If the Phelps family are right, and God really is a bit of a prick who smites people down with cancer for a laugh whilst holding a match to the Polar ice caps and taking a whizz on Thailand, then heaven is going to be a bit f*cking sparsely populated.
After a first film four years ago, Louis Theroux is going another round with the Bible bashers who believe that every bad thing in the world – war, famine, disease, disaster – should be rejoiced in as an act of God. Their slogans range from the simple ‘God Hates Fags’ to the incredulously offensive ‘Praise God For Cancer’, and their picketing of dead solider’s funerals has earned them legendary status as all-encompassing twats. This time around Louis discovers a sense of self-flagellation in their determination to be hated, and their hedonistic abandon of human compassion. Because, when you believe in a “terrible, jealous and vengeful God” striking down all who disobey him (basically the Hulk on steroids), then why bother being nice?
Since Theroux’s last visit, family member defections and a looming Supreme Court case have disgruntled the Phelps family, at the centre of the WBC, escalating their vitriol. ‘Fire and brimstone’ doesn’t really cover it – they are homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, anti-“fornication”, anti-abortion… yawn. There’s not much they are keen on, apart from smug damnation of everyone from a war widow to a Muslim man who has the nerve to dispute their burning of the Qu’ran. They’re also now convinced the end of the world is nigh, Obama is the devil, Theroux himself is one of the most evil men in all of history and that every non-member of their church will burn forever in Hell. Right. If you hadn’t already guessed, they make absoloutely no sense.
The ringmaster is ole’ Pastor Phelps, a particularly evil, dehydrated testicle of a man, whose sermons include some wildly un-funny “jew” voices, a lot of wailing and mild schizophrenia. His daughter, another ‘elder’, is greying, manipulating, latently evil – she has something of the Dolores Umbridge about her. The rest of the family exhibit varying levels of mental, the younger members even retaining a semblance of normality, until they start going on about the righteousness of burning the Qu’ran..
The most unsettling thing about all the insane offensiveness is, they clearly enjoy it. Every bystander, shaking with rage, who reproaches them for a jaw-dropping placard or malevolent chant is met with violent cries of “Oh yay!” and “Thanks be to God!” Every surreal online propaganda video is designed to garner more hits, and more reaction, than the last.
They even, peculiarly, re-write Lady Gaga songs, singing “stop praying / stop praying / God will not hear you any more” to the tune of ‘Telephone’ (I like to call this genre Bible Bashment). Publicity is what they crave, but rather than the spreading of their ‘message’, they seem to revel in public attention because it brings more hatred. One member reveals someone tried to behead his dog; “Is that sick or what?” he asks Louis, with a smile. Every act of hostility toward them they see as reason to celebrate themselves as the lone voice of reason, and more excuse to hate everyone else.
Louis himself is less his trademark, benign objectivist, and more challenging of the group’s relentless twattery. The only question he doesn’t address – but, why would he – is whether it’s un-ethical to publicise them at all, and reward them for their shocking views with the attention those views are so transparently designed to attract.