A story popped up yesterday that seems to have a lot of people laughing, but somehow I just can’t. An independent religious organization called “The Satanic Temple” decided to fight back in a rather unconventional way against the infamous Westboro Baptist hate protests about the Boston Marathon. The Temple apparently decided that they going to target a dead relative (in this case, the mother of the founder of Westboro) and “baptize” her to make her spirit gay via a “Pink Mass”. There hasn’t been an official response from Westboro Baptist, yet.
In this situation, this wasn’t publicized as a loving ceremony. This wasn’t publicized to talk about the two couples who apparently volunteered for this, it was publicized as a “Pink Mass” to turn a dead mother gay.
Martin Luther King Jr. said it best
The only evidence I can find for “Pink Mass” being anything other than a ritual specifically to humiliate family members of dead people, is a reference to a Catholic church holding an annual pink Mass for breast cancer survivors and supporters. The Temple seems to have co-opted a religious ritual from another church without even researching to see if it might mean something.
Any organization is of course free to create rituals that symbolize whatever they wish it to, but creating a ceremony to specifically humiliate people who believe differently than you is abhorrent, and especially unethical when it is specifically done to attack another person’s religious beliefs.
Much was made of the fact that the Temple was basically doing what the Mormons do (aka, baptizing living people in proxy for people who have died). In my mind, howeverm this is not a solid arguement for this behaviour being ok. It does not follow that because a church or group has done it before, anyone now is free to form their own ceremonies of a similar kind. In addition, while intent is not magic, one can see that the Mormons are intending their ceremony to be a blessing, a way for even non believers to get to heaven. In terms of morality, this is in some ways more gracious than the “one chance and that’s it” version that most of the rest of the evangelical Christian sects go for the idea of eternity.
Note: The Satanic Bible doesn’t talk about an afterlife in the way that many of the mainstream religions do. The majority of Satanists don’t believe there is any such thing as an afterlife, and many are in fact atheists. I don’t presume to speak for The Satanic Temple’s congregation’s personal beliefs, but it is very likely that this “ritual” is not part of a sacred worship ritual formed for the benefit of the church members. It seems pretty clear that this was more a specifically directed mockery/punishment of the beliefs of a group of people (a group of people, I may note, that is larger than just the Westboro Baptist congregation, as many, though not all, Christian believers believe that being gay is a sin, and many believe that being a Satanist sends a person to hell.)
Overall, the saddest, most offensive part is that this ceremony has become a weapon. In attacking the Westboro Baptist, this weapon is being used as a punishment, and the punishment is the idea that being gay sends you to hell. This makes a powerfully offensive statement, that being gay is a punishment, something that can be done to you, and something that is dishonorable and shameful in its own right. Although I’m sure thats not what the people involved in this ritual believed, that is what thier actions imply.
In the end, the woman being theoretically punished or “turned gay” is having this done because her son has hurt people. I wouldn’t condone this behaviour even towards someone who had been nasty in her lifetime, but this is made all the more tragic by the fact that Mrs. Phelps died of an aggressive form of cancer when her son was only 5 years old.
Sorry, all this just doesn’t make me laugh, even though I get it. I get that we want to hold on to something seemingly trivial when people with terrible views take a stand against equality. I get that this is supposed to be whistling in the dark, but to me it’s undeniably mean spirited and directed in the wrong way, and hurts the very people it is trying to help.
In conclusion, I want to call out a cultural trend I have begun to notice. Rape culture is already well known as a situation that propagates and promotes rape as just a fact of life. Rape culture glosses over abuse, hurtful comments and jokes that promote problematic behaviours in others. I propose that we use Shame Culture as a term to talk about the overarching, wide ranging effects of people equating justice with the widespread shaming of perpetrators of social crimes. In our society, day in and day out, I see the back and forth of people trying to modify others’ behaviour via shame tactics, which are almost universally underhanded, and are designed to insult, expose and disgrace the person in question. While exposure and disgrace are side effects of being brought to justice in a legal and moral sense, they are not proscribed as morally good punishments in and of themselves. Even more so for insults.
A person being genuinely offended and voicing that opinion on a private or public stage is welcome and allowed to do so, but there is a difference between asking for a platform to speak your mind and attacking someone else’s self worth. I would say that the Westboro Baptist are an example of people who try to shame others, to devalue their self worth, debase them and shame them into agreeing with them. So I would call for us to rise above those tactics, fight with words of justice instead of words meant to shame and debase.