The Rev. Fred Phelps and his group have put out a video called "God hates the world." I'm not linking to it, you can find it if you must, but I think you should trust me to say that it's pretty much exactly what you think it is*.
I try to be positive about people like the Reverend because being negative doesn't effect anything and just makes me depressed. I'm glad to have someone in the world showing hippies what protestors look like to people who disagree with them. (Do you give a damn what they yell or what goes on those people's signs? Do you even really think about it? Even if one or two people give them the thumbs-up, does that help their cause? Excepting the emotional damage done to mourners at the funerals they picket (which gets them nothing except the satisfaction of hurting people), do the institutions picketed suffer anything other than inconvenience? When there's media coverage of them standing there, waving their disagreeable signs, does it help them get what they want? No, No, No, No are my guesses on the first few questions, I know the answer to the forth is "No" because I know their legislative goals and they haven't even begin to have been met. Anyway, when you protest, assume people feel similarly and that the only real benefit is to your ego. Which is not to say I won't be going to the big Gay rights protest in DC this fall if only to keep the ChaliceRelative out of trouble.)
For another decent thing, maybe: these are loser rednecks from Kansas who feel like they are an army from God. I can't even imagine what that feels like.
Also, they've made "Hell's Angels" into a socially acceptable group. Hey, that's something.
But mostly, when I think about Fred Phelps, I'm confused by the angry God he imagines. The being they describe, infuriated that we who have free will won't do what he wants us to without any particularly reliable guide to what he wants us to do save people who claim to know* and books written by people who claimed to know a long time ago, reminds me of nothing so much as a little kid, too young to understand how the Sims works, having a temper tantrum because the characters in his video game won't do what they want. Indeed, a God who is freaking out in any sense over human behaviors doesn't seem much worthy of worship.
To me the idea of God having any particular plan for the world and God having the power to carry out said plan doesn't really make any sense given the state of the world unless God's plan is "give people free will and see what happens," which suggests a certain emotional divorce from the process and, again, a certain unlikliness to him getting upset at people for falling in love in ways that he allows them to do so, or really anything else excepting possibly genocide, for that matter. If God were really the cause of natural disasters and used them to punish in any consistent sense, that pattern would be obvious. If God wanted people to be happy all the time or to reward only the good, that pattern would be obvious.
Indeed, the only real patterns I percieve in the universe is that the universe is mechanistic enough to run and chaotic enough to not run predictably.
Personally, I tend to conceive of God as a transcendent force for good that doesn't cause storms or do anything else to directly impact the world other than through the actions of people. Some evolutionary explanations have come up to explain the human desire to create things, for example, but none of them are much more than theoretical as far as I can tell, and note of them explain why other animals with almost-as-big-brains haven't developed SOMETHING to suggest they are more slowly proceeding down the same path. Animals cooperate and help each other in either very basic ways, or complicated-but-mechanistic ways. Human interactions are much more complex, and working together, we help each other out and we achieve things that other creatures can't conceive of, partially because of an internal drive we have to help wach other out and to create. I tend to think that (a) there's something special about humans, which is one reason to call oneself a humanist and (b) that if I'm going to believe in this transcendent force for decency and creation, I should call it something and that something might as well be "God."
So you can see why I have so much trouble with the Reverend's faith. It seems really, really alien to me to think that there's a man up in the sky getting upset over the behavior of individual humans, especially upset enough to "hate the world."
It's a common political trick to argue with the extremists on the other side, then say that you and the ENTIRE other side can't POSSIBLY understand each other. I'm not doing that. I know Christians, even fairly conservative ones, who don't really consider Phelps one of their number any more than liberals are particularly happy to own eco-terrorists or hippies who blew up buildings in the 1960s**. I've had many a frutiful dialogue with people who disagree with just about everything I've said theologically here.
But I just don't get God hating the world.
*This seems like a good time to reiterate that I don't have to follow courtroom evidence rules on my blog.
**One could set up a business-school-style rubric categorizing these folks into "obviously crazy" and "insightful" (Early Jim Jones), "obviously crazy" and "not insightful" (Average guy in Lafeyette Park with a sign quoting Revelations) "not obviously crazy" and "insightful" (the Dalai Lama in general), "not obviously crazy" and "not insightful" (the current Pope, except that thing about condoms in Africa is pretty crazy). But any two people would almost never agree completely on which prophets go where.
Honestly, non-self-proclaimed prophets who don't even necessarily write about God but write honestly and insightfully about the Human condition have done more to provoke spritual thinking in me than anyone above. IMHO, one Jane Austen novel or even one Miss Manners book teaches more by implication than these folks can spell out, though I'll be the first to admit that the Dalai Lama has his moments.
*** Those examples took a minute to think of. Say what you will about liberal extremists, they don't generally run around killing people who disagree, or haven't since the sixties. Conservative extremists are a lot deadlier and a lot quicker to write people off as collateral damage. One shouldn't judge a movement by extremists, but still...