October 25, 2013 by Devin
Ever feel like the universe just likes messing with you sometimes?
So yesterday I published a post about atheist prejudice, ending with this quote from Hemant Mehta talking about his critics and religious fundamentalists:
It’s very easy to vilify and demonize these people that we always hear about. It’s a lot harder and probably way more productive to reach out to those people.
I stand by that notion and think it’s an excellent one to live by, but in what has to the most challenging stance against that, I saw these Vines from Westboro Baptist Church.
Now, for those people lucky enough to have not heard about the Westboro Baptist Church (sorry if I am spoiling this for you), they are a religious group with some of the most appalling theology and actions. They believe that because the United States treats homosexuals with such acceptance (ha!), they are dooming the nation to violence and destruction. Hence, the killing of American soldiers is God’s punishment, and so they celebrate it and protest soldiers’ funerals. In other words, they manage to get everyone mad at them.
Yet these Vines show off a slightly different side to them that goes against the narrative described about them. They start with the “so ridiculous it’s funny”…
to the “sad because children are involved” …
and then to the “they really think this is funny”.
And to me, these Vines felt oddly familiar. These were attempts to be humorous, and even more than that, they were just a touch self-deprecating. It is almost like when members of the WBC get together and have dinner or something, they joke around and say, “Man, it is kind of funny how attached we are to our signs. It is almost like we treat them like they’re our best friends.” Or they compliment each other’s singing. Or they watch their kids act stupid to get laughs. And they act like people.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that I approve of anything the WBC does. In fact, I think the hate they spew shows off the worst in humanity. I am also not saying that the WBC is in any way productive to society. From what I have heard from statements from ex-members and seen from their actions, it seems like many in this organization are terrible people.
But that’s just it: they’re people. They are not demons. They are not monsters. They are not inhuman. They are people doing what they think is best for themselves and the people they care about. I bet some of them even think that what they are doing is the best for everyone in the world.
This does not make them right or make any of their actions excusable, but I believe that just as it is important to note that they are wrong, it is also important to note why they are wrong. They are not a group of evil masterminds trying to take over the world. I bet many are simply misguided: misguided enough to do terrible things and become terrible themselves, but misguided nonetheless.
The reason we need to understand this is because yelling back at them will not make them better people. Increasing the divide will do nothing but make each side angrier and more assured in their positions. As these Vines show us, they are actual people, and by dehumanizing them, we rob ourselves of understanding them and only serve to make the problems they cause worse.
I am not saying that if we just sit down and talk with them, they will realize the errors of their ways and change their actions to be more accepting of people. Such a result might very well be impossible with the majority of this group. I am, however, saying that if they were ever to change, ever to realize the negative impact that their actions have on the world and how flawed their theology is, this would not be achieved by dehumanizing them and yelling back at them. Putting people in the “evil” category feels great, but ultimately is unproductive to society as a whole.