Nate Phelps at Rock Beyond Belief

Nate Phelps at Rock Beyond Belief April 22, 2012

Here’s video of Nate Phelps speaking at Rock Beyond Belief. Meeting and getting to know Nate was one of the best parts of the event for me. He may not be a comfortable and natural public speaker, but his message is inspiring and important.

Here’s part one:

httpv://youtu.be/qWtBMZW_n3I

And part two:

httpv://youtu.be/3Cy03wRfrVM

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  • Michael Heath

    Nate Phelps had a handful of arguments (beyond his personal narrative), one of which I’d like to opine about here. That’s the accuracy of Nate’s [1] conclusions on the attributes of his father’s god relative to how the Bible defines God. Nate’s father being Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church.

    I think his father’s understanding of the nature of the Bible’s god properly defines the set of attributes we must conclude to be the defining set; unless we want to gauge this god to standards far weaker than what we use to judge humans. And for those who do want to judge God on lower standards, I find that ironic given the supposed powers of this god that should demand a far higher standard than we currently apply to humanity.

    Nate points out all the reprehensible attributes of his father’s god, to the point some reasonable people who haven’t fully confronted the nature of the biblical god would naturally react by claiming that’s a distorted description of the Christian god; and that some attributes aren’t true, e.g., that God is not ‘unforgiving’ [2]. Nate than goes on to point out after leaving his family he went in search of the more mainstream understanding of the Christian god, only to discover and I quote from the above Part II video starting just after 0:32:

    I heard this god was kind, loving, and gentle. But when I peeked behind the curtain, I discovered again the god of my father. This god did love everyone, so much so he would punish them for eternity for rejecting that unconditional love.

    I find the “for rejecting that unconditional love” irrelevant to the attribute being discussed, that is that the Bible defines the Christian god as someone who promises to punish some humans for eternity. As I’ve noted ad nauseum in this forum, this quality is near-infinitely evil and on its own, results in those adults who celebrate this god to be at best objectively immoral.

    It’s my observation that most human cultures, I think laudably, have a near-zero defect policy for certain types of egregious behavior, with a narrow set of exceptions, e.g., some unfortunately put certain powerful people above the law, others rightly bring nuance that not all are equally culpable for an equivalent crime, the insane for example. That this policy results in our defining people who commit certain egregious acts by those acts alone, without our considering the good they’ve done when we weigh-in by describing them. For example, does our defining judgement change of sane mass murderers if they’ve committed thousands of acts to kindness to those they didn’t kill? No, we perceive them as objectively immoral and objectively evil in spite of the good they might have also done.

    Even for those who get away with crimes we abhor, we still universally condemn such crimes in the abstract when we disassociate the crime from a powerful and favored perpetrator, e.g., American conservatives with political power in the 1980s condemned torture, until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney committed torture against Muslims. And yet Christians want to ignore the far worse evil the god they celebrate promises to do and has supposedly already done. They judge their god to a far lower moral standard than we use for other humans in spite of this god’s supposedly being all-knowing and all-powerful. In fact the aggregate evil committed by all humans is near-infinitely close to zero evil relative to the volume of evil their god promises to do, even if only one human is condemned to eternal punishment as described by the Bible.

    Therefore the ‘no true Scotsman’ argument by biblical inerrantists and other Christians who believe a god who punishes eternally and yet still celebrate this god’s existence is both false and forces the reasonable person to define these people as objectively immoral. The fact many such Christians celebrate the idea some humans will be ‘burn forever in Hell’ goes well past their being immoral and makes a convincing case those particular Christians are obviously evil, or deluded.

    1] I’ll be using Nate’s first name in this post in spite of my not being on friendly terms with him simply to insure readers know which Phelps I’m referencing.

    2] I agree with Nate’s description of how his father perceives the biblical god as ‘unforgiving’. The Bible describes an entity we must conclude is unforgiving given his promise of eternal punishment to some, in spite of the Bible’s claim God will forgive others. Just like Jeffrey Dahmer is a murderer in spite of the fact he didn’t murder everyone he met.

  • No time to expand, but the concept of eternal punishment is even more despicable when you contract that with the eternal paradise those who were fortunate enough (and there is really no other term for it) to be born in the right place at the right time such that they became a Christian before they died.

  • Michael Heath

    As someone raised to be fundie who also walked away at age 18, I found the following described me perfectly. Based on the writing from Nate Phelps that went viral awhile back coupled to his speech here, it appears he also fits this criteria. From Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarian’s, starting on page 130 of the free online PDF book:

    Christian fundamentalism has three great enemies in the struggle to retain its children, judging by the stories its apostates tell: weaknesses in its own teachings, science, and hypocrisy. As for the first, many a fallen-away fundamentalist told us that the Bible simply proved unbelievable on its own merits. It was inconceivable to them that, if an almighty creator of the universe had wanted to give humanity a set of teachings for guidance across the millennia, it would be the material found in the Bible. The Bible was, they said, too often inconsistent, petty, boring, appalling, self-serving, or unbelievable.

    Secondly, science made too much sense and had pushed traditional beliefs into a tight corner. When their church insisted that its version of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the sundry miracles and so on had to be taken on faith, the fledgling apostates eventually found that preposterous. Faith for them was not a virtue, although they could see why their religion taught people it was. It meant surrendering rationality. From its earliest days fundamentalism has drawn a line in the sand over scripture versus science, and some of its young people eventually felt they had to step over the line, and then they kept right on going.

    Still the decision to leave was almost always wrenching, because it could mean becoming an outcast from one’s family and community. Also, fundamentalists are frequently taught that no one is lower, and will burn more terribly in hell, than a person who abandons their true religion. What then gnawed away so mercilessly at the apostates that they could no longer overpower doubt with faith?

    Their families will say it was Satan. But we thought, after interviewing dozens of “amazing apostates,” that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.

    Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it. [24]

    Footnote 24:

    Another factor may play a considerable role in creating amazing apostates in fundamentalist sects. Their religion may have tried very hard to “put the fear of the Lord” into them. But the apostates may not have been as fearful as their brothers and sisters and peers who stayed. They may have been more willing to take the risk of going it alone. Certainly it would take considerable courage to cut all those ties, throw away the sure ticket to Heaven, and start over from scratch facing the emptiness alone.

    Speaking of fear, Bruce Hunsberger and I also interviewed university students who had come from nonreligious backgrounds but were now “amazing believers.” They had, it seemed, usually become religious for emotional reasons as a way of dealing with fear of death, despair, and personal failure, and been “brought to Christ” by religious friends and youth groups. These conversions seldom happened for intellectual reasons. Frequently, in fact, the amazing believers were given the Bible after making their commitment to Jesus so they could “find out what you now believe.” See Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith and Others Abandon Religion, 1997, Amherst, N.Y., Prometheus Books.

    For a conversion from atheism to evangelical Christianity brought about by intellectual reasons, see The Language of God by the amazing believer, Francis Collins.

    The only exception to the above I didn’t encounter was Altemeyer’s occasional observation,

    Also, fundamentalists are frequently taught that no one is lower, and will burn more terribly in hell, than a person who abandons their true religion.

  • Michael Heath

    This post is from the perspective on winning arguments, not necessarily that tacitus’ point doesn’t have at least some merit.

    tacitus asserts:

    No time to expand, but the concept of eternal punishment is even more despicable when you contract that with the eternal paradise those who were fortunate enough (and there is really no other term for it) to be born in the right place at the right time such that they became a Christian before they died.

    I think that’s a red herring which allows Christians who believe in eternal punishment and still celebrate their god a way to avoid dealing with the problem of eternal punishment. That’s because there are biblical passages which provide some arguable exceptions for those who are ignorant of Christianity to not suffer eternal punishment.

    Their god is already near-infinitely evil if he condemns only one human to the eternal punishment described in the Bible. So why provide these believers a way to avoid confronting this fact?

    I think it’s even unwise to go after them for the evil the biblical God supposedly did and promises to do here on earth. Precisely because the fact the biblical god promises to condemn to eternal torment at least two humans convincingly destroys any claim of morality and any justification of celebrating such an entity. So why use weaker arguments if they fail this one? The promise of eternal punishment is a fatally defective belief if one also attempts to celebrate such a god or claim they’re objectively moral. All other arguments provide some logical conclusions which arguably allow for a non-evil biblical god – though those arguments are weak; still, don’t give them that luxury since by definition the biblical god is objectively evil on eternal punishment alone.

  • I understand your point, and I have said before that the doctrine of Hell is the Achilles heel of Christianity, but I do believe there is some utility in juxtaposing the rewards of Heaven with the punishment of Hell.

    It’s tough for many people, even non-Christians, to get their heads around the concept of infinite evil, especially when they believe that there are certain people — Stalin and Hitler being the archetypes — that do not deserve the slightest modicum of mercy. But in conjunction with salvation, you force them to confront the possibility that that might one day meet one of those people in Heaven (if they were saved last minute) *and* rejoice that they are there, even as millions of their victims are burning in Hell for eternity while you praise God that in his infinite wisdom and justice He sent them there.

    Christopher Hitchens once used the Elisabeth Fritl case (the Dutch women locked up and repeatedly raped by her father for 24 years) in a debate to exemplify the horrendous suffering God supposedly allows to happen here on Earth. The Christians on the panel could only respond by claiming that this case helped make their case for God since only in the afterlife — through the punishment of the father in Hell — could things be made right.

    The debate moved on at that point, and I think Hitchens missed a golden opportunity to drive home the ridiculousness of that response by asking them where would the justice be if the father found salvation while in prison, but the daughter, quite justifiably under the circumstances, decided there was no God. Then you would have Elisabeth burning in Hell for eternity while her father was looking down on her from Heaven praising God for his infinite wisdom in sending her to a place infinitely worse than the hellhole he locked her up in, for an infinite amount of time.

    People find Hell to be okay when they only think of worst of the worst ending up there. In fact many prefer to believe in Hell just so that the evil people who got away with murder in this life will face some sort of retribution in the next. Thus I think there is some benefit to throw in examples of the arbitrariness of salvation, and the fact that retribution is not necessarily reserved for or even exacted upon those you believe deserve it (at least as commonly claimed by those adhering to “Biblical Christianity”).

  • Michael Heath

    tacitus – great post.

    tacitus wrote:

    It’s tough for many people, even non-Christians, to get their heads around the concept of infinite evil, especially when they believe that there are certain people — Stalin and Hitler being the archetypes — that do not deserve the slightest modicum of mercy. But in conjunction with salvation, you force them to confront the possibility that that might one day meet one of those people in Heaven (if they were saved last minute) *and* rejoice that they are there, even as millions of their victims are burning in Hell for eternity while you praise God that in his infinite wisdom and justice He sent them there.

    You’ve changed my mind that there isn’t utility in sometimes addressing how the Bible asserts people will be judged beyond the evil of eternal punishment and at a minimum, the immorality of celebrating a god who condemns for all eternity.

    I think however that if we raise the issue of God’s judgment and Heaven, we should be mindful of the NT precept of grace, not merely framing this issue around an implied justice. So the inerrantist will concede that some people who we define by their evil acts will show up in Heaven due to the idea of grace. They could also rightly point out that grace is a desirable feature of Christianity. Such a Christian might also point out the Bible asserts none of us are worthy of Heaven, that we, “all fall short of the glory of God”.

    However those responses don’t address the morality of condemning some humans to eternal punishment – and while I share your observation that inerrantist Christians in general don’t appear to have thought about what infinity truly is and therefore the evil of punishing humans for all eternity, they also seem to avoid considering the evil of the being that would make such promises and therefore whether we can justifiably argue such an entity is endowed with grace or worthy of celebrating. I would argue that the biblical god doesn’t meet the definition of grace for the same reason the sufficiently sane serial murderer isn’t considered a good person merely because they allowed more people to live than they murdered. So that’s another arrow in my quiver of arguments on this topic; thanks for pushing back.

    tacitus writes:

    . . . I think Hitchens missed a golden opportunity to drive home the ridiculousness of that response [Hell provides further retribution for the evil some people do in this temporal life] by asking them where would the justice be if the father found salvation while in prison, but the daughter, quite justifiably under the circumstances, decided there was no God. Then you would have Elisabeth burning in Hell for eternity while her father was looking down on her from Heaven praising God for his infinite wisdom in sending her to a place infinitely worse than the hellhole he locked her up in, for an infinite amount of time.

    Standing ovation after this encore re-post QFT. It also brings up the whole idea of the absurdity of the Biblical god’s existence. That he’s supposedly full of grace and omnipotent, and yet he’s also either :

    1) incapable of revealing himself to humanity in a way we can both validate his existence, his nature, and his communications with us or,

    2) else he’s so evil he purposefully hides himself just so he can punish many of us.

    And then to pile on to the evil of #2, he plans to punish those of us who both rely on the best approaches we possess to understanding objective truth precisely because it convincingly argues he doesn’t exist – both because of a total lack of evidence and because biblical claims contradict each other to the point the Bible also logically refutes the existence of such a god as well.

  • zxcier

    Nice blomment (or should that be comm-post?) Michael, well stated and strong argument. But I’ve seen that line of reasoning neatly side-stepped by defining God’s creation (us) as his property, and thus subject to his whims. This forms the basis both for why we must revere him and his law (we owe our entire existence to him!) and why it’s different when he murders millions and damns them to eternal torment. It’s not evil to send our livestock to the slaughter, since they wouldn’t have even existed or been able to grow up without us, right?

    Of course this argument is abhorrent as well. I love my son and he is my “creation”, but once he is grown and capable I would never claim to have control over his life nor demand any appreciation for having brought him into this world. He didn’t ask to be created into bondage or have any choice in the matter. In fact it seems quite disturbing that the religious accept these forced terms so enthusiastically.

  • Michael Heath

    zxcier writes:

    I’ve seen that line of reasoning neatly side-stepped by defining God’s creation (us) as his property, and thus subject to his whims. This forms the basis both for why we must revere him and his law (we owe our entire existence to him!) and why it’s different when he murders millions and damns them to eternal torment.

    The sidestep you present mostly fails with my argument. Precisely because I purposefully preempt it by not introducing the Bible’s command we are devout to God, worship him, and submit to him as sovereign. Instead I claim it’s immoral for believers to celebrate God’s existence and nature if they are either inerrantists or the type of believer who believes in a judging god who will judge some to eternal punishment as described in the Bible.

    The only way for this set of believers to wiggle out of their own immorality is to claim morality is entirely arbitrary and what the Bible states it to be – which is entirely contradictory and self-refuting. That illogical biblical standard also requires them to promote a standard of morality far less objectively moral than we humans have developed to operate our societies, while simultaneously claiming this god is all-powerful and all-knowing. They’re claiming God is both more powerful and knowledgable than us, but in terms of morality also far less capable than humanity – that’s a contradiction in terms. Join that with biblical passages about God’s aversion to sin and he comes off as far weaker, less capable, and capricious than nearly all humans demonstrate on a day-to-day basis.

    Like most topics, bible-based assertions don’t withstand even mild scrutiny. I think this is a primary reason the vast majority of devout inerrantist Christians spend time in churches that redundantly reaffirm and celebrate their faith rather than sufficiently research and analyze their dogma and beliefs. And when they do, it’s more a pose where they pick apart strawman criticisms, depend on logical fallacies, and avoid the toughest arguments altogether. Of course nearly all Christians don’t come to their faith intellectually, but instead are indoctrinated into the faith or make an emotional decision without any intellectual underpinning. This religion is rife with conversion stories where after someone is ‘born again’, they’re given a Bible in order for them know what it is they now believe; where they know it’s all God’s word because a verse in Timothy tells them so. Man I wish that last observation was a strawman, but unfortunately it’s predominately not, they think proper analysis has them noting the Greek conveys the term, “fire breathed” as if that somehow proves their case, while avoiding the fact they’re making a circular argument – which they don’t even know is a logical fallacy.

  • Hey Michael. Sorry for the delayed reply — got busy yesterday.

    So the inerrantist will concede that some people who we define by their evil acts will show up in Heaven due to the idea of grace. They could also rightly point out that grace is a desirable feature of Christianity. Such a Christian might also point out the Bible asserts none of us are worthy of Heaven, that we, “all fall short of the glory of God”.

    I fully agree with all of that, but I suspect that pushing them into making those assertions has utility, since it forces them to assert a position that is undoubtedly unpopular amongst their fellow believers. I know that when I have made this argument on Christian message board and a Christian agrees that they would rejoice upon meeting Adolf Hitler in Heaven, it gets very quiet all of a sudden.

    Standing ovation after this encore re-post QFT.

    *blush*

    And then to pile on to the evil of #2, he plans to punish those of us who both rely on the best approaches we possess to understanding objective truth precisely because it convincingly argues he doesn’t exist – both because of a total lack of evidence and because biblical claims contradict each other to the point the Bible also logically refutes the existence of such a god as well.

    Interestingly, I’ve recently heard Catholic theologians — one an archbishop — admit on a couple of occasions that they would not be surprised to meet some atheists in Heaven. Of course, I already knew that the Catholic Church made the doctrine of Salvation more palatable by inventing Purgatory means of avoiding Hell, but apparently some even quite conservative Catholics agree that if an atheist is genuinely “seeking the truth,” they are not excluded from God’s grace. Now, they are extremely reluctant to provide specifics, of course, so who knows what that’s supposed to mean in reality, but it’s interesting to see the lengths they will go to soften the impact of Hell.

    Thanks for the good conversation — and strange that we were the only two who bothered to comment on this thread. Doesn’t happen very often these days!

  • Michael Heath

    Thanks for the good conversation — and strange that we were the only two who bothered to comment on this thread. Doesn’t happen very often these days!

    Ditto, and Nate Phelps deserved more. It seems to me that embedded videos don’t do well on the number of comment posts unless readers can expound without having to first watch the video. That would be difficult to do with these two videos.