Worst title ever. Let’s forget my poor, fatigued brain even come up with it and move on to the important stuff.
Two grand-daughters of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church (famous for loudly and unwaveringly Hating Fags on God’s behalf), have left the church they’ve grown up in and been part of their whole lives.
For decades, it was all they knew, and now they’re outta there.
I am fascinated by shit like this.
I mean, the Westboro Baptist Church is a bewildering and hypnotically fascinating phenomenon in itself. They cheerfully revel in the contempt they inspire in almost literally every single person who encounters their message of hate and intolerance. They seem to sincerely take any publicity as good publicity, and their obsession with deviant sexuality and persistence in making as obnoxious a noise as possible are central to their monumental feat of unwaveringly trolling the entire country.
But some of them really seem kinda nice.
I mean, did you see Louis Theroux’s documentary about the time he stayed with them? It’s not the only time they’ve happily invited media scrutiny and been entirely candid about just what a small-minded shit their god is, but it’s one of the most accessible. If you’ve read much about the Church already, the show probably won’t contain a lot of astonishing facts, such as that most of its members are not easy people to like. Grand Patriarch Fred, in particular, is twisted with genuinely unsettling fury and disgust at the world. Watching the children being indoctrinated with dementedly homophobic dogma isn’t easy, either.
But some of the young adults – possibly including the two girls who left, I think, but you know how I feel about research – seemed much more personable. Louis genuinely seemed to get on with them at times, and not just because he has a superhuman patience. They were friendly with him, engaging, chatty. They didn’t seem to act unkindly to him at all. They believed he was an appalling sinner whose depravity in the eyes of God was such that he was destined to suffer deservedly in eternal hellfire… but that isolated belief didn’t seem to impinge on the rest of their worldview.
And now it seems like that worldview’s getting left behind.
They’ve not suddenly become devoted skeptics, or even atheists. The “revelation” they’ve had isn’t one of rational enlightenment; it’s still a fundamentally flawed logic that’s led them to their new conclusions. But despite remaining orthogonal to reason, some glimmer of compassion has overcome a lifetime’s inculcation of hate.
If things were how I was taught, God would be cruel and unkind; God cannot possibly be cruel and unkind; therefore, things are not how I was taught.
That’s the basic gist of how it goes. It’s still an obviously faulty argument, but the motivation driving the cognitive biases in play here is fantastically different than what you tend to see in the Phelps clan. And it seems they feel it strongly enough to take their leave of their entire family, who they must have known would shun and publicly disavow them if they strayed from the path – they’d seen it happen to other family members, after all. And yet from somewhere has come the determination to stick to what they believe to be true, even now that it’s actually costing them something meaningful.
I don’t want to get too celebratory and prodigal-son-ish here. It’s a long road from the Westboro Baptist Church back to decent society, and most of it’s still ahead of them. But still… it’s a heck of a first step to have taken.