Age of the Geek
Forgive or Forget?
Fred Phelps is dying.
What do we do about this?
I don't mean, "what do we do to save him?" of course. As former leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Phelps and his few dozen followers have already wasted too much of the world's precious oxygen shouting obscene things at grieving funeral-goers.
I mean, how should a civilized society react to his death? After all, for a man who has caused such anger and pain, certainly his passing should invoke some sort of reaction. Right?
I've seen a lot of suggestions in the comments section of various news articles on the subject. Granted, Internet comments frequently display a level of humanity barely above the people of the WBC, but more often than not you can pull a few good ideas out of the rabble.
The most obvious one of course is to do unto Fred Phelps and his family the same thing they did to so many others. One has to admit that it'd be no small amount of poetic justice to picket and protest the funeral of Fred Phelps, returning to him all the hate he created.
That said, revenge is rarely productive and it's not like members of the WBC are capable of feeling shame anyway. We won't gain anything by crawling down in the mud with the Phelps clan.
A similar, but opposite, suggestion I saw was to overwhelm the funeral with forgiveness. Go in with signs that say "We forgive you," and whatnot.
That, to me, seems like an equal waste of effort. Not to mention insincere. Phelps won't be forgiven, his family won't look at an outpouring of good will and change their ways, and at the end of the day passive aggressive is no better than open aggressiveness.
The problem with either of these suggestions is that whether you shower Phelps with hate or love, you're giving him attention, and that's all he's ever wanted. Phelps may have brainwashed members of his congregation into actually believing the things they put on those picket signs, but personally I doubt he drank a lot of his own Kool-Aid. The WBC's campaign of hate was never designed to win over hearts and minds. From the start it was designed for maximum shock value.
Phelps was a disbarred lawyer and a failed politician. He couldn't get anybody to pay attention to him by being their hero, so he pushed the First Amendment to its limit and became their villain instead.
And to his credit, he was a great villain. If there's one positive thing that Fred Phelps accomplished, it was that he united virtually everybody in the nation against him. Whether you are liberal or conservative, religious or not, or prefer Pepsi or Coke, virtually everybody across all spectrums could agree that Fred Phelps was a terrible human being.
Even the Klu Klux Klan, the former standard in villainous bigotry, denounced Phelps and his organization.
Ironically, his almost cartoonish portrayal of a homophobic bigot probably did a lot to further the acceptance of gay people. After all, nobody looks at members of the WBC and says, "Yeah, I want to be like those guys."
So that's something I guess.
But back to the topic at hand.
In the end, I think the best thing we can do in regards to Fred Phelps is to forget about him. Let him die alone and miserable and give him no more of the attention he hurt so many others in his quest to obtain.
Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and is well aware of the irony in that last paragraph, but he needed a column topic.