Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper
… that open discourse and dialectic is the most effective enabler of the evolution of individuals and societies. That the answer to bad ideas is to publicly reason against them. To advocate for and propagate better ones. And that it is dangerous to vest any central authority with broad powers to limit the bounds of acceptable discussion. Because these powers lend themselves to authoritarian abuse, the creation of echo chambers, and the marginalisation of ideas that are true but unpopular. In short, the principles underlying the freedom of speech recognise that all of us are susceptible to cognitive deficiencies and groupthink.
I first heard about the Westboro Baptist Church when the documentary by Louis Theroux first aired: BBC’s The Most Hated Family in America. The group is probably most famous for picketing funerals of soldiers and their homophobic signs. Megan’s story follows her mounting disillusionment with the group, questions she had as a child that went unanswered, and her growing role in the church even as she wondered about the rights and wrongs of it all. Eventually she becomes the most well-known spokesperson for the group and runs the online social media platforms. It’s there that she starts to engage with others’ perspectives and eventually changes her own. She starts to see the damage hatred and unkindness can do.
It is disconcerting – shamefully, unimaginably so – to look back and accept that my fellow church members and I were collectively engaging in the most egregious display of logical blindness that I have ever witnessed.
I have great sympathy for those born into cults. It’s utterly heartbreaking. Her memories about the abuse she and her siblings suffered is gut-wrenching. More than once I cried listening to her story. Little moments really stand out: she admits that she didn’t know what her signs meant when she first held them; the letter she signed and sent to a newspaper as a child was actually written by her aunt.
That she broke free at all is commendable, but to see how far she’s come is just brilliant. Also, her Twitter pic now reads GOD LOVES GAYS. What a wonderful, wonderful turn around. :’)
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