In case you haven't been keeping track, know that the Vatican is moving forward on designating the late Pope John Paul II a saint. In construction work, this is called fast-tracking. What do you think? Does it matter if he's named a saint?
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GINGRICH AND GOD -- HMMMM
Former Rep. Newt Gingrich says he fell short of "God's standards" while having an extra-marital affair while investigating President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. It raises this foundational question: Is hypocrisy what really makes us human?
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DOCUMENTING RELIGIOUS HATE
The Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., and nationally known purveyor of hate, has picketed me several times and has personally blamed me for the 9/11 death of my nephew, a passenger on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. (I warn you that clicking on the link above will lead you to a file that will make you sick.)
So as you might imagine, I don't view this reservoir of toxic religion and his family (nearly the whole of his small congregation is made up of family members) with anything approaching respect. He makes my stomach turn.
But just as I am moved to try to grasp what drives an Osama bin Laden, say, or any other proponent of radical and distorted religion, so I am moved to try to see what makes a Fred Phelps tick.
The other evening, as part of the film series at All Souls Unitarian Church in Kansas City, I had the opportunity to see a documentary on Phelps called "Fall from Grace." It was done as a class project by K. (for Kenneth) Ryan Jones, a student at the University of Kansas.
The film is being shown to small audiences here and there and soon will be shown at various independent film festivals, where a larger producer may pick it up and release it to the general public.
If you get a chance to view it, do. It's painful to watch but very instructive. Jones has handled the subject matter with such detachment that people, like me, who believe Phelps is an embarrassment to religion, believe it shows that clearly while, says Jones, the Phelps family believes it is a good presentation of its beliefs.
Through personal interviews with Phelps and various members of his family, we learn a little about the rigid and desperate theology that the abusive Phelps preaches. Essentially he believes pretty much everyone is going to hell. (In a fax to me once he called me "Satan's evangelist.")
When I asked Jones after the movie to tell me the best thing he could say about Phelps, he said he was a compelling speaker and that Phelps is "wicked smart." I think he's right. I simply regret that something has driven this pitiful man and his followers so far off the track and that he uses his brain to preach homophobic nonsense and a brand of religion that would embarrass the most angry prophet of the Hebrew scriptures.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.