Open Questions Concerning WBC

Westboro Baptist Church is coming to the University of Chicago, where I am enrolled. They were here last year to protest one of the many divinity schools in Hyde Park, Chicago; this time, they’re here to protest the campus Hillel center. The fuckers.

As I choke back the vomit that is steadily rising in my throat (just as it does every time that Fred Phelps takes up more than a microsecond of my time), I’ve begun to start asking myself a few questions about ethics, magic, and activism. I want to curse Fred Phelps and his cult, you see.

Now, to be honest, I know full well that cursing and my views about pacifism are fundamentally at odds with each other: To curse someone is necessarily to take an action that is meant to cause that person harm, and causing harm is antithetical to pacifism. But, at the same time, I’m not sure that cursing someone is the same as punching them; is there, or is there not, some qualitative difference?

Recently I heard a statement concerning magical ethics that I thought I could get behind. It was something like, “You should only perform a magical act on someone if you would be comfortable doing the same thing to them physically, in person.” So, while I might be sorely tempted, I don’t think I’d ever walk up to Fred Phelps and kick him in the face; therefore, I won’t be sending any immediate physical harm. Okay. But, would I be okay if he got some disease (though not a fatal one) that affected his ability to organize his followers?—would I sit there and smirk while he was comatose? Probably—I’m no saint. So, might I send him a good ol’ coughing-up-spiders-and-ants-for-life curse? Hmm…….. tempting. Would I shut him up if I could? Certainly. So, can I send him a working by which he looses his ability to speak? Hell yes… maybe.

If anyone deserves to be cursed, it’s Fred Phelps. Yet, I recognize that Phelps’s pathological problems are not his fault; he’s a sick, sick man. I don’t really wish harm on his followers, because they have obviously been effected by the sort of brain-washing and mind-twisting that defines cult activity. These reasons are what keep me from going ahead and doing my worst, really, and yet… and yet… I find that I am still tempted, nonetheless. My gut wants to act, my hands itch for sand to throw in their faces…

So, here are some open-ended questions: Would you curse Westboro Baptist Church? Have you? Would you use magical techniques to cause a change in any political figure or ideologue? Given that civic cursing has been a practice since Greek times (to my knowledge, and I assume since before even then), why don’t we, as Pagans, set about taking magical action against our opponents? I don’t have answers to these questions right now, but I’m super-interested in other peoples’ thoughts!


About John Harness
John Harness is an artist and educator in Chicago. He is a member of Socialist Alternative and the Klingon Language Institute. He writes about political activism and roleplaying games.

7 Responses to Open Questions Concerning WBC

  1. Hystery says:

    Intention of harm to another soul is violent and therefore outside my concept of pacifism. Also, even if loathsome spiders came crawling out of his face, it would probably do far less damage to his cause than your continued exercise of compassion, rationalism, and integrity.

  2. George says:

    “I don’t think I’d ever walk up to Fred Phelps and kick him in the face; therefore, I won’t be sending any immediate physical harm. Okay. But, would I be okay if he got some disease (though not a fatal one) that affected his ability to organize his followers?”

    I have to say, first of all, that the image of you (or anyone) kicking Phelps in the face is rather satisfying. Beyond that I do need to note that it wouldn’t be simply as if he “got some disease” were it to be given via a curse. It would still be you delivering the disease, just as you delivered the punch. The physical analog to this is less likely to occur – i.e. you stabbing him with a syringe full of the black plauge or something – but it still stands. In most cases I would say that sending a disease is far worse than sending any “immediate physical harm” provided that harm wasn’t meant to be deadly. It feels less violent to us and therefore more acceptable somehow, but it’s still amazingly harmful and will probably have effects lasting longer than those of a physical injury.

    The large question is still very interesting to me. There’s the idea of non-physical magical techniques being used to affect politics is something I’ve thought a lot about and in the end I just think that it doesn’t work well. It’s a matter of scale. With the Greeks and other ancient societies like theirs, they had an entire culture built on some sort of magical belief system, a majority believing that such a curse or spell would be justified. Any mage could tap into a larger pool of energy and belief without problems. Our society – even just our pagan subculture – does not agree on these things. In fact this question can sometimes be enormously divisive. Ergo, in terms of politics, it’s not a magical matter of country vs. country, or party vs. party like it would have been in antiquity. It’s a matter of mage vs. country, or at best coven vs. country. The scale is just too off to make it very effective. It would be more likely to work if it was the entire pagan community taking up arms, but that’s about as likely as the sun rising in the west.

    In terms of cursing WBC or Phelps – I admit I would have no qualms at all about doing it if I thought that it would accomplish something. Hurting Phelps doesn’t stop WBC from continuing, and hurting WBC doesn’t erase their ideologies from the world. This is a situation where cursing would gain us nothing except for self-satisfaction. Which can feel nice but is unconstructive and the honestly wrong reason for engaging in cursing.

    Truth be told many people are doing magic for this and other political/social problems by engaging in magical activism. The most effective method of affecting larger change is to directly, physically work on manifesting your Will. In terms of the environment, say, cursing oil tycoons or just wishing in general for global warming to go away doesn’t get me very far. Recycling and educating and using public transport is much more effective. Likewise in terms of gay rights – wishing won’t get us very far when the psyches of those we’re wishing on are so twisted. The best way to fight what they’re saying is to go out and say the opposite, to counter-protest and to educate. Those actions are probably the most magical thing any of us could be doing.

    That was a bit longer-in-wind than I expected. Sorry about that =D

  3. Cat C-B says:

    What I have found fascinating is the way that counter-protests have been so potent wherever Phelps has gone of late… Several times, I’ve been moved to tears by counter-protests that, for instance, actively affirm the goodness and worth of gays and lesbians.

    Cursing seems paltry in comparison. And, as a Quaker, I’m not a pacifist on principle, but because I seek to live “in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars.” That life and power tell me to wage peace–a different, and more satisfying, activity than cursing or refraining from cursing. So the question becomes, not “is cursing WBC consistent with pacifism?” but rather, “What is the Spirit of Peace asking me to do?”

    And that opens up all kinds of creative possibilities! As several video clips of counter-demos I’ve watched bear witness.

    • Jarred says:

      I agree with you on this, Cat. A friend and her daughter took part in one of the counter-protests in South Carolina last week. There were over a hundred counter-protesters against six or seven protesters from the WBC. With such an overwhelming response, I see no need to stop Phelps or his clan of hate-mongers.

      And personally, when I look at Phelps, I see a man who is being consumed by his own hatred. I cannot imagine any curse that could do anything to him that could even begin to compare to what he’s done to himself.

  4. Leslie says:

    Since Fred Phelps and his storm troopers have already done harm to innocent people, I think a curse *in response* is in order. I have one that should work — it worked on Jerry Falwell, years ago — that will do nothing but cause him and his to be rained on every time they stick their self-righteous noses outdoors. Anyone wishing the particulars, email me at

    –Leslie <

  5. Indeed, it’s an intriguing question, but you seem to have missed an important area of dynamics… power. Or perhaps in paganism and pacifism it is something already built in and assumed? I do not know. I am not discussing it in the religious context but rather more generally. How much power does he have, relative to yours? If your opponent drive a tank, and you just hold a rock in your hand, is it pacifistic/ethical to throw that rock at the tank, while knowing all too well that you want that rock to, miraculously, be able to cause your opponent some harm? No, I am not making allusion to one contemporary middle eastern state. 😉

    So it depends on whether your magic is THAT potent.

    I say, DO IT. It’s only symbolic. Like that rock.

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