Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to take a moment to talk about one of the most fascinating men in the world. I'd like to take a moment to talk about Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr.
Fred Phelps is the leader and founder of an organization called the Westboro Baptist Church, best known for their pickets and protests of military funerals and the ongoing campaign of virulent homophobia as preached through websites such as GodHatesFags.com, GodHatesAmerica.com, and yes, even GodHatesTheWorld.com. He is the most vocal proponent of anti-homosexual rhetoric in the world today, has prompted the creation of several laws specifically to combat his reprehensible tactics, and leads his congregation family to a staggering average of six protests per day. He is easily one of the most reviled men in Western civilization today.
And I just love him to bits.
Don't get me wrong, now. Obviously, I don't agree with a word the man says. He's a nut, and a dangerous nut. There are many people who believe that his message needs to be silenced and that the world will be an objectively better place when his shrivelled black heart finally collapses in on itself.
I disagree. I think that Fred Phelps provides a very valuable service to the world at large, and I think that we as a species will be poorer when he finally does vacate this planet. I believe this, primarily, for three reasons.
1) Along with individuals like Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il, Fred Phelps is one of the closest things we have in this world to a cartoon supervillain.
It might help, here, to explain something about Fred's philosophy. See, he's not just anti-homosexuality. He doesn't preach his message because he's hoping to win converts over to a version of Christianity that's a bit harsher than usual on the gays, but otherwise traditionally orthodox. No. Fred Phelps preaches that, due to the world's widespread acceptance of homosexual behaviour, that God literally hates the entire world, with the tiny exception of his 71-member church. God hates not the sin, but the sinner. Fred Phelps' God is a god of Hate, and Phelps is his megaphone, rebroadcasting his message of universal antipathy and malevolence to the planet in general - not in the hopes that we will reform or repent, but rather as a way of kicking us on our way down to Hell.
Fred Phelps doesn't want us to repent. He wants us all continue sinning so that we will all go to Hell, because he hates us. Fred Phelps has never met me, but he already hates me. And Fred hates us all because he believes God hates us. The God that Phelps follows is the Bizarro version of the God known and preached by the vast majority of Christian sects - indeed, the God followed by the vast majority of religions. Phelps' God is the God of Opposite Day, a polarized reversed mirror image of all that is truly good, holy, or loving.
I like to think of the man's brain as a science experiment, as though somebody went through his entire consciousness, flipped every single component around backwards, then started it up again to see if it would run in reverse.
Perhaps the most shocking quote I've ever seen about his work comes from the mouths of his granddaughters, in a piece of unaired documentary footage, as written in his church's Wikipedia article: "[they] explain that they hope and pray that no one outside of Westboro becomes 'elect', because they want everyone else in the world to die horribly and burn in Hell, and that even if they did not believe their actions were dictated by God, they would still do and enjoy them anyway".
Think about that for a second. Phelps' granddaughters are so committed to his ideology of hatred that they'd hope to continue in his footsteps even if they knew for a fact that they were wrong.
Phelps preaches hatred as a virtue and forgiveness as a vice. He is an Opposite Man. He is the closest thing to Pure Evil we have on this planet.
As such, he provides a magnificent opportunity for the people of the world to rise up in one harmonious voice of opposition. Phelps is the stark black that causes a panoply of vibrant colours to stand out all the brighter in contrast. He makes the rest of the world a more vivid, more full, more diverse place simply by existing.
He stands at the far end of the spectrum of human behaviour, stretching that line further apart than would otherwise be conceivable. He makes politics more exciting. He makes debate more invigorating. He makes the whole planet weirder.
My life is richer, somehow, simply because I know that he exists.
2) Fred Phelps, as an Opposite Man, actually accomplishes the opposite of what he ostensibly intends.
Homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, asexuals... all can come together in counter-protest, re-affirming their tolerance and love for each other in ways that would otherwise go unsaid. Bigots and homophobes are compared to him, and feel chastened that their misbehaviour would lump them into the same category with such a madman. Press events and media coverage of his insane demonstrations cannot help but expose his message for what it is - a contemptible and bizarre message of utter misanthropy.
Fred cannot be misrepresented. His message, odd as it is, is clear and unmistakable.
Because I believe in the stark opposite of every sentence the man preaches, I am happy to hear him preach them. Every word he speaks is opposed and striven against simply because he's the one who said it. He rages against sexual diversity, we rally against him to reinforce it. He disrespects and harasses the military, citizens come together to reaffirm their patriotism and support for their troops. He supports a candidate, their poll numbers drop. If he were to put out a message tomorrow saying that he loves Pepsi, more people would start drinking Coke.
Whatever Fred does, people will rush to do the opposite, and I love this because, quite literally, everything the man says and does is wrong.
3) Finally, Fred serves a valuable public service in the United States - and, in a larger sense, in the whole Western world. He is the canary in the coal mine of Free Speech.
In all his decades of "ministry", although he has been in and out of courtrooms almost constantly, the man has never served a second of jail time.
Granted, this is primarily because he and his cult are almost all legal experts who manipulate and dance around the legal system like horse flies tormenting an angry camper, but the point remains - Fred Phelps does what he does, says what he says, and has never, ever been to prison in any nation in the world.
It is fashionable, in some Christian circles, to panic about intermittent legal reforms that promise to enforce tolerance and prohibit hate speech. Pastors will be arrested in the pulpit, these evangelical Chicken Littles tell us. It will become illegal to read the Bible! Churches will be forced at gunpoint to hold gay marriage ceremonies, elect homosexual leaders, and Leviticus will be torn out of our Scriptures by jackbooted PC thugs and replaced with Heather Has Two Mommies.
In response to this fashionable panic, all one has to do is point in the general direction of the magnificent Mr. Phelps.
"Really?", I can say. "You're scared that our increasingly secular culture won't tolerate your message? Because this dude is a free man, and have you heard the crap that he's saying? Fred Phelps is a free man. If you're worried that your congregation will be the first against the wall, I wanna hear what you've been preaching, because it must be really crazy."
The problem simply does not exist. When Phelps is finally hauled off to the loony bin and/or gulag, we can all panic for our rights, but until that day, rejoice! You want to see how free our speech is? It's this free, my friends. If you head out to Topeka, Kansas, you can say crap up to and including this offensive.
I don't know about you, but that makes me feel really good inside.
So preach on, Fred. Preach on. May God bless you, and long may you live.
And when you exit this mortal coil and find the Almighty and his heavenly host among your innumerable detractors, I hope you find the mercy that you would deny the rest of the planet.