“Faust: When you are labeled Lord of Flies, corrupters, liars, All right—who are you then? Mephistopheles: Part of that force which would do ever evil, and does ever good.” Goethe – Faust
I wonder if maybe that slimy piece of dreck, Fred Phelps, may be doing some unintentional good. After all, he and his cult are providing such a detestable, easily understood picture of a certain sort of religiously inspired bigotry. By loudly, unashamedly pushing their deranged ideology, the Westboro creatures may be helping promote the very liberalization they fear. In the shadow of Darth Phelps, even more benign forms of homophobia and misogyny take on a darker cast than they have hitherto. If this is true, their mistake has been in attacking victims who have so far never been linked with the causes of gay rights and women’s reproductive freedoms. By protesting the funerals of straight soldiers (many of whom would have been shocked to learn that they died protecting gay rights) and by cheering natural disasters such as the recent tornadoes or the attacks on 9/11, they have inadvertently given progressive causes a new, more respectable pedigree.
Likewise, all the negative attention Westboro is getting may have a healthy effect on American Christianity. Phelps is exposing the ugly underbelly of the Religious Right in this country. In many areas, he is merely pushing the same social agenda other, more polished and media-savvy “Christians” such as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and the late, unlamented Jerry Falwell have been preaching for years. Unlike them, he has no time for code words, and the tortured logical-sounding arguments they deal in. He is exposing these hateful doctrines for what they are: profoundly un-Christlike. I wonder if the net effect may be that some Christians, at least some of the newer generation, will focus more on issues of social justice and love than attempts at right-wing social engineering. These, the issues closest to the heart of the Biblical Jesus, have all too long taken the backseat to conservative obsessions such as abortion (which Christ made no mention of) and gay rights (to which he paid virtually no attention at all). Like Mephistopheles, Phelps may be helping the cause of human freedom and dignity move forward, despite his desire to infect the world with his neurotic darkness.