In among the news on disturbing world events, with frightening implications, (captured sailors in Iran, carnage in Iraq, and any number of other things….. ) the BBC has this little gem on its magazine page.
It refers to Louis Theroux’s programme on the Phelps, who he calls the “most extreme people” he’s ever met. Now, this is a man who’s interviewed Eugene Terrblanche, normally considered one of the most extreme people on the face of the planet.
Obviously Theroux just normally interviews people who are extreme only in terms of their uniqueness or silliness or publicity-hungriness, or any combination thereof, like the Hamiltons. He adopts a self-mocking uber-English diffidence but he’s really taking the piss out of most of them, letting them react to his apparent naivety. This can be so funny it chokes the breath out of you or dull and predictable depending on who he’s interviewing.
The Phelps must be in class of their own.
They call themselves the most hated family in the US and they picket funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq.
In case you think this means they are just oddly insensitive anti-war activists, think again.
They picket these funerals to draw attention to what they see as God’s punishment on America for tolerating homosexuality.
You may have guessed it, they are the Westboro Baptist Church.
Louis Theroux claims to find them perplexing. He says they are pleasant, normal people outside of their picketing. He says they started out “moderate” – only picketing places where gay people meet, Gya Pride events and so on – and didn’t use words like “fags”.
(I’m not 100% convinced that this constitutes moderate or normal.)
Apparently, they just accumulated extremeness as they went about it.
Louis Theroux says that they are basically a model family (hmm, that not 100% convinced thig is rearing its head again) that really care about each other, just dominated by an evil Gramps. He seems to have ended up seeing the Church as some sort of genetically related cult.
It shows you what strange avenues the religious impulse can take you down. I think another part of the answer is that parts of the Christian Bible are pretty weird. There’s a lot of weird stuff in there and when you take that and you add this angry, domineering kind of a father figure, which is Gramps, and you add that he has sort of separated them off from other people, other families and driven them to achieve a lot, and he was kind of a charismatic guy, and still is up to a point.
I still can’t dissipate the image of being at a funeral that is being picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church. In the most frivolous terms, I think it’s partly because it brings to mind the phrase “You wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry”.
More seriously, it’s quite difficult to think of many legal activities that could be more vile than turning up at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq to harry the grief-stricken with bigoted anti-gay propaganda. You’d have to be a hell of a lot more than averagely nice and normal in the rest of your life to balance out that level of wickedness.