The Westboro Baptist Church is a malignant and cancerous offshoot disowned by any Christian organization fit to show its face in public. It’s the sort of inverted theology that manages to twist “turn the other cheek” into a euphemism for telling people to kiss your ass. They’re quite frankly abominable human beings, who have twisted every essential message of love in their religion of choice into a commandment of judgment and hatred. One of their most enduring trademarks has been the protesting of the funerals of individuals with whom they disagree. The infamous “God Hates Fags” signs made their appearance outside the funerals of as varied a list of individuals as Mr. Rogers, Matthew Shepard and Iraq War veterans. The organization is hardly even an organization so much as a particularly malicious island of a family. Its membership is little more than the extended family of Fred Phelps, the aging patriarch and preacher of the church.
There’s a fascinating dichotomy to Phelps, one neither he nor his family seems to ponder much. He was a civil rights attorney during the sixties, famed for taking on the most difficult cases in the war for equal rights for all races. But blacks are different than gays, the family insists. Being black is not a choice, they say, being gay is. They hit Comic-Con last weekend, with the tenuous rationale that Jesus was the only true hero and that everyone was wasting time reading comic books. There were some other half-hearted stabs at idol worship and such.
One could tear to shreds these rationalities with laughable ease. Jesus the only hero? What about Moses? Abraham? Paul? Idol worship? Come now, it’s not that difficult to distinguish between enjoying something and worshiping it, else there would be a half dozen nascent religions in every household in the country. But then to the Westboro sort, that’s exactly the problem. Love ice cream? Don’t enjoy it too much. Love sports? Same thing. Love to read? There’s only one book worth reading.
Among certain ascetic fanatics there is a deep conviction that anything people enjoy must be tinged with sin. God created the world, filled it with enjoyable things, and then told you not to touch any of them. If that’s your mindset, then Lucifer’s rebellion makes more and more sense. Imagine the terrible tragedy of a universe with a tyrant for a creator, no escape, no recourse but to follow the irrational rules and hope you make it out the other side. You vilify and tear down anyone not toeing the line, because you live in terror of the insolent drawing the attention of the warden’s indiscriminate boot. It’s the world view of a four year old with an abusive father.
So Westboro shows up for a scheduled 45 minutes of protesting. There are only four of them, with four or five signs strapped to each of them to increase their mileage. Only a couple of the signs even have the remotest thing to do with Comic-Con, the rest are about God hating gays, one’s a slur about Obama. There are ten uniformed police officers surrounding Westboro’s fantastic four. I show one of the officers my press badge and ask if I can get through their line to ask a few questions, but he turns me away. About a hundred counter protesters holding up all manner of nonsensical signs from “God hates Kittens” to “Kill All Humans.” A counter protester leads a chant at one point “what do we want? Gay sex! When do we want it? Now!” It’s a bunch of disparate individuals trying to be funny, but it’s precisely the right response. Spewed rational vehemence only causes purveyors of irrational hatred to dig their hooves in harder. But laughing at them? Saints Stewart and Colbert will be giving the benediction. Westboro doesn’t make it fifteen minutes before they storm off in a huff.
Throughout the Convention there are also guys standing on the street corners with “Only Jesus Saves” signs passing out fliers. There’s an eighteen wheeler driving around, with a symbol of the Hollywood sign crossed out and the caption “Jesus Christ is Savior not a Swear Word.”
The counterarguments to their silliness are irrelevant, because their actions were never guided by their reasons any way. Whatever rationality you use to convey the wrongness of an idea, there will be another layer of rationality, until you finally peel away down to the rotten core and find it’s empty. It’s turtles all the way down, you see.
When you strip away all of the trappings of science, the labs and experiments, the technology and toys, it is a very simple idea. It is the simple acceptance of the idea that I might be wrong. That’s the method, the simple kernel of humility that is at odds with the cliché of power mad scientists brewing their tech like witches at a cauldron. It’s the rejection of the ages old notion of faith: I cannot be wrong.
Take a Bible for a moment and look at it. It is one of the most beautiful artifacts of the human race, not because it’s truth, or God’s word, or any of the other myriad roles attributed to it by adherents. That stack of pages, translated from one language to another over the millennia is the history of a people. It’s the ultimate and nigh on impossible achievement of a pre-industrial society. For over a thousand years, as empires rose and fell, creating art and letting it scatter to the wind once the next upstart raised an army, this little group of people managed to retain and pass on the scraps of their identity. Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Romans … how little do we have of their collected works, and how many people read what there is? But there in the Bible are the poems, stories, histories, and legends of an ancient people, copied and recopied by hand for centuries. As a writer, as a thinking person, there is something almost unspeakably holy about what that stack of pages represents. I’m far from a religious man, hell, my first article on this site was about the spirituality of atheism. Every bit of that tome is a testament to a people’s dedication to creation, which is exactly what Comic-Con exists to celebrate.
On Saturday night of the convention I go to the mixer for the Christian Comic Arts Society. They go around the room, everyone introducing themselves, what comics they’re interested in. About fifty people are there, including Batman and Link. I introduce myself as press, explain why I’m there. I’m the only press in the room, even though a tenth as many people drew dozens of reporters earlier because they held up signs of hate instead of love. It’s a brief and friendly affair, they hold a raffle for an autographed cover print of the “Action Bible.”
I talk afterwards very briefly to Batman, but he’s a man of few words so I spoke to Buzz Dickson and Scott Shuford for quite a while instead.
“Just to be belligerent,” I say, “What do you think about Jack Chick tracts?”
There’s a painful wince by both men. “Well we love Jack …” Scott says and goes on to explain that while some of the tracts are helpful by rendering ideas in a compelling way, most of them are just “not good scholarship.”
“So D&D isn’t real and destroying my soul?” I ask.
Buzz laughs, “I worked at TSR on D&D.”
“What about comics that delve into extended Christian mythology?” I ask. “Lucifer, Hellblazer, that sort of thing?”
They mention Hellboy and say “I may not agree with it, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy it.”
I ask about what they would say to people who see Christian comic books as just awkwardly grafting two unrelated concepts together and we have an interesting discussion about the role of other similar phenomena like Christian rock, Christian rap, Christian video games, etc. The misunderstanding is that these are intended at all as a replacement. The impulse is not that good Christians should listen to only Christian rock, so much as that Christian rock can show Christians with biases against rock in general that the art form is not inherently bad. “In a perfect world, there wouldn’t need to be Christian subgenres because people would judge art on its own merits.”
They talk about how they have a booth this year across from the Gay and Lesbian Comics Collective, and that people assume that they must be offended or hostile. They talk about how they are good friends with Diablo Publishing after having a booth next to them a few years back, still emailing and playing pranks on each other at the conventions. “Christ didn’t picket. He hung out with the sinners.”
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.