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Monday, November 3, 2008

The best kind of pirates!

I am a fortunate man in many ways. Being married to a morning person who is also a reader who out-voraciouses (if you'll let me coin the phrase) me means that I often wake to find interesting tidbits in my email's inbox.

Kimberly has been sending me articles about pirates lately. She's sent me articles about real-life Somali pirates who have been raiding shipping in the Gulf of Aden. She has sent me an article about the controversy between historically accurate pirate reenactors and Jack Sparrow want-to-bes. I assume that sending me these pirate-related articles is a not-so-subtle attempt to keep my feet on terra firma instead of being out on the high seas, making her a schooner widow. Either that or she's trying to suggest that I turn in my clerical collar and stole for a cutlass and a brace of pistols, a trade-in that would almost certainly improve my family's bottom line.

This morning, though, Kimberly hadn't bothered to email the article du jour, but had simply left it up on the computer screen so I'd see it the minute I walked into the office. How could I miss such a photo?

The article, from the Arkansas Times, wasn't so much about pirates as it was about a creative response to bigotry. The pirates in question are "Pastafarians," adherents of the tongue-in-cheek "religious" group who worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Church of the FSM was originally started as a humorous response to the Kansas School Board's decision to teach creationism alongside evolution under the guise of "Intelligent Design." Pastafarians insisted, in the interests of the state not supporting one particular religion, that THEIR version of the creation story be taught alongside the Judeo-Christian version.

The article that Kimberly had left for me was how the Pastafarians in Little Rock, Arkansas, had creatively rallied against the religiously-inspired hatred espoused by the members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, and its pastor, Fred Phelps. Westboro Baptist Church, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is monitored by the Anti Defamation League, has become famous for picketing funerals of AIDS victims and military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The church's websites, and (and, no, I'm not going to give you live links for them!), are full of vile hatred targeted at gays, Jews, blacks, liberals, the U.S. Military.

I first encountered Phelps, who is a disbarred attorney, back in the early 1990s when I was a seminary student in Missouri. He and his congregation, which is mostly composed of his family members, were picketing the Missouri Baptist Convention's annual meeting (because Southern Baptists aren't conservative enough for him!). I made the zealously youthful mistake of trying to engage him in dialogue and nearly got maced for my trouble. He's such a sweet guy...

The Pastafarians, however, seem to have figured out how to beat Phelps at his own game. Clad in piratical costume (one of the "requirements" for true Pastafarians), they waved their own signs declaring "God Hates Shrimp" and "God Hates Poly-Cotton Blends," citing the Book of Leviticus as their proof texts. By citing the same set of Biblical texts that Phelps cites to condemn homosexuality, the Pastafarians managed to successfully point out how Phelps (who was probably wearing a poly-cotton shirt) ignores the context of Biblical texts and how he centers his hate speech around his own personal prejudices.

Three cheers, along with a "Yo ho ho" and a couple bottles of rum for the Pastafarians for so creatively (and effectively!) standing up against hate!

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