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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Love and Hate are both four letter words

Regular readers of this blog (or, for that matter, most casual passers-by) know that I am somewhat irreligious. Okay, that's an understatement. I am, in fact, an atheist, which is about as irreligious as you can get. Now atheists are indeed well-loved in this country and our public image is first rate. (As a side note: can anyone explain what the hell this is all about?) So I have no reason to be at all hostile towards my fellow citizens who do believe in god. So, despite my lack of belief in god and, let's be honest, my vague sense that religion causes as much, if not more, harm than it does good, I'm not actually against religion. I am well aware that a belief in god is an epistemological position that I can't really challange and, indeed, that religion does do good things for people. You know... every once in a while.

Yet, even knowing that, I find that my commitment to such an inclusive position is challenged from time to time by particular religious groups. Most recently, it was challenged by the folks over at the Westboro Baptist Church who assert (and by "assert" I mean "it's their web URL") that God hates fags. Yes, I am entirely serious here. I was made aware of Westboro in all its "glory" by my Sainted Girlfriend, who forwarded me a copy of one of their protest flyers. (If the flyer won't display, right-click and save the file to your desktop.) This flyer was so unusually soaked with sheer, unrelenting hatred, that I had to investigate further. My sincere hope was that the flyer was a poorly-executed satire in the vein of the highly-entertaining Landover Baptist. Sadly, this proved not to be the case.

So is Westboro sincere in disapproval of homosexuals? Well, I'm going to say "yes," based on several bits of evidence. There's the "great" flash game Fags vs. Kids that provides a clue on this subject. Then there's the .pdf file arguing that all nations must immediately outlaw sodomy (i.e. homosexuality in their view) and impose the death penalty. (As before, right-click and save the file.) There's also the section of the website titled "Fags" which includes the following:

The word "fag" is a contraction of the word "faggot" (or, "fagot"). When traced through its etymological history, the word "faggot" simply means "a bundle of sticks used as fuel." See and (where such words as "fuel" and "brimstone" are used as synonyms). "Scholars" can't decide when such a word began to be used in reference to homosexuals, so we'll give the answer here: "I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." Amos 4:11. The word translated "firebrand" is the Hebrew word "uwd," which comes from a Hebrew verb meaning "to rake together" (or, "to gather together"). In short, the Hebrew word "uwd" is talking about burning sticks of wood that are gathered together. That is what the English word "faggot" means. Amos 4:11 could just as easily be translated " were as a faggot plucked out of the burning..."

For those geniuses out there who are asking, "are you saying that God hates burning pieces of wood?", the answer is "no, we're using it as a figure of speech, just like the Bible uses it." It is an excellent metaphor to describe sodomites because they fuel God's wrath, they burn in lust, and they will burn in hell. In Amos 4:11, the "fag" is the person who is sinning after the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah, has seen other "fags" overthrown by God, and still refuses to repent. So, the word "fag" refers to people who sin like the Sodomites did. It not only refers to homosexuals, but also refers to people who support homosexuals (see Romans 1:32), and people who engage in all other relatively "lesser" perversions (like impenitent premarital sex and adultery, including the adultery of all of you divorced-and-remarried "born again Christians"). On this web site, we use the word "fag" in accordance with Amos 4:11.

For those of you who have deluded yourselves into thinking that the story of Sodom isn't really talking about homosexuals, read the following: the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had completely turned away from God, and whenever that happens, homosexuality abounds. Paul described this in Romans 1, and you can read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Conditions in Sodom were so bad that it had become acceptable for men to surround Lot's house and ask to have sex with the men inside. Anybody who thinks that today is any different than those days needs to attend San Francisco's annual gay rights parade, stand along the parade route, and hold a sign that says "GOD HATES FAGS." You'll see and hear evidence of all of the sins of Sodom in just a few short hours (sodomy, violence, fornication, adultery, pride, sinful treatment of the servants of God, etc.) The same mob mentality that ruled the unlawful fags in the days of Sodom rules the unlawful fags today.

So, you know, it's nice to see that Christianity is a religion of tolerance and love. And before y'all jump all over me about that one, I should probably mention that Westboro addresses the question of whether or not Christian faith, and the Christian god, are loving:

Doesn't the Bible say that God loves everyone?

No. You are probably thinking of John 3:16, which says no such thing. The word translated "world" in that verse (kosmos) NEVER means every individual of mankind who has ever lived (see, e.g., John 17:9). Romans 9:13 says that God hated Esau, and Psalm 5:5 says that God hates all WORKERS of iniquity (e.g., fags). Other examples are Proverbs 6:16-19, Psalm 11:5, and Malachi 1:3. Given these verses, how can you say God loves everyone? Can you really say "God loves everyone" when God says "I hated Esau?" Does God love the people in hell?

Or, you are thinking of "God is love." God certainly is love, toward His elect (His children). But He certainly is not love toward the reprobate (children of the devil). That's why His elect go to heaven, and the reprobate go to hell. In Romans 9:13, which says "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated", Jacob is a representative of God's elect, while Esau is a representative of the reprobate. In Romans 1, the word "reprobate" is used to describe fags. Fags are reprobate. God hates reprobates. Therefore, God hates fags.

Furthermore, God specifically says that He ABHORS people who engage in sodomy (as well as other forms of sexual perversion): "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them...And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them." Leviticus 20:13,23. Understand? GOD ABHORS FAGS.

God's hatred is one of His holy attributes, whereby He reveals Himself as having a fixed and immutable determination to punish the finally impenitent with eternal perdition. God's hatred is not like man's hatred. His hatred is holy, pure, unchanging, while man's hatred is a sinful, fickle emotion.

Indeed, according to Westboro, the Bible also teaches hate, and god routinely causes natural disasters to express his displeasure. So, you know, we're dealing with basically the Old Testament God on a really bad day. Which, if you believe the Old Testament, was pretty much every day.

Now, I could ramble on about this place for a really long time. I could heap my scorn upon it, I could excoriate it until my fingers bled from all the typing, but frankly I don't have the heart for it. These folks basically take all the worst aspects of religion and combine them into the very Platonic form of unthinking hate. I've already taken on the burden of criticizing the Turner Diaries and one man can only be expected to take on so much stupidity at a time.

Instead, I want to present a different side of Westboro and see what people think. Reading through Westboro, it's easy to get the idea that this is a group dedicated to hatred. Indeed, their arguments that, essentially, "God is Hate," are so prominent, that one has to wonder if they're trapped in some sort of terrible sci-fi movie with a similar theme. Probably the most horrifying part of the website is the photos section in which we see shots from protests at the funerals of soldiers, at Gay rights events, at the former site of the World Trade Center, and at the Democratic National Convention. It would be very easy to decide, based on these pictures, that these people are dedicated to hate.

I believe, however, that deciding so would be an error. Let's consider the pictures in a bit more detail. Take a look at this picture of Westboro teens:

And this shot of small children showing their support for the Westboro cause:

And, of course, this shot of a young adult at a protest:

Everyone with me? Okay, now take a look at the following pictures, and see if you can spot some similarities:

(Hitler Youth)

(Female Hitler Youth)

(Pro-life Princeton University Students)

(Pro-choice marchers)

(Flying Spagetti Monster Propaganda)

(A bake sale)

Anyone see what I'm seeing? Well, here's a hint: in most of the above, the subjects are smiling. No matter what their cause, or reason for being, they seem happy and chipper in the pictures. When they're not smiling, they're often part of a group setting. Now do you see my point?

Well, then I'll explain. The thing is, in most of the above pictures, I don't think folks are centered on their cause. The little boys saluting Hitler, or the female track students, probably aren't in the grip of Fascistic furor. The pro-life students probably aren't smiling out of their adoration for the unborn. None of those pictured are responding as they are because of their ideology, they're responding that way because they feel included in the group.

In short, the subjects of these pictures are participating not entirely because of their ideological commitments, but because of their identities. By participating in these rituals these people are making themselves part of a group, and are probably experiencing the joy that comes along with being included. This joy is something that Emile Durkheim referred to as "collective effervescence."

Now think how this applies to the members of Westboro Baptist. Do these small children truly "hate fags?" Probably not. Hate is a pretty strong emotion and it takes a lot of work to make someone hate. Fear is easy, but hate is the sort of heavy emotion that takes time. Odds are these kids will learn to hate homosexuals in time, but right now I don't think they're quite there yet. Moreover, when you hate something, do you avoid it, or do you go out and provoke it? Some people are, indeed, crusaders and go confront that which they hate but most people seem to try and avoid those things they hate. So, these Westboro protestors, for all the damage that they do, aren't out in the world protesting because of hate, but rather because of love. Not love for their neighbors, but love for their sense of belonging. These protests, however hateful they may be, are just rituals integrating these individuals into their own primary and secondary groups.

So what does this mean? To me it suggests that to the extent that we label these people as members of a hate group, we are doing ourselves a disservice. The members of Westboro Baptist aren't really different from us- they love their families, they like to have fun, and they want to belong. We all want to belong somewhere. The problem is that they've fitted themselves into a group that shows its own strength by heaping loathing on others- it defines its own boundaries by painting everyone else in a negative light. If we want to combat this tendency, I think that's valuable, but doing so with an inaccurate understanding of why these people are waving placards is unlikely to be helpful. To label these people "hateful" may seem accurate but, in the end, conceals their true motivations. Such labels make the task of purging such hate all the more difficult.

To truly eliminate hate groups we must eliminate the need for them- and that doesn't mean combating hate. Hate is ancillary to the issue; most people aren't in these groups (in my view) because they need to hate, but because they need to belong. Our goal must be to find a way to integrate them, to make them feel welcome and at home, but in an environment that doesn't require them to loathe others.

Perhaps then we can live in a world where nobody's god has to hate fags in order for his followers to love themselves.


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