Unlike his Bible-thumping dad, Nate Phelps likes Lady Gaga’s music and feels sorry for Mel Gibson.
Phelps has also been hired as the executive director of the Alberta branch of the Centre for Inquiry (CFI) Canada.
CFI is an atheist charity that promotes “skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic enquiry.”
In recent months, Phelps, 51, garnered international attention after speaking out against his father’s hatred and intolerance messages and in support of gays.
Last May, Phelps spoke with Xtra about growing up in a Christian fundamentalist household. He talked about being angry with the homophobia spread by his father, the infamous Southern Baptist minister Fred Phelps. He also spoke about the physical and psychological abuse he suffered as a child and how he helped create a healing and support group called Life After Fundamentalism.
In a phone interview with Xtra from his Calgary home, Phelps says he is taking on this new spin in life as head of CFI Alberta to show the world people can be atheist and still be happy. He feels he can help like-minded and disillusioned people who had the Bible rammed down their throats while growing up. The fear of going to hell for abandoning beliefs can be traumatic for many, he says.
“I think my atheism is a way of me being honest with myself. Knowing a bit of how the world is, in my mind, it is so logical to come to that conclusion. The world can be better explained using science, looking at the world rationally. Religion makes no sense to me,” says Phelps.
Phelps also wants CFI to battle against homophobia. He points to recent examples like the case of Constance McMillen, a Mississippi teen who successfully sued her local school board for not allowing her to attend prom because she is a lesbian.
“Homophobia is a huge issue. When those kind of issues arise (ie McMillen’s court case), CFI becomes an active voice in those ideals,” says Phelps.
Before Phelps Sr came out with picketing campaigns like “God Hates Fags” and telling the world Lady Gaga has a whore’s forehead, he was a lawyer and successfully fought racial segregation when he took on school boards in the 1960s (Johnson vs Whittier) so black children could attend predominantly white schools.
When Phelps Jr is asked if fighting homophobia runs parallel with his father’s early life ideals and fighting racism, he says his father worked with blacks because he was obsessed with getting media attention. He says his father’s obsession likely sprung from a 1951 Time magazine article written about him.
“His support of blacks was because it was an empty shell. At the time, it was a wide-open arena. And he was good at what he did. He used that opportunity to make a lot of money. His words and deeds, there was no question he was prejudiced against blacks. I know my father has the same prejudices against blacks as gays. Maybe not the same, but he believes blacks are just as cursed as gays,” says Phelps.
As for choosing Calgary to take part in promoting atheism and fighting homophobia, Phelps admits he has his work cut out for him. He points out to statistics where 23 per cent of Albertans consider themselves to be atheist.
“Calgary isn’t like Toronto. That’s one of the struggles. But it’s also why Calgary is a good place for CFI to be. It will advance our ideology. Calgary is conservative. Harper is from here, and he leads one of the most conservative governments in recent Canadian history. Canada as a whole is less inclined towards religious extremism, yet only 23 percent of Alberta considers themselves to be atheist. That’s a huge number if you were comparing to the US. But in Canada, it’s very conservative. What better place to challenge the status quo. And as I understand it, Calgary is a city of one million souls, and there is just one gay bar in town,” says Phelps.
To find out more about the Centre for Inquiry Canada, visit cficanada.ca