On Monday night New Zealand TV1 screened a documentary on the Westboro Baptist Church.
Members of this church continually picket the funerals of American marines killed in Iraq – claiming the war is God’s punishment for the evils of US society. They picket funerals of gays and anyone they designate as “fag enablers” (for example they picketed the Heath Ledger memorial) . They picket churches who have suffered fire damage – claiming that these were “acts of God” in retaliation for the sins of the Church. They preach that God Hates America and that the “Rapture” is imminent. They will be saved whereas everyone else are sinners who will go to hell.
No thinking person could support such activities. But that is the point – these people aren’t thinking. They base their beliefs on faith. Biblical authority can be used to justify any position – from the most benign to the most hateful.
Faith can also be used to create an immunity to evidence and reason. This was clear in the documentary – there was no way church members could even consider the arguments presented to them by Louis Theroux, the documentary reporter. They new he was going to hell for his beliefs and lifestyle.
Unfortunately such faith-based extremism is not uncommon. Isn’t this the approach of religious opponents when they deny the evidence for evolutionary theory and modern scientific concepts of the universe and human consciousness? And this faith-based approach is not limited to religions. The style of argument used by the Westboro Baptist church members reminded me strongly of that used by New Zealand’s Maoists during the 1960s and 1970’s. The behavior of the Red Guards during the so-called “Cultural Revolution” in China was similar.
Mind you, I did see a positive sign during the documentary. There was a spark of sexual tension between one of the female church members and Louis Theroux. Perhaps sex is a way of breaking through this faith-based hatred. Maybe that’s why such groups do their best to protect their members from the possibilities of such sexual interaction.