Wednesday, 3 July 2013

When did atheists become militant?

According to Mark McIntyre, a Christian blogger, Jessica Ahlquist is a militant atheist. For those who may not recall, in 2012 Ahlquist won a court case in Rhode Island to remove a Christian prayer from the walls of her public high school.

While McIntyre also attempted to diffuse the anger and threats Christians have been hurling at Ahlquist, he nevertheless seems to have no qualms in reducing a young female atheist to little more than an angry caricature.

Check out my response to him:

Mark, first of all, I would like to say I respect your position of trying to tone down some of the aggression currently being levied against Jessica Ahlquist – a teenage girl that, for whatever disagreements you have with her particular ideological views, is nevertheless only following her conscience.

Having said that, I do have concerns about some of the language you’re using. For example, you indicate that Jessica’s intent to remove a school prayer from the walls of a public high school is an example of “militant atheism.”
I understand how difficult it is to see a militant minority run roughshod over what has been the foundation of our culture for over 200 years.
As of writing this, Jessica Ahlquist is 17 years old. She was 16 when she began her lawsuit against Cranston High School West, which she legally won. Why did she win? Because it was a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of your country, a constitution that I suspect you hold dear.

I would implore you to ask, to what degree are any of these actions worthy of the modifier “militant?” Such a term, to me, suggests the incitement of violence, threats and outright anger. Are exercising her legal rights as a hopeful youth of your great nation, thoughtfully and with great care, an extension of anger and violence?

Has she, at any time, given you any reason to think she would abide by any of these things that would earn her the title “militant?”

I fully understand your reasons for disagreeing with her. I have nothing against your desire to challenge the removal of the prayer. You are within all of your rights to do each of these things because – thankfully – you live in a free country where these rights are yours.
If we live out the two great commands to love God and our neighbors, if we do this well, then we can trust that God will change us and he will use us to change our culture.
But they are her rights as well. For the same reasons you’re entitled to disagree with her, she is entitled to disagree with you. Disagreement itself should not be sufficient reason for you to brandish the term militant against a then-16-year-old girl. Even if she were 40 years old, it still wouldn’t be enough reason.

Unless you want to claim that only Christians should be entitled to exercising their rights, while atheists should keep quiet – a claim I do not for a second think you would be willing to make – then you must respect her desire to improve the United States according to her own conscience.

You should respect her for the same reason I would respect your right to try and bring prayer back into the schools. It is true, I would challenge you on your attempt, but I hope we would end up having a nice conversation about it. And at the end of the day, we would both have to respect the decision that was legally made. For right now, that means preserving a government that stays out of religion.

Now, I’ve challenged you to explain precisely how and why what Jessica did fits the requirements for you to use words like militant, and all the connotations associated with such a term.

I would also like to remind you about the point of your article, which, paraphrasing your words, asked Christians to stop issuing threats against Jessica and verbally abusing her.
It is also reported that threats have been made against the girl and she has been the target of verbal abuse.
Do you recall the terms I used to describe what militant really means? Violence, threats, anger. To whom do these words truly apply? A hopeful, optimistic youth that carefully utilized the best tools available to her at the time? Or the Christians you’re now attempting to tame, who without hesitation wield threats like a weapon against a young girl?

Should we now discuss the relevance of the term, “militant Christianity?”

But in truth, I don’t agree with such a category, nor would I lump you into it if I did. Obviously you’re not of that stripe, which is why I began this response by stressing my respect for your approach.

However, I hope you reconsider your position, because calling someone like Jessica a militant casts more light on the troubles inherent in your own ideological system than it does on hers.
Jessica needs God’s love and she needs our love, not our anger. She has plenty of that already.
On the evidence presented, it is not Jessica who has an anger problem to resolve.

For replies to me by Mark and others, see the full thread here: