Faith cannot be imposed upon anyone because it comes deep from inside one’s heart. In the short story “Unfollow,” by Adrian Chen, Megan Phelps-Roper, an ex-member of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, serves to illuminate the nature of faith in an individual’s mind. Phelps-Roper grew up as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church ever since birth; however, as Phelps-Roper blossoms, she begins to interact beyond the secular community that she knew all her life; she starts questioning her own religion and slightly shifts away from it step-by-step.
The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for anti-semitic, prejudiced, unjust and intolerant remarks towards members beyond their community. Phelps-Roper feels as if she is being brainwashed by her family and the members of the Westboro Baptist church; consequently, she rejects her family’s ideology when her family fails to give her an explanation as to why the community hurls offensive language towards non-members of their communities.
By analyzing the character Phelps-Roper in “Unfollow”, the reader can witness how the individual chooses to sustain or reject the community’s beliefs and traditions based on their moral and ethical values, which are applied towards judging the community’s belief systems. Phelps-Roper begins to perceive her community’s actions as atrocious hate crimes towards other groups of people, thus leading Phelps-Roper to reject her community due to the negative connotations she associates with them.
An individual will reject a community’s ideology if that community’s morals do not coincide with the community’s ethics. The narrator in “Unfollow” feels as if Phelps-Roper’s, “hesitance reflected a growing concern for the feelings of people outside Westboro. Church members disdained human feelings as something that people worshiped instead of the Bible. They even had a sign: ‘GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS’” (42). This quote portrays how the members of the church are heartless because they condemn the expression of emotions, which is part of the human nature.
Humans should not be stoic since they have a capacity for genuine emotion. Phelps-Roper has a concern for other people beyond her church members, which demonstrates that she feels sympathy for people outside her community—an idea that her community denounces. When Phelps-Roper witnesses the heartlessness of her community, it manifests a negative connotation of her community because she knows that people should not act in such an abhorrent way towards other individuals. The community’s rude nature makes Phelps-Roper reject her communities traditions. Furthermore, when anyone dies, the church members celebrate their death because they believe that this is God’s punishment; however, Phelps-Roper is more sensitive towards others individuals. The reader can observe how callous the church’s members are—due to their insensitive demeanor, which is the leading factor in mustering revulsion towards the Westboro community from mindful individuals like Phelp-Roger.
Dan Arel, an award-winning journalist and best-selling author of Parenting Without God, in his article, “Study Finds That Children raised Without Religion Show More Empathy and Kindness”, he argues how religion makes humans more egotistical. As referenced in the article, a study was done by the University of Chicago, which found “family religious identification decreas[ing] children’s altruistic behaviors (1). Through this quote, Arel argues that individuals are better off living without a religion because religion makes people selfish.
Although religions encourage people to live in a righteous manner, many arrogant people believe that their religion is superior to others which causes hatred towards people of other religions or traditions. This ideology is perfectly applicable to “Unfollow” because the church members teach their followers that God hates people’s feelings. With that thought in the back of people’s heads, the church members will be less “altruistic” because they will fear that God will hate them. This belief leads to depravity because no one will care about anyone else around them.
Phelps-Roper chooses to reject her communities dogma when Brittany Murphy, an actress she loves dies, she does not post anything on twitter saying that she thanks God for another death as Phelps-Roper usually did when they heard about any death. This example conveys how Phelps-Roper’s knows that it is selfish to celebrate anyone’s death as she says “I felt like I would be such a jackass to go on [twitter] and post something like that” (42). As described in the quote, Phelps-Roper strays away from the community’s tradition because she feel it is inhumane to picket people’s death as the rest of the community does so.
In this instance, Phelps-Roper uses her morals to conclude that feeling elation in anyone’s death is immoral, thus leading her to conclude that the practice of picketing people’s death is unjust and unethical. Phelps-Roper begins to reject the communities ideology because their actions stand against her morals, as seen in the way her community acts is utterly and totally erroneous to replicate or follow. When a community unjustly oppresses its members, individuals tend to rebel against and reject the inequitable treatment because they cannot tolerate the rules and tradition anymore.
An example of how an individual can reject a community because they cannot tolerate the actions of the community is demonstrated through Phelps-Roper when the narrator says, “Phelps-Roper confusion soon turned to outrage. In 2012, she was twenty-six years old, but she was still being treated like a child. Once minor indignities, like being accompanied by an adult chaperone while eating lunch at a restaurant, now seemed unbearable” (46). Phelps-Roper begins to renounce the community when she continues to be “treated like a child” despite being twenty-six years old.
Treating Phelps-Roper as a child is humiliating and degrading because she is not treated like the adult she is. Consequently, when a community’s regulations are too “unbearable”, individuals will reject these rules because they do not want to continue to live their life in a complicated way by having to abide by these rules that don’t make sense. When someone is “twenty six years old,” they are usually dependant and living on their own. In Arel’s article, a study was conducted and found that “children from religious households are harsher in their punitive tendencies” (1).
As seen in this quote, Arel is arguing that if children come from a non-religion households the parents are more lenient than those that are raised in a religion household. When individuals are raised in a religious household parents tend to be more draconian towards their children because strict procedures must be followed and improper behavior is not tolerated. This study relates to the Westboro Baptist church because the community wants its members to be chaperoned even if the members are adults.
The church does not want its members to do anything improper so in result, the church members make sure that they constantly watch their members because unprofessional behavior is unacceptable in their religion. The rules disheartened Phelps-Roper from staying with the church. Another example that justifies Arel’s study is when the narrator of “Unfollow” says, “When Phelps-Roper was growing up, one of her cousins had been pushed out of the church for, among other things, getting entangled with boys; other young women had been harshly punished” (45).
This quote shows that the members of the Westboro Baptist church are not merciful at all because any disorderly conduct will result in one being removed from the church. When raising up children, parents and communities cannot be too strict because if they are children will rebel against them. Phelps-Roper is no longer able to tolerate the strict laws of the church leading her to drift away from the church and reject their rules and traditions.
Phelps-Roper uses her morals to conclude that she is old enough to be independent, when the church denies her independence by unjustly chaperoning her, Phelps-Roper perceives their actions as a flaw within the community. An individual will use their moral judgment — to determine if the actions of their community are atrocious– which will lead them to reject their community if they perceive the communities actions as hypocritical to the beliefs of the community. In “Unfollow”, the narrator says, “Abitol knew that at least one member of the Westboro had committed a sin that Leviticus also deems a capital crime” (44).
Here, Abitol, a man Phelps-Roper met online, is trying to convince Phelps-Roper that even though one may commit a sin, they may repent as it is natural to sin because the human being is not perfect. Abitol is elucidating to Phelps-Roper that the way her church is dealing with individuals beyond her church are egregious. Moreover, the reader can understand that Abitol is saying that the church members judge everyone outside of the church, the church members should look at themselves first.
When Abitol says, “at least one member of the Westboro had committed a sin” he points out the imperfection of the church’s members therefore, the reader can see the hypocrisy of the church because they harass other people for “sinning” yet, they sin as well. Phelps-Roper realizes what Abitol is saying is true, but she ignores it because she is in denial since the community is constantly brainwashing her since the only traditions she grows up practicing are taught by the church. Phelps-Roper uses her ethics to conclude that Abitol’s thinking is logical because she believes harassing other people is immoral.
Phelps-Roper can relate to Nwoye from Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe because both these individuals reject their religion and their communities traditions. Things Fall Apart follows Nwoye, the son of Okonkwo, a well respected warrior in the Umuofia clan. Nwoye has doubts about some of the laws and rules of his tribe which eventually leads him to convert to Christianity in rejecting his father’s decree because he was always too hard on him. The main reason Nwoye rejects his community’s ideologies is when Okonkwo violently abuses his wife. The narrator of Things fall Apart says, “And when she returned he beat her very heavily.
In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace” (Achebe 21). In this example it shows how Okonkwo, being such a high figure in his tribe commits huge sin on the week of peace where no harm or violence is suppose to occur. Both, the examples in “Unfollow” and Things Fall Apart show why Phelps-Roper and Nwoye both rejected their families ideologies. Both characters reject their families’ ideologies because each character recognizes the actions of their respective families are being a flaw because the actions are hypocritical to their tradition and way of life.
Individuals will repudiate their community and traditions if their moral compass does not accompany with the community’s beliefs. When an individual rejects a whole community on their own that is when one knows that person is certain that they are doing the right thing and do not agree with the community’s erroneous actions. Phelps-Roper analyzes the behavior of her through her morals she concluded that a lot of the actions of the community are immoral and inhumane.
She desires a multitude of explanations as to why her family pickets certain things, but she is not pleased with the answer and sometimes she could not find an answer. Phelps-Roper is going through emotional turmoil, but she cannot stay with her community unless they change their behavior towards other communities. Ultimately,“Unfollow” is a prime example of how important the morals of an individual are in guiding them through their life, furthermore, one’s morals assist individuals in avoiding a flawed society and staying righteous.