Monday, August 3, 2015

Warm People, Obnoxious Groups

I heard an interview today with Megan Phelps, the granddaughter of the infamous Fred Phelps, reverend of the Westboro Baptist Church. She and her sister left the church a few years ago, and in the interview she describes what it was like to grow up in and be a part of the fundamentalist, hate-mongering group.

One of the most interesting things she described was how her family (which makes up most of the church's seventy or so members) were as individuals. She describes them as loving, as teaching her the importance of being kind and polite and of getting good grades in school and contributing to society. They see the hateful signs they hold while picketing as messages of love. When they hold up a sign that says, "God hates fags," they don't see themselves as expressing something hateful, but as informing people of the error of their ways so that their fellow countrymen may repent and save their country from God's wrath in this world and themselves from an eternity of torture in Hell in the next. They do this out of love of their fellow man in an attempt to save them, not out of hatred.

I can't help but draw parallels with the Chareidi world. Not with the picketing and hateful signs. Most Chareidim are not so crass. But with the people who are warm as individuals and obnoxious as a group. With the people who say awful things about others, and sincerely believe they are just giving mussar. With the people who justify distasteful attitudes and behaviors with passages from holy texts and a conviction that they are doing the will of God.

It never ceases to fascinate me how different religions all follow the same patterns. The details differ, but the outlines are the same.