Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Struggle to Love My Hateful Neighbors.

[ NOTE: Upon waking, as so often happens when bile is spilt in print, I rethought a bit of what I had written here—but, rather than backtrack or edit that which had already been dealt, I decided to let this testament to my anger stand & simply reformed/clarified a bit of my argument in the comment section. So, just to make sure you get the full & measured weight of my opinion on the subject, you should read through to there. Many Thanks, The Management ]

So, here's the thing: I have a couple of posts in the works—some movie/TV ponderings, a tribute to David Cross, a review of the new Pernice Brothers album—but all of that has been put on hold in favor of this diatribe. I know it's not new—I know it's obvious to anyone who might actually be reading this now—but after encountering a particularly vile pocket of Christian hate speech on our beloved World Wide Web, I feel the need to contribute at least one small voice against the juggernaut, the minutest of slingshots against this unwieldy & fumbling Goliath, who manages to poison more minds than He will probably ever understand.

There is something fundamentally amiss, I feel, about calling these people (& their various counterparts, at varying degrees of severity—referred to en masse as the "Religious Right") Christian. Clearly, from the Jesus fish on their cars & the Bible quotes misspelled on their picket signs, we are meant to understand that they are admirers of Christ—but I refuse to call them his followers. After reading large swaths of the Bible this past fall, I learned several interesting things: that all of the Big Players (Noah, Abraham, etc.) apparently lived for multiple hundreds of years (seriously—look it up); that "Satan" was originally a name that simply meant "antagonist"—as in, the provocateur in the Book of Job, who is not necessarily the Prince of Darnkess; &, most importantly, that Jesus was, above all, a preacher of acceptance—the kind that trumps social strata & pre-assumed prejudice. Anyone—anyone—who would start a website called "" has no business calling themselves a follower of Christ. It's just that simple.

I imagine that, if I posed this same thesis to any of the website's proprietors or supporters, I would receive a company line in the vein of we only hate people who hate God or we preach hate because the Bible preaches hate—to which I would respond, as I feel we all ought: BULLSHIT. Bullshit, utter & pure.

Look: the Bible is so, so very old—& has been translated & re-translated so, so many times—that it is, in fact, impossible to extrapolate the literal word of God from the literal words of the Bible. Anyone who claims that they can is just wrong; the very basis of Evangelicalism, certain other forms of Protestantism, Catholicism—the utter lunacy of "biblical inerrancy," that the Bible is infallible & divine—is actually just not possible at this point. Or, if you insist: this infallibility refers only to some ancient, molding text somewhere in Vatican City, written in Hebrew, NOT to the King James Bible in your motel room drawer or the Revolve magazine at your local Barnes & Noble. Because, as it stands today, the Bible just does not make sense as a document to guide modern human life, & therefore is in no way a valid justification for an attempt to marginalize an entire class of people.

This point was made far more snappily by Aaron Sorkin (filtered through the indignant & pointed bluster of Martin Sheen) in what will always be one of my very favorite episodes of The West Wing, which we will get to in due time—but, for now, let me just riddle you this: Do you believe that if a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment? Personally, I think that they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. Thank G-d, Leviticus 19:20 agrees!

Yes, gentle Reader, in the same chapter of the same book of the Bible that condemns homosexuality—or, well, the chapter right after it, as Leviticus 18 is essentially a long & detailed list of different kinds of incest—are the following decrees:

My point is not that Billy Ray Cyrus is responsible for the underage promiscuity epidemic (though those in charge of marketing his daughter are certainly not helping). Rather, my point is that half of these "decrees" are blatantly archaic, while the other half are being broken by phenomena such as celebrity fetishization & "pull yerselves up by yer own bootstraps" corporate greed—causes I have never seen a single letter-of-biblical-law church group take up with the same fervor as they do anti-gay rhetoric. The day I see a baptist minister railing against polyester blend shirts—or, for that matter, immigrant mistreatment—with the same venom as he devotes to gay people, I will at least be able to lower my wild cries of "HYPOCRITE" long enough to point out these two verses the hate-mongers have conveniently forgotten:

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. ... Do not hate your brother in your heart. (19:16-17)
Remember, this is in the same section of the Bible as the famous line that condemns homosexuality—& therefore deserves equal importance at least, or so I would think.

Still, if it came down to it, I imagine Pastor Fred Phelps & I would each ultimately wind up shouting at each other the second half of this more conciliatory verse, the half that groups like Westboro seem to hang their ever-weighty hat on: Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Judging by the number of their own rules these so-called Christians are clearly breaking—to love thy neighbor as thyself, among others—all in the name of the very shortest line in these two chapters, I think that I & many of my LGBT brethren have far more earned our right to rebuke—& rebuke we must.

As a firm believer in the First Amendment & all of its clauses, I would never support the banning of Baptist Christianity or its vile, vile websites. Ignorant people yelling hatefully is, unfortunately, one of the necessary evils inherent in real & present Free Speech. However, I absolutely believe, from the depths of my being, that we need to yell just as loudly back. For every sign that says "God Hates Fags" at the funeral of a fallen soldier, there need to be at least ten that say "God Hates Bigots." For every website that preaches ignorance & ill will, there needs to be a daily influx of negative comments, each brimming with the same vitriol these sites dole out. I am so very sick of liberals & LGBT organizations sitting back & doing damage control, while the Religious Right captures the eyes & ears of America simply because they are loud, inconsiderate assholes. Liberals need to start punching back against this hypocrisy, & soon.

So, with that: fuck off, Westboro Baptist Church—your supporters, your peers, all of you. Seriously. I hope you each endure serious, excruciating torture for all the pain you have caused, you rotten, rotten people.

I am so tired of turning the other cheek, of trying to respect your right to exist—when, in fact, those are supposed to be your values, ones that you somehow shucked off along with basic human compassion & any sense of decency. I will always speak loudly & wrathfully against you, so long as you are allowed to spew virulent hate speech against entire legions of people whom you have never met, who mean you no harm, & who, in fact, often do their best to tolerate you, even in the face of your blind & ill-informed intolerance of them. So, please, crawl back to your sterile, sexless prison of misconstrued "values" & arbitrary law, endlessly stabbing towards Meaning with only the blunt cudgel of "spirituality" & stale hatred at your disposal. You are cruel, & you are wrong, & your opponents will triumph.

All right, I've said my piece. Take it away, President Bartlet.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

To balance out the preceding heaviness & bile, here is something that actually, without fail, makes me weep with laughter: Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights (which, come on, is a pretty excellent song—or would be, if taken down an octave or three) synced, without any editing, to Zac Efron's Golf Course Dance of Angst & Defiance from High School Musical 2. It is a goddamn miracle how well—& hilariously—it matches up. Hallelujah.

(Here, too, is the James St. James post that led me to this masterpiece.)


  1. Firstly, that West Wing scene is so, so fantastic. That show has such excellent bits of dialogue.

    On a more serious note: I'm not sure that turning the other cheek might not honestly be the best way to oppose WBC. Their whole game is to behave utterly ridiculously in order to garner attention. They make a lot of their money from successfully suing people who protest just that little bit too much after WBC's gone and gotten a license to do their bit. Might encouraging loud opposition not be a bit counter-productive? Also, I think that in making themselves such utterly ridiculous attention whores, they lose almost all chance of anyone else taking them seriously. Terrifying and vile as they are, I'm not sure I see them as a particularly effective threat, at least in terms of public opinion.
    Back on a less serious note again: have you seen this? It's the tumblr account of one of Fred Phelps' own granddaughters (an older one, presumably, as Wikipedia tells me that she's the third child out of many of a daughter of Fred born in '57). She's been posting parodies of popular songs with the lyrics adapted to suit WBC's message. So far she's got Ever Burn (Lady Gaga's Telephone), Whorish Face (Poker Face), Shame (Bowie's Fame), and The Seal of Silence (The Sound of Silence).

  2. I totally understand your point—as it is, of course, mine. This post (which was born, truly, of a Struggle to Continue to Love my Hateful Neighbor) represents a blip in my otherwise unbroken approach of Just Ignore the Crazies Until They Go Away, Knowing All the While That You're Right. There comes a time, though, when everyone cracks—& last night (&, still, this morning—& for how long, I don't know) I'm mad as hell, & I'm not going to take it anymore. I have this rotten feeling in my gut that won't let me stand by, even from my tiniest of platforms, & let this hate speech go unopposed—because that's what it is. Can you imagine the numbers of people who would be up in arms if they put any other slur on those signs?

    So maybe the Westboro Baptist Church isn't really the best target—because, you're right, they are self-professed "media whores" & provocateurs—but this rhetoric, in (very) slightly less provocative terms, is being doled out daily in megachurches & on The 700 Club, & it actually makes me want to scream. So, I did the next best thing: I Blogged, as many a pissed-off liberal has done before me, to precious little effect.

    & I do still encourage loud opposition—maybe not picket for picket at WBC's detestable rallies as I hyperbolically suggested, but in a figurative sense, absolutely. In general—in politics, in religion (though the two have become nigh-inseparable when it comes to far too many spheres)—I feel like liberals, hippies, peace-lovers, all us softies need to engage in the debate in a way that punches back. It's not enough anymore to take the high road as a general approach.

    With WBC, I agree (in the cool, clear light of day): hitting back is exactly what they want. But I'm seriously considering starting some kind of letter-writing campaign, today, to get "Fair & Balanced" taken off of Fox News. Something, anything—because I'm mad as hell, & I'm not going to take it anymore.

  3. I'm with you on the need for more stronger opposition, but WBC is a particularly bad target for that opposition. Not only do they want people to fight back, they have (as far as I can tell) very little support outside a small, extremely radical base. There are plenty of conservatives, somewhat extreme in their own ways, who look at WBC and reject them as too outrageous. Everyone thinks they're crazy. Their hate speech can be incredibly painful to listen to, I know, but I honestly think the only way they can do anything meaningfully harmful is if we pay more attention to them. It's the people who say this sort of thing in a more palatable, accepted way that are dangerous, no?

  4. Right. That's essentially what I just said, but I'll say it again, for fun:

    I agree that directing my anger toward the Westboro Baptist Church was misguided—not because they are forgivable by any stretch of the imagination, but because by getting angry, I gave into their game. I did what they wanted me to do, just by reacting—like Guy Pearce in Memento, when Carrie Ann Fisher cajoles him into hitting her just so she can later use the bruises against him. I get it: I got sucked in. (Though, honestly, it's hard not to. They are very good at what they do—that is, being detestable.)

    However, I do believe—as I tried to point out by mentioning the Religious Right in the post itself, The 700 Club in the above comment—that in all other cases, those "more palatable" instances, we have to come out with torches & pitchforks & megaphones & shit.

    The Time Has Come, the Walrus said—& so do I. Seriously. How can it be that this Utter Hypocrisy isn't decried from every semi-political platform? Every microphone? Every window? I'm ready to tattoo this article onto the insides of the eyelids of every faux-Christian homophobe from here to Walla Walla, Washington. Just give me a pen.

  5. I think we're somehow managing to each agree with the other more than we realize. Apologies if I've misunderstood, and also if my "you've let yourself get sucked in" talk has been too accusatory. I'm very used to people who feel very strongly about this (as you and I do) not quite getting the idea that reacting strongly can sometimes be precisely the wrong thing to do. Believe me, in situations that call for megaphones, I'm all for the megaphones, though I can't say I know which way to point them at the moment...