Fred Phelps is dying, to the internet’s unbecoming glee. A Wisconsin woman has created a Facebook page called Fred Phelps Death Watch, which announces that “1 like = 1 death prayer for Fred Phelps!” The exclamation point makes it fun. “Sometimes it’s easier to make light of an ugly situation and to just laugh at everything,” she told USA Today, missing an important aspect of being good-humored: you laugh at bad things that happen to you. The Westboro Baptist Church brings out the worst in everybody. For example, a Twitter account that once belonged to Phelps’s daughter announced over the weekend that the church would protest Phelps’s funeral.
First of all, constantly yelling about how other people are going to hell does not give you an evil face at all. Second, the face of evil broke into a wry grin this weekend, when The Satanic Temple performed a “pink mass” over the grave of Catherine L. Johnston, intended to turn the spirit of the Westboro Baptist Church founder’s deceased mother gay. Obviously, Phelps’s mom is in heaven, because she did such a great job with Fred. Also, according to Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves (real name: Todd Feldman,) a Pink Mass properly performed at a gravesite “changes the sexual orientation of that person in the afterlife.” So now a gay person is in heaven, which is a real coup for Satan. Or it’s satire from a source you’d least expect. Probably the second one.
Camus famously remarked that by age 40, every man has the face he deserves. Fred Phelps is considerably older than 40, and his face has been startlingly disfigured by constant, hateful yelling. He looks like evil Gerald Ford, or possibly the alien from Enemy Mine. Phelps is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church,* a small congregation in Kansas that has drawn national attention for its protests at the funerals of Iraq War veterans, Elizabeth Edwards, and anyone else that might draw attention to their message, which is pretty much that God hates everybody. “You cannot preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God,” Phelps is fond of saying. His essential contention is that, because the United States tolerates homosexuality and abortion, everything bad that happens is God’s punishment and should be praised. He’s what theologians call a complete asshole, and his indecent, message-free publicity-mongering embodies all that is worst in protest. Earlier this week, Phelps announced Westboro’s intention to protest the funeral of Christina Taylor-Green, the nine year-old girl shot by Jared Loughner during his attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. That’s why the Arizona legislature quickly passed a law yesterday banning protests at funerals. It’s also why I’m making this rueful face when I say that they shouldn’t have done that.