Effect Measure

Everyone knows Fred Phelps is a vile, obnoxious, cruel and probably psychopathic Christofascist (one of the well known subdivisions of the worldwide fascist movement, which includes Islamofascists, Judeofascists, Hindufascists and many other religiofascists; it is an ecumenical movement, which even includes godless fascists like Christopher Hitchens). For those of you lucky enough never to have heard of him, Phelps is pastor of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, famous for picketing the funerals of Iraqi war soldiers with the claim that they died because the military tolerates homosexuality. He makes the same claim about 9/11: it was God’s vengeance on a gay-tolerant America. And now he is making his way to Minnesota:

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., plans to stage protests at funerals of victims of the 35W bridge collapse to state that God made the bridge fall because he hates America, and especially Minnesota, because of its tolerance of homosexuality.
The church and its pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps, have become notorious over recent years for their claim that the attack of 9/11 was an act of God’s vengeance and their determination to make that case at the funerals of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq.

In a press release issued the day after the bridge collapse, the church called for protests at the funerals and outlined its feelings about the relationship between God’s plan and the sins of Minneapolis and Minnesota, which it calls the “land of the Sodomite damned.”

Reached at the church, Shirley Phelps Roper, who is both the daughter of the pastor and one of the attorneys for the church, said that America, and Minnesota especially, have alienated God by its tolerance for homosexuality, and that the bridge collapse was an act of God’s vengeance. She said:

“The bridge stood in place by the word of God and it fell by the word of God…Each of these little events is just a harbinger of the coming destruction of this American experiment. We are delivering the final call of the doomed nation.”
She said, as they have done for years, members of the church would stand “lawfully and peacefully on the public right of way” near the funerals and “put in the air words of praying and instruction and warning.”
The signs that the protesters will wave will read:

“God cast down the bridge… Thank God for 9/11… America is doomed… God hates fags… God hates fag enablers… God hates Minnesota.” (Minnesota Monitor)

It is an interesting argument. Al-Qaeda said the same about 9/11. Virtually no one, prior to the destruction of the twin towers, thought it possible to bring down to the ground these huge buildings with the impact of an airplane. Not even the hijackers thought this would happen. The fact that it did was promoted in the Islamic world as a “miracle” and a divine validation.

Obviously no reasonable person would or could think such a thing. Which brings me to the point: if you are a believer in God’s omnipotence — if you believe God does things for a reason — if you believe everything is part of God’s plan — then what is wrong with the inference? If you are a believer, do you reject it because you don’t like the event and it “reflects badly” on God? When family members pray their loved ones are not the victims of a disaster when the identity of the dead are not yet known, what are they asking God for? The event has already happened. Are they asking God to rewind events or to reverse the order of causation? To make God a cause that works after an effect? If God can do those things, why did He stand by and let the towers and the bridge collapse?

Yes, I know these are hackneyed arguments, and they have been “answered” countless times by theologians. Let’s leave theologians out of it for the moment. They are professional explainers in the business of explaining anything and everything. For the ordinary believer, the resolution of the problem of evil boils down to a simple argument: God works in mysterious ways that only He understands. So how do we know that one of those mysterious ways is not the one the despicable Fred Phelps infers from the evidence?

Obviously no reasonable person would or could think such a thing.


  1. #1 Rob Jase
    August 11, 2007

    If the Phelpsian theofascists were Islamo other than Christo the right-wingers in the US would have had them declared terrorists long ago and dropped the hammer on them.

    The sky fairy must support Phelps, both are despicable and its natural for them to flock together.

  2. #2 PalMD
    August 11, 2007

    If other evangelicals and fundies wanted to enhance their credibility, they could spend 5 minutes out of every sermon condemning the Phelpses and their ilk.

  3. #3 PalMD
    August 12, 2007

    I also wonder if they have discovered a new-ish trend…instead of faith healing, they practice faith-killing…praying hard for others to experience misfortune. It’s a good thing prayer is woo…but given that prayer has a tendency not to work, I do worry that they might branch out into “wet” work. I hope the FBI has an eye on these wackos.

  4. #4 hardindr
    August 12, 2007

    it is an ecumenical movement, which even includes godless fascists like Christopher Hitchens

    I don’t like Hitchens political turn to the right since 9/11, but he’s not a fascist.

  5. #5 Nate Phelps
    August 12, 2007

    It’s an interesting question you raise. Over the years I’ve heard many “moderate” Christians dismiss my family as crackpots and extremists. But…the Bible does say these things. Sam Harris makes the argument well that it is the underpinning of moderate religion that gives the support to the bizarre ideology of, as you put it, Christofacists, etc.

    It is our willingness to tolerate, even embrace, such bizarre teachings as you find in the various operator manuals of religion that creates this false perception that we even have anything to argue about.

    For me it’s simple. Either you maintain the acceptance of divine origin of these various books, and with it the whacko, fringe, literalist ideologies that naturally accompany it, or you finally throw out the whole mess and undermine the basis of their twisted, hateful rhetoric.

    Just my opinion.

  6. #6 Graculus
    August 12, 2007

    I do worry that they might branch out into “wet” work.

    They already do. Army of God, Christian Identity, etc.

  7. #7 Brendan S
    August 12, 2007

    Nate. (Assuming this is you, which I kinda doubt, but..)

    I’ve always wondered. Does your Dad actually believe this stuff? From what I’ve read on your family, It seems to me that he’s just hiding behind religion to give him an excuse to put himself in the public eye, then hopefully someone will screw up and he can sue them for a lot of money.

    I’m just wondering if you could shed some light.

  8. #8 Deb Welch
    August 12, 2007

    As I am from Topeka, am ashamed that our town is associated with the Phelps.

    It is VERY IRONIC to me that very freedoms that this cult is able to spout out their hatred on to others, is the same freedoms that our soldiers fight for everyday!!! Thank God For the PATRIOT GUARD!

    I however do not want to go to a heaven where God is vengeful and hates. The God I worship is a LOVING AND FORGIVING GOD.

    Just remember that if the Phelpes show up, there are MANY more people in Topeka PRAYING for you and your loss.

    I want to express my sympathy to the Family who lost their loved ones on the bridge and to the families of our soldiers.

  9. #9 revere
    August 12, 2007

    hardindr: I spent some time examining the question of what fascism is and there is no hard and fast agreement. So I am using the word non-technically. I happen to like what Hitchens wrote on Kissinger and religion (and a few other things) but his neocon views of the last few years earn him the soubriquet of fascist in my view in the same way one can talk of Islamofascist or Christofascist or Judeofascist. You may argue those terms are inapt, and indeed they are, but I think it’s clear from my posst I was using them in a parallel way.

    Nate: I happen to agree with you. The thing that fundamentalists see that most other believers don’t (in my view) is that once you relent on the the Revealed Word of God you have given up the game. If you are a believer, what is illogical with the inference Phelps makes other than you don’t like its implications. If you insist, as does Deb and many of my friends and readers here, that God must be a loving God (where could the evidence for this possibly come from given the way the world is and the abundant evidence that shit happens, much more frequently than wonderful miracles happen), then you are making the ultimate statement of faith, that you don’t care what the world is like, you insist on believing something that is contrary to all appearances and evidence and, moreover, something that has all the earmarks of wishful thinking and self-delusion. Down that same road lies superstition, blind patriotism, tribalism, racism and just about everything else that is hateful. Of course it is far better to take one of the little harmless cul de sacs off that road, the loving-God one, than the main road. But many people wind up taking the bad with the good and since it is all a delusion or a self-indulgence, why do it?

    That’s may take, anyway. I’m sure it will start a shit storm herel.

  10. #10 Aaron Baker
    August 12, 2007

    Like the poster above, I take strong exception to your putting Christopher Hitchens in the company of Fred Phelps, Osama bin Laden, and the like. Hitchens was an irresponsible loose cannon as a leftwinger, and the loose cannon has wheeled starboard since, but that’s the worst I think one should say about him.

  11. #11 natural cynic
    August 12, 2007

    (where could the evidence for this possibly come from given the way the world is and the abundant evidence that shit happens, much more frequently than wonderful miracles happen)

    Just goes to show that you don’t understand the [delusional] mindset. In it, every birth, sunset, birdsong, puppy kiss, cheesecake, orgasm, etc. etc. is a miracle.

  12. #12 Lea
    August 12, 2007

    These people are crazy. A very sick example and I for one am not impressed.
    They’re coming to Utah now: “Thank God for The Utah Mine Disaster,” the Westboro Baptist Church said in a fax to the Deseret Morning News on Saturday night.

    When the Divine within us sets the wheels of truth in motion, we never lack for miracle in our lives.

  13. #13 Nate Phelps
    August 12, 2007

    Brenden, it is really me. I am writing a book right now so I have a running Google search on the antics of my old man and his merry minions. To answer your question, yes I believe he believes this stuff. I don’t necessarily agree that he does it just to snare people and file suits. My observation from 18 years with that man is that he is full of the hatred that he ascribes to god. It’s a neat vehicle for him to spew his rage on the world and appear semi-sane (what am I saying?) Since I was old enough to understand, long before he ever stuck a sign on a stick, he was spouting this same Calvinistic dogma and leaving arms and legs lying in his wake as he plowed through life. This perversion of decency at the funerals of dead soldiers and gays is just the latest iteration of his madness.

    Well said revere. When people are willing to separate the very real goodness in life (birth, sunset, birdsong, puppy kiss, etc. as natural cynic put it) from the inherently destructive mythology as to the source of it all, we can finally let go of Yahwe and Allah just like our ancestors let go of Zeus and Apollo, and maybe we can survive for a few more centuries.

    Deb, I couldn’t agree more with you, but to add my sincere regret at the cruel treatment my family has visited on the gay community in this country.

  14. #14 Reb
    August 12, 2007

    Just google “Nate Phelps” and you’ll find information that confirms everything that Nate is saying in this thread.

    I am a religious person, but one of the things that really bothers me about much of religion (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is the belief that God has a plan (which we don’t know) that is somehow mysteriously running our lives. I do not believe this, because I don’t see how an individual can claim that God is looking out for him or her, when there is so much evil in the world that doesn’t give rise to any divine reaction (e.g., the killing in Darfur).

  15. #15 Justin Moretti
    August 12, 2007

    Actually, I could sort of cope with Zeus and Apollo – at least back then I’d have known that my Gods were frequently capricious and sometimes incredibly nasty, and there wouldn’t have been the disconnection between the best of what the Bible says (“For God so loved the world,” etc.) and what people like Fred Phelps say and do.

    (Actually, when you consider that a lot of worship of the pantheon probably WAS based on fear, caprice and the need for regular – and to some, expensive – sacrifices, the idea of a God who loved His worshippers and sacrificed his own son for their, and potentially everyones, benefit would have been a major calling point; especially since you didn’t have to slaughter badly needed cattle, or incinerate the grain you needed to feed your family with, in order to please Him. All you needed to do was be nice to people, knowing that if you fell on hard times, a gang of your fellow Christians would come round and be nice to you too.)

    Nate, I take my hat off to you – to be able to walk away from the poisonous filth your family wallows in must have taken a lot of guts.

    Just goes to show that you don’t understand the [delusional] mindset. In it, every birth, sunset, birdsong, puppy kiss, cheesecake, orgasm, etc. etc. is a miracle. So what’s wrong with worshipping, or at least revering, love, life, happiness and beauty? I think that’s a wonderful delusion to get lost in, and far better than the ravings of Reverend Fred, to whom the only miraculous things in this world are the pain, misery and deaths of other human beings.

    Whatever happened to “God is Love”?

  16. #16 B
    August 12, 2007

    My question: what would the reaction of these sewer rats be if one of their own had tragically perished in the bridge collapse, or say, a tornado demolishing their church in Topeka on a Sunday morning? Will the surviviors (a repugnant thought) be able to turn their own twisted logic on its head and picket the funerals ?

    Slime molds, each and every one of them.

  17. #17 Elizabeth
    August 12, 2007

    This is quite a story! So I went to Phelps’ websites and read everything. Some of it is sheer, raving lunacy, and some of it is rather lucid, well-written prose, and some of it is just trite trash. Obviously there are different people doing different parts. So there are maybe 60 people in this patriarchal family compound. My question is where are they getting the money for all this? Does this Phelps law firm have any serious clients? Who’s paying the grocery bills?

  18. #18 Sailor
    August 12, 2007

    The Phelp’s would be a lot more impressive if they prayed over a bridge and then as a consequence it fell down. Any dim witted group can do what they do. If they are so in with he lord how about having them march around some building and then walls fall down?
    That I would be impressed by.

  19. #19 Dr. Mike
    August 12, 2007

    Interesting questions you raise at the end. I will have to chew on that for a time or two though in no way do I think that the folks from this church are anything but bigots no matter how they want to couch.

  20. #20 Lepht
    August 12, 2007

    hey Lea, you feel like rounding off that debate any time soon? s’ been a while. lemme know where you stand, yeah?


  21. #21 Kyle
    August 13, 2007

    Christopher Hitchens is a douche and somebody, sooner or later, needs to hold up a mirror in front of him so he can realize this. He gives smart people a bad name.

  22. #22 brockton
    August 13, 2007

    I wonder whether it would be better to ignore the Phelps gaggle or pass by with a sign that says “Phelps Sucks Dong.”

  23. #23 Melanie
    August 13, 2007


    I’m female and and I think a douche is a good thing. Brockton, lots of people think that sucking dong is a good thing. Can we please label this guy a fascist without using body parts or sex as a sobriquet?

  24. #24 factician
    August 13, 2007


    Go to http://www.splcenter.org. It’s the Southern Poverty Law Center. They’ve been following Phelps for years (I’ve been reading about them since the early 90s, I think). They have a fair amount of information there about Phelps (over 70 articles, I think). I think you’ll find your info about where their money comes from.

  25. #25 PalMD
    August 13, 2007

    Wow, I never knew about the “other” Phelpses. I very happy to hear that some escaped.

  26. #26 Brian Macker
    August 13, 2007

    “… which even includes godless fascists like Christopher Hitchens”

    Wow, someone has a very low standard for fascism. Idiotically low.

  27. #27 Brian Macker
    August 14, 2007

    “hardindr: I spent some time examining the question of what fascism is and there is no hard and fast agreement. So I am using the word non-technically.”

    Great, then you won’t mind me referring to you to a fascist. Fascist.

    Godless fascists already have a name, they are called Communists. Hitchens used to be one but he switched to a different position when he realized his error.

    You know that the Islamofascists have direct historical connections to the Fascist and Nazi movements don’t you? It certainly isn’t as loose a term as you make it out to be.

    Does Hitchens advocate anything so strict as the kind of governments that already exist in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, etc. No. Yet you’d probably be squealing like a pig if someone were to refer to the Saudis as Islamofascists.

    What is a Judeofascist? I imagine you are trying to apply this to Israelis. Is it fair to compare a country that allows Muslims to vote and hold office to Muslim ideologs who follow to the letter a religion devised by a mass murderer and pedophile? Especially when you are not willing to lump the Saudis with the terrorists.

    Seems like your definition of the suffix “fascist” lumps butterfly collectors in one ideology with the most henious criminals in another. Next you’ll be using the term Amishofascist.

  28. #28 AtheistAcolyte
    August 14, 2007

    I’m surprised no one in San Francisco has organized a counter-protest at the Golden Gate with diametrically opposite signs. “God loves Golden Gate, SF and homos” type of thing. *That* would be priceless.

  29. #29 Ann
    August 14, 2007

    We in Wyoming have had it with the Phelps and his hellions. He causes misery where-ever he goes. One day someone will put him out of “our” misery. I guess his life’s goal is just to make every state despise him.

    It is so good to know, Nate, that you were able to get away from that life. My best regards to you.

  30. #30 Paul Todd
    August 15, 2007

    So long as we have a government where religion and state is separate, those religious extremists can do or say anything they like for all I care, so long as it is within the law.

    When religion and state become one, Democracy dies. Religious government and the freedom to think, say, and do what you wish, so long as it is within the law, is incompatable. So religous government changes the law to ensure you are free to say and do only those things the religous leaders say is compatable with Gods (Allahs) will. Essentially, all religous governments become fascist governments, Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, etc. The idea of an Iraqi government following Islamic law being Democratic was laughable, and sure enough, the Christians are being ethnically cleansed, and you have conflict between the 2 Islamic sects, Shia and Sunni.

    Israel is not a religous government. It is an Apartheid state like South Afirca was, the only difference is Jewish=White, Arab=Black. Some semblance of democratic government for the Jewish members of the state is therefore possible, within the limits of their permanent war with the Palestinians and hostile Arab neighbours.

    The US is heading closer to becoming a Theocracy, in spirit at least, since under Bush the separation of Church and State has been weakened. Government is now funding religous groups, and to much of the Christian Right, Bush is looked upon as a religous leader. Policy decisions are based on religous beliefs. Catholics of course have their own leadership in the Vatican, but the vast majority of Christians are Protestants, and some crave religous leadership in government.

    Europes history has taught us that Religion + Government = Religous Wars. Today that war is Christian Right vs Islam. The Christian Zionests are one of the main driving forces for the War in Iraq, and they hope soon with Iran.

    Since our friends in the Middle East are Sunni, the War we want to fight is against Shia Islam, even though the Islamist extremists which make up Al Qaeda and AQ inspired groups in the region are all Sunnis. So having a Shia led Iraq government is problematic. Something tells me there will be regime change and a Sunni leader will replace Maliki. This will then allow us to make the Iraq Shia and Iran Shia along with Hezzbollah in Lebanon a common enemy and the War on terror changes from fighting Al Qaeda, which most likely is destroyed anyways, to a War on Shia Islam, and energy security.

    Israel gets to occupy Southern Lebanon again after they destroy Hezzbollah (and break up Syria at the same time), and we get Iran (but only after we get the draft up and running after the attack Chertoff’s gut says is coming and which will probably be linked to Iran). All part of the New World order ya see.

  31. #31 Lea
    August 15, 2007

    Not possible to do right now Lepht. Honestly and sincerely my deepest apologies. Please understand.

  32. #32 Brian Macker
    August 15, 2007

    Israel is not a religous government. It is an Apartheid state like South Afirca was, the only difference is Jewish=White, Arab=Black.

    Ignorant nonsense.

  33. #33 Jake
    January 23, 2009

    Please don’t pretend to speak for nonreligious people. You have made the term “fascist” meaningless and made yourself look ridiculous and unserious. Christopher Hitchens bleeds anti-fascism, and he himself has been the most vocal proponent of the term Islamofascist, or as he calls it, “fascism with an Islamic face.” It would be no less ridiculous to call George Orwell a fascist. Fascism is a specific kind of philosophy, not a pejorative to be hurled at all who disagree with your (apparently pompous and misguided) ideas.

  34. #34 revere
    January 23, 2009

    Jake: And I pretend to speak for all non-religious people where? And I support Hitchens where? And your point is . . . what?