Today I read this article from the New Yorker about Megan Phelps-Roper and how she went from a devout member of the Westboro Baptist Church to an unbeliever, the main catalyst for her deconversion being Twitter. It was a fascinating read, but there were definitely some parts that resonated with me.
"Phelps-Roper spent the summer and the fall in an existential spiral. She would conclude that everything about Westboro’s doctrine was wrong, only to be seized with terror that these thoughts were a test from God, and she was failing. "
How well do I understand that feeling. That fear that by questioning, by having doubts, you are failing a test from God. I had those feelings multiple times for over a decade, but most of those times I was able to squash them tell, quell the doubt, pass the test. Until I couldn't anymore.
“What if the God of the Bible isn’t the God of creation? We don’t believe that the Koran has the truth about God. Is it just because we were told forever that this is How Things Are?” She added, “Does it really make you happy when you hear about people dying or starving or being maimed? Do you really want to ask God to hurt people? I ask myself these questions. I think the answer is no. When I’m not scared of the answer, I know the answer is no.”
I think when you start being honest with yourself and you finally say that you don't believe things, that is when the fundamental shift happens. It's when everything begins to snap into focus. You think, If I was wrong about this then what else have I been taught that is wrong?
Megan was braver than me though, perhaps because she had to be. She had to tell her parents. She had to leave. They still seem to love her and treated their leaving with a lot of love, but Megan and her sister have been completely disconnected. I doubt that anything like that would happen with my family and yet I don't want to tell them simply because I don't want to be a source of sadness, disappointment, and gossip. I am aware that it is a fear-driven decision and yet it is the one I continue to make every time I am on the phone with my mother and she tells me to pray for someone. What I want to say is, "Prayer, specifically intercessory prayer, does not work. I will not pray for that person because my prayers are meaningless. If I want to do something for my friend, I will take action and do something. A prayer is empty words sent to an empty sky." Instead I make an mmmm sound and don't reply. The fact that she has not picked up on this yet is fascinating, but I guess we all have our blind spots. Especially when our children are willfully being deceptive.
"Slowly, her fears about God’s judgment—the first terrifying understanding of her faith as a child, and its most stubborn remnant—faded. “As undeniable as they had seemed before, they seemed just as impossible now,” she said."
"Although Phelps-Roper no longer believes that the Bible is the word of God, she still reads it to try to find scriptural arguments that could encourage Westboro to take a more humane approach to the world."
This is what I aspire to I think. To reach a point where people know that I no longer believe the Bible is the word of God, but understand it well enough to encourage those who do believe to be good people. Most of my friends and family are not nearly to the extreme as Westboro, but there are some things they believe that are a bit extreme and are sometimes downright unloving and unkind. My mother's view on abortion for example: Anyone who has an abortion is a murderer. Anyone who has ever had an abortion should be jailed and receive the death penalty for first-degree murder. It's insane. There is no room for understanding, kindness, or even grace. Although these people have the capacity for kindness and sometimes unmitigated service, it still surprises me how quickly they can turn on a person if they have committed some of the "bigger" sins so lain out by the church.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.