Thinking with Other People

What hope could there be for someone who is such a devoted member of the infamous Westborough Baptist Church (“God Hates Fags”) that she tweets missives such as this one:

Thank God for AIDS! You won’t repent of your rebellion that brought His wrath on you in this incurable scourge, so expect more & worse!

And what if that evangelist for hate had been steeped in it since infancy, being the granddaughter of the church’s founder?

how_to_thinkIn How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, author Alan Jacobs tells the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, whose social-media campaign to spread Westborough Baptist’s message ultimately backfired in a spectacular way.

You see, when Megan engaged over Twitter with all those evil people in “the world,” she discovered that many of them were actually decent folk: sincere seekers of truth who loved their neighbors; kind, intelligent people who wanted the best for her.

They responded to her hate thoughtfully and patiently. She listened to them and had to admit to herself that she had no good answers.

Eventually, Megan left the message of hate and the church itself.

Alan Jacobs’ telling of the story culminates with this arresting passage:

I’d bet a large pile of cash money that thousands of people read [about] Megan Phelps-Roper and said, to others or to themselves, “Ah, a wonderful account of what happens when a person stops believing what she’s told and learns to think for herself! But here’s the really interesting and important thing: that’s not at all what happened. Megan Phelps-Roper didn’t start “thinking for herself”—she started thinking with different people.

Alan Jacobs has some follow-on points that are equally profound, but I’m going to stop right there and let that one sink in. Maybe we can ask ourselves, “How many different types of people do I think with?”

Stay tuned for more from How to Think!

In the meantime, here’s Megan telling her own story:

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