The Face of Total Depravity
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I'm a bit of a news junkie, and as a result, regularly run into news items dealing with the activities of Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas. Phelps makes the news frequently because of his very public and strident opposition to homosexuality. His activities are so outrageous they even appall many of those who, like him, oppose homosexual rights.
What motivates the man to hate so strongly? (And I use the word hate deliberately. He may claim to follow the standard formula of "love the sinner, hate the sin" but the so-called memorials to Matthew Shepard and Dianne Whipple on his web site serve only to expose his hypocrisy in identifying his anti-gay activities as "Love Crusades.")
It would be too easy to use popular psychology and suggest he acts in opposition against his own repressed desires. But I think its more than that. Rather it is his basic humanity that is repressed.
Phelps follows what he calls his Doctrines of Grace. There's no point in examining all of these in detail, but it is informative to review the first one:
- Total depravity. Every human is born totally depraved, deserving hell. When Adam fell we all fell. Without salvation, your destiny is hell. The heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things, and the best description of mankind is a corrupt mass.
When I consider everyone I have known in my life (and I have known some unsavory characters, along with many more decent people), I have to say that element of Phelps' doctrine does not reflect my reality. In no way does his statement describe mankind from my perspective.
"Know thyself," is attributed to Socrates. Perhaps Fred Phelps has taken this injunction to heart, and total depravity is what he sees when he faces himself in the mirror every morning. His fundamental mistake would be in extending this assessment of himself to everyone else in the world.
If Phelps really believes this particular Doctrine of Grace, then I suggest he is motivated by self hatred and self loathing. And he lets it spill out on the world.
Phelps has web sites at godhatesfags.com and godhatesamerica.com. But in the unlikely event there really is a god, then we know who s/he really despises.
- This is essentially a strong restatement of the Catholic doctrine of original sin. (A comparison Phelps would probably object to, as he is also a strident anti-Catholic.)
- The lack of direct links to these sites is deliberate. If you want to view his garbage, feel free to cut and paste the URLs into your browser. For a general overview of Phelps, I suggest the Topeka Capital Journal Online.