Christopher Hitchens near-famously remarked immediately after the death of Jerry Falwell that he was "sorry there was not a hell for [Falwell] to go to." I found such a brash profession a little alarming after I had heard it first, finding it hyperbolic and even slightly hypocritical (yes, I am capable of criticizing even old Hitch, if I take umbrage -- and he would only approve, I think). But the lens of time has focused the perspective, and now as I hear tidings of the desiccated gargoyle Fred Phelps on his "death bed" (we must not trust too much to hope), I am hungering over imagery and conceit far more illicit than Hitchens ever used against Falwell.
In the structure of an essay, this would be the part where the writer elucidates the history and work of Mr. Phelps, so that the horror of his actions might thereby justify my conclusion. The curriculum vitae of such a man needs, however, no introduction. Fred Phelps has, simply put, birthed the most controversial, hated, ignominious, fear-mongering, lie-ridden church in commercial memory (though "church" itself might indeed suggest all these things). He has enacted a movement of insult, demagogy, and discrimination beyond the bounds of adequate description.
Such men are the ingots that tip the balance of the scales in matters of mortal opinion. For humanists and indeed all moral persons it is customary to profess a merciful bent -- a respect for the life of all people regardless of their transgressions against a global society or even in crimes of a far more micro-scale. Perhaps it would be trite and simply too easy to illustrate the silence of such opinions when reviled men with names like Hitler and Hussein either infernally raged in a ditch or dangled impotently from the end of a dirty rope -- perhaps. There are many who would say it is a callous and immoral stance to have joy in the death of another -- I can proudly not count myself among them. Yet it would indicate that the level of infamy necessary to curve such an indulgent grade is not in fact arbitrary. A man, in such an astonishingly small amount of time as the human lifespan, can garner such acrimony that his demise might be met with more than either mournful cries or indifferent silence -- it might even be heralded by shouts of unabashed joy.
For myself, the revelry that may and must come from Mr. Phelps' death (though the idiom of "too little, too late" may be appropriate, here) is a sad seasoning for a bland course. It would satisfy me much more, gentle readers, to know that there was indeed a punishment serviceable for his atrocities and untruths that he bannered in life. It would seem to me that I cannot without glibness say that Mr. Hitchens' hope for a hell would be suitable, but I may have some alternative. Much as is the hope of the fervidly religious for unbelievers, at the waning seconds of their death, to be overcome with such doubt that they prostrate themselves to god for forgiveness, so too do I hope that Mr. Phelps, breathless and feeble, takes some measure of insecurity. A proper recompense, and indeed a poetic one, would be to know that before this waste of carbon breathed his last, he might with sudden acuity see the finite end of the human consciousness, that he stands upon the brink of the nothingness that awaits all souls when they depart from this vale of tears, and in his remaining moments be paralyzed with the inescapable fear of knowing that his entire life was in deferential service to a lie, that the entirety of his existence was predicated on the perpetuation not only of hatred, but of a whimsy so fleeting that only the most bitterly foolish might have wasted themselves on it with the fervor which he had done. If you can, gentle readers, try to imagine what sudden chill might clench the heart and freeze the brain, and without a second to remedy it, then to die uncleansed.
In some way, I gain a small relief in simply picturing it.
The scene that follows, whether in silence or uproar, will be fitting. There is a cleverly divided camp between those who think that celebration is mandatory (of which I agree) and those who believe that such an action would be the greatest act of troll-baiting in recent memory, and that a far more deserving eulogy would be the silence of the millions who ignored him in death when they could not in life (of which I also agree). In such a matter, it would be impossible to convene the agreement of all, and so rather than hold issue with one, I will take happiness in either.
Men are more than the life they inhabit -- they are the combined, collected, and measured results of those lives. Being that there is no judge beyond this mortal coil to tally the results, it is the sometimes sad duty of those left behind to cast their votes. No life is beyond the scope of dialectic scrutiny -- and after weighing the evidence, gentle readers, there is little doubt that in the mind of yours truly, Fred Phelps was one of those exceedingly rare individuals without which the world might have been fantastically better.