Be better than Fred Phelps: Do not celebrate his death

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On March 19 of this year, one of the most infamous religious figures of my lifetime in the United States passed away.  His name was Fred Phelps and this is in no way a eulogy for the despicable life he lived or the message he charged his Westboro Baptist Church congregation to spread. Instead, it is a reminder to all of us not to stoop to his level in our treatment of his death.
Headlines on the day of his death included "Good riddance, Fred Phelps" and "The marvelously pathetic death of Fred Phelps."  Many people in American society viewed his death as a potential positive because he would no longer be able to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers and openly gay public figures with signs that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates Fags." But our collective excitement about his passing really tells us a lot about what is wrong in our own society.
Fred Phelps' death did not give me solace or peace of mind.  While the United States is a better place to live because of Phelps passing, death should never be a reason to celebrate.  Dancing on Phelps's grave will not help his message of hate die along with him.  We as bystanders are stooping to his sinister level by celebrating a death in the same way that his church did at the funerals of fallen soldiers and homosexuals.
Phelps is not the only figure to be given this sort of community happiness regarding his death.  At the beginning of my undergraduate career at DePauw University, another infamous figure, Osama Bin Laden, was killed. The US military operation in Pakistan that killed Bin Laden aimed to eliminate the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers.
Bin Laden's death garnered a much more vocal outcry of public excitement and was met with images of American citizens dancing in the streets on television. DePauw's reaction included American themed parties and patriotic music being blared around campus.
Neither Fred Phelps nor Osama Bin Laden should be mourned for. But more importantly, if the United States' beliefs are to be beacons of human civilization and progress, we should never, under any circumstance, celebrate the death of another person.
Both Bin Laden and Phelps did not understand common human decency; both men did not give others or their families the respect in death that they deserved.  But by repeating their actions in response to their deaths, we unintentionally become complicit in what we hated both of them for doing.
The choices we make while living will inevitably define who we are and what legacy we leave behind for future generations.  The aforementioned figures made their decisions, and their legacies will reflect the evil they brought into the world with their actions. Our decisions should not add more hated to their legacies.
Being the bigger person and rising above the hate you might feel for either of these figures might be a difficult thing to do, but by not doing it you are letting their message of hatred live on after they have died.

- Small is a senior history and political science major from Zionsville, Ind.