A lot of you know me as a verbose nerd. Those are two of the terms that I would argue summarize me the best: I enjoy the trappings and esoterica of nerdery and geekitude, and my mouth runs like a duck’s ass.
This website, as I’ve previously stated, is for me to share my love of games, literature, comics, and anything else that suits my fancy. That would be the “nerd” aspect of who I am. Occasionally, however, the world shifts in a direction that makes it impossible for me to keep my mouth shut, regardless of whether or not it’s a geeky subject. This occurred most recently with the passing of Harold Ramis, a writer without whom I certainly would not be the same man. I took it upon myself to eulogize his departure on Notes From The Conquistadork. This is the “verbose” part of who I am. And today, we’ll be heading right back into that territory.
Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, died yesterday. He went the way many have gone, and many of us will go: frail, probably frightened, and withered away through the malicious enthusiasm of cancer. It is pointless for me to recount the many grotesque exploits that Phelps and his family have laid upon the world–the hatred and vitriol that they attempted to spread was a cancer of its own. These attempts are well documented by most Americans, and I venture to say that there’s quite enough exposition on the internet to properly introduce you to Phelps and his flock.
I say that this hatred was merely “attempted” by the WBC because despite its world-wide fame, they remain a tiny, lonely institution. If anything, it is possible that their existence accelerated the causes of movements like the ACLU and GLAAD by giving a point of antagonistic focus for those of us who would see homosexuals receive the same rights afforded to heterosexuals. There’s no reason to suspect that this was ever the intention of Phelps–I don’t believe there’s any evidence to suggest that the WBC was orchestrated by some sort of demented Andy Kaufman. Regardless of their intent, their methods, or their convictions, no one can stop death. The WBC’s founder and patriarch is dead.
And I am glad.
It’s surprising that more people don’t feel that they have the right to express this feeling. Largely, I believe that it comes from a sense of not “sinking to their level”, which is an honorable goal. I certainly don’t support the idea of picketing his funeral, as many have argued is the appropriate response. But I am a little tired of this quasi-Buddhist response that I’ve seen many people throw out any time someone expresses relief that this man is dead.
The one I hear the most is “I won’t respond to hatred with hate” or “Hatred just makes more hatred” or something similar. The fact that I am glad of another human being’s death somehow makes me hateful–it somehow makes me spite filled. All of this despite the fact that I do not believe that I am a hateful person–nor do I hate Fred Phelps and his kin. I find them to be mindlessly violent and barbaric and suspiciously obsessed with anal sex. But to me that has never equated with hatred.
I hold Phelps responsible for his role in continuing the spread of an insidious zealotry that inspired the direct and indirect deaths and loathing of a group of people who have no control over their orientation. Whether or not Mr. Phelps’s death will slow or even stop the transgressions of his Church is up for debate–only time will tell. But Fred Phelps himself will never again be able to harass or vilify innocent homosexuals or soldiers and their families.
I’m glad that Fred Phelps is dead in the same way that I am glad that Jeffrey Dahmer is dead. In the same way that I am glad that Joseph Stalin is dead. Death is neither positive nor negative–it just is. When it shakes our world by taking someone we care about, we’re sad–we long for that person’s touch, support, and advice. The sadness that many of Fred’s family feels in the wake of his passing is no doubt a very real thing. And as someone who has experienced that emptiness and loss, they have my sincerest sympathies. However: none of that changes the fact that the world is a better place without Fred Phelps in it. This is not malicious talk–this is just the truth as I see it.
The “don’t respond to hate with more hate” is certainly sound advice. And if it is said in error, then it is at least erring on the side of humanity–which is respectable. I am big fan of humanity. I like a lot of its newer work better than the old stuff. I like the shifting, evolving nature of our universe–how nothing is ever new for very long. The wonders and beauties of this ever-living, ever-dying system of stars and smiles are for everyone–not just you and not just me. The lazy brilliance of autumn–that first moonstruck kiss after awkward dinner conversation–and your lipstick stains on a wineglass. We should be allowed to experience it all together. And when someone has literally dedicated their lives to limiting the experience of humanity to their own personal guest list, then how can the world not be a better place without their presence? To suggest otherwise is to be deluded. Sweetly deluded, perhaps. But blindfolded for the purpose of patting oneself on the back.
I do not hate Fred Phelps. But I am glad that he is dead.