A while back I posted an Afternoon Inquisition about Michael Vick and his 2007 felony conviction for running a dog fighting ring. The question I asked was about the emotional side of punishment, and if serving his sentence within the justice system ameliorated general ill-will people have for him. I was feeling the cognitive dissonance of “yes he did what penance and rehabilitation was asked of him, but no … I’m not keen on him even having a goldfish as a pet.”
Today I’m struck by the same feeling after yesterday’s news of Megan and Grace Phelps leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. Am I glad there was an unbuilding of the hateful rhetoric of their lives? Yes. Am I happy these young women might now have a broader life? Sure. Do I feel sad for them losing their lifelong faith and much of their family? Mostly, I do.
Does all of that forgive the hate and bile they happily spewed forth for years? Erm … I … welll …
And if so, what amount of penance must they do to repent for years of anguish and ugliness? I don’t know.
For me, I know I am just a conflicted now as I was about Michael Vick. I know they were indoctrinated, and to some degree innocents forced into this life. And that is a difference. But still, they can’t go and undo all the hateful circus antics they willingly did during their deconversion, and I can’t help but think that matters too. I can’t help but think about all the people living with hurt caused directly by them.
Is public redemption possible for these Phelps women? Should they be held accountable for their hateful acts? If so, for how long, and in what ways? Is just walking away penance enough?
Edited to add: I am not suggesting these are equivalent or even related things, nor am I asking you all to compare them, exactly. Rather, I mention them both because they both cause the “what I think vs. what I feel” dilemma in me. As you see, my question was actually about the Phelps’ exclusively. My apologies for creating a false sense of connectedness.
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.