Protesters who are delusional enough to think that their protests make people care about their causes are plenty annoying enough. Protesters who KNOW they are just doing it to be hurtful really get me.
The one tiny bright spot is that I was reading the comments on an article about the Westboro Church's actions
and somebody linked to this.
I should clarify that people who dedicate large chunks of time to maintaining parody Christian sites mostly scare me and remind me very much of the people they are parodying. But this one is small enough and silly enough to not bug me.
I don't pretend to be an expert on the Phelps clan, but it seems to me there is a third, more specifically theological explanation for their protest actions. I think that it isn't that they think their protests will change people's minds, nor that they are doing it just to be hurtful. Rather, it may be that their actions are designed to signal to their overpowering and angry deity that they are fearfully following his commands as they understand them--i.e., the intended audience of the protests is not the mourners, media, bystanders, or homosexual persons. Funerals merely provide the arena within which to enact their ritual, which is performed for the viewing pleasure of God alone. A likely secondary intention of the protests is to model group boundaries and solidarity for the Phelps people themselves. This is common in New Religious Movements--society-defying public rituals demonstrate to followers that the outside world is against them and thus they must band together unquestioningly, create the venue in which solidarity can be expressed, and demonstrate the bravery and righteousness of members of the in-group.
In other words, it's not about gays, it's about God, and it's not about convincing outsiders but convincing themselves. Just my take on it.
(((Funerals merely provide the arena within which to enact their ritual, which is performed for the viewing pleasure of God alone.)))
Why the funerals of dead soldiers and celebrites, then? I'm doubting that even the most delusional protester believes that God pays more attention to dead celebrities than dead regular people.
I see your point about group bonding, but again, that could be achieved at regular people's funerals just fine. I still think their choice of protest venues alone speaks more to my original vision of protesting for the attention of the mourners and the media, not God.
Y'know, as I was drifting off to sleep last night, I thought to myself, "I wonder if Phelps is gonna bring his freak show to the funeral?"
Can we get the motorcycle gang that runs interference at soldiers' funerals to show up for this one?
My understanding, which is far from complete, is that they do protest at lesser-noticed events as well. These simply aren't circulated as widely in the media, so we don't hear about them as often. I wonder if there is a list of their protests sites available.
Protesting at soldiers' funerals is definitely consistent with their theological viewpoint. From their perspective, God is overwhelmingly powerful, critical of humanity, and personally active in the world. Thus when bad things happen to groups of people, it is because they have transgressed God's law. The United States is called to be a godly nation yet tolerates homosexuals, whom God (allegedly) abhors as an abomination. Therefore God punishes the USA by slaughtering the country's soldiers on the battlefield, sending hurricanes, etc, etc. A dead soldier is not a war hero but a sinner-by-proxy who threw his/her life away defending a fallen nation that harbors God's enemies. Protests announce this fact, chastising the sinful in the manner of the ancient prophets and more importantly demonstrating to God once again that the Phelps group does not partake of the nation's sins and therefore a) should not be a target of God's wrath, which they greatly fear, and b) are righteous people with appropriate fear and awe of God's anger and might.
Non-soldiers who die are not necessarily killed by a vengeful God, whereas soldiers (warriors of a sinning nation) are by definition important targets for God's wrath. That's why the Phelps people protest at soldier's funerals.
Protesting Heath Ledger's funeral is obvious. He "promoted the homosexual agenda" by starring in a sympathetic gay role and therefore God struck him down in his youth. Ledger's very public advancement of tolerance toward homosexuals makes him a prime target that fits perfectly with the Phelps mindset.
I wouldn't say that media considerations play NO part in the actions of the Phelps group. But there is no need to assume them as primary motivations when there are clear, consistent internal theological views that explain their actions. They're not just trying to get on TV or just trying to hurt mourners--they're primarily trying, I believe, to talk to God and themselves through the medium of public protest, something that has a pedigree that stretches back through the entire history of Christianity and into the prophets of the Old Testament.
I disagree. I think well-done parody sites can be quite entertaining. I mean, look at The Onion for God's sake. :-)
One of my personal favorites is I Love Tom Delay.
Protesting has its limits regardless of the message.
I hadn't heard about the planned protests until I read about it here, but thanks for providing explanations that make quite a lot of sense, Jeff.
TheOnion is fun. I meant parody sites that focused on Christianity a la LandoverBaptist.org. For the first few minutes, they're funny.
Then I think about how angry you have to be to devote that much time to mocking Christians, and it just becomes sort of sad.
I have colleagues in Religious Studies who have consistently had students ignorantly cite Landover Baptist as an actual Baptist site and representative of mainstream Baptist views. Hasn't happened in my classes yet but it seems like just a matter of time. . . I can't even count the number of student papers citing Wikipedia I've received, often with very poor information. Student research these days seems to consist of typing a few keywords into Google and then mainly printing out whatever looks best from the first three or four hits. < /rant>
I agree that The Onion, which I love, is not quite the same sort of thing as Landover-type parodies. I find Landover sort of fascinating but also sort of depressing. By the way, did you notice that the God who hates figs also hates Unitarian Universalists?
"Then I think about how angry you have to be to devote that much time to mocking Christians, and it just becomes sort of sad."
Although sometimes there is good reason for the anger. My best friend from law school became angrily atheist after his brother killed himself because his inability to overcome his homosexuality, which their parents condemned (to the point of sending him to de-gayification camp). His brother had become convinced that they were right and that there was something so deeply wrong with him that if he couldn't fix it, he shouldn't live.
I think like most kinds of anger, this is essentially futile, but I sympathize with what drives it.
Jeff - there have been a few studies that show wikipedia is a lot more accurate than one might suspect. In fact, experts on a given subject have given it a higher rating than the average person (or layperson).
But I've met several teachers who look down on Wikipedia. From my perspective - as a person who grew up with outdated, imperialist encyclopedias and racist, sexist textbooks, I think those teachers are stuck in the past.
Not to diminish the importance of books, of course.
Here's a link to one such study, and a second link to another.
Hafidha, thanks, but I'm not buying it. I'm not "stuck in the past"--I'm 32, just out of grad school, and trained in post-colonial studies (among other areas). I'm as critical as they come toward earlier paradigms in my field, but that doesn't make Wikipedia good. When I log on to Wikipedia I see many factual errors and distortions in the articles related to my field. In fact, Wikipedia is in many ways the second coming of those outdated imperialistic encyclopedias you cite because much of the material at Wikipedia is cut and pasted directly from such ancient sources. Why? It's easy--they're in the public domain now due to their age, whereas newer, more accurate sources are still copyright protected and may be aggressively pursued if placed on Wikipedia.
When a researcher finds some good data on Wikipedia somewhere then everybody talks about it because it goes against their assumptions. But that's hardly a realistic portrait of Wikipedia as a resource or what university professors want. We want our students not to go to Wikipedia, where there is no accountability and lots and lots of junk "data," and we want them to avoid older, outdated paper resources as well. It's not as if those are the only two sources!
We want them to do the small amount of legwork it takes to go to the library, do some legitimate research (perhaps with help from a reference librarian), and start unlocking the excellent, more trustworthy resources of current journals, recent peer-reviewed publications, and primary source texts that represent actual learning. Turning on your computer in your dorm room, spending five minutes reading (and perhaps highlighting and pasting from) Wikipedia, and then turning in a paper full of errors is not acceptable as a research method at the university level. Don't take this as a caricature of how people use Wikipedia--I know for a fact that many students use it this way because they admit it.
I agree that students shouldn't be using Wikipedia -- or any other encyclopedia -- as a source for research papers, and the folks at Wikipedia agree. Wikipedia nonetheless does other things very well. It is a good source of uncontroversial information (e.g. on subjects like Japanese poetry) and a quick primer on relatively new subjects like weather derivatives (a type of financial instrument that didn't exist 10 years ago). My parents bought a full set of encyclopedias when I was 9, and I used to spend hours leaving them flipped open on their spines as I cross-referenced from one article to the next. It's much easier to be able to go from one link to another -- and it allows one to see original documents, photos, music and other useful sources.
Jeff - I'm not a fan of lazy researching, by any means. But I also don't agree with teachers telling students not to use it (and I have heard first hand from teachers about this). Hopefully, by the time a kid is in college they will have learned such valuable skills as critical thinking, and learned the guidelines of research writing.
Hafidha--you'd like to think so, but my experiences in multiple universities would prove you misguided in your confidence in undergraduates' skills (or judgment). Better to tell them not to use Wikipedia and spend lots of time, as I do, guiding them toward far better resources. I spend hours every single week beyond my required on-campus time meeting with students and counseling them on better reading, writing, and research skills. The level of "education" they arrive at university with (and I'm talking about decent students at reputable universities) is frightening. This is not hyperbole.
PG: I'm no Wikipedia-hater. I use it everyday. But I use it to look up pop culture stuff, like Doctor Who or Star Trek or as a first stop to look for kanji that I don't know. I would never, ever cite Wikipedia in a class paper (to say nothing of one for publication, of course). And that's what I'm objecting to here: not the everyday use of Wikipedia, but the mistaken impression that it provides information reliable enough to pass classroom higher academic standards. It does not.
Apologies, CC, I seem to be taking your thread in a very unintended direction.
Post a Comment