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.

  • sqlrob

    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.

    I assume you mean weren’t aware or were unaware here.


  • http://www.ziztur.com Flimsyman

    No, “only the beasts of Christianity were aware of the RI decision,” i.e., the so-called religious moderates were somehow completely unaware of this piece of news (which is obviously not a reasonable explanation); apparently, they didn’t feel the need to speak up.

  • Brownian

    Actually, I’d guess that many of those were moderates; ones who felt their privilege challenged. It’s the “You have freedom of speech because we’re so tolerant and open-minded, and you repay us by excercising it?” reaction.

  • Rory

    It makes me ill the kind of abuse that Jessica is suffering, all at the hands of people who almost certainly never gave a rat’s ass about the stupid prayer until somebody had the guts to point out that it didn’t belong there. I’m really glad you’re getting her back on this, JT. I hope she’s getting the support she deserves on the ground as well.

  • KashmirGoat

    While I’m not running to the defense of typical xpians and their usual hate, I must point out the exception that makes the rule.

    Turn to reddit, r/christianity has an out of place open letter to Jessica showing support for her actions and success and, more importantly, disgust for the all too typical type of hate mongering christians.

    I was shocked too.

  • Alukonis, metal ninja

    JT, I want to point out that some “cripples” do race, in marathons, triathlons, swimming, bicycling, etc, and are faster than a lot of people who aren’t “cripples.”

    And seriously, “cripples”? I’d expect you to be more egalitarian and precise in your rhetoric.

  • niftyatheist

    Loved this post JT, but I am inclined to agree with Brownian that I suspect many of those vicious posts yesterday came from outraged moderate Christians – for just the reason he said.
    Still, all of your points regarding taking a closer look at this assumption that moderates are somehow our “allies” have been long overdue.

  • trying to represent christ

    moderate christian here: we don’t tend to visit the same places as the radicals. where did this take place?

    i for one abhor violence and speak out against it regardless of the faith of the perpetrator.
    if you think i can be doing more in my day to day life, i am open to suggestions.

    • http://faehnri.ch/ faehnrich

      You both visit church.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM.

    moderate christian here: we don’t tend to visit the same places as the radicals. where did this take place?

    I see the problem. Your reading comprehension is poor. If you’d read the first sentence of JT’s opening post, then you’d see the word “twitter.” If you’re unfamiliar with twitter then I suggest you google it. If you’re unfamiliar with google then why are you on the internet?

    i for one abhor violence and speak out against it regardless of the faith of the perpetrator.

    Hooray for you! Where are your fellow moderate and liberal Christians? Or is it your turn to be the violence abhorer this week?

    if you think i can be doing more in my day to day life, i am open to suggestions.

    You could be denouncing your fellow Christians threatening violence against a woman who disrespected their privileged religion by legal means. Or you could just clutch your pearls and fall upon the fainting couch.

    Don’t exert yourself. You certainly haven’t up until now.

  • NotAProphet

    #8 “trying to represent christ” stated:

    ‘if you think i can be doing more in my day to day life, i am open to suggestions.’

    That’s a brave statement to make here, and my first thought was to mentally start making a list of all the things done in the name of christ against which you could speak out, things that are violent, semantic debate aside, in the sense that they cause real harm. I started thinking of the prohibition of condoms in AIDS-endemic areas, the opposition of abortion to save a mother’s life, the victimisation of people based on their sexuality.

    Then it occurred to me; I don’t need to give you a list of things you should be speaking out against. If you put aside the teachings of your church and your bible and look inside yourself for the values that are inherently human; viewing all other people as real people, not objects with value defined by their properties, and not wanting to see people treated as you would not want your loved ones treated, then you will know what to speak out against.

    So many ills are perpetrated under the cloak of religious morality that, if one is able to lay aside that veil across their perception, should outrage the morality of anyone with even an ounce of humanity.

    I don’t view religious people as necessarily ignorant, I know that you are able to see these outrages, and to understand them for what they are. The issue comes with granting these acts a ‘bye’ through your moral filter because they are endorsed by your religion. I’m certain that such acts undertaken solely by the acolytes of a different religion would indeed outrage your sensibilities, so check your own mote before hacking at anyone else’s plank and hold yourself to the same high standard you would expect of them.

  • John Eberhard

    trying to represent christ…. I appreciate your concern and your willingness to speak out. Thank you. We all realize that moderate Christians don’t regularly visit the sites where anti-atheist threats of violence are typically shown, and I don’t blame those who haven’t heard about it for not speaking.
    However, there can be absolutely no doubt that virtually every Christian in Rhode Island is aware of the situation as it has been all over the pages of the primary state newspaper for close to a year.

    They don’t get a free pass under the guise of ignorance. They know damned well what is going on. And it is like JT said, faith “kept the moderates silent in the face of moral horrors committed by others driven by faith.”

  • Jonathan Figdor

    Now would be the appropriate time for liberal Christians to be showing up to support Jessica Ahlquist. But I doubt that will happen.

  • Rieux


  • Rieux

    Oh, FFS—that “zing” was supposed to be in response to faehnrich @ 8.1. Is the threading not working?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Auzauviir karynwittmeyer

    I liked the article except for the cripple thing. Seriously, that’s was pretty low and offensive. Would you consider please not referring to a class of people in such derogatory terms publicly? Thanks :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

    even if doing so was the rhetorical equivalent of racing a cripple


    Hey now, you and your ableist language. *glare*

  • isilzhaveni

    I don’t understand how so many people can get away with making such direct heinous threats against other people. We see this time and time again whenever certain groups of people speak out and stand up for their rights.

    Those who are students at her school should definitely be reported to the administration and suspended. I’m not a fan of zero tolerance policies, but in cases like this I hope the policy would prevent the administration from conveniently overlooking the threats being made.

  • kantalope

    Holy rhetorical foxnews moment batman!

    Where are all the moderate muslims when (any sort of outrage) occurred?

    Where are all the moderate republic….oh sorry that is akin to where are all the unicorns.

    But you can see the trend. Moderate anybodies won’t speak up because that would require going against the tribe. Sure it might not be good, what is happening to those outsiders, but really it is outsiders who are suffering.

    I can kind of see that religious criticism is maybe a special kind of tribalism — but it does not seem to be that different from any of the other tribalisms.

  • Len Blakely

    If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
    ― Desmond Tutu

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    Why? It’s a perfectly good word, you know, and far more specific than, say, “people with special needs” or similar feel-good bullshit.

    I say this as a “cripple”, make of that what you will.

  • dcortesi

    JT, the dimbulb barbarians of Rhode Island have handed the SSA a wonderful teaching tool on a platter, and I sure hope you use it. All you have to do is compile a sheet of the juicier quotes (obscenities blacked out) headed by, “Hear the Voice of Christianity in Rhode Island”. And let them speak for themselves.

    Thing is, however much commenters here and on other sites try to minimize it, these people are the products of Christian education and of upbringing by Christian parents. These are the high morals they have acquired. Their shrill, violent, crude, abusive voices perfectly reflect the kind of “character” that their upbringing has produced.

    They have painted a precise self-portrait in miniature, and it ain’t the face of Christ, baby. Now the SSA has the option, one might almost say the duty, to distribute that self-portrait as widely as possible.

  • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie

    Because the majority of the disabled community has expressed the view that the language is ableist. As a member of that community, you’re allowed to make your own call, but since JT is not (as far as I know) in that community, it’s not ok.

  • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie

    Ah that was supposed to be @WMDKitty #21

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    @Allie — What did you do, take a poll of every disabled person in America? I guarantee you more of us are upset at the feel-good language you ABLE BODIED people came up with because YOU were offended by “cripple”.

  • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie

    @ WMDKitty – 1) you can’t tell if someone has a disability over the internet. My disability isn’t physical, but I do have one.
    2) No, I didn’t poll America. It would be nice if I could. I’ve been informed by my friends who are disabled that they find cripple to be horribly ableist. Since I care about my friends and think that the idea of treating people like equal human beings is neat, I call people on their ableism. I think the feel-good language is bullshit too. I had no part in creating it, and I refuse to use it. But it’s not about me being offended. It’s about the fact that many disabled people have said that they view it as ableist and dehumanizing, that it’s othering and creates the idea of less-than. As a member of that marginalized community, you have a right to call yourself whatever you want – just like I have the right to refer to myself as batshit because I’m bipolar. But it’s not ok for someone with able-bodied privilege to swan in and assume that they can use it because they heard a person with a disability say it once. Maybe not every disabled person would be offended, but I’d much rather use a different word and bank on not being an ableist jerk.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    That’s fine for you. I’d rather reclaim a few words, thanks.

    Heh, remind me to tell you about this guy that called me “Legs”. The only people who were offended? Able-bodied. I, on the other hand, was highly amused. (That may just be because I have an unhealthy irony level…)

  • Aquaria


    Honestly, what is it you can’t figure out here? Why is it that we have to hold your privileged little hand and show you what you need to do? Didn’t your christer “morality” teach you what you need to do? If not–why not?

    Funny, most of us here know what to do when we see people acting like monsters.

    Why do we have to teach you what that is?

    Think about it. Don’t pray about it, which is worse than useless.

    THINK. For once in your life.

  • http://www.speakingupanyway.wordpress.com allie

    Just to clarify, I don’t think JT is an ableist jerk. Was the metaphor ableist? Yes. Was I disappointed? Yes. But I don’t think one ableist metaphor makes him an ableist jerk. /derail

  • MAtheist

    Hopefully, Cranston High School, and Christians (moderate and otherwise), will learn from this. They can use this opportunity to teach how the Constitution protects all their rights, in the same way that those of other religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are protected here.

    This is not an atheist issue, it is an issue of the rights of all, and it would make no difference if it was this banner that was found unconstitutional, or one that was Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Pagan, or anything else, including one that said there is no god.

  • MAtheist

    @WMDKitty #27

    I read that too fast and thought you had an iron level problem, I sat there for a minute trying to work out how this would make you amused at a comment. (oh, irony, doh)

  • JD

    A well known leader of an Atheist group in Kansas City famously told Christians they would end up in a ditch “like Jimmy Hoffa”.

    I will post the link if you won’t delete it.

    There are a lot of hateful atheists in Kansas City…so everything is up to date in the Cow Town!

  • Mark

    “When those made monsters by faith were relishing the suffering of 16-year-old girl, our allies were nowhere to be

    Suffering? Ironically, Jessica tweeted, “Can this day get any better?…”

    A Christian is one who emulates Christ. What part of Christ’s life involved threatening those who opposed him?

    As for faith, it shows a supreme lack of faith to think that acting contradictory to the Fruits of the Spirit is a way to react to something ultimately in God’s control. Christian moderates may be more to blame than you realize.

  • Don Sutton

    I can hear the accomodation now. “Well if Richard Dawkins wasn’t such a jerk maybe more moderates would like us and come to our defense!”. I abhor this idea. I don’t have to like somebody to note an injustice and speak out about it. I know nothing about this young woman (but the more I read, the more I like), but I do know that she stood up for the law, and in turn all of us, no matter what we believe.

    Thank you for talking about this JT. I have had this discussion with others many times, and it makes moderates of all stripes uncomfortable. They think they can hide under the mask of nuetrality by saying that they just want to get along with everyone. I may have to break a promise to myself and open a twitter account and jump into the fray. I don’t have anything else going on this weekend.

  • Aquaria

    A well known leader of an Atheist group in Kansas City famously told Christians they would end up in a ditch “like Jimmy Hoffa”.

    I will post the link if you won’t delete it.

    Another dumbass for jaysus.

    We’re not the ones who say that believing in an emo slacker deity nailed to a tree makes us better human beings than the people with the sense not to believe that drivel.

    Scumbags like you are.

    Do keep up.

  • Bertram Cabot

    Ah,another hate filled atheist in action.


  • trying to represent christ

    i hope this is replying to ’tis himself’..
    i denounce any christian who espouses hatred and violence. and not just here, but i will tell them when i encounter them.
    i don’t use twitter, and i did miss that in the post. the linked article seemed to be twitter and facebook mixed, so i thought perhaps there was some common area this was happening. but it seems that the students of that town are just very, very hateful.

  • trying to represent christ

    and to NotAProphet, I am outraged. I don’t see how any christian could not be, but clearly I cannot speak for anyone but myself.
    i have not given anyone a pass or a ‘bye’

  • http://furiouspurpose.me rorschach

    There were the moderates Christians who asked for Ahlquist to be drowned in holy water. Run of the mill happy smiley college student types. I have long had a problem with moderates of any faith, because they are the foundation on which extremism is built. Those fine upstanding moderate Christians don’t even realise that their actions make them wannabe domestic terrorists.

  • JD

    Speaking of hate, why has EVERY officially Atheistic Government, as shown by their Constitution, murdered THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of Christians BECAUSE of their refusal to reject Christ?

    Lets see if there is an honest atheist who will admit this has happened.

    Prediction…there won’t be.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    As in Rome, it wasn’t the “refusal to give up Christ”, it was the refusal to worship the state and the state’s leader.

    Please learn to history, kthxbai.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    That, and there never has been an “atheistic government”. There have been communist states, there still are, BUT in those states, religions have been given over for worship of the state or the Dear Leader. (See: China for worship of the state, and North Korea for deification of the Dear Leader.)

  • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie

    JD: Are you referring to Hitler? Sorry, sunshine, Hitler was a good Catholic. In the first chapter of Mein Kampf, Hitler said he was doing god’s will by killing the Jews. The oath that every officer and soldier had to take began with “I swear in the name of almighty god.” And the inscription on the belt buckle of every Nazi soldier: God on our side.

    Facts. We haz them.

  • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie

    Also, hold up, I missed a bit of stupid: Constitution? Rome didn’t have a constitution. That was hundreds of years before constitutions were even thought of.

    Care to revise your claim? Or, you know, provide any proof at all?

  • raven

    Speaking of hate, why has EVERY officially Atheistic Government, as shown by their Constitution, murdered THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of Christians BECAUSE of their refusal to reject Christ?

    Because they didn’t. BTW, one of those officially “atheistic” countries by their constitution is the USA.

    Xians have killed tens of millions over the centures. Many of them have been…other xians. The Reformation wars killed millions and flickered on and off for 450 years ending a whole 12 years ago in Northern Ireland.

    Hitler was a Catholic and his millions of willing followers were all Catholic and Lutheran.

    Up until a few centuries ago, there were no atheists. It was a death penalty offense in xian countries.

    As Hitchens said, xianity lost its most convincing argument when it stopped burning people at the stake.

    • Jurjen S.

      Quoth raven:

      Hitler was a Catholic and his millions of willing followers were all Catholic and Lutheran.

      Well, sorta, kinda. The Nazis, like most other totalitarian regimes, were quite anti-clericalist, especially concerning clerics who told their congregations that Hitler didn’t have a hotline to God. Also, the whole Jesus being King of the Jews thing didn’t sit well with them, so many Nazis listed their religion in their military paybooks as Gottglaublichkeit, lit. “the condition of believing in God,” which was basically Catholic/Lutheran Christianity with the Jews removed and a bit of pagan Blut und Boden (“blood and soil”) bullshit mixed in.

      Details aside, the cardinal point is that Gottglaubichkeit and atheism are by definition mutually exclusive.

  • raven


    The Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) was originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt.

    Instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders of Western Europe invaded and conquered the Christian (Eastern Orthodox) city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). This is seen as one of the final acts in the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church.

    The crusaders established the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and other “Latin” states in the Byzantine lands they conquered.

    FYI. One of the main predators of xians has always been other xians.

    Two of the Crusades were directed against xians.

    The Albigensian crusade killed around 1 million people. It was a highly successful genocide. They got every single one of those heretics,

    The Fourth Crusade took over the Byzantium empire, set up by Eastern Orthodox xians. It’s thought that this set up Turkey to be conquered by the Moslems.

  • http://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/ Markita Lynda—-Happy New Year, everyone!

    Bertram @36, you’re mixing up scorn for your myths with hatred. They are different. Nobody’s offering to kick you in the crotch, as they are to Jessica. Now that’s hateful.

  • Seamus Ruah

    Off topic – I’m getting really tired of the large number of Christian ads I keep seeing on FTB. Every single ad on this article is Christian, you’d think the morons who come up with the targeting algorithms think atheists ARE Christians.

  • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie

    Seamus Ruah: Have you seen the Grace Prayer one? Apparently thousands of people will pray for whatever we ask them to. It’s just begging for a spamming.