God Hates You

The Westboro Baptists have a message for South Florida

Then Marge and her nieces travel to St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral, at NW 75th Street and Second Avenue, where she reprimands several sets of parents for bringing their children to this place. Their children, she says, might be raped. She adds, "Look at your hands! What you see is the rectal blood of all those raped altar boys! What you see is the blood of every soldier killed in Iraq!"

The families look on blandly, and eventually Marge says, "It occurs to me right now that I may be facing an audience that does not understand English." She shrugs and hoists her sign a little higher. "Oh well. They'll still get the message, one way or the other." Then Marge and her nieces sing, "The Pope! The Pope! The Pope is on fire! He don't need no water! Let the pedophile burn!"

What Westboro Baptist Church is really doing here is posing a question: Who is a Christian? Westboro's dogma comes unsweetened from a very old book of Middle Eastern origin. It is the most widely owned volume in the world and one of the least frequently read. The Westboro Baptists have read it, and they found rage and smiting and violence; it outlines an extraordinarily strict code of behavior, demanding swift and savage punishment for those who don't comply. They found the book Jonathan Edwards wrote about in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, the book of Cotton Mather and John Calvin.

Grace, Marge Phelps’s fourteen-year-old niece, delivers some of God’s tough love
Deirdra Funcheon
Grace, Marge Phelps’s fourteen-year-old niece, delivers some of God’s tough love
Marge Phelps: Salvation with a vengeance
Deirdra Funcheon
Marge Phelps: Salvation with a vengeance

Which means Westboro Baptist Church is not an aberration. It is a reminder of what real religion and real belief look like, divorced from the influence of secular culture. It is the Middle East condensed and put on display in a Midwestern terrarium. The atavistic believers of Westboro are frustrated. Either take the mean old God of Abraham seriously or don't, they say. You're either for the kingdom of man or you're for Heaven, and if you're for Heaven, you've got some very heavy summer reading and a lot of tricky thinking ahead.

They want us to pick a side: The Book or the world. And it's heartening to realize that, whether we know it or not, we already have.

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