What the Ahlquist Situation Can Tell Us About Moderate Christianity

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of JT Eberhard, not the Secular Student Alliance.

First, when the call was put out yesterday to run to Jessica Ahlquist’s defense on twitter, you guys responded gloriously.  We outnumbered the hatemongers and demonstrated a greater mastery of both wit and fact (even if doing so was the rhetorical equivalent of racing a cripple).  I am told that some atheists threatened violence back after I walked away from the internet.  If that happened, bad form.  We can win on the merit of our ideas.  We don’t need to be ideological or literal bullies.

Jesus Fetus Fajita Fishsticks has a series of screencaps of what Jessica was getting yesterday.  Pack a lunch because it’s a lot of hate.  The list includes a fraction of the threats of violence and death being sent her way by people who have quite a lot of faith in Jesus.  They are exhibit 27092012341123812740921878 in the case against Christianity making anybody better.  In fact, it seems to be key in making people worse.

How can I say that?  Because while there was a mountain of rebukes yesterday to the threats against Jessica, they were all coming from non-believers.  The liberal, moderate Christians, the ones we are repeatedly told by the “let’s get along” archetypes of this movement are our allies, were conspicuous by their silence.  When those made monsters by faith were relishing the suffering of 16-year-old girl, our allies were nowhere to be found.  The only defenses can be that only the beasts of Christianity were aware of the RI decision or that only the beasts of Christianity were motivated to be vocal.  The first is absurd, and the second is a problem.

There is a reason that the atheists are the ones who must police church/state violations.  There is a reason we are the ones who must play watchdog against creationism in schools.  There is a reason we are the ones to make a big stink over the Catholic church lending tacit endorsement to child rape.  The reason we must rebuke and oppose these forms of religion-driven evil is the same reason we had to be the ones to go in yesterday and rebuke another series of religion-driven evil: because the moderates aren’t.  Of course, I speak in generalities.  One could point to oddball moderates who do speak up, but on the whole this is obviously the case and I don’t see how anybody can argue otherwise.

I have always challenged people to conceive of an idea so preposterous, so at odds with reality, that faith could not be advanced in its defense.  I’ve yet to see anybody succeed.  It is faith that keeps provides life support to the belief that a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead and literally any other idea that should have perished under the weight of simple logic.  The problem is that liberals use faith to prop up their ideas of god’s will just like the fundamentalists, and so they cannot attack faith, the life force of fundamental Christianity, without attacking themselves.  Some of the moderates may hate that other Christians are so heartless.  They may even cry themselves to sleep at night over it.  What they do not do is speak up.  And when they rarely do speak up, they unwittingly give power to the people they speak up against by helping keep faith protected from criticism.

Many of these moderate have asked me (as I assume they ask others) why I care so much about religion if I don’t believe in god.  What is happening to Jessica is one of the reaons why.  Because so many use faith as a license to commit a wealth of their emotional resources to ludicrous ideas.  This often results in behavior unfit for the company of two-year-olds, in behavior that is an affront to humanity, and/or behavior that destroys lives.  And the moderates are powerless to say otherwise without invoking faith in something else.  By keeping faith sacrosanct, they keep faith alive and, in doing so, keep the monsters it produces alive.  Attachment to faith made none of those people from yesterday (and there were a lot of them) better.  It made them worse.  What’s more, it kept the moderates silent in the face of moral horrors committed by others driven by faith.

Faith needs to become a point of unquestionable humiliation in society.  It needs to be something that makes people ashamed.  Counting on the faithful of any stripe to be our allies in that endeavor is a very poor strategy.  And if your goal is not to root out unreason, then we’re not on the same side anyway.

Jessica will come out of this alright.  She has people around her protecting her and is going to come out of this whole ordeal as a hero, with a paid college education, and a host of job offers in this movement when she’s done.  But what a horrible thing for someone so young to have to go through.  You can chalk her completely justified fear for her well-being up to faith, and you can chalk her defense up to those who live without it.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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