Becoming secular…without science

The New Yorker recently published a piece profiling the deconversion of Megan Phelps-Roper. If the name rings a bell, it’s because she’s the grand-daughter of Fred Phelps, the late leader (and founder) of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).

Phelps-Roper deconversion followed an interesting path. With access to the web, she joined Twitter and became the digital voice of the WBC. One of the features of Twitter is its ability of not only broadcasting a message, but also getting instant feedback. The WBC loves spreading their message, and this platform was well-suited for their usual trolling.

However, in Twitter Ms. Phelps-Roper also found a legion of detractors. Some of them later became friendly foes who engaged her as she spread the WBC’s message and planted the seeds of suspicion in her regarding the “truth” she had been taught. Ms. Phelps-Roper didn’t get interested in the theory of evolution, the Big Bang, or any other major scientific breakthrough that clashes with religious teachings. Her deconversion was a slow process emerging from a distrust of authority, a subject I recently-ish spoke about.

During one of my talks at the 2015 Center for Inquiry’s Leadership Conference I discussed the importance of non-scientific secularism. What I mean by this is that many people are becoming secular/non-religious not because they just got interested in biology or physics. Instead, people leave religion because they begin question its authority, and the authority of its leaders.

This is the case with Ms. Phelps-Roper. Her Twitter followers plated the seeds of distrust, but it was her analysis of how inconsistent and random the people in power at the WBC were with their new prophecies what led her to disbelieve what she had been taught.

It is also worth noting that one of the events that led to her leaving the WBC was the demotion of her mother as a major leader in the Church. Gender dynamics, where males took over absolute control of Church affairs, further fueled her questioning.

You should read the whole piece in the New Yorker. It gives great insights into the minds of young people leaving religion today. While Ms. Phelps-Roper case is an extreme one (in terms of the religious congregation she left), it is also an excellent example of how you don’t need science to distrust religion: its authority is dubious enough that people with critical thinking skills can see through the facade.

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