So apparently Fred Phelps is dying. And—this was news to me—apparently he got kicked out of his own church. I've always said that I think celebrating the death of another human being is remarkably crass, does nothing to the actual person who died, and, when I've done it in the past, cheapened my humanity by bringing me down to the level of someone I disliked (usually because of their screwed-up views on the value of other people's lives). In the back of my head, the test-case for how deeply I felt about this was Fred Phelps (which is odd, because it should have been someone like Kim Jong-Il, Osama bin-Laden, or any number of murderers...you know, people who actually killed people, and weren't just dicks).
His son—who, as the story mentions, now works for LGBT rights—has a pretty fair and nuanced take on the whole thing:
I've learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the "church" back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.
I'm not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.
I feel sad for all the hurt he's caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I'm bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.
Look. I'm not going to say that Fred Phelps isn't a terrible human being. He is. I'm not going to say that the world is going to be worse with him not in it. It won't. But if I think his greatest evil is a refusal to accept the humanity of the other (at the very least, it's at the core of what he was), I'm not going to lower myself to his standards to show just how much better I am than he is/was, partly because I value my humanity more than he did, and partly because I don't want to give him or his followers the satisfaction of responding to the news the way they would expect.
So, for the record, Mr. Phelps, while you're still alive, you're an asshole and the world will be, if not better, at least quieter once you're gone. Once you do die, however, I won't be celebrating, because as a human being, you deserve an equal share of the empathy you denied everyone else—empathy, to me, is non-negotiable. I also won't be celebrating because I'll be busy trying to forget you and everything you stood for.*
*-Or, as a Catholic friend once said when we were talking about a scoundrel in the news, "I'm not going to be happy when he dies, but I'm not lighting a candle for him, either."