Unsurprisingly, the hateful Westboro Baptist Church is upset about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to be married. The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is comprised largely of the family of its now-dead founder, Fred Phelps. This group of people pickets controversial funerals, holding up signs that say things such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” because—in their minds—all bad things that happen are the result of an angry deity, punishing us for our alleged sins. Here are two of their responses to the Obergefell ruling:
SCOTUS has taken the scriptural symbol of Christ & His Bride & shat upon it, wiping their black-robed backsides with the pages of the Bible.
— Westboro Baptist (@WBCSaysRepent) June 28, 2015
— Westboro Baptist (@WBCSaysRepent) June 29, 2015
I almost didn’t include those tweets, because I didn’t want to give them any free publicity. However, I decided that it’s more important to show just how crazy this group truly is. Most people would agree that these people are truly insane and hateful— and yet, they’re the ones who adhere most closely to what the Bible actually says. If the fundamentalists are crazy people, doesn’t that mean that the fundamentals themselves are flawed?
Most religious moderates cherry-pick which parts of their religious doctrines they want to follow. For example, the majority of Christians don’t believe the myth of the Genesis Flood. They don’t take the Bible as a literal text, because many of its tales fly directly in the face of science and common sense.
While the Bible forbids the consumption of shellfish, as well as haircuts, shaving, and tattoos, the book scarcely mentions the fact that their imaginary god hates gay people. While the book spends much more time outlining oddly specific instructions on how to buy slaves (and when to beat them), the book does say in no uncertain terms that gays should be put to death. So even the most fundamental groups, such as WBC, don’t literally follow every Bible verse. No word yet on whether they believe that bats are birds.
In many ways, the Westboro Baptist Church is like ISIS. Both groups are comprised of insane fundamentalists whose beliefs adhere strictly to the religious doctrines. We can just consider ourselves lucky that WBC—unlike ISIS—isn’t yet ready to start killing in the name of their god. The WBC are just as zealous as their Muslim counterparts, but they have yet to take that final step into the abyss of insanity. My guess is that the reason is simply that WBC has too few members to try to build its own theocracy, with a Christian version of sharia law.
While almost every topic is considered suitable for public discourse, the subject of religion is almost always considered to be taboo. People walk on eggshells while discussing religion, for fear of insulting peoples’ beliefs. This approach is detrimental to our growth as a society. There should be no subject that is immune to criticism or even, when warranted, to outright ridicule. While the beliefs of the WBC are certainly extreme, our lawmakers are doing their best to use their moderate religious beliefs as a basis for plunging us back into the Dark Ages. Whether it’s the continued attempts to sneak creationism into our schools, or the denial of climate change, these faith-based beliefs are doing considerable harm. What it comes down to is the severity of the theocracy that people would impose on us, while we sit idly by and pretend that it’s more important to not offend certain beliefs. As Lawrence Krauss brilliantly said:
Somehow saying that, well, anything goes, we shouldn’t offend religious beliefs by requiring kids to know — to understand reality; that’s child abuse. And if you think about it, teaching kids — or allowing the notion that the earth is 6,000 years old to be promulgated in schools is like teaching kids that the distance across the United States is 17 feet. That’s how big an error it is. Now you might say, look, a lot of people believe that, so don’t we owe it to them to allow their views to be present in school? Well, as I’ve often said, the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it.
The Westboro Baptist Church is the most extreme face of the insanity of fundamentalist beliefs, but they do one thing well. They perfectly illustrate the dangers and pitfalls of siding with faith over reason. As Christopher Hitchens said, “It’s called faith because it’s not evidence.” When such a hateful group’s beliefs so closely mirror the fundamental tenets of their religion, it’s time to take a closer look at that religion’s teachings and the damage that its doctrines can cause to our society, and to our future. The problem isn’t religion itself, because it’s important that we all have the right to believe (or not believe) whatever we want. The real issue arises when some people try to pass those beliefs off as fact, and use faith to influence our legislation and our education.
Even though it took until 2015 for gay people to have the same rights that the rest of us have, the timing is perfect. As we approach Independence Day, freedom takes on a new meaning—despite what the Westboro Baptist Church thinks.