a God Hates Flags website would be great, and all the better for being at least somewhat serious in its presentation of the content. I’m not a Christian, but I think that, as a matter of scriptural exegesis, Christian anarchism (as with William Lloyd Garrison, Leo Tolstoy, et al.) is the only consistent interpretation of the New Testament, and I view the primitive Church (up until Constantine) as being mainly a proto-anarchistic community. A number of the early Christian martyrs were killed because they refused military service, and would face death themselves before taking up arms for Caesar. Which makes perfect sense; there’s no possible way that I can see to reconcile any kind of worldly war whatsoever with Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also, and without worldly war there are no worldly States, either. The world today would be immeasurably better if all the Christians, so-called, in the world today actually believed in the red-letter Gospel and acted on it, rather than the idolatrous Established Church that has been going along to get along with Caesar, quite in spite of the clear meaning of the scriptures they claim to revere.

  9. camelCase

    and “God Hates Sweden” and “God Hates Canada”

  10. Anonymous

    They won’t show. It’s their habit to send press releases like this regarding any noteworthy death. I’ve worked at media outlets that received several such threats when local soldiers died, etc., and the Phelps gang never followed through. They don’t have the resources to go to even a small fraction of the funerals they threaten, but they don’t have to. The threat is enough to get the attention they crave, when people are (appropriately) horrified and (inadvertently) play into their hands by denouncing them.

    You’ll notice most national media no longer bother reporting on the Phelps threats, as they might have done a few years ago before there were enough data points to catch on to the pattern. While they, of course, deserve to be castigated as you do here, it’s actually counterproductive. Just ignore them in the future and the incentive to make the threats disappears.

  11. Sergio Méndez

    Charles:

    How do you interpret, from that anarchist interpretation, the passage of the “give to Ceasar…”? Wouldn´t that imply the reocgnition of Ceasar as a legitimate owner of talents? Would your interpretation include Pauline letters and other stuff in the new testament?

    P.S

    I´ve read your essay on dialectical anarchism, and I can say is really good. But I haven´t time to give you a more detailed review, for what it may be worth y review. I promise I will

    Sergio

  12. Rad Geek

    Sergio, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the essay. Thanks for the kind words.

    As for Matt 22:15–22, there are a lot of different interpretations (as there are of, e.g. the Pauline admonitions to obey the powers that be). I think the best understanding, and one which harmonizes with a lot of other red-letter sayings, is that Jesus is counseling against merely political adventurism.

    The context of the passage is a series of attempts by the Pharisees and Sadducees to ensnare Jesus with rhetorical traps, which are aimed at justifying a charge of either blasphemy or sedition. In this case, the trap to avoid is the notion that there is a question of conscience or religious principle involved in the decision whether or not to render tribute to the State. On Jesus’s view, there’s not; so long as obeying only means suffering evils yourself (such as the loss of money), rather than requiring you to inflict evils on other people, conforming to the demands Caesar imposes doesn’t mean that you acknowledge or accept Caesar’s demands for reverence, or his claims of lordship or sovereign authority over the conscience (which, on Jesus’s view, belong only to God). The divine law just doesn’t have anything to say about whether or not you should pay your taxes.

    Given that there’s no question of conscience or the sovereignty of God, I think that Jesus is also making a secondary claim, to the effect that confronting worldly powers over questions of comfort or property (in this case, the tribute money) is ultimately useless. These are precisely the things that Jesus constantly exhorts those around him to pay no heed to. They are of this world and the Kingdom of God is not. Tyrants should be confronted and rebuked, and disciples should be willing to confront them even at the cost of their own lives, but only for the sake of what is God’s, not for the sake of worldly possessions. If it’s just a matter of avoiding worldly suffering, then it’s often easier to do that by making a separate peace with Caesar rather than by worldly rebellion. But if it is a matter of conscience, disciples should be willing to face any deprivation and suffering whatever, even at the cost of their own lives.

    I happen to think that Jesus is right about the primary point (although obviously not for the theistic reason that he gives), but wrong about the secondary point. (Conscience is a good enough reason to defy the powers that be; but bread is a good enough reason, too.) But most Christian anarchists (Garrison, Tolstoy, et al.) never did lay much emphasis on propertarianism, anyway; their emphasis has always been on the absolute supremacy of divine law and individual conscience over worldly authority, and if wealth or personal property come up at all, it’s either as boons to be shared for the relief of the suffering, or else to be dismissed as a tempting distraction, or denounced as a source of corruption. So it’s not as if Jesus’s teaching here is at all out of line with what the Christian anarchists later took to be the lesson.

    In any case, my position is just that consistent Christianity entails Christian anarchism, and that certain important elements of Christian anarchism are quite admirable, and certainly far superior to the Statolatry that reigns today in most nominally Christian churches. Not necessarily that Christian anarchism is correct in every respect. There are plenty of varieties of anarchism that I disagree with on one or more important points.

  13. Araglin

    Rad,

    Do you happen to be familar with the English theologian John Milbank, the founder of the Radical Orthodoxy movement? He was profoundly influenced by the Anglo-Catholic Christian Socialist “Jubilee Group,” and seems to personally to incline towards a form of Christian anarchism (i.e., he likes Proudhon and other early non-statist french socialists, but also by William Cobbett, John Ruskin, and the English distributists). He is resolutely anti-statist, but doesn’t seem to like Global Capital or the “unfettered market” much either - perhaps at this point falling into the sort of package-dealing over the definitions of neoliberalism that Roderick Long has recently pointed out on his blog. Even, here, however, I read him to advocate no more than a kind of liturgically-tinged voluntary solidarism as a way of restraining some of the harmful effects of the “creative destruction” so typical of the state-capitalist marketplace.

    At the level of metaphsyics, Milbank is very much interested in rehabilitating the hieratic neoplatonism of people like Proclus and Iamblichus (which was later Christianized by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and John Scotus Eriugena, and strongly influenced Aquinas and Meister Eckhart, but seems to fallen out of favor circa 1300 AD) in order to mount a successful defense of the Good, True, Beautiful, and Peaceable against the complete indeterminacy, relativism, and nihilism that has tended to characterize the postmodern moment.

    While one of his main purposes is to advance the ontological claims that (1) peace is has absolute primacy over violence and coercion, (2) that violence and coercision are entirely contingent, privative realities, and (3) that ultimately there can be a peaceful practice and a peaceful coexistance of Difference, he nonetheless rejects the somewhat-facile pacificism characteristic of many if not most Christian anarchistis (Yoder, Hauerwas, and other so-called anti-Constantians).

    More generally, I think that there is an incredible (and thus far unexploited) potential for synthesizing the essential elements of Radical Orthodoxy with the conceptual apparatus of Austro-libertarianism, rightly understood. In fact, that’s what I’ve been trying to do in my head for roughly the last 4 years (in addition to attending lawschool).

    Further, I believe Milbank’s work, especially his essay “On Complex Space” from his Word Made Strange, contains the seeds of reconciling the better insights of more traditional, graded-hierarchical, “natural order” libertarianism which one might find in people like Hans Hoppe, with the absolutely crucial work regarding the concerns of the poor, the powerless, and the (non-coercively) exploited, which you, Roderick Long, and Kevin Carson have done such a good just of emphasizing. One way he does this is by elaborating on the importance of what he called neo-gothic complex space, which is really a kind of polycentric criss-crossing of plural corporate bodies (or freely constituted participatory bodies to rip some of your language), and to show how French pre-Marxist/Engelsian socialism actually strongly favored intermediate institutions and little platoons, and that these concerns were only later stolen (and distorted) by the political right.

    Some of Milbank’s more recent work has been trying to show based on Scriptural exegesis, Mariology, the Sophianic tradition, and certain early texts like the Shepherd of Hermas, that in addition to the incarnation of the Logos in the man Jesus, theology must also embrace what amounts to the double incarnation of the Holy Spirit in the Church (which is, nonetheless, only to be complete at the Eschaton). One important consequence of doing so is that even the traditional gender analogues used in Scripture can be retained without the subordination of the female. That is, all of the imagery of the Bride and the Bridegroom can be re-affirmed, without being Patriarchalist. I think perhaps some of these ideas were anticipated by Matthias Scheeban in the 19th Century and have been more recently considered by Luce Iriguray. On this view the arrival of Christ as God-Man is indissociable from the reception of Christ by the Church (or proto-Church in Mary). Not only that, but even the possibility of Christ is therefore only made possible by Mary’s “fiat.” In this way the response of the Church to Christ is not somehow a purely human reaction, but in fact typologically echoes the eternal response of the Spirit to the Logos within inner life of the Trinity.

    Unfortunately, Milbank has virtually no on-line presence, except for those of his working papers which are available for free at the website for the Centre for Theology and Philosophy: http://www.theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/papers.php

    Anyhow, I thought, should you ever have the chance and the inclination that this would be of interest to you.

    Keep up the good work! Araglin

— 2010 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

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