I read on a news-site this morning about the death of Fred Phelps, the founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas–the group known for picketing the funerals of deceased U.S. service-persons, carrying their “God hates fags” signs. I know there are many in this world who are rejoicing in his demise, and undoubtedly hoping he is beginning a long spell of eternal damnation in a place called Hell, and I will admit, I don’t shed a single tear over his death either, and I do feel that the world is probably a better place without the likes of him in it. I don’t rejoice in it, however, and there are other vile miscreants who will take his place in the pantheon of evil, intolerance, and bigotry, so why should I begin to think his death will mark the end of his kind of evil? Sadly, it won’t. Like mosquitoes, you swat one, there are a million more to take its place.
My hope is that someday, we will evolve as a species beyond the things that divide us, and I think we eventually will, but it will be a painfully slow process. I don’t think anyone alive today will see that day. Such is the nature of evolution. It is slow and sometimes painful, but it eventually gets the job done, and weeds out the less desirable. I think eventually, the Westboro Baptist Church will die out, just like its pathetic leader has, as will other hate groups.
Another reason I don’t rejoice in Phelps’s death in the manner many do is that I don’t believe he has gone to Hell for the simple reason I don’t believe in Hell as some locality you go to after death. One of the vestiges of Christian Science that still stays with me is my belief in heaven and hell as states of mind rather than localities. For instance, I’ve recently been dealing with some changes in my work that have been stressing me out quite a bit, and causing me to feel a high level of anxiety, wondering how I will deal with it. This has been a form of hell for me. The year my parents died was literally hell for me. But, it is all a state of mind. Eventually, I deal with the situations and I move on, usually stronger and wiser.
Heaven is the same thing. It is a state of mind for me, and I still vividly remember the day I permanently moved to where I live now, as I was on the plane and it circled in over one of the nearby lakes here on its final approach to the airport. I looked down and just had the warmest feeling of finally being truly home. Each time I leave here on a trip and return and see the views of the lakes, I get that same feeling–even now, years after that day on the plane.
I am by no means saying that Fred Phelps doesn’t deserve punishment and accountability for his actions, and if I believed there was a place like Hell where evildoers are punished, I would hope he went there to pay his penance. I think he, like all others who have died has continued on in some other form. I do not accept the atheist point of view that once we die, that’s it. It just seems like a waste to me. I think Fred Phelps was very likely a deeply troubled and tormented man, as most like him are, and unfortunately he lashed out at the world and deeply hurt countless innocent people with his actions and rhetoric. There’s a clinical term for what he and others like him do: lateral violence. Those who have suffered some sort of torment or trauma lash out and inflict their pain on others, and unfortunately those they lash out at are innocent victims most of the time.