Monday, May 25, 2009

Over the Top Fluffy Words

Richard Haynes' "Life Without Faith" website has been chronicling the salient events since I spoke at the American Atheist conference in April. Recently he featured a comment that my sister Shirley posted in response to my blog "Why Isn't That Man in Jail".

Within a few hours of reading it I was so angry I sat down and wrote for several hours. Then I walked away from it. Over the next 24 hours my mind went from fury to uncertainty to fear to intimidation and self-loathing to an apathetic resignation that left me physically weak and depressed. This is just one of the manifestations of growing up in that environment. Every step of this journey I fight through some version of that cycle. I’ve come to recognize it and am learning to work past.

In that spirit, I offer the following point-by-point response to Shirley’s comments:

SHIRLEY: “The arrogance of this man. Every rebel has a sob story to justify their disobedience. Richard the rebel I’m sure has a story of his own that he would palm off. But alas, you change nothing!”

NATE: It’s not clear who “this man” is. Maybe me, maybe Dr. Dawkins. Regardless, it says nothing except that we have a difference of opinion. To call someone disobedient is to imply an authority over them that you simply don’t have.

I’m not trying to “justify” anything. The WBC is quite active in telling people its message, and then letting others decide what the value of that message is. I am, in turn, telling my side of the story, and letting people reach their own conclusions. If those people conclude that I am a disobedient rebel, that’s their decision. However, since the WBC seeks to preach “the truth”, why is it that you are so afraid of the truths that I am telling? Why is it that so many responses from people in the WBC complain about “airing dirty laundry” or talking about “private family matters”? If you truly are the voice of God, following in God’s footsteps, then surely you would have no objection to having your lives submitted to the light of public scrutiny? These reactions seem to indicate the opposite; that you, and others in the family, fully recognize that the truth of the ‘inner workings’ of the Phelps household are shameful, and worthy of condemnation.

Denying the rest of the world their story is the hallmark of why your “ministry” is an epic failure. Your obstinate insistence that you’re right and the rest of the world is wrong has reduced your campaign to an international laughing stock.

SHIRLEY: “God set his standard in the earth. Fred Phelps was determined to serve God in truth. That means that you spank your children.”

NATE: Nobody said anything about spanking Shirley. No reasonable, rational person would argue that a child should be left to their own devices, without discipline. I don’t think I have ever used the term spanking in any of my writing or comments. It is deliberately deceitful for you to use that term for what our father did. I was careful in my speech to avoid words or phrases that might mischaracterize the nature of our father’s actions. I simply related the specifics of what he did. In fact, I only presented a small fraction of those specifics.

In light of your efforts to soft peddle it, I’m obliged now to counter your characterization. What our father did was violent child abuse. His actions were criminal. His actions today are a reflection of the same insensitive violence that he visited on his wife and children. You can shroud his deeds in robes of righteousness, with “over the top fluffy words”, and the plain stench of it is still there. He repeatedly, viciously beat us with that mattock handle, his fists, his knees, and his feet. That’s plain English and that’s my indictment! Bring your bible and your formidable legal army. It changes nothing.

SHIRLEY: “The truth of the matter is that Nathan Phelps was determined that he would go after mischief and criminal mischief as he grew older, with both hands. A further truth is that the vast majority of his deeds were never known by his dad. The body of his crimes was so big that his closest siblings were left some days in jaw-dropping amazment [sic] at what he might think of next to do that he had NO BUSINESS DOING!! By ANY standard, you don’t do the things that Nathan did. I know, I was the next child up from him. I lived up close and had a front row seat to the trauma that was the dark heart of disobedience called Nathan Phelps.”

NATE: Yes, I rebelled, and yes, I have done things that were wrong. I know of no human being who can claim otherwise. If you are arguing that this is the standard for determining the ‘truth’ of a claim, or the ‘right’ of a person to speak up, then our father – who abused drugs, and lost his license to practice law due to unethical practices – likewise deserves to be held to the same standards.

You’re big on the whole “connect the dots” rhetoric Shirley so let me speak in your own language for a moment. Please connect the dots between our father violating our mother by chopping her hair off and my mischief. Connect the dots between my misdeeds and the image of our sister Margie lying semi-conscious at the back of the church while our father repeatedly kicked her and brandished a frying pan over her head. Connect the dots between my misconduct and the distended lump at the top of your leg caused by the “spankings” you received from our father. Please Shirley, set your bible aside for a moment and lets play a little game of connect the dots.

Oh, one other point that may be lost on our readers. You mentioned that the old man wasn’t aware of “the vast majority” of my misdeeds. Why is that Shirley? In fact, why is it just as true that the vast majority of all our misdeeds were kept from our father? That’s not the behavior of a loving, properly functioning relationship between a man and a woman. Perhaps so much was kept from our father because our mother was terrified of his violent over reactions. Try finding some bible verses to support that.

SHIRLEY: So at the end of the day, you can multiply words and you can call the standards of God cruel, but you are just another rebel that will spend eterntiy in hell.

NATE: The Bible tells me that I should stone a woman who has a child out of wedlock. Would you support that Biblical standard, Shirley? What of our father’s beliefs that not only is homosexuality wrong, but that homosexuals should be put to death? That’s a side of ‘the message’ that you tend not to proclaim so publicly…why is that? The Bible says that murdering unarmed women and children is fine, as is taking virgin women as slaves. How exactly should we apply that Biblical standard to modern times?

SHIRLEY: However, you should STOP lying about these matters. Further, if you truly want an answer to why Fred Phelps is not in jail for properly raising his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord their God, well - that would be because it is not a crime to do that. Just because you have reached a day where your rebellion is full of over the top fluffy words where you call a spanking child abuse or where you whip out selective memory about events to justify your disobedience, you change nothing. Nathan did leave when he was 18 because he was not going to obey. Good. He had to do that. Then, I bet he left out the part in his little story where he came back.

NATE: As to your charge of lying. You have an army of lawyers at your disposal Shirley. If I have lied, utilize them. Otherwise, dispense with the vacuous rhetoric.

And…”over the top fluffy words”?!? Is that kind of like being a wordsmith? The very title our father so eagerly embraces.

And what of this charge of “selective memory”? Do you mean to say that there are other memories that, in combination with these, justify or excuse our father’s abuses? That his ‘success’ in the legal practice justifies beating us with his fist and a mattock handle? That the times he was nice to our mother justifies brutally chopping off her hair? Your very statement that it is a ‘selective memory’ belies your claim that what I say is not true. If Fred Phelps is the man of god that you claim, then neither you nor anyone else in the family should object to having the truth of our childhood told publicly. You are, of course, welcome to add whatever other information that you feel may ameliorate or justify his actions; but denying them is an act of deceit.

One final item deserves a response. You mentioned the fact that I came back. You’ve raised that issue before and once again, I’m puzzled. You raise the issue as though you think that mitigates the truth of me leaving on my 18th birthday. I’m not sure how. Do you perceive that as a lie of omission? Does my having come back for a time demonstrate that our father wasn’t abusive? I’m honestly confused.

However, I do think it’s fair to the reader to address that issue since you’ve raised it. In 1979, nearly 3 years after I left, I began communicating with you and Margie. My brother Mark and I had started our first print shop in Prairie Village, Kansas. Mark had been forced to leave the operation of the business to me because of a threat of legal action by his former employer. Mark moved back to Topeka and started another shop there while I attempted to run the first location on my own.

I was living alone in the Kansas City area and struggling with that isolation. You and Margie began to suggest that I come back home, work in the law office, and go back to college. The desire to be connected to my family was very powerful. And it should be noted, one very important aspect of that whole drama was the constant reassurance that both of you gave me that our father was no longer physically violent. Eventually, I made the decision to return home. That decision was very destructive to my relationship with my brother Mark.

Once home, I learned very quickly that my work at the law office was not going to be compensated. I had debt to service so I went out and found a job that was actually providing an income. This violated my father’s expectations and created tremendous tension. Although the violence did appear to be far less, my father had plenty of weapons in his arsenal to insure compliance. Eventually he called a meeting to discuss my disobedience. I refused to attend. The outcome of that meeting was that I was required to leave…immediately.

Nothing about that chapter in my life speaks to the essence of the story as I’ve told it; except to highlight the fact that the only way that you were able to get me to come back was through promising that our father’s violence had decreased; a violence that you now seek to deny or justify. If that violence were untrue, or were justified…then why would a decrease in that violence be a desirable thing?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crushing on Ida

How many more discoveries our out there, yet to be made? This is what excites me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The most hated family in America

Fall from Grace

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"The Real Bible"

I just finished reading an essay by Robert Ingersoll entitled "About the Holy Bible". He wrote this back in 1894. I'm embarrassed to admit that, though I had heard his name many times over the years, I had never actually sought out his writings until recently. Ingersoll was one of my father's favorite targets behind the pulpit. Now I understand why.

But that's not why I was compelled to write about him today. The essay is fairly long, repetitive in places, but one of those pieces that drew me in and stirred my heart. It's the same feeling I get every time I happen upon a new source that speaks so clearly the thoughts and ideas that are imprisoned in my mind. It is as though a door is finally opened and the truth is freed for me.

Once again, I sat and wondered what it was about his writing that sparked such strong emotion in me. Today a new awareness came to me. These writings that create such powerful positive emotion in me have one thing in common. These men are confident and unrepentant in their beliefs. Whatever doubts they harbored about finally saying what must be said are put aside and they cry out with a loud, passionate voice:

"Somebody ought to tell the truth about the Bible. The preachers dare not, because they would be driven from their pulpits. Professors in colleges dare not, because they would lose their salaries. Politicians dare not. They would be defeated. Editors dare not. They would lose subscribers. Merchants dare not, because they might lose customers. Men of fashion dare not, fearing that they would lose caste. Even clerks dare not, because they might be discharged. And so I thought I would do it myself."

So begins Ingersoll's essay.

I was left with the very strong impression that this man had worried over the consequences of his decision but ultimately concluded that he had no choice. Someone had to stand up against this great conspiracy of ignorance that has stained the path of humanity for the past two millennium. Not only does Ingersoll stand up, he erects an edifice of defiance against the hubiris of Christianity that has easily weathered the onslaught of myth-based bilious blather for over 100 years.

But that's not even my real point to this blog.

Near the end of his writing I found this:

"Ministers wonder how I can be wicked enough to attack the Bible.

I will tell them: This book, the Bible, has persecuted, even unto death, the wisest and the best. This book stayed and stopped the onward movement of the human race. This book poisoned the fountains of learning and misdirected the energies of man.

This book is the enemy of freedom, the support of slavery. This book sowed the seeds of hatred in families and nations, fed the flames of war, and impoverished the world. This book is the breastwork of kings and tyrants -- the enslaver of women and children. This book has corrupted parliaments and courts. This book has made colleges and universities the teachers of error and the haters of science. This book has filled Christendom with hateful, cruel, ignorant and warring sects. This book taught men to kill their fellows for religion's sake. This book funded the Inquisition, invented the instruments of torture, built the dungeons in which the good and loving languished, forged the chains that rusted in their flesh, erected the scaffolds whereon they died. This book piled fagots about the feet of the just. This book drove reason from the minds of millions and filled the asylums with the insane.

This book has caused fathers and mothers to shed the blood of their babes. This book was the auction block on which the slave- mother stood when she was sold from her child. This book filled the sails of the slave-trader and made merchandise of human flesh. This book lighted the fires that burned "witches" and "wizards." This book filled the darkness with ghouls and ghosts, and the bodies of men and women with devils. This book polluted the souls of men with the infamous dogma of eternal pain. This book made credulity the greatest of virtues, and investigation the greatest of crimes. This book filled nations with hermits, monks and nuns -- with the pious and the useless. This book placed the ignorant and unclean saint above the philosopher and philanthropist. This book taught man to despise the joys of this life, that he might be happy in another -- to waste this world for the sake of the next.

I attack this book because it is the enemy of human liberty -- the greatest obstruction across the highway of human progress.

Let me ask the ministers one question: How can you be wicked enough to defend this book?"

Much of this I immediately embraced as reflecting my own thoughts and beliefs. But there were new ideas, dangerous ideas, that left me uneasy. It's never a good idea to use phrases like "unclean saint" or "the pious and the useless". These are men and women of god who have...


I went back and re-read it with fresh eyes and realized something profound about myself. A part of me still clings to this idea that what I turned my back on is actually goodness. Deep inside me I still accept the premise that to reject this system of belief is to throw my lot in with the contemptable, the unsavory. To reject Christ is to turn to the dark side.

That's not to say that I deliberately, willfully made the choice with that in mind. It's more subtle then that, but still just as powerful. I've even argued with my mouth that my choice is not a choice against good and for evil, rather a choice to abandon mythology for rational thought. But the still, small voice is there and chaffs at arguments that would paint righteous Christians as "corrupted...hateful, cruel [or] ignorant."

One of my greatest strengths and most profound weaknesses is that I want to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Then Ingersoll delivers the coup de grace:

"For thousands of years men have been writing the real Bible, and it is being written from day to day, and it will never be finished while man has life. All the facts that we know, all the truly recorded events, all the discoveries and inventions, all the wonderful machines whose wheels and levers seem to think, all the poems, crystals from the brain, flowers from the heart, all the songs of love and joy, of smiles and tears, the great dramas of Imagination's world, the wondrous paintings, miracles of form and color, of light and shade, the marvelous marbles that seem to live and breathe, the secrets told by rock and star, by dust and flower, by rain and snow, by frost and flame, by winding stream and desert sand, by mountain range and billowed sea.

All the wisdom that lengthens and ennobles life, all that avoids or cures disease, or conquers pain -- all just and perfect laws and rules that guide and shape our lives, all thoughts that feed the flames of love the music that transfigures, enraptures and enthralls the victories of heart and brain, the miracles that hands have wrought, the deft and cunning hands of those who worked for wife and child, the histories of noble deeds, of brave and useful men, of faithful loving wives, of quenchless mother-love, of conflicts for the right, of sufferings for the truth, of all the best that all the men and women of the world have said, and thought and done through all the years.

These treasures of the heart and brain -- these are the Sacred Scriptures of the human race."

I know it enough to say it. My brain understands the damage that myths have caused over the centuries. But a part of me still wonders, worries, struggles with the what if question. I suppose it is to be expected in the early stages of my journey. But reading the words of Ingersoll reminds me again, it is not to be accepted.