Created sick, commanded to be sound

On Wednesday, March 2, the Supreme Court, in a vote of 8 to 1, decided that America’s most unpleasant, homophobic and misogynistic religious group — the Westboro Baptist Church — can in fact continue picketing fallen American servicemen and women’s funerals.

I find it rather spooky how the grumpy leader of the WBC, Pastor Fred Phelps, often reminds of a line from what is an otherwise favorite movie of mine, “Con Air”: “He’s a font of misplaced rage. Name your cliché; Mother held him too much or not enough, last picked at kickball, late night sneaky uncle, whatever. Now he’s so angry moments of levity actually cause him pain; gives him headaches. Happiness, for that gentleman, hurts.”

The hate mongers at WBC maintain, rather unimpressively, that the fallen American solders deserved to die as punishment for America’s willingness, in some cases, to tolerate the lifestyle of our gay brothers and sisters.

As I sat to write this column in Starbucks on Mill Avenue and Fifth Street, I noticed how across the street, there were some devotees of WBC, holding a giant wooden cross, shouting on a loudspeaker, warning of the Lord’s imminent arrival.

WBC, and their cousins on Mill, suffers from the same brand of paternalistic pretentiousness that makes the title of this piece all the more appropriate.

Consider Fulke Grevile’s poem, “Mustapha”: “O wearisome condition of humanity! Born under one law, to another bound; vainly begot and yet forbidden vanity; Created sick, commanded to be sound.”

That, in essence, is the problem not just with WBC, but with monotheism as a whole: It demands unilateral acceptance of the idea that everyone is created by god, ridden in original sin (a divine genetic defect if you will), while picketing for perfection.

WBC also seems to ignore the clear commandment published by God in Leviticus 19:18: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

It is often the case that religious bigotry and intolerance is dealt with poetic justice and, often lost on the religious, irony. The Supreme Court decision is not a victory for WBC, but for our collective — and very much secular — tradition of freedom of speech.

Will we live to see a day when the religious award the rest of us the sanctity of freedom of expression? Will there be a day when the religious — in their god-like posture of mercy, compassion and love — will do unto us as they’d wish be done unto them? Not until a camel passes through the eye of the needle.

To condemn the humanity of other people on the basis of religious faith is to claim access to superior knowledge unattainable by the rest of us. Omar Khayyam, the 12th century Persian poet, addresses the stupidity of such claims far better than I ever could: “And do you think that unto such as you; a maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew: God gave the secret, and denied it me? — Well, well, what matters it! Believe that, too.”

Reach Sohail at sbayot@asu.edu