How Fred Phelps’ Son Ran Away From Home

The very awesome Nate Phelps (son of the not-at-all-awesome “God Hates Fags” preacher Fred Phelps) has received some great media coverage over the past few days because he represents something remarkable: Someone who left a cult-like hate church and became a reasonable, rational atheist:

Nate Phelps

If you haven’t heard it before, the story of how he finally escaped Westboro Baptist Church is amazing:

Let’s go back to that night of your 18th birthday. You were determined to leave then. How did you do it?

Well, the actual planning, I had saved up money. We were selling candy for years there, and I was able to save a few dollars here and there and hide it, and I bought an old used car from a security guard at my high school and I hid that down the street so no one knew that I owned it. I kept it far enough away from the house that no one realized it was mine. And then over the course of the last month or so I started packing my meager belongings; I think I had four, five, six boxes of stuff. I would pack a little bit at a time and hide it in the garage. And then on the night of my 18th birthday I waited until about 10.30 when everyone was asleep and I went and got the car and backed it into the driveway and loaded the boxes into the trunk. Then I went and parked the car about half a block up the road, just in case, because it was critical that no one know that’s what I was doing. One of the dynamics of the situation is that we were more than willing to throw each other under the bus to save ourselves.

Not one brother or one sister you could’ve confided in at that point or would have?

It was way too dangerous to do that. So I went back in the house and I remember sitting in my room for about 15 minutes just literally shaking. As it approached midnight I actually stood at the bottom of the stairs going up to my dad’s bedroom and watched the clock on the wall. As soon as it hit midnight I yelled as loud as I could at the top of my lungs and then ran out the back door and jumped in the car and took off.

That was 35 years ago.

Nate still hopes he can reconcile with his mother one day, but it’s unlikely that she’ll ever find it in her heart to do that. How can she find the time to meet with her son when there are so many gay people she needs to hate? ***Edit***: A couple of commenters point out that Phelps’ mother may be an abuse victim and the decision to see her son may not be as simple as that. She may not be doing it out of fear of what her husband may do to her. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly plausible given how Fred Phelps rules over his family. I apologize for not considering that when I originally wrote this post.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Just a Guy

    “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;”
    If Westboro baptist represents Christianity to you, please reconsider. Watch a William Lane Craig debate and see that it is not anti-intellectual solely because some constituents are!

    • Anna

      Your comment isn’t making any sense to me. No one here is an atheist because of the existence of the Westboro Baptist Church. They are a dangerous, abusive cult, but that doesn’t make other forms of Christianity right. Most of the other denominations aren’t willing to be so offensive towards gay people, at least not in public, but that has nothing to do with the veracity of what they teach. And I think you might be a little naive if you believe William Lane Craig (of “genocide is totally cool if God commands it” fame) is going to convince us that Christianity is true, moral, or intellectual.

      • kenneth

        Westboro Baptist, for all the attention it garners, is so small as to be a virtual non-factor in this country’s political and cultural climate. 99.9% of the damage inflicted upon gays has nothing to do with this one loony extended clan. It arises from the mainstream of Christianity in this country – Protestant and Catholic, and Mormon. The same is true for most of the other anti-intellectual idiocy in this country – the drug war, creationism in schools, foreign war as a national sport etc. 

        • 3lemenope

          I’ll give you creationism in schools; that’s a gimme. But the other two are a bit of a stretch to blame primarily on Christian anti-intellectualism. 

          During our last two wars there were plenty of church-organized and/or participating protests all over the country, so at worst one could say that modern American Christianity was (and is) deeply divided on the question of whether imperial war is a swell notion. As for the drug war, in my experience secular arguments against liberalizing drug policy (such as they are) have much more cultural currency, and are employed much more often in the debate, than religious ones; it is much easier to draw a straight line from policy inertia in this area to prison guard unions and police departments lobbying and advocating for the status quo than to any religious source.

          • kenneth

            There are of course Christians who are anti-war or even pacifist, as Quakers demonstrate. That said, our aggressive, even imperial foreign policy and theories of pre-emptive war, derive entirely from the religious assumptions of Manifest Destiny and American exceptionalism. In the case of the Drug War, its momentum is sustained in large part by deeply deeply entrenched financial interests of the prison-police industry. All of the philosophical underpinnings of prohibition however come from protestant theology. 

            • 3lemenope

              That said, our aggressive, even imperial foreign policy and theories of pre-emptive war, derive entirely from the religious assumptions of Manifest Destiny and American exceptionalism.

              The Bush Doctrine owes much more to Wilsonian idealism than it does to the rather more temporally remote Manifest Destiny, and American exceptionalism as a general notion has many sources, secular and religious; if I’m not mistaken, de Toqueville was the first to describe America as “Exceptional” in an essentialist way, and he did not mean it as having religious connotations. Of course, he did separately point out that one way in which the US was anomalous was its raucous religious economy compared to the staid regional religious fiefdoms of Europe.  Most of the uses of the term in my experience are in service to an argument that the US, because of some unique feature (territory, resources, isolation, history, governmental structure, etc.) that it is somehow exempt from patterns and causes of political change in fortune to which other nation-states are routinely subjected. That’s not primarily a religious idea either, though religion can certainly serve as one of those featured “exceptions”. 

              All of the philosophical underpinnings of prohibition however come from protestant theology.

              There are plenty of secular sources for prohibitionist thought as well. The sumptuary laws against drugs in the US were historically more often justified on racist and racialist grounds than on religious ones, with cultural panic images of invading Mexicans laborers, Chinese railway workers, and rapacious African men fueling the primary cultural commitment to prohibition, esp. of cannabis and opiates. Communitarianism is a secular political ideology that fuels a great deal of more modern drug prohibitionism, and likewise needs little assistance from religion to do so.

              Now, I do agree that austerity and temperance as social values owe a great deal in the US to protestant cultural influence, but it is far cry from being the primary, much less sufficient, reason for historical or current drug policy, when more proximate causes have had far more powerful effects over the status of the policies.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

       But William Lane Craig is on the same page as WBC on matters of Divine Command Morality. The biblical god can do no wrong as far as either are concerned. And he is hardly intellectual.

    • Guest

      “Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice-versa [sic]” -W.L.Craig. Sorry, just because Craig “sounds” intellectual and smart does not mean that he is. Saying stupid things with big words is just as anti-intellectual as saying stupid things with small ones. 

      • smrnda

         So WLC is basically stating that his worldview is unfalsifiable based on some subjective experience? Sounds like something a *real intellectual heavyweight* would say.

        Craig has always reminded me of comics who aren’t funny but who drag their friends to every show because no matter how bad the act, the friends will laugh at every joke. People admire Craig not because of the arguments he makes, but because he’s essentially saying “I believe and don’t have to rationalize it” in a way that *sounds* a bit more intelligent than that.

      • LesterBallard

        William Lane Craig; he’s the one who said we should feel sorry for the Hebrews who slaughtered all those children in the OT, rather than feel sorry for the children, right? Fuck William Lane Craig.

    • LCORTEZ@uams.edu

      William Lane Craig is anti-intellectual. He’s just sneakier about it than WBC.

    • 3lemenope

      I sympathize. Really I do. Just recently I was treated to an extended defense of why it was totally OK to dismiss and ridicule a person because they call themselves ‘conservative’, on the strength of the notion that these days there are people who call themselves conservatives who are also lamentable idiots. Calling the whole of Christianity anti-intellectual because some of its modern exponents happen to be anti-intellectual is just as obnoxious; one of the least pleasant common cultural aspects of the atheist blogosphere, in my opinion.

      But, WLC is not the best guy to point to in order to make the case that there are Christian intellectuals worth reading. Yes, his retooling of the Kalam argument actually was pretty clever (with the category shift from sequential to hierarchical causes), but even that is made ridiculous by what he thinks the argument, at the end of the day, actually proves. Most of the rest of his work is sloppy and/or outright absurd (like his defense, mentioned by others above, of Divine Command theory). Mostly, his true talent is in debate and rhetoric, where he is tactically impressive, pretty much in the same way that the ancient sophists were impressive; it becomes easy to snow your opponents under with a set of arguments and impress an audience when you cease to care whether the individual arguments are self-consistent, hang together, or attached to anything resembling a material fact. It is extremely difficult to persuasively argue against nonsense.

      There are actual heavyweights in the Christian intellectual tradition which might be better for the case that the whole of Christian thought should not be dismissed simply because some modern Christians are anti-intellectual. Paul Tillich or Soren Kierkegaard are good solid choices, or N. T. Wright or Marcus Borg if you want folks who are even more recent. Tillich’s A History of Christian Thought: From its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism itself is a great survey of the immensity and influence of the Christian intellectual tradition. This is not to say that an atheist reading the works of these theologians would be persuaded by them, but they are challenging and provocative, and only a fool dismisses something like that out-of-hand prior to perusal. 

      • Coyotenose

        I just went back and looked at the start of that thread. Somehow I missed the initial joke, which changes the context of later comments. I don’t think my position is any different than what I wrote, but I’d have stayed out of it in retrospect. There was too much serious defense for what was just a bad joke, too much of which was trying to change the nature of the argument. My dogpiling on wasn’t helpful.

        • 3lemenope

          I appreciate the post-mortem. For what it’s worth, I didn’t think anything you said on the topic was objectionable in the sense I was complaining about. The definition of Neo-con, on the other hand… :-)

    • The Other Weirdo

      So the guy who claims that genocide is moral if God orders it is now the intellectual bastion of Christianity?

  • Joan

    Hemant, I was going to share this blog post until I read your last line.  I find it very unfair and insensitive.  She’s essentially a battered woman (definitely emotionally, possibly physically as well), scared to death of her husband, and scared to death of the consequences of defying him, if  only to meet for a few minutes with her son.  I don’t think we can begin to understand the control he has over her and the fear she continually feels.

    • Levon Mkrtchyan

      I agree with Joan.

      I really respect Hemant’s work and his writing.  However, that last line goes against the very name of this blog.

      Hemant, I urge you to reconsider what you wrote there.  From where I stand, there is a real likelihood that Nate Phelps’ mother is trapped in a terribly abusive situation.  She is much more a victim of religious abuse than most of us here.  I hope you find it in you to edit that last sentence.

      • The Godless Monster

        What a sick, twisted, cowardly and disgusting excuse to torture little children.

        • TheExpatriate700

          My maternal grandmother was in a similar situation with my grandfather. However, unlike you, my mother actually understands that, and gets VERY offended at anyone who tries to say otherwise. I remember one time when some twit like you tried to argue her mother was just as culpable as her father. It ended with my mother smacking her hard enough to cause a nosebleed.

          • The Godless Monster

             Well, her violent reaction certainly has convinced THIS twit of the soundness of your argument.
            No, just kidding. You’re an ignorant cumstain.

            • Guest

              Careful —- she’ll accuse you of being a bully and get you banned with THAT kind of attitude! :)

              Dude, you have it figured out and understand. Now, most of the “***stains” out there are just that. Dried up emission that never should have been in the first place!

              • Coyotenose

                It’s unfortunate that you don’t understand anything at all about abuse and yet feel the need to be a nasty little ignoramus about it.

            • 3lemenope

              Experience with one’s own family situation is rarely transitive to others’. It is approximately as ridiculous to say “in all cases, both the abuser and the bystander parent are always equally responsible for abuse” as it is to say “in all cases, only the abuser is responsible for abuse because the bystander was constrained (for whatever reason) from acting”. It may be the case that your opinion of these situations holds true for yours, but it is probably a bit presumptuous to generalize it to all cases.

              And all that aside, calling someone an ignorant cumstain is approximately as helpful to one’s own argument as slapping someone in the face hard enough to cause a nosebleed.

              • Guest

                Right. But the fact the the person he was responding to had called him a twit and was exceptionally condescending is of no interest to your judgement?

                Yes. Apropos. Bitch out the one defending himself.

                • The Godless Monster

                   3lemenope appears to be more concerned with acting like a hall monitor or nanny than adding anything substantive to the discussion. For me, the bottom line is that when children are involved, I don’t give a flying fuck for whatever excuses an adult may come up with for another adult’s complicity in abuse.

                • Coyotenose

                   Speaking as someone whose mother was terrified that she and her children would be murdered if she tried to leave, whose mother had no idea where to go for help, whose mother is still torn up and wretched over not knowing what to do even after thirty years: your “bottom line” here is hamhandedly bestial in its ignorance.

                  She has asked me and my sister on several occasions if he ever sexually abused us, which tells me a fuck of a lot about what happened to her that she is still too shame-filled over to talk about. It also tells me a lot about what happened to her when she was an orphan at the mercy of distant relatives, and made to think that whatever they did to her was her own fault and inescapable.

                  You are not the judge of other peoples’ reactions to terror just because you like to write about how tough you want everyone to think you are. Your posts on this matter are sick, twisted, disgusting, and cowardly.

                • The Godless Monster

                  “You are not the judge of other peoples’ reactions to terror just because
                  you like to write about how tough you want everyone to think you are.”

                  Tough? Hardly. If you’re referring to my past jobs and my training, I don’t see how they are relevant to THIS post and THIS thread. I only bring up my skill set and training when they are relevant to the topic. They WERE relevant to the topic on a different post on this blog. If you want to contact me via my blog we can arrange to discuss my background and areas of expertise to your satisfaction. You come off better if you concentrate on attacking my arguments instead of me or my motivations.

                • The Godless Monster

                   In regards to your experience and your mother’s experience, I am truly sorry that you went through that. It does not change the fact that I still feel adults should be responsible for their actions. I don’t want to or intend to diminish in any way the hell that she went through, but I fell that adults are responsible for their children’s well being, no matter how difficult a situation they may be in themselves. I can understand how abusive relationships can cause a person to let bad things happen to their kids. I get that. I just don’t give them a free pass because of it. They are still responsible to their children. Life isn’t fair and it’s this obsession with fairness that I find perplexing. The extreme right seems to have a thing for that as well.

                • Guest

                  I agree, and also, this excuse making and blaming everything on the husband/man is ridiculous….

                  Here is an example of a woman who made choices – BAD CHOICES – and yet, the outcry is against the husband/man….

                  Oh, if only she had not attached her star to his wagon she would be a saint…..oh the woman did some bad things, but she is the victim because of men…..oh goodness, if it were not for men in this world, all women would be perfect and wonderful and smell like flowers…..

                  This is nonsense. And it is yet one further example of the glaring hypocrisy and anti-male sentiment that runs through this community.

                  In this case, this woman was a monster – and still is. Pure and simple. The man is not to blame because she made the choice, and continues to make the choice , to parade around with hate filled messages and turning a back on the welfare of her children.

                  As for all the anecdotal evidence being presented by other posters – if what you claim is true, I am very sorry for you, but no matter what, your mothers/wives etc made CHOICES. Choices that they could undo and get away from IF THEY CHOOSE TO. And there are thousands of resources and paths available to them to get out. They do not, therefore they are culpable and guilty of abuse themselves.

                • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

                  You obviously didn’t read the interview that this article is based on. Fred Phelps viciously beat his children and when the mother would try to stop him, he would beat her too.
                  This woman is a victim of her husband’s abuse, plain and simple…how are you taking that to mean that we think all men are abusers and all men are victims?

                • Posit

                  How do you not get that from the poster’s response?

                • 3lemenope

                  Yeah, actually they aren’t close to on the same level of nastiness, though if you really want to know why I skated by one and objected to the other, it takes a little unpacking of the logical consequences of what each person was saying. 

                  I would argue that “twit” was provisionally justified on the grounds that the person so-called was casting a wide net and accusing everyone under it of “sick, twisted, cowardly, and disgusting” excuse-making, not to mention full moral complicity in the torture of children. Such that any person who has a personal experience (as the person who replied and called them a twit did) that falls within that net could reasonably be offended by the implication, since it in all likelihood is actually a poor description of many such situations, and the assumption that it is a good description of all such situations leads to people that they love being blamed for things they themselves do not blame them for. A person who, without direct knowledge, presumes they have leave to opine to the person most directly affected as to the moral character of the people who were involved in a terrible situation like familial abuse and how they should feel about them is acting twitty. It’s about the same level of twitty as walking up to someone you don’t know and telling them that their own beliefs (whatever they may be) are crap and wouldn’t you be so much happier with Jesus instead? Presumption makes the twit.

                  “Twit” is an unpleasant word, but moderate enough to effectively convey irritation with a person without foreclosing all possibility of future interchange. After all, a person can easily act like a twit without being aware of it, and being called out as such may cause introspection. “Ignorant cumstain” is several steps further along the continuum of mean things you can say to an interlocutor, and does not have much power to cause a person to rethink their approach; its only real utility is as verbal abuse, dismissal, invective.

                  I object to the slap on the grounds that just because a person has a Backpfeifengesicht it does not follow that it is morally proper to fulfill its implicit demand. Smacking twits may be viscerally satisfying, but it is not strictly speaking a good thing to do.

                • The Godless Monster

                   

                  “… its only real utility is as verbal abuse, dismissal, invective.”

                  Quite perceptive…

                • Coyotenose

                   Read the post ABOVE the “twit” one and you’ll see what’s wrong with your defense.

              • The Godless Monster

                Quite presumptuous on your part to declare that my use of the term “ignorant cumstain” was intended to further my argument.
                My argument needs no defending. I was merely responding to an ignorant cumstain calling me a twit.

                • 3lemenope

                  No presumption at all. It assuredly affects the capacity of your argument to persuade the audience whether you think it does or not, and whether you want it to or not; the manner in which something is presented affects the way in which it will be received. 

                  Some people will read you using “ignorant cumstain” and figure you to be incapable of holding a reasonable conversation on the topic, and so concomitantly are less likely to take your arguments and opinions on the topic seriously. 

                  Contrary to your annoyance at me pointing out you have a somewhat silly strategy for getting your point across, I’m not any sort of hall monitor or nanny, not least because this isn’t my blog, but more pointedly because I have no interest whatsoever in controlling or policing your behavior. By all means, use all the invective you want. It will clearly identify the quality of your arguments.

                • The Godless Monster

                   

                  …”but more pointedly because I have no interest whatsoever in controlling or policing your behavior.”

                  It’s impossible to reconcile that statement with several comments you’ve just written.

                • 3lemenope

                  So you think the only reason someone would criticize another is that they desire control over them?

                • The Godless Monster

                   Not at all! I’m inferring that YOU would do so. :-)

    • The Godless Monster

       Her fear of her husband overrode her love for her children. I find that I have little to no sympathy for people in this position.
      My father was in a similar way with my mother. She was a psychotic and abusive harpie and came close to killing me and some of my siblings when we were little. My father’s fear of my mother’s wrath was greater than his love and concern for his children. We continued to be abused both physically and emotionally for many, many years due to my fathers inaction. He was just as culpable, if not more.
      No, I don’t feel a whole lot of empathy for this woman.

      • RobertoTheChi

        I too agree with you about fear of a spouse over-riding the love of their child. I have little compassion for someone who would put anything or anyone over their child/children. Hemant has no reason to apologize.

      • Anna

        I’m surprised at how many people are making excuses for the mother. Yes, she was beaten. She was also a victim of abuse. But she was an adult. She had a choice to leave, to take her children, and to try to protect them. Instead, she did nothing.

        How bad does the abuse have to be before some people are willing to assign blame to the mother? What if Phelps had been raping his kids, too?  Would there still be people making excuses for a mother who watched her husband beat and rape their children without calling the police?

        • 3lemenope

          She was also a victim of abuse. But she was an adult. She had a choice to leave, to take her children, and to try to protect them. Instead, she did nothing.

          Everything else in this thread aside, I find this repeated assertion that because she’s an adult that means she necessarily could act to be a perplexing one. Adults can be controlled through abuse just as children can, and have no special powers that children lack to combat that control. An abusive husband or wife can control access to finances, vehicles, communication, hold hostage somebody or something deeply cared about, not to mention direct physical violence or confinement.  Adult victims are not immune in any way to retaliation of any of these and several other forms.

          Abuse victim is a very hard headspace for anyone who hasn’t been abused to get in. I personally wouldn’t claim to be able to, having never been abused, but I have seen the behavioral *effects* of such abuse in other adults, and so would say at least that adults seem not significantly less vulnerable to the full psychological nightmare of abuse than children. Would that it weren’t so, but it is. It is easy to come to believe, after sustained abuse, that you are powerless to act; learned helplessness is a well-studied psychological phenomenon that occurs in humans and many other animals, and isn’t all that hard to induce.

          It would be easier to believe that adults are always in control, and always have the practical and psychological means to act, because it makes the morality of such stories much neater; the adult is either a hero for acting or a villain for not acting, instead of a likewise victim. “Somebody should have done something!” easily becomes “YOU should have done something!”, generally without regard to whether that is actually a legitimate expectation given the vagaries of the particular circumstance. Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t cases where it would be legitimate to assign such categories; TGM’s brief description of his/her experiences seems to lend itself to that interpretation, just as my own s.o.’s and Expatriate’s mother’s militate against the easy assignment of such categories in their respective cases.

          • Anna

            Parents have a responsibility to keep their children (or any child) safe from harm. If you are an adult, and you sit by quietly and allow another adult to abuse your children, then you are also responsible for that abuse. Children cannot leave. Adults can leave. It may be hard for them psychologically, but they can leave.

            We see examples all the time of adults who fail to act to prevent children from being abused. Some of those children are murdered. If you stand by and allow someone to murder your child, then you are also reponsible for that murder. Just because you’ve been abused (and remember, abusers were also often abused as children) doesn’t excuse you from moral culpability. People may be brainwashed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not legally and morally responsible for what happened. Religious parents who refuse to take their child to a doctor can be brought up on charges if their child dies. A woman who watches her husband beat their child to death without calling the police can be brought up on charges. The parents at Jonestown who forced poisoned Kool-Aid down their children’s throats would have been guilty of murder, had they survived.

            There’s a difference between being a child and being an adult, in terms of moral responsibility to our fellow human beings, and also in terms of moral and cognitive development. If Phelps’s mother is mentally impaired, then she is not responsible for what happened. However, if she is a normal human being, with a normal sense of right and wrong, and with normal cognition, then I don’t see any reason to excuse her for allowing terrible harm to come to her children.

    • No More Excuses

      Oh PLEASE.

      How about stopping with the dismissal and excuse making for every horrid ecuse for a mother or woman who has the misfortune of having an ass for a husband and a sick and twisted view of the world.

      That woman is not a victim, so stop playing the victim card EVERYTIME there is a story like this.

      In your world, every woman would be perfect, have farts that smell like strawberries and be a model example of a mother and woman if it were not for an ogreish husband or man lurking behind the scenes.

      Hemant was in the right here, and no amount of excuse making or pandering to the victim card will excuse this horrid excuse for a human being that was this kid’s mother.

      • No More Excuses

        *excuse – typo.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

        How is she not a victim? You need to read the whole interview.
        Also, just because we say she’s a victim doesn’t mean we don’t think she’s responsible for any of her actions. It does say she was beaten when she tried to stop her husband from beating the children. You have to have pity on her; she certainly did try and risked her safety to do so. I think she should have done something to get out of the situation, and for that, I do think she is responsible for some of it.
        Still, she should be willing to risk her safety to save her children, but she doesn’t have to risk her safety to sit down for coffee with her son. That’s what the objection was about in the first place. No one’s saying “Hey, don’t say anything bad about this woman! She’s a victim who has never done anything wrong!” It was just that the reason she hasn’t seen her son is probably not because she doesn’t want to, it’s probably because she would be beaten up if she even suggested it.

        • GuestyPants

          Still not buying it or excusing any of her behavior. We haven’t heard her side of it. Perhaps she beat the kids as well. 

          All of these “ifs and buts” do nothing but make a bunch of Internet Monday morning quarterbacks. But if we follow the facts here, we do know she has not gone to see her kids. That is a fact. The projection that she would be beaten is not established as fact, and to perpetuate the idea she was does no one any good until it is shown to be fact.

          And I am glad you said you are not ready to because her behavior even if she is this alleged “victim” everyone wants to claim. I don’t know if you see it, but by your admission of this, you know that she really is not a victim. If she were a true victim, in every sense of the word, there are laws that would exonerate her behavior, but you even know that her behavior here is not right.

          Also, the argument of her being a victim does erode the idea that anyone is responsible for anything they do. At some point common sense needs to return to the common dialogue.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

            If her son is telling the truth (and we have no reason to believe he is not) than she definitely is a victim. 

    • jose

       From the interview:

      “As far as the physical violence, that’s a fairly common idea that exists
      in fundamentalist Christianity, that the husband is the head of the
      house and has absolute authority — and has the right to bring his wife
      and children into submission if they aren’t.”

      I say Joan has a point.

      • The Godless Monster

         If one adult submits to another adult, that is a choice they made and that they can undue.
        Can a child make such a choice for themselves?
        The argument being bandied about (albeit indirectly) that abuse is somehow more tolerable and/or excusable if it is the result of another person being abused.
        I say it is neither. To hell with reasons, motivations or excuses. When a child’s safety or well-being is at stake, none of those things matter in the least to me. Those who argue otherwise are on very shaky moral ground.

        • jose

           All that is fine by me. Keep on being tough and strong :)

        • Coyotenose

           I have no idea whether Phelps’s wife is abused, but I don’t think from these posts that you’re at all aware of what abuse does to a person. It is an insidious, years- or decades-long brainwashing that NEVER goes away, even when you escape the abuser. When you haven’t escaped, you may not be able to realize that you can escape. You might actually not be able to do so.

          Abusers convince their victims that they’re imagining things; that they’re crazy; that they’re stupid; that they’re worthless; that they’re evil and deserve what they get. They set it up so that their voice is heard in your head even when they’re long gone, even when they’re long dead. They set it up so that you’re scared of what will happen to other people you love if you try to leave.

          • Pascale Laviolette

            Reminds me of the Jaycee Dugard case — many people can’t understand why she couldn’t just LEAVE.  But she was more afraid of the outside world she didn’t know (which she was told was FAR MORE DANGEROUS) than the horror she already knew, and had learned to cope with.

          • 3lemenope

            I personally have had no experience with familial abuse; I was very lucky. My significant other, on the other hand, was not so lucky, and suffered abuse at the hands of her mother. Fearing that perhaps my lack of experience had led me astray (esp. since so many people seem to buy TGM’s notions on this thread) I asked her what she thought about complicity, whether she blamed her father, and so forth.

            Her answer was almost verbatim exactly what you just wrote in that last paragraph about why the psychology of victimhood can cause adults and children both to “buy-in” to their condition, be incapable of getting enough of a foothold to even contemplate leaving or fighting back, and of course it has nothing to do with the strength of the love that person has for another, or really much to do with personal “strength” at all either.

            Surprisingly to me, this intellectual reaction immediately followed her visceral one, which was that she said if anyone tried to blame her father to her face she would have a very hard time not punching them in the face. Which took me aback, because she is not a violent person.  She had several less nice words than “twit” to apply to such a person, and also pointed out that their position reduces down to pure victim-blaming. I personally had thought  the reaction described by Expatriate700 regarding his/her mother was over the top, but following the reaction of my s.o.,  I’m definitely rethinking that. Certainly I don’t believe that it is right to hit someone even if they are being that disgustingly insulting to one’s  family members, but now that I’ve witnessed two people who if placed in that situation either endorse or actually indulge in such violence, it gives me pause.

          • The Godless Monster

             

            ” I don’t think from these posts that you’re at all aware of what abuse
            does to a person. It is an insidious, years- or decades-long
            brainwashing that NEVER goes away, even when you escape the abuser.”

            I used my personal experience of extreme physical and mental abuse as a child to demonstrate my point. Are you asserting that I’m unaware of what this did to me or that I’m just too stupid or uneducated to know?

            • LemonyFresh

              Forget it. To these ass clowns, anecdote and experience is only relevant if it fits their world view.

              You are going to have better luck arguing and trying to sway the opinion of a special-needs brick wall.

              And I just love the “-” feature. The blowhard that is 3lemenope has now become my newest idiot to ignore. I suspect he is a philosophy major that is living in his parents basement and drinks a lot of “Mountain Dew Red” between levels of WoW.

              • pcloadletter

                To these ass clowns, anecdote and experience is only relevant if it fits their world view.

                You’re doing the same thing.

                • The Godless Monster

                   How exactly is LemonyFresh “doing the same thing”?

            • 3lemenope

              I used my personal experience of extreme physical and mental abuse as a child to demonstrate my point. 

              And what you said holds true for your experiences only. Why do you assume that what is true for you is necessarily true for everyone?

              • The Godless Monster

                 I never said that. Oh, and congratulations for bullshitting using less than 60 paragraphs this time.

                • Inmates Running the Asylum

                  He does so love to see his words on the screen. He really does fancy himself quite the intellectual. Now, granted, his is the intellectual equivalent of a sack of hammers or a fence post, but c’est la vie….

                  And there is no arguing with these idiots – they are use the most reatrded of anecdote and really REALLY bad logic to try and beat dead horses.

                  Yup, they win. Uncle. They are the best. Time to get them those honorary Doctorates from Harvard and Oxford because DAMN they have done it better than anyone ever has or ever will.

            • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

              People are providing their personal stories to give different perspectives. Abuse does different things to different people. Some people get kidnapped and manage to runaway. But their personal experience doesn’t mean that people like Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard are stupid for not running away.

              I agree that when children are in harm’s way, the spouse that is being abused should do everything they can to get the children away. But sometimes they just can’t, whether because of physical reasons or because of psychological manipulation. 
              Like if you were being abused and tried to escape, but your abuser told you that if you tried to escape or tell anyone, s/he would kill you or your kids. What would you do? Obviously escape would be awesome, but you and your kids could come to worse harm if you were caught. For some people in abusive relationships, staying with the person and doing your best to behave is an attempt to protect the children.
              Situations vary and people should be judged based on what they did in the situation, not on some sweeping generalization.

              • The Godless Monster

                Using people who were kidnapped as CHILDREN as examples to make your point is not a very good tactic.

                • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

                  And Jaycee Dugard became an adult and had children.
                  You didn’t respond to any of my other points. An abuser can manipulate you and watch you and monitor your communication so that you’re scared to even think about leaving, knowing you or your children could be hurt if you tried. Someone in that situation could be protecting their children by not trying to escape.

                • The Godless Monster

                  This is just getting beyond bizarre. Since you insist on equating Ms. Dugard’s predicament  with Mrs Phelps there’s no point in taking this any further. Feel free to declare victory.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Joan — You make a good point. I’ve added an update to the end of the post.

    • Oldaughd

      By this argument no one is every responsible for their actions.  They are only acting in a way consistent with how they were raised…

  • advancedatheist

    Well, the actual planning, I had saved up money. We were selling candy for years there, and I was able to save a few dollars here and there and hide it, and I bought an old used car from a security guard at my high school and I hid that down the street so no one knew that I owned it. I kept it far enough away from the house that no one realized it was mine.

    Hey, having some F.U. money makes all the difference when you want to escape from a cult. Jews learned that lesson the hard way after living precariously for centuries among christians. 

  • Ian Reide

    Kudos. 18 that is courageous. I would like to think that it is easier now for young people to do what he did, but I am not sure that it is.

  • http://twitter.com/tkmlac Katie

    About the update: I don’t know much about Nate Phelps or if he’s addressed this before, but why are we assuming his mom might want to see him other than the fact that she’s a mother? Even if the situation is abusive, there’s no saying that she’s not as deluded as his father and also has disowned him. If you have more information from Nate Phelps about this, please let me know. Until then, I think it’s wrong to assume a mother would automatically be a victim just because we can’t imagine a woman acting in that sort of un-motherly way.

    • Weewilliejackson

      … In Friendly Atheist land, women are just poor victims of the evil patriarchy so they can’t really be held responsible for their actions.

      • Coyotenose

         Your being a whiny MRA troll who is too stupid to grasp nuance and complexity reflects badly on nobody except yourself.

        • Aman

          Just so well said and reasoned. You get the award for level-headed posting and reading comprehension.

          Are you suggesting that:

          (a) Men do not/should not have rights?

          or 

          (b) Men should not advocate for their rights when necessary?

          • 3lemenope

            Or perhaps 

            (c) Rhetoric involving “men’s rights” have generally little to do with rights as such, and more to do with preserving status quo ante gender privileges.

            Don’t tell me you believe that just because someone calls something a particular name, that the name is automatically accurate. If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a cat have?

            Four.

            • Aman

              You accuse me of using rhetoric yet your post was nothing but. AND, still no answer to my questions, just a semantic parlor game played by you and your self-inflated sense of pithiness.

              News break there Capote, you aren’t that clever or pithy. In fact, you seem to be nothing more than a cheap sofa-newscaster.

              Answer the questions without spin or trying to play a semantic game.

              • 3lemenope

                Your question presented a false dilemma. It was thus a defective question, and as such cannot demand a response. I’m terribly sorry you don’t like it when the horns of your killer dilemma are pointed out to be hilariously blunt.

                • SmarterthanYou

                  My goodness you think highly of yourself and your over-inflated sense of logic “skills”. There is absolutely no false dilemma at all, and if you think there is I suggest you politely remove yourself from the adult table of argumentation and retire to the kiddy table.

                  You cannot even answer direct questions without pushing your own sense of spin and nonsense to it. I asked two questions. Two questions. Neither are “false dilemmas”. 

                  And the fact you, or your cohort, fail to answer them, well – I shall take that as a sign you have no idea how to proceed as you have been exposed as the frauds you are.

                  Frankly, you seem to suffer from a sense of elitism and feel you have some exemplary powers of argument, wit and rhetoric. Once again, you fail. If I had you in my class I would have suggested you drop the class post haste as you certainly do not have what it takes to even get through Intro to Rhetoric or even Ethics 101.

                • 3lemenope

                  Love the name.

                  You cannot even answer direct questions without pushing your own sense of spin and nonsense to it. I asked two questions. Two questions. Neither are “false dilemmas”.

                  No, you asked whether a person meant one of two options, which you even helpfully labeled (a) and (b). You even used “or” as the operand relating the two, which in natural English is generally intended as the logical equivalent of XOR–the exclusive disjunction. If you meant them as related but separate, non-exclusive questions, it would have been more appropriate, when writing in English, to use and/or (the logical OR; the inclusive disjunction). Of course, it’s pretty easy to exclude the possibility that you somehow meant the inclusive anyway, because the logical implications of each question are concatenated in such a way that answering both separately would lead to absurdity, especially since considering (b) at all assumes a certain answer to (a). If a person believes the other answer about (a), then (b) is nonsensical. If two questions are conjoined and lead to an absurdity, then it is a mistake to interpret the “or” inclusively. Unless I believed a priori the person asking it was either terminally uncareful or a moron.

                  So not only is it, really, one question, but as I said it is a very poorly formed one, and so one which cannot demand an answer. 

                  But you’re smarter than me, so what do I know?

                • The Godless Monster

                   Bravo Zulu (well stated) :-)

      • Pascale Laviolette

        No one is suggesting that.  We’re just saying DON’T ASSUME!!!

    • Atoswald

      I agree. My first thought was this; If she really wants to see her son, abusive husband or not, she would. After all, Nate is an adult son, so if his mother is an abused woman she has something available to her that most abused women don’t. She has outside help, in the form of Nate Phelps. I am left to believe that she either is not a victim of abuse, or has no desire to escape said abuse.

      I grew up in an abusive household, and I can say as a mother that I would stop at nothing to protect my children from that horror.

  • Icaarus

    Hemant, as per your edit, and the whole Fred and his Mom connection. Ask him, he will answer honestly and the answer will be more intricate than anyone here has suggested. 

  • ORAXX

    From what I’ve read of the Phelps family,  I think it very likely that Nate Phelps’ mother is indeed a victim of abuse, just like the rest of the brain washed trolls.


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