August 28, 2005

Why Are They Always From Kansas?

A new war-related protest is making the headlines today, well, in some places. Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas has been leading protests across the country preaching his message that God is killing US soldiers in Iraq for representing a nation that shelters gays. These particularly irrational protesters have been showing up at funerals for soldiers killed in Iraq, most recently at two funerals for slain members of the Tennessee National Guard held yesterday. Obviously the work of a brilliant sloganeer, these protesters have been carrying signs reading "God hates fags" and "God hates you" at these funerals. God bless America. I'm not going to even bother running commentary on these excremental Christian extremists. I'll just put forth that this represents all that is wrong a religious right that has become increasingly drunk with power.


  1. An 056:11 PM

    Suggesting these wackos at all represent Republicans in power is like saying Pat Robertson speaks for the State Department: neither is true.

  2. George6:21 PM

    These people are not really part of the "religious right," even as a loosely defined group of organizations. They claim that Ronald Reagan is burning in hell and they even hate Bush.

  3. Ben Bradley '0511:39 PM

    There is a new bumper sticker circulating among liberals in Kansas: " bigoted as you think." While this is the source of endless amusement to us Kansans who lean leftward, it is easily misinterpreted by other liberal Kansans who are too sensitive about telling the truth about the place we all love. I think that the important lesson is that being honest can sometimes also be terribly embarrassing, and sometimes just plain terrible. Honestly, I find it refreshing and somewhat cathartic to admit that the place where I’m from is chocked full of people I vehemently disagree with…and the crazy people, too.

    Fred Phelps can not fairly be lumped in with the rest of the religious right in Kansas, nor can he be called a “republican” or “conservative” without re-defining those terms to the point of absurdity. This is not to say that he is not the logical extension of some, *some*, of the philosophy, political and religious, that is used by the right in Kansas. He, however, does not identify with them, and they certainly (and righteously) do not identify with him. The politics of Fred Phelps is the politics of hate, with a heapin’ helpin’ of crazy and a patina of, what must be air-quoted, “Christianity.” If you’ve ever seen the Phelpses protest…seen their grandchildren holding up signs that say, “Fags, burn in hell”…you know what it is to be revolted. No normal person can see that and judge it to be God’s work. That they are now attacking American troops only highlights the fact that they have distanced themselves from the religio-political movement that might have once sheltered their extremist views.

    The Phelpses should be met with criticism, scorn, and ridicule wherever they go. This much we can all agree on (hopefully). What I take issue with in this post is the title, “Why Are They Always From Kansas?” I am proud of my home state to fault. Ask most of the creators of this blog, or anyone who knew me at Dartmouth. Amazingly, I found this attitude to be the norm amongst Dartmouth students, who frequently treated me as if I were some miracle of modernity, a rose that grew from cow manure, or some such terrible imagery. I would sit idly by while acquaintances, many Midwest ex-pats themselves, would heap scorn on the Midwest while praising the virtues of Eastern or Western locales. There is no violin playing right now, and I do not seek your pity, but I guess what I am saying is that the title for this post did not surprise me.

    Now that I’m out of D, and have the limited perspective on my education that I’ve been able to get, I can recognize the “life lessons” (pull out those air quotes again) learned. One of the biggies has been that everyplace, and every person, is equally bigoted. It is the human condition (Ben hearts clichés). Those proponents of the coasts, liberal or conservative, who heap scorn on Kansas, or the south, or the upper Midwest, as the source of bigotry/racism/outdated economic nationalism…those people often have little clue about their own prejudices, their own many failings, and most importantly, their own homegrown crazies. So while it hurts me every time I see Fred Phelps associated with the place I’m proud to be from, I am also glad to know that my home state doesn’t take itself so seriously that it can’t own up to its problems. I am by no means proud of Phelps, but I am relieved that I don’t have to plaster over such warts under the banner of more “enlightened” places-to-be-from, just so I can sleep comfortably in my false sense of superiority. I guess what I’m saying is that there should be a second bumper sticker…” [Insert Your Home state] bigoted as you think you’re not.”

    *Authors note – This post shouldn’t be filed under the auspices of “defense of Kansas against East Coast liberal” or “simple Midwestern boy gives blog writer his comeuppance” or any such nonsense. Readers should know that I sympathize politically with this blog and I think those themes, trotted out by the right on innumerable occasions, are hackneyed and clichés themselves. I just think that liberals, but all people as well, sometimes forget where their political loyalties point them. Politics cares not for places, despite what CNN may tell you about red or blue states, but instead cares about the adhesion of ideas to a populous. Kansas isn’t conservative because of Kansas. Kansas is conservative because liberalism has lost the plot there, and no longer appeals to the rank and file (Thomas Frank’s excellent book). It is a subtle distinction, but it is one that should be made, lest all Jayhawks be lumped in together and maps start getting made with “Kansas” replaced by “Thar Be Monsters.” But…to answer all of your questions…I can take a joke about Kansas…see the bumper sticker above.