Nate Phelps Returns to Topeka for First Time in Thirty Years.

April 26th, 2010


A photo of Nate Phelps with some random crazy blogger.

On Saturday, I had the privilege of seeing both Nate Phelps, the estranged atheist son of Fred Phelps give a talk in his home town of Topeka and David Sedaris world renowned, hilarious, best selling author, who just happens to be a homosexual.  The fact that these two men were speaking at two engagements in my state only twenty miles apart was somewhat cataclysmic.  As strange as it may seem, the horrible protests of the Phelps family have probably done more good for the gay community as their disturbing signs often catapult people to the side of those who are being vicitimized and David Sedaris, with his honest and frequently hilarious stories about growing up gay in America is yet another potent force for opening people’s minds to the obvious humanity of the gay community.  

I am going to give the highlights of Nate’s talk. Or maybe they are more like low lights – since Nate’s story is painful and demoralizing. Still, I must say that Nate is an excellent, uplifting speaker who managed to find both humor and light in the telling of his brutal tale.

 But first I need to tell you briefly of my personal experience with the Phelps protesters.  

A few months ago, our family went to see Brian Regan, a comedian, at the Topeka Performing Arts Center and as usual, the Phelp’s family was there with their signs.  I took a few photos of the protesters at which point one of the Phelp’s grandchildren (her name I have since learned is Jael) said,”I wish you would ask us some questions.”

So I asked her what the sign she was holding meant.  The sign said ‘bitch burger’ and showed a baby inside of two hamburger buns.

‘It means that America is going to eat it’s babies’. she explained.

“What?” I asked.

“We are going to eat our babies!” She said again and then she launched into a long rambling spiel about abortion and medical research and it just got so weird that my brain clicked into nebulous mode and I started seeing Colin Firth climbing out of a pond in front of a large stone estate taking long strides towards me in black boots across a vast lawn while his sodden poet’s blouse clung to his broad chest when out of nowhere…

Jael paused in her baby eating speech…

“Do you have any kids?”  I asked her.

“Not yet.” she said.

A look of pain and regret flickered momentarily across her face. I imagined how hard it must be for a young Phelps woman to get a date.  I found myself feeling empathy for this girl.  I found myself wondering if she ever watched Colin Firth climb out of a pond and stride up to his glorious mansion while she waited for him on the stone verandah.  So I looked her over.

It didn’t seem completely impossible to me that she would have these thoughts.

Our conversation continued for a while longer - 

She was all like – blah blah blah – your are doomed.

I was all like – blah blah blah – you are deluded.

Her dad was all like – blah blah blah – you are going to hell.

I was all like – blah blah blah – there is no such thing as hell.

We bickered back and forth a while longer until the futility of it all began to wear on me. Finally, I walked back towards the theater and as I climbed the steps, I stumbled a bit and Jael called out in a voice full of sarcasm, “Don’t hurt yourself!”

This ended my exchange with god’s chosen people – The Phelp’s family.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Just a few weeks later, I got a completely unrelated e-mail from Nate Phelps.  He had read about my apology post on one of the many web sites where it is posted.  Yes, I am a little famous on the internet for being the ‘former christian shit head“.  It’s a real honor, but I try to keep myself humble.   Nate e-mailed  to wish me luck on my new journey.  

I emailed him back asking him if he was the ‘real Nate Phelps’ as I had just learned that Fred Phelps had an atheist son named Nate.

Nate responded that he was indeed the ‘real Nate Phelps’ and we had a brief e-mail conversation during which I learned that he was coming to Topeka for the first time in thirty years to talk about his childhood with Fred Phelps.  I marked my calendar and planned to attend.

When I arrived at TPAC, I assumed that the Phelps family would be outside protesting their brother’s talk.  There were signs posted outside of the theater that prohibited unruly noise during the event.  Evidently TPAC was prepared for the worst, but the Phelps clan was nowhere in sight. 

Shirley Phelps, Nate’s sister has said on many occasions that the child abuse of which Nate speaks is a lie and she has also told her brother that he should not speak of ‘private family matters’.  It seems that she can’t decide which tact to take in dealing with Nate’s story which has legal documentation to back it up.  The evidence for the beatings that both Nate and Mark Phelps (as well as their mother) received have been medically documented as well.

So Shirley really has no ‘axe’ to grind.  Or make that no ‘axe handle’, as that was Fred’s preferred ‘rod’ which he certainly did not spare to prevent his children from being spoiled according to biblical mandate.  He thrashed his children’s back and legs, pausing to let the bruises rise and then resuming the beating when it would be even more painful.  He also beat his wife, threw her down the stairs and chopped off her hair.

 

 

This is Nate receiving one of two long standing ovations from the crowd in Topeka.

 

This is when Nate held up a ‘mattock handle’ similar to the one his father used to beat him and his siblings after the razor strap became too frayed.  

 

Here are some of the highlights of Nate’s speech.  

- He began with reciting the books of the bible and told the audience that as a child if he or his siblings stumbled in their recitation of the sixty six books of the bible his father would say, “Somebody smack that kid.”

- Nine of the thirteen Phelps children remain involved in the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). 

- Even the KKK has denied any involvement with the WBC. 

- Fred Phelps and his church members are primitive baptists (emphasis on primitive).  They believe in absolute pre-destination meaning that nothing they (or anyone) says, does or thinks has any impact whatsoever on their eternal destination.  They believe that god pre-ordained who and who would not get into heaven.  In a desperate attempt to remind this random tyrannical god of their worthiness they choose to behave very similarly to the mad Old Testament prophets making a public spectacle of themselves with their despicable protests in order to appease their god.  

Here are the basic beliefs of John Calvin’s primitive baptists…

Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Unconditional Election 
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

- To read further about the primitive Baptist belief system – click here.  

- The Westboro Baptist church does not regard their demonstrations as attempts to ‘save’ people or to proselytize, but rather as an act of obedience to the invisible angry tyrant who lives in the sky.  

- The Westboro Baptist church regards women as second class citizens.  This is based on the New Testament book of First Corinthians Chapter 11 where Paul teaches women that their long hair is a covering and that they should cover their heads as an act of submission both to men and to god.  When Fred savagely cut off his wife’s hair during one of his abusive tirades, he was essentially sending his wife to hell.  

- In 1970, Fred Phelps became obsessed with running and in typical fashion made his kids run too.  They ran up to ten miles everyday after school and that summer he entered his family into a marathon in Columbia Missouri.  It took seven year old Timothy seven hours to run the marathon and his eight year old sister Elizabeth, finished in eight hours.  None of the children even considered quitting the race.  No one would want to face their father with that failure.  The story of the Phelps family running this marathon made national headlines.  

- Fred believed that children were a blessing from god.  Nate Phelps left the family when he was eighteen and was sure that his decision would condemn him to eternity in hell.  Thus when he became a father himself, he was extremely confused.  How was it that god would bless him with a child (eventually three children) when he had not only married a divorcee’ but abandoned the only true way to follow god?  Nate’s faith took years to dissolve – even after he left his father’s house.

- As his children got older, Fred decreed that they would all become lawyers.  When one son announced that he wanted to be a history teacher instead, he was severely beaten.  Many of Fred’s children did eventually become lawyers and most practice in Topeka.  One daughter – no longer associated with the Phelps family – practices in Topeka as well, but has changed her name so that no one can identify her as belonging to the Phelps family.  

- Fred Phelps also decided that none of his kids could leave home until they ‘cleaved unto a wife’.  He therefore was able to maintain control of his children even after they reached adulthood.  The unmarried children of Fred still live in the family compound, but then again, so do the married children unless like Nate, they managed to break away.  

- Nate believes that as much as 30% of the income of the members of the WBC is given to the church.  This is how they fund all their various travels to protest all over the country.  

- The WBC truly believe that Obama is the anti-christ. This seems to be a belief they share with a wide range of conservative Americans. 

- A current belief in the WBC is that in July of 2012 – the world is going to end.  They believe that like Enoch and Elijah, no one in that church is going to experience an actual physical death.  Instead they will be taken up bodily into heaven.  Fred Phelp’s wife Margie is 85 years old.  Fred is probably a little older.  He is rarely seen in public these days and closely monitored by his family when he speaks.  

- Nate believes that the Westboro Baptist Church has probably done more to promote civil rights for the LBGT community than any other group in history.  Their protests frequently cause people to react in the exact opposite manner of Fred and his family making them less likely to have hateful attitudes that echo the Phelps family.

- You can listen to a similar talk from Nate Phelps in segments on you tube.  

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

When the talk was over, I waited outside TPAC to meet Nate.  He is a big teddy bear of a man with kindness and humor written on his face in spite of his horrible childhood.  Ahead of me in line were some of his former classmates.  They had a little reunion and it was very touching that they came out to see Nate.  I told Nate that I was the person who wrote the “Apology for being a Christian Shit Head”.  He nodded and we both laughed.  I asked him if he was finished with his book.  He said he was and that it would be out soon.  I told him that I was looking forward to reading it, “It will be fun!”  I said and then I realized how stupid that sounded so I said, “I mean it will be horrible!”  And then I realized how bad that sounded so I said, “I look forward to reading it!”  

I felt like a total idiot – but Nate just nodded and laughed.  He seemed to understand what I meant.  

If you want to read a much more in-depth story about the history of the Phelps family – click here.

To visit Nate’s blog – click here.

Enough for today!  I will post my idiotic conversation with David Sedaris soon.

Nate Phelps on Atheism 

I thought that some of my readers would want to know what Nate Phelps had to say about atheism and belief in general.  Overall, he was very open in his approach.  The audience was filled with members from both sides of the fence.  About half of the audience would clap when he was critical of religion, but when he made a remark in religion’s defense, the other half of the audience would clap.  The event was sponsored by the Topeka Metropolitan Church and also by Topeka’s Recovering From Religion – so it was a ‘bi-partisan’ event.  

Nate is an ‘out’ atheist, but when asked during the question session what he thought about religion in general – her referred to it as a primary agent for good in our culture.  Still, he strongly stated that the same bible that created the monstrous beliefs of his father – beliefs that allowed him to beat his children, abuse his wife, regard women with derision, hate homosexuals, and view everyone outside his church as sub-human come from the same bible that so many people use as a source for love, charity and hope.  It’s all in there.  The bible has all of it.  Nate is far too aware of the sickening parts of the bible.  He knows them by heart.  He was immersed in them his entire childhood.  Christians that prefer to ignore those passages – or to say that they no longer apply – try telling that to a kid who has a dad like Fred Phelps.

Comments

  • Chris:

    I saw Brian Regan in Rochester, NY a few years ago. He’s a funny man. I’m not entirely surprised that the Phelps would protest him, though – that stuff about “I before E… always” is blasphemous!

  • This was very interesting. Thanks for telling us about it.

  • I love Brian Regan. I am finishing Dr. Ehrman’s book “God’s Problem” (the third of his I have read this week), and have done enough research on Westboro Baptist to be totally demoralized about the faith. Which brings me to your blog posting. Why is it that I am so glad to be here? EFH

  • Kait:

    I am sorry. Taken straight up to heaven? Can anyone smell koolaid??

  • Pam:

    Reminds me of a “church” near us. It’s located in a strip mall behind the car wash. The sign out front: “God’s Two Edged Sword.” Doesn’t make you want to come in and enjoy the fellowship? The kids and I fall over laughing every time we drive by.

  • Thank goodness someone made it out of that family! I can’t even imagine his childhood. I guess that I feel so sorry for his children and grandchildren who are taught to believe in such hatred. How much energy must it take to be filled with such toxicity? Thanks for telling us about it and I’m really looking forward to the Sedaris post!

  • Michelle:

    Im glad your back to blogging and what an eye opener for me THANK YOU i will definately read up on him I have never heard of him before i guess we are not as divided as the USA but thank you again for a wonderfull post!

  • I am sorry. Taken straight up to heaven? Can anyone smell koolaid??

  • LucyGolden:

    Very interesting. I hadn’t heard of the Phelps family before you posted about them. I’m anxious to read up on them & look forward to reading Nate’s book, too.

    Also, what’s up with the people who are copying & pasting other’s posts? Trolls?

  • Cassie C.:

    Fred Phelps’ group picketed my high school graduation because we held productions of “The Laramie Project” play. The play was done in 2002, they still picket our graduation every year.

  • Everyone deciphers the bible to fit their beliefs; that doesn’t mean some of it isn’t righteous. Just my opinion.

  • Lucy – most people have posted an excerpt or two with a link. I don’t mind that.

    Sally – Yes – some of the bible is I don’t know if I would use the word ‘righteous’ but maybe ‘inspirational’ or ‘uplifting’ or ‘good advice’ – but a lot of it is also heinous.

  • Nadine:

    What a great recap. Nate is clearly a brave, strong person. That family…don’t even get me started.
    Also, “bitch burger,” really, Phelpses? Yes, I got that one riiiight away.

  • lola falana:

    ‘k I hate to but I have to. Go here: http://www.landoverbaptist.org

  • Thanks, Rechelle. Inspirational was the word I was looking for.

  • Revyloution:

    The koolaid comment jived with my worries. I hope someone is keeping an eye on them in the summer of 2012.

    On a similar note, is anyone keeping up with Evid3nc3 on youtube?

    http://www.youtube.com/user/Evid3nc3

    His last video was really an eye opener for me. His deconversion story is quite compelling.

  • [...] family and not only did Nate manage it, he is speaking out. The man has my respect. Anyway enjoy Rechelles article on the [...]

  • I wish I could have gone and heard him speak. I am so pleased he does speak out and share. Thanks for blogging on your experience!

    <3

  • Alison:

    Wow. That was very interesting. Thanks for posting it. I’m going to check out the links too. I had no idea they were from Kansas. I’ve not paid much attention to them but I guess I should have. Good for you for standing up to them.

  • Kimberly:

    So what are they going to do in August of 2012?

    This was a great read Rechelle, thank you for sharing you experience.

  • I was at the Nate Phelps event and loved it. Nate is really an inspiration for the Topeka community that has been damaged by the reputation of his family. The next day I attended a picnic out in Bonner Springs with Nate, some friends of mine from Recovering from Religion, and the documentary film crew. It was great to talk with him one-on-one. He has a heart for helping children that have been effected by religious-based violence and indoctrination. I am looking forward to see how he uses his influence to make the world a better place.

  • Alison:

    I just want to say thanks again for posting this. I went through some of the links and was shocked at the cruelty, suffering, and cover up. As a homeschooling Christian who doesn’t buy into this legalistic form of Christianity your blog has really opened my eyes. I used to just say ‘Well they’re not really harming their children by using To Train Up a Child. I know lots of families that use it and their kids are great. People have enough sense to not beat the ever lovin’ crap out of their kids.’ I can’t say that anymore and as someone on the ‘inside’ I HAVE to take a stand against it. No more live and let live. Thank you for getting me out of my comfort zone.

  • Joel Wheeler:

    Terrific stuff, thank you.

  • p.j.:

    Rechelle,
    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. The WBC/Phelps family is incredibly hate-filled.

    The WBC demonstrated at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC last fall. My son is an undergraduate student there and at Columbia U., down the street. Son was disappointed to have missed the demonstration due to a scheduled class. I saw and heard the video & photographs on Columbia’s website. The hateful signs, mostly referring to “the unfinished work of the Nazi’s,” etc. turned my stomach.

    I wish there were a way to keep the WBC people out of cemeteries. My son and his classmates can demonstrate back at the hate-mongers. The families burying their young soldiers can not.
    Thanks, p.j.

  • AnnB:

    This seems like a perfect time for one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors:”You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”Anne LaMott

  • Love Anne LaMott, love that quote.

    I’ve read some reasonably persuasive arguments that Westboro is as much a scam as a church, and in practice that seems to be true. That is, part of what they do is wait – carefully within the bounds of what the law allows, while being as completely offensive as possible – until someone becomes offended enough to do something illegal. (Like, say, grabbing one of them.)

    Then they sue.

    Whatever their actual beliefs, that’s worth keeping in mind if you ever have to deal with them.

  • Steph :):

    Thanks, Rechelle. I’ve seen more protests from that asshat and his family than I ever wanted. He pops around these parts (NW Arkansas) once in a while, but I’ve also run into him hither and yon. I’m hopeful because Nate ‘got out’ and realized what was happening. I’m sorry the children and the wife have had to stay and succumb to a madman who gets away with his violence and hate only because he’s raised an army of lawyers to defend him.

    p.j. – At the National Cemetery here, the director would ask for the local charitable biker gangs to ‘attend’ if he had word Phelps was coming. The bikers would come in dozens, and fly colors on their bikes, salute the fallen soldier, and keep Phelps out, using tried and true (and legal, and passive) tactics.

  • Martha in Kansas:

    I’m sure sorry I missed hearing him Saturday. The friend I was visiting told of a KSU group who defeated the Phelps protests once by taking donations based on how long the Phelps spoke or protested. So much donated for every minute. So, if it was a long speech, the group got a lot of money. (I believe it was a gay rights group?) She said they held it to 10 minutes. I thought this was a very clever solution.

  • Kay in KCMO:

    Thank you for the report Rechelle. It sounds like a compelling evening. It’s so cool you got to meet him! I would’ve loved to have been there. Any theories as to why the family didn’t show up?

    The treatment that Nate received as a child reminds me more than a little bit of my best friend in grade school. She was the oldest child of the local S. Baptist minister. I’ll refer to her as Jane. Jane was forced to have long hair that she could only wear in long pigtails. She had to wear dresses and only dresses and they were horrible, drab things (mousy browns and dull greens) that her mom made when all the rest of us were wearing pants. Sometimes Jane would show up to school with welts on the backs of her legs from where her minister father would beat her with a razor strap. Now what could a 9-year old girl do to deserve that treatment? The fact that she was a middle-aged man in a little girl’s body probably didn’t help. The mom, a meek, subservient little thing, just accepted that he ruled the roost and this is how things were properly done. And surprise, surprise, when Jane got to college (a S. Baptist one) she tried to commit suicide. How did dear old dad respond? Stayed in town and preached the sermon on Sunday.

    John Wesley was right – Calvinism sucks.

  • Papa Harry:

    Rechelle I certainly do not consider Phelps to be a Christian. I do not consider Westboro Baptist to be a church.They are not affilated with other Baptists as far as I can tell. They are most likely the only church out of hundreds in the Topeka area that act in this way. Phelps actions are inexcusable, but they pale in comparison to the actions of Joseph Stalin, who was responsible for the murder of millions of people, and was an atheist.

    • Papa Harry – Which of Phelp’s actions are inexcusable? The ones where he beats his children and his wife? Or the one where he condemns homosexuals? The bible can certainly be interpreted to fully justify all of these things. Who else do you not consider to be a Christian Papa Harry? Is the pope a Christian? Is Obama a Christian? Is George Bush a Christian? How about Rush Limbaugh? How about your average highschool science teacher who teaches evolution? How about a Christian homeschooling mom who regularly beats her children? What makes a ‘real’ Christian? What makes a ‘real’ church? I am positive that you know the answers here and that it will have something to do with an absurd and literal interpretation of the bible which is EXACTLY WHAT FRED PHELPS DOES!

  • Ted Powell:

    He was also known as “Papa Stalin.”

  • Papa Harry:

    Just goes to show that some Papa’s follow Christ and some don’t

  • Lori E:

    As a christian, I abhor the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. Their behavior is beyond the pale and there is no excuse. Completely nuts. As a mother, my heart is saddened and angered by what their children endured. There are really no words…

  • jalf:

    @Sally: Yes, but Star Wars also contains inspirational bits. That doesn’t mean we should uplift it to some kind of “special” status as holy truth, or live our lives by it.

    @Papa Harry: Are you saying that Stalin did all those bad things *because* he was an atheist? Or is this just a sad attempt to paint atheists as being evil? Unless you can show some kind of connection between his faith (or lack thereof) and his actions, what you just said is every bit as despicable as, say, racism.

    The logic is exactly the same. “I once saw a black man who did something bad. He must have done it *because* he was black, and therefore *all* black men are bad”.

    Or “Stalin was an atheist and he did something bad. He must have done it *because* he was an atheist, and therefore *all* atheists are bad”.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that logic. It’s filthy, offensive and despicable, and says more about you than it does of Stalin.

    Grow up, please. If you’re going to accuse atheists of genocide, you’d better be able to show us a logical connection!

    And of course, you don’t actually know that he was an atheist. Just that he publicly spoke against religion, and there may have been other reasons for that (such as in order to gain popularity/power or inspire a cult of personality around him)

    You might want to give this a read:
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Was_Stalin_an_atheist

    It’s not quite as clear cut as you might have thought. He may have been an atheist, certainly, but it’s not certain. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s not as important as my first point: even if he *was* an atheist, how does that relate to what he did? You might as well say that everyone with the same hair color, or everyone who eats the same for breakfast are evil genocidal madmen.

  • Papa Harry:

    Hey jalf I do not appreciate you speaking for me ,as I am capable of speaking for myself.I am just sick and tired of this blog bashing Chistians and their beliefs. So I pointed out that on occasion atheists are capable of harming mankind.

  • jalf:

    @Papa Harry: I’m not speaking for you, I’m speaking *to* you. I’m pointing out the monumental flaw in your logic, and that I am just as sick and tired of Christians bashing atheism for…. uh…. for absolutely no reason other than “I hate atheists”.

    If you’re going to say atheism was what made Stalin commit genocide, I’d like an explanation of *why*. Otherwise, I think you should refrain from bringing Stalin and his actions into the discussion.

    Of course atheists are capable of harming mankind. But to my knowledge, so far, NO ONE has been harmed by atheists *because* they were atheists. No one have started wars for atheism, or killed people for not being atheists.

    Can you say the same for religion?

  • jalf:

    Perhaps I should have mentioned one other thing.

    Most of the “bashing” I’ve seen on this blog comes from religious people like you.

    Let’s recap: Rechelle wrote about these two talks she went to, without bashing anyone, simply describing what happened and what she experienced.

    No one, absolutely *no one* said anything about religion being the cause of all evil, or even mentioned the inquisition or religious wars or any of the other horrible atrocities that religion has caused. No one brought it up.

    And then some religious nut just has to say “Well, Phelps is bad but Stalin was worse and he’s an atheist” (or rather, he might have been, we’re not quite sure, but there’s a CHANCE he was an atheist and that’s just as bad)

    And then you have the balls to whine that YOUR beliefs are being bashed? Only if you live in opposite land. Until you brought that up, there was no bashing in these comments. Until you decided to point out the clear link between atheism and genoicde, the discussion in these comments was pretty civil, and revolved around a man who’s had a horrible childhood with a horrible father who did horrible things to his family.

    But perhaps it’s not “bashing” when God’s own people do it? it’s only bashing when evil heathens do it.

    Wake up. You’re the only one bashing anyone. Of the comments so far, yours is by far the most unpleasant and yes, evil.

    You are not being persecuted by the evil atheists. You are driving a smear campaign against them. And you are so blinded by your own feelings, your own self-righteousness, your own perceived superiority, your desperate desire to sweep under the carpet anything that could make your faith look bad, that you can’t even *see* it.

    If you tell an atheist that he (or she) is just like Stalin, do you *expect* them to respect your religion in return? Do you respect them to say “Oh, that’s a shame, I do wish I was as good as you, or had as noble beliefs as you do”? Perhaps if you see your religion being bashed, it’s not due to atheists being evil people bent on undermining all of civilization, but simply because you insist on bringing it up, on insulting and yes, bashing, anyone who doesn’t follow your belief.

    You’ve done more harm to the image of Christianity than all us Atheists could have done combined.

  • Clayvessel:

    Whoa. That’s quite a lot of judgment there for three tiny little comments by Papa Harry. I reread all three of them and can’t find any of the things he’s accused of in that diatribe in them. Way to have a civil discourse!

    Regarding the perceived bashing of Christianity: when stories like the one of the Phelps family are told, the implication is intended that religion is the cause of the crimes committed. This is where honest Christians get riled up. IMO, religion is NOT the cause of the crimes since these crimes are committed universally by people of all religions, or no religions (atheists) and maybe that is what Papa Harry was trying to point out (not trying to speak for you PH). There are these kinds of demented people (like F. Phelps) everywhere. They make up their own dogma based on whatever they please. They don’t even need any kind of holy writings. When atheists blame religion for these problems (and come on, they do) then those honest followers of religion get a little riled up, rightly so.

    So answer me this honest question in the defense of atheism: what moral code would be the guide for an atheist’s life and what binds an atheist to it? Can a moral code be enforced on others and by what means?

  • marewood:

    Welcome to Kansas. Nice that people don’t ask about tornadoes or Dorothy anymore, but Fred Phelps and his crazy family/church.

    “I do not understand the mystery of grace… only that it meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us”
    Ann LaMott

  • jalf:

    @Clayvessel:
    You can’t find any of the things I accused him of? Take off your Christian glasses then.

    Because it’s apparently perfectly obvious that anyone who says “Fred Phelp’s religion was part of the reason for his actions” is attacking Christianity.

    How, then, is Papa Harry not attacking atheism when he says “Stalin was worse, and he was an atheist”?

    Nate Phelps, and most atheists, say that religion *sometimes* makes people do horrible things. This is obviously true, as the Phelps family’s history shows. That is not “bashing religion”, it is a plain, obvious fact.

    Papa Harry seems to use the exact same logic when implying that atheism *sometimes* makes people become like Stalin. That there is a meaningful connection between Stalin’s supposed atheism and his horrible actions.

    The logic is the same in both cases. The difference is that he fails to show the connection. He fails to show *how* Stalin’s atheism was at all related to his actions. Nate Phelps has shown very clearly how his father’s religion was related to his actions.
    Papa Harry attempted to pull the same trick, but left out the important part: showing the connection between atheism and genocide.

    That is why Nate Phelp’s claim is reasonable, and Papa Harrys is not. That is why Papa Harry is “bashing”.

    Moving on: I think the idea that Christianity is (partly) to blame comes from Nate Phelps himself. Is he “bashing” Christianity then? Or is he perhaps just telling how he perceived the things that happened to him?

    He is the one who’s telling the story. Not me, not Rechelle, not any other atheist on this blog. Are you going to accuse *him* of being insensitive? Of “bashing” you? Really?

    If so, you’re as self-centred as a gyroscope. I’d say he’s earned the right to tell his story as it is. Even if some Christians get uncomfortable about the implication that his fathers beliefs had something to do with the way he abused his family. The man doesn’t really owe you or me anything, does he? Should he refrain from talking about these things just for your sake?

    If you get riled up by Nate Phelps saying how he perceived the suffering he went through, then there’s not much I can do to reach you through logical argument. Then you’re doing much like the catholic church at the moment, which is desperately trying to sweep all the child abuse under the carpet and showing that “ok so it happened, but it’s not really important, it doesn’t say anything about the church”.

    If atrocities like those committed in the Phelps family really happen “universally”, then perhaps you should show us an example. Which atheist father do you know of who did anything like this? And note that the problem is not just with Fred Phelps. Most of the family seems to go on in much the same way. Not with the violence perhaps (but then again, who knows?), but with most of the other wacky things Fred Phelps stands for.

    Remember that Fred Phelps is not *just* a demented, violent man. His religion pretty much defines him. His beliefs are a huge part of why he acts has he does. His (weird) church says to do essentially what he’s done. He’s acted in accordance with his religion. Rechelle’s comment mentioning Jael Phelps underlines this. She doesn’t seem “demented”, she’s just deeply religious, following the same twisted beliefs as her grandfather. Why, then, is Jael so messed up, if religion has nothing to do with it? What *else* does she have in common with her grandfather? If we take the religion out of the equation, there is no obvious common denominator between all the, well, crazies in the family.

    It is beyond ridiculous to claim that belief and faith had *nothing* to do with the Phelps family. Of course it did. You could say that his faith is *wrong*, of course, and nothing to do with true Christianity, but right or wrong, what he believes does seem to influence the man quite a lot.
    And if Nate Phelps of all people is not allowed to point this out, I think it says a lot about the open-mindedness of you two as Christians.

    “So answer me this honest question in the defense of atheism: what moral code would be the guide for an atheist’s life and what binds an atheist to it? Can a moral code be enforced on others and by what means?”
    Sure, I’d love to. On one condition, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

    What binds an atheist to a moral code?
    Self-preservation: I want to live in a world where people don’t steal, rape or kill. So I won’t steal, rape or kill, and I will do what I can to prevent these things from happening.
    Happiness and fulfillment. I feel happier when people like me. So I try to behave in ways that make people like me. That means helping others when they need help. It means accepting and tolerating the people’s differences.
    I respect the rules of society because I don’t want to live in a society with no rules. I do what I can to make the world a better place because I want to live in a better world
    And we could even throw in evolution as well: through millions of years, we have evolved to survive as social creatures. It is literally coded into our genes that we should act in ways that benefit not just ourselves, but also anyone else who is likely to have a similar genetic make-up. A gene which says “kill your brothers” doesn’t survive for long, because, well, all your brothers who were also carrying it will be dead. It’s down to you alone to propagate that gene. A gene which says “take care of your family” survives and spreads. We are social creatures. That means natural selection picks not just the strongest, or the one with the sharpest teeth, but also the ones who act towards preservation of the *species*. (And that doesn’t just mean boundless charity and philanthropy. It also means stopping cheaters from exploiting the rest of society)

    An atheist acts morally because doing so is better for everyone.
    Can the moral code be enforced? Why certainly. If you do something illegal and are thrown in jail, our moral code is enforced. You’ve done something harmful to society, violated our moral code, and so you must deal with the consequences.

    The nice thing about this moral code is that it is, in a sense, absolute. For example, rape will *never* be a moral action because it’s not good for society. Society prospers, and is nice to live in, when everyone are safe and get along. When there is room for everyone.

    An action is moral if a society where everyone are allowed to do it is desirable.

    Now it’s my turn. Answer me this honest question in the defense of Christianity.
    If God decreed, in great flaming letters in the sky tomorrow that THOU SHALT KILL THY NEIGHBORS FIRSTBORN AND POKE OUT THE EYES OF THE FIRST PERSON THOU SEE ON WEDNESDAYS AFTER NOON, would those actions suddenly become moral?
    If God tells you to rape someone, does that mean rape suddenly becomes a good thing? A moral action?

    In a nutshell, what’s so moral about Christian morals?
    Is there anything that binds a Christian to follow a moral code? Or are Christians only bound to do as God commands?

  • Kimberly:

    Thank you, jalf, for pointing out everything I was thinking :)

  • Clayvessel:

    Obviously Papa Harry nor anyone else is going to be able to show how Stalin’s athesim was “at all” related to his actions in one hundred words or less in a comment box.
    If you would directly answer my simple question then we may be able to examine it though.
    Let’s take your statement “Society prospers, and is nice to live in, when everyone are safe and get along (sic). When there is room for everyone.” But who is going to decide what is “nice” to live in? The moral code has to come from somewhere and that is my question. *Where* does it come from? Does everyone decide for themselves?

    For instance: there is a certain organization that’s called NAMBLA that claims men and boys should be free to have sex with each other. They claim it makes society “nice” to live in when they aren’t looked down on (and that boys can consent). Can an atheist define the moral code about this? How about polygamy or wife swapping where all “spouses” claim they like it and benefit from it? They say it is good for society and makes is “nice to live in when they aren’t looked down on. Would an atheist say “live and let live” because the moral code comes from within? Who gets to decide what is harmful to society and what isn’t? There is actually lots of debate over whether polygamy, under-aged sex, recreational drugs, prostitution, or pornography are bad for society or not. You picked easy examples of murder and rape but what about these areas? Are they absolute? Who gets to decide? If atheists got their wish imagining that there was no religion, from where would come the moral code that would decide what is good for society?

    My opinion is that the evils committed by F. Phelps, Stalin, or the guy in Germany who kept his daughter in a basement prison and fathered children with her for twenty years (not because of any religion!) committed their crimes because humans are not basically good and because they don’t do good naturally but can and will do what they can get away with justified in their own mind with their own rationalizations that they will draw from whatever influences they’ve had. But the real motivation is usually *power*. Often *power* in the guise of religion. They only use religion as their out.

    If you want to claim that Christianity and the Bible are the cause of all these terrible things, then why don’t ALL Christians everywhere behave that way? If beatings, etc. were prescribed by the Bible (which it most definitely is not) all Christians would be beating their wives and children. It is the base human nature of man that is depraved and the cause of depraved behavior.

  • Jill:

    The Bible is not a weapon to use against others, but a tool to use upon yourself. I’m not sure where that statement came from, but I like it. If you don’t believe the Bible, that is fine with me, but I don’t believe the Bible or religion have anything to do with a very bad man doing bad things. More and more people are using “religion” as an excuse for their bad behavior.

  • Ron:

    Clayvessel,

    You make a good point that Jalf didn’t mention the details of how society’s moral code gets decided, but I think he did a good job of describing a framework within which to make those decisions.

    I would claim that as a nation the US is still working on its moral code, without help from the bible. Slavery, women’s rights and civil rights are issues that had significant opposition from Christians in this country. Gay rights is the current issue being fought by the church, and they are destined to lose that battle as well. Yes, there were/are many Christians on the correct side of these issues, but the fact that there is disagreement among them demonstrates the failure of the bible as a source of moral authority.

  • jalf:

    @Clayvessel: Ah nice, you “accidentally” forgot to answer *my* question. That’s very nice of you. Really shows me your honesty. Always good to know we can trust in Christians.

    And as the stupid and naive heathen that I am, I’m going to answer that post as well. But I’d *still* like you to answer my question. If God decreed that rape is right, would rape become a moral action?

    “Obviously Papa Harry nor anyone else is going to be able to show how Stalin’s athesim was “at all” related to his actions in one hundred words or less in a comment box.”
    Really? We could show how Fred Phelps’ religion was related to his actions in a hundred words. And of course, you’re allowed to write much more than a hundred words in these comments.
    And thirdly, if it’s not possible to describe the connection here WHY BRING IT UP IN THE FIRST PLACE?

    Seriously, you’re just dodging the issue. Are you so dishonest with yourself that you can’t even admit it? If you can’t answer that question, be a man and face up to it and say “Ok, Papa Harry was talking bullshit and I think he was wrong on that one”.

    “The moral code has to come from somewhere and that is my question. *Where* does it come from? Does everyone decide for themselves?”
    Of course. Who else should do it? Who else *can* do it? We have free will. Ultimately, everyone decides for themselves. We’re shaped by society, family, friends, the environment, which affects our choices, but ultimately, they’re our choices.

    “For instance: there is a certain organization that’s called NAMBLA that claims men and boys should be free to have sex with each other. They claim it makes society “nice” to live in when they aren’t looked down on (and that boys can consent).”
    First: it seemed to work well enough for the ancient Greeks. If everyone *truly* consents, without being pressured in any way, then we might have to ask ourselves “is it a big deal?”
    Second, it would be worth checking in with the relevant experts to get their opinion. Would it cause any problems, damage or harm, mentally or physically for the boys? Again, if not, “is it a big deal?”
    Thirdly, that group does not have mainstream acceptance. Society decides what is good for society. Individuals or small groups have no right to decide for others. Everyone is their own person, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where others have the right to tell me what to do, control me or own me. So I don’t think people should be able to dictate what is right. Which also means that can not dictate that their rules “would be good for society”.

    “Can an atheist define the moral code about this? How about polygamy or wife swapping where all “spouses” claim they like it and benefit from it? They say it is good for society and makes is “nice to live in when they aren’t looked down on. Would an atheist say “live and let live” because the moral code comes from within?”
    Essentially yes. Live and let live. If everyone are happy with it, it might just not be a big deal. But in this case, there’s another consideration about equality. I prefer to live in a world where human beings are equal, have the same rights and the same opportunities. Polygamy skews this in some ways, making one gender worth more than the other, and making it very difficult for some individuals to find a spouse.

    “There is actually lots of debate over whether polygamy, under-aged sex, recreational drugs, prostitution, or pornography are bad for society or not.”
    There is debate about these things because we, humanity, society, are not yet 100% sure. And then the best we can do is to 1) find out as soon as possible, and 2) make the decision as best we can based on the available information.
    You’re right, these are much more subtle issues, which is why I’m honest enough with myself to say there are no easy answers. The answer to whether those things are moral is “it depends”. (although of course under-aged sex is never moral, because it is *defined* as “sex with someone who is too young to have sex”. That can never be right simply because of how it is defined.)

    These decisions affect us all, so we all need to decide what to do about them. Who else should do it for us? Who else should we trust to tell us what is right and wrong?

    “If atheists got their wish imagining that there was no religion, from where would come the moral code that would decide what is good for society?”
    From society. In the same way that laws that govern a nation come from the nation. Are you saying that doesn’t work? Reality has proven you wrong ever since the first democracy was instated. People shape the society they want to live in, and the result is a society with rules that benefit the people who live in it.

    “My opinion is that the evils committed by F. Phelps, Stalin, or the guy in Germany who kept his daughter in a basement prison and fathered children with her for twenty years (not because of any religion!) committed their crimes because humans are not basically good and because they don’t do good naturally but can and will do what they can get away with justified in their own mind with their own rationalizations that they will draw from whatever influences they’ve had. But the real motivation is usually *power*. Often *power* in the guise of religion. They only use religion as their out.”
    Really? My opinion is that this is complete bullshit. Want to know why? Because you don’t have facts on your side.

    Because *if* you were right, we would see a huge crime surge among atheists. Atheists would then be completely uninhibited individuals who did whatever they pleased without being able to discern right from wrong.

    And so far, no one has found any data to support that hypothesis. On the contrary, many surveys have shown atheists to be *less* likely to commit crimes than religious people. (A survey of the US prison population showed that while 10% of Americans identify themselves as atheists, only 0.2% of the prison population do the same.

    Studies have shown atheists to be less likely to get divorced than Christians, even compared to fundamentalist born-again Christians.

    Here’s the thing. What you have is a testable hypothesis. Instead of just saying “this is my opinion”, you actually have the opportunity to *FIND OUT* if it is true. Why don’t you do so? Are you afraid that you might get a result that doesn’t fit your preconceptions?

    As I said before, some of our morals come quite simply from who we are. From our genes. Individuals with no morals are at a disadvantage because they’re on their own. The theory of evolution actually tackled this issue long ago, using game theory. They’ve run huge competitions pitting different survival strategies against each others, and found that the most stable, and most effective, survival strategy is to be social/charitable *until someone betrays your trust*. Then you cut them off. It is what most animals do. And it is essentially what human society does too. Our morals are *natural*. Of course there’s the odd outsider who does not play along, but they are rare, and they *stay* rare because a population where they are common is unstable.

    We humans generally play along because it is what works. For us and for everyone else.

    “If you want to claim that Christianity and the Bible are the cause of all these terrible things, then why don’t ALL Christians everywhere behave that way?”
    Putting words in my mouth now. :)
    I never said Christianity was the sole cause of these people’s actions. Actually, of the three you mention, I only ever said religion had anything to do with Fred Phelps. I didn’t say it made Stalin or Fritzl commit their crimes. I also never said that mainstream Christianity had anything to do with it. Phelps has his own little variant of it.
    And I’m sure there are many other causes for his actions. But religion is his excuse. Without religion, he could not justify his actions.

    But to show how silly this “question” is, we could turn it around. Some Christians have done some incredibly good things. If religion was the reason for this, why don’t ALL Christians behave as well?

    “It is the base human nature of man that is depraved and the cause of depraved behavior.
    Why then am I not behaving in this way? I have no God to hold me back?
    Your claim doesn’t fit the facts.

    And as Ron said, we are constantly shaping and refining our moral code. Slavery wasn’t abolished because Christianity decided it should be so, or because the Bible said so. But because we, humanity, decided it wasn’t the world we wanted to live in.

    Morals don’t “come from” anywhere. We create them. They apply to us, so no one but ourselves have the authority to create them.

    And this leads us back to my question, which I’ll repeat just to remind me: if morals don’t come from us, but from God, does that mean that rape or murder would become moral actions if God issued a commandment saying so?

    And how is that in any way better than “our” morals?

  • Clayvessel:

    I didn’t answer your question because of two reasons. First, I know you think you did with your verbosity, but you didn’t answer my question. :-) Also, the rhetorical question is pointless. God in fact has declared rape a sin and a crime. Why ask *IF* He didn’t?
    I think what you are trying to ask (not trying to put words in your mouth just trying to determine your point) is are we held to obey God rather than men? That answer would be “yes.” Why answer a rhetorical question about God ordering people to sin when He doesn’t do that?
    It is difficult to respond to many of your points because you are weaving around so much and apparently not following my point either. You said I put words in your mouth and yet I asked a question and did not say you said “Christianity was the SOLE cause of these people’s actions”. You did say that the Bible and Christianity was A cause for Phelps actions though.

    So, to decide what is moral or not, you say we should check with the relevant experts. Some of them say it’s good, some say it’s bad. No resolution. Everyone has different opinions on all of it. No resolution. Do you think a moral is absolute? Because there is no method for finding an absolute moral in your description of how to determine what is moral. And just incidentally, you should check again what happened to the Greeks. Their system didn’t work so well in the end.

    I’m sorry but I can’t respond to all your points in this little comment box so I am trying to pick and choose a couple: Why don’t all Christians behave well all the time? Because they are sinners too.

    Skipping to the end point: the moral code of the Bible- love thy neighbor as thyself and the Ten Commandments- have worked very well for millenniums in many different societies. What exactly is the problem with it again?

  • jalf:

    @Clayvessel:
    It is far from rhetorical. It is a question of whether your morals are as absolute as you claim. It is absolutely fundamental to your entire argument. Is it correct that your morals are based exclusively on what God says is right and nothing else? No action has any intrinsic positive or negative value beyond what God has dictated?

    If so, that means that rape, murder, theft or anything else would become moral actions on God’s say-so.

    But boy, are you confirming some of my less positive views of Christians… Trying to dodge the issue with “yeah but it hasn’t happened yet” is just pathetic.
    Your question is just as rhetorical. It assumes that without God, we become raving berserkers running wild in the streets raping and pillaging. And that simply does not happen in reality. 10% of the US population are atheists, and last I heard, the crime level wasn’t quite that high. It’s as silly as trying to tell me that “if it’s cloudy, the sky becomes green”. You could look out your window to confirm that it’s not the case.

    But I guess you have indirectly answered me. If God *did* decree that rape is now a Good Thing, you *would* consider it a moral action. You’re just hoping and assuming that he won’t do it.
    I couldn’t live like that.

    And as for “God doesn’t do that”? Really? Read the old testament recently? Apparently, God has a long history of commanding people to do the most horrible things. The fact that he 2000 years ago decided to be mister nice guy doesn’t mean he’ll stay that way forever. (Some would say that he veered off course again a few hundred years later when talking to Mohammad and founding Islam.) My point is simply that your morals are not absolute in *any* way. They depend on nothing other than what the big beard in the guy wants you to do, and he has changed his mind before and could do it again.

    As for the “method for finding an absolute moral”, no, you are correct, I do not have one. I never claimed to.
    And you didn’t ask me about that. You asked what moral code an atheist follows, and what binds him or her to follow it. You didn’t use the word “absolute” once when asking the question.
    So I explained how an atheist decides what to consider moral. Like I said, many factors influence this, and sometimes, we have to revise our morals in light of new information. An atheist’s morals depends on circumstances, on the society that person finds himself or herself in, on what we know. If we are unsure whether some complex situation is right or wrong, we should gather all the information about it that we can: how it influences and affects people, what the costs are, what the benefits are. Ask those who have studied the phenomenon, and then, when we know as much as possible, then yes, we have to make a decision for ourselves. No one else can do it for us.
    The morals we arrive at are not absolute, but the method for finding them is absolute and unchanging.

    An atheist’s morals depends on what is beneficial for us all, on what is considered acceptable by society as a whole, on what allows the greatest freedom for everyone (and no, before you get any funny ideas, allowing murder is not “greater freedom” because the victim generally doesn’t get a say in the matter)

    As for the Greeks? Last I checked, their weird ideas about sex weren’t what caused their downfall. So why does their downfall matter again?

    To say what is moral, I say we should ask the people who are affected by our moral decisions. I think they’re better qualified to answer the question than some divine beard in the sky with a history of mass genocide.

    Yes, the ten commandments have worked well, but the problem with them is that they are TEMPORARY. They didn’t exist 2100 years ago. And who knows if they will exist in another 100 years. God has changed his mind before. And of course, most cultures follow different rules even without taking inspiration from the Bible. Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on “love thy neighbor”

    Whereas a “try to make the world a better place to be in” is a pretty timeless and universal moral code, which doesn’t depend on the whims of God. Exactly *how* to make the world a better place depends on what the world is currently like, so the specifics are not absolute. But the goal as a whole is rock solid and unchanging.

    My morals aren’t absolute either, no, but compared to Christianity’s, they’re a rock.

    Or to put it simply: You love your neighbor because God said you should. I love my neighbor because I prefer to live in a neighborhood where my neighbors are my friends.

    You might have to hate your neighbor tomorrow, if God tells you to. Tomorrow I’ll still love mine because it’s better for me as well as my neighbor.

  • Clayvessel:

    Please look at your comment of the 28th at 9:11- you said,”The nice thing about this moral code is that it is, in a sense, absolute. For example, rape will *never* be a moral action because it’s not good for society. ” and then directly above (the 29th 11:39)you say-”The morals we arrive at are not absolute, but the method for finding them is absolute and unchanging. An atheist’s morals depends on what is beneficial for us all, on what is considered acceptable by society as a whole, on what allows the greatest freedom for everyone” So which is it? Morals are absolute or not? And how can the *method* be absolute when what you describe is based on what is acceptable by society when a society is constantly changing and in flux. (As exampled before, slavery was accepted at various times during history and currently isn’t.) Another example of this would be when some societies view rape used as a weapon of war as an acceptable (temporarily moral) thing.
    Do you see my point?

  • Ron:

    “Also, the rhetorical question is pointless. God in fact has declared rape a sin and a crime. Why ask *IF* He didn’t?”

    I understand your reluctance to address a hypothetical question. However, I think Jalf has a point about the source of morality: does it come from god, or from us? So let’s take a non-hypothetical example. God commissions genocide in the Bible. Does that make genocide moral?

    “Skipping to the end point: the moral code of the Bible- love thy neighbor as thyself and the Ten Commandments- have worked very well for millenniums in many different societies. What exactly is the problem with it again?”

    First of all, “love your neighbor as yourself” really boils down to the Golden Rule, which was not invented by the biblical authors. The Golden Rule is essentially a description of our innate morality, which Jalf referred to: trust others, unless they betray your trust. So yes, it works, but it’s not unique to the Bible.

    Regarding the Ten Commandments, it seems to me the first four (or three, depending on how you count; Christians can’t agree on that) don’t really deal with morality, at least in a societal sense — they are about respecting god. Of the others, they are more or less covered by the Golden Rule. The important ones are codified into law: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie (perjure). Laws against adultery are on the books in many states, though rarely prosecuted as far as I know. Personally, I don’t think it takes the Bible to recognize these things as wrong, but at least it gets those right.

    Interestingly, the Ten Commandments mentions slavery twice (let your slaves rest on the sabbath, and don’t covet your neighbor’s slaves). Some source of moral authority.

    Most importantly, the Ten Commandments and the Bible don’t help with answering some of the moral questions you are haranguing Jalf about. What does the Bible say that helps us with NAMBLA? What about polygamy (which is present in the Bible)? What does the Bible say about drugs or prostitution or pornography? I’m not a Biblical scholar, so maybe there’s something there I don’t know about. But it seems to me that most of these issues are dealt with by figuring them out on our own, as human beings, without divine guidance.

  • Clayvessel:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Ron.
    Does the moral code come from God or us? My opinion is that it comes from the Creator. My point was that if it is allowed to come from “us” than there are no absolutes and the moral code is built on shifting sand.

    God commissions genocide. Really? That is a pretty broad statement. Please show where God commissions it.

    Yes, the Golden Rule. It does come from the Bible, see James 2:8, Mark 12:31 etc. It is embodied throughout the Bible in many forms of teaching i.e. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And as far as any innate morality, since I believe morality comes from the Creator, my conscience and inner morality also comes from Him.

    Regarding slavery: In God’s ideal world there would be no slavery. He allowed it but did not prescribe it. The application of the commandments to the treatment of slaves and the other commands that were given on their behalf were a way of ensuring their well-being in a sinful society.

    If all the commandments are applied with the guidance of the greatest commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself) than they do help with the other more subtle morality questions that I posed. If adultery (sexual sin) is always wrong (an absolute) than all forms of it are wrong – prostitution, polygamy, pornography, etc. (The presence of polygamy in the Bible doesn’t indicate that God suggested, prescribed or commanded it. He tolerated it. He gave Adam one wife as the ideal to follow.)

    I certainly in no way intend to “harangue” Jalf. I thought I was engaging in dialogue. I’m sorry if anything has come across as “haranguing”.

    • Clayvessel – Why did your god not simply PROHIBIT slavery? He sure as hell PROHIBITED a lot of other stuff. You are simply attempting to rationalize your belief system by making your ‘god’s perfect world speech.’ As to genocide – your god (as reported in your bible) sent the Israelites out to completely decimate other tribes. 1 Samuel 15:2-3
      Thus saith the LORD of hosts … go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. Total decimation – or genocide. This is your god commanding the Israelites to commit genocide upon the Amelekites. This verse was used to justify the attempted genocide of the Native Americans in the US and probably countless other genocides as well. Hey. If it is in the bible – it must be okay!

  • MMM:

    @jalf: I’d like to rephrase your point about “rape, murder, theft or anything else would become moral actions on God’s say-so” and see if you still agree… Or if Clayvessel might see the atheist point of view a little better. Let’s try this: Tomorrow, your CHURCH, your PASTOR, your PRIEST, or any other HUMAN could easily interpret the BIBLE to say that RAPE, MURDER, THEFT, or anything else could become a MORAL ACTION based on a 2000 YEAR OLD TEXT WRITTEN BY MEN. Most Christians agree the Bible is the Word of God. Most people who have studied history agree that the bible as we know it now has undergone about 2000 years of human influence and change…

    IF God were actually speaking the words and giving these “moral codes” to Christians DIRECTLY, TODAY, we might have a different conversation. My point is that he isn’t – just ask most any Christian, and they’ll agree the way “God speaks” is quite… nebulous, to say the least – and the “word of God” most Christians follow is actually the collective word of many human beings.

    Might be different if we were all well-educated, caring human beings. We’re not, and depending on who your parents are, what church you’re brought up in, what deluded psychopath you accidentally listen to because you don’t know any better… well, the world can get to be a scary place. Just like with the Phelps family. So, @clayvessel, what would you do if tomorrow, your pastor says God spoke to him, and his interpretation of the Bible is now scarily similar to that of Fred Phelps? Would you change churches?

    To ask it differently – Do you trust the advice of your pastor because you believe he is divine enough to interpret the bible perfectly? Do you believe God speaks to him? Or do you, in your heart, just trust him because he is a good man, who makes good choices, and interprets the morals in the bible in a human way that feels right to you?

  • Clayvessel:

    @MMM Thanks for the question. I’m glad to answer it.

    The Bible itself says that it is not open to any private interpretation and that false teachers will misuse it to their own purposes:
    “In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9)
    “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.” “Beware of false prophets..” and “Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith.” (Jer. 23:31)

    If my pastor claimed to speak for God and his message was against what I understand in the Scriptures, judging for myself as anyone can do, the church would probably discipline the pastor and if not I would leave. My pastor is not divine, he is educated. God does not speak to him outside the Scriptures which I can read for myself too. We have the Word of God today, we don’t need prophets or popes or judges to tell us what God says. We can read it for ourselves. The Bible says that anyone who sets themselves up as speaking for God is a false teacher. It is a big red flag when there is a charismatic leader claiming to speak for God.

  • Clayvessel:

    Rechelle- why did God not prohibit slavery? God doesn’t prescribe any particular kind of government system. He allows humans to devise their own but He has laid down the moral laws by which any form of government would best succeed if followed. So slavery only works if the slaves are good and the masters are good as defined by “do unto others…etc.” Since that rarely happens, the system doesn’t work but is it morally wrong? By whose moral code? Where does that moral code come from? Today most would say slavery is morally wrong but if it were practiced today in a societal form under the ideal, -good masters, good slaves- would it still be morally wrong? By whose moral code? Not judging, just rhetorically asking…
    (Please try to get it that I am playing devil’s advocate here and trying to provoke thought…)

    As for the recording of 4000 year old history that you often seem to get stuck on, the Amelekites were a wicked and hostile people out to destroy the Israelites. It was destroy or be destroyed and since the Israelites were God’s people from whom the Messiah would come He was preserving them. I’m sorry if you may not get this but God has a complete scope of all of history that you and I don’t. The story is meant to demonstrate this as well as the fact that God, as Creator, does judge and punish those who are against Him.

    Your claim that the history of the Israelites was the justification of any attempted genocides in the world is just offensive enough to demand verification and authentication. Can you do that? I’m guessing you can’t. I bet you just read it or heard it said by some other atheist.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • Ron:

    “Yes, the Golden Rule. It does come from the Bible, see James 2:8, Mark 12:31…”

    Of course, I know that the Golden Rule is *in* the Bible; my point was that it wasn’t *invented* by the authors of the Bible. Versions of the Golden Rule existed in ancient Egypt and Greece; I would venture a guess that it existed in pre-historical societies as well, seeing as how it is so central to how humans evolved to be successful social animals.

    “… why did God not prohibit slavery? God doesn’t prescribe any particular kind of government system.”

    Banning slavery wouldn’t be proposing a system of government, it would just be another moral law (like don’t murder, don’t steal).

    “Today most would say slavery is morally wrong but if it were practiced today in a societal form under the ideal, -good masters, good slaves- would it still be morally wrong? By whose moral code?”

    I know you’re playing devil’s advocate here, but, really? Slavery obviously breaks your Golden Rule. It shouldn’t need to be stated that slavery is wrong by a moral code that honors individual liberty, which is a hallmark of atheist morality.

    “If all the commandments are applied with the guidance of the greatest commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself) than they do help with the other more subtle morality questions that I posed.”

    Again, the Golden Rule is in the Bible, but is not unique to the Bible. Which means you don’t need the Bible to help answer those moral questions. Now that I think about it, it’s probably the best thing in the Bible though.

    “If adultery (sexual sin) is always wrong (an absolute) than all forms of it are wrong – prostitution, polygamy, pornography, etc.”

    So it’s okay for an unmarried person to engage in these activities?

    “(The presence of polygamy in the Bible doesn’t indicate that God suggested, prescribed or commanded it. He tolerated it. He gave Adam one wife as the ideal to follow.)”

    But if it is morally wrong, why would he tolerate it? Same thing with slavery. There are plenty of other laws about far more trivial things. I just can’t respect a god who would worry about clothing from mixed fabrics while giving slavery a pass.

    “…God, as Creator, does judge and punish those who are against Him.”

    I guess that’s the answer to all the nasty things god does in the Bible. He’s god, he can do what he wants. I hope you can appreciate why atheists don’t think much of that explanation.

  • Nanc in Ashland:

    Rechelle, I promise to read your entire post but before I can focus, I must know where you got the super cute denim jacket you’re wearing in that first photo! Mum wants one for her birthday and that looks like a good one.

    • Nanc in Ashland – I am trying to remember. I think I got it at the Gap. Pretty sure. Yep. I did.

  • Nanc in Ashland:

    The Gap. Hmmm, I’m guessing our Mall over in Medford must have one . . . (can you tell I rarely shop?!) Thanks for the info.

  • Abby:

    Can I just state for the record that not all Calvinists are equivalent to Fred Phelps? (Without getting blasted?)

    Also, this particular Calvinist has a personal belief that Phelps and his clan never have been and continue not to be Christians in any sense of the word. It’s not how you announce they announce themselves, but rather the actions and behaviors that are evident to the rest of the world.

    • Yes Abby – you can. Nate made it very clear that the Phelps church has never been able to associate with any type of religious group for very long. He views are just too extreme. Even for the KKK!

  • [...] of you might remember when I went to hear Nate Phelps speak in Topeka about his brutal childhood growing up in the home of Fred Phelps.  I know that what the Phelps family believes is heinous and [...]