Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nate Phelps on Fred Phelps's Family: "Ideology . . . Supported and Promoted with Violence"

Nate Phelps's conversation with Dick Gordon at Salon today is noteworthy because of its explanation of how the virus of patriarchal violence is transmitted generation to generation.  Nate is the son of the notorious virulently homophobic pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist church in Kansas.  He notes bluntly that the tendency to intrafamilial violence stems from the "fairly common idea" in fundamentalist Christian households that the husband is the "head of the family" and has a right to discipline his wife and his children.  To bring them into submission to his "absolute authority," as Nate Phelps puts the point . . . .

And, as violence inside any closed group like a family has a wont to do, the violence acted out in households headed by "absolutely authoritative" fathers then pools and spreads.  It elicits anger and resentment, and sometimes counterviolence, among the family members whom the father brutalizes.  It creates a pass-down effect in which the children of a family are willing to sell each other out in order to escape being the object of the violence du jour, or are willing to assist the father in exercising violent control of their siblings.   It spreads into the community as violent religious rhetoric of the sort for which the Phelps family and their church are well-known.

Here's how Nate Phelps describes the beating sessions his father inflicted on him and his siblings with a frayed razor strap or the handle of a mattock (warning: it's graphic):

Yeah, and then he would beat us anywhere from the lower part of our back down to behind our knees and he swung it hard, he swung it like a baseball bat. And oftentimes what would happen is there would be eight or 10 strokes and then he would go into a 10- or 15-minute screaming session with what we were doing wrong and how it was defying God and that we were evil. You know all of these religious-based threats and insults to the children and then he’d go back to the beating and by then the skin has stretched tight from the damage. So the next blows would just split the skin and so you’d get blood.

And, then, when the mother sometimes tried to intervene if the violence became too horrific, "he would go after her and beat her for that."  And he also taught the older sons to beat their younger siblings, instructing them in how to inflict violence and then punishing them if they failed to hit hard enough.

The older sons, note, since they were boys turning into men, and needed to learn how to wield power, use force, and employ violence to back up their "right" to absolute authority as fathers . . . . This is a very precise, and a very accurate, description of the way in which patriarchal patterns of authority are encoded in the DNA of institutions and of societies, such that the authority begins to appear to many people, including those who suffer from it, as natural and God-given.

It's also an accurate description of how patriarchal structures of control positively demand violence in order to keep themselves functioning.  Violence is encoded in that very same DNA by which patriarchy is transmitted, generation after generation.

And we have been far too slow, as societies and religious institutions, to understand the workings of these maleficent structures that are everywhere in our lives, causing serious injury to one person after another.  And to the planet itself, which suffers from the violence that men inflict as a demonstration of their "absolute authority" and their "rights"--simply because they're men.

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