He gave the audience a run down of his upbringing under the demanding and watchful eyes of Fred Phelps, creator of the Westboro Baptist Church. He described some of the abuse he and his mother and siblings went through when he was growing up and how the ludicrous theology they lived under could continue to be maintained, and is still maintained now – clever reinterpretation of the King James bible to create “the world” and “the saved” as only the people of Phelps’ flock. God’s love is extended only to those chosen few, as is salvation. They have no desire to convert or change anyone (beyond the ones who might dare marry into the family); they just want to advertise the fact that everyone who isn’t them will be automatically destined for hell upon death. And, for some reason known only to the senior Phelps, it became important to focus the bulk of that attention on the gays and their supporters rather than picket adulterers or murderers or others who’d break the rest of the commandments without much thought.
I didn’t attend the pub chat afterwards and won’t be at the lunch today, either, but it was worth going to see. He’s an example of someone who grew up in an incredibly strict and fundamentalist regime and found himself unable to continue in it. Fred Phelps teaches that reason and rationality are the Devil’s tricks, messing with a faithful mind by making it want to question instead of believe blindly. Much of the family is still living under that perception but Nate couldn’t quell the doubts, and that’s part of why he left. He told us a story about how his kids were asking about heaven once and where people who don’t get to go to heaven go. He had to explain what hell was and what eternity was and all the kids started crying. “I want to believe in god! I don’t want to go to hell!” He recalled his own reactions to these “facts” as a child and then and there vowed to be a different kind of dad. Now he considers himself an atheist and refuses to indoctrinate his own children. If they want to buy into a religion later in life, they can choose for themselves, he said. He’d rather teach them the skills to think critically and question what they hear and read. The more they question and seek factual answers, the better off they’ll be down the road.
Younger members of the church have started to drift away, too, and Nate offers himself up as a mentor if any of them should want to seek him out, but he knows they’ll be in weird places mentally for a while, just like he was. It won’t help to tell them how badly screwed up they are after years under the church’s influence. They’ll hopefully figure that out for themselves and start making headway on fixing it.