Sunday, January 15, 2012

When Christians Attack!

In the news today was this story about a high-school aged girl by the name of Jessica Ahlquist who was being verbally and digitally abused and threatened via social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.  Why?  Well, she happens to be an atheist who spoke out against a prayer banner which decorated a wall at her school, and, with the help of the ACLU, received a ruling which forced the school to remove the banner.

Clearly asking themselves "What would Jesus do?," Christians reacted to Jessica with messages like:
How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and a disgrace to the human race.

shes not human shes garbage

I think everyone should just fight this girl

F**k Jessica alquist I'll drop anchor on her face

Let's all jump that girl who did the banner

But for real somebody should jump this girl

I want to punch the girl in the face

I hope there's lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist f**k

jessica alquist is gonna get punched in the face
Also clearly, these Christians, like most Christians I've ever known, live their lives regardless of the teachings of Jesus.  That may be what makes this story all the more important.

Christians are not really different.  I didn't suddenly turn into a different person when I started to have doubts, or when I finally reached the threshold of where I called myself an atheist.  Sure, philosophically and religiously I was different, but the passions of hate and love which dwell within the human psyche remained unscathed.  I was still human, just as Christians are.  So at a certain level, we must realize that this abhorrent anger being displayed by these Christians is something all of us can identify with and could feel under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

So, why did they react this way?  The answer to the question transcends faith, extending to all fields of human belief, having implications for everything from politics to science.  "Science, really?" you ask.  Yes, even there, as it is not always the sterile, truth-is-all-that-matters environment that it should be.

I'm not a psychologist, but I play one on the internet.  So here is my take on the lessons to be learned:
  1. When deeply held beliefs come under question from outsiders, feelings of anger can erupt.  No shocker there, right?  Yet this isn't 100% clear until you consider the next point:
  2. Deeply held beliefs are often extended by symbolism into physical objects.  Jessica's quest to remove the prayer banner was not at all a literal questioning of Christian belief, yet because of the symbolism involved in the prayer banner, people react as though it was a literal attack on their beliefs.  Interestingly enough, their reaction illustrates that the prayer banner is practically an idol for some Christians, at least in the sense of the word "idol" which Christians have completely bastardized; real idols were objects which received prayer and sacrifice, but the modern Christian use of the term is pretty much anything which is of great importance other than God.
  3. When you do not have a strong foundation for your strongly held beliefs, anger is more likely to erupt when they are questioned.  As I quipped above, these particular Christians did not seem to know much about the teachings of Jesus.  They seem to believe based on emotions.  So when their beliefs are questioned, they don't have the comfort of simply knowing that it is true.  Therefore they feel the need to suppress those who question their beliefs.
  4. When society as a whole is changing their beliefs, and that trend is against your own beliefs, sensations of being threatened are heightened.  In truth, most of these people who reacted will not be affected one tiny blip by the removal of that banner.  They could go on living Christian lives (or at least what they think is a Christian life) without any problem.  However, the removal of the banner is just one more encroachment of the wave of atheism which has been coming on for decades now, and, in our times, with greater speed than ever as information sharing makes doubts and Biblical issues very easy to explore for the curious.  This connects with the next point:
  5. When you use inflammatory language, you get inflammatory results.  Sensing the encroachment of atheism, several prominent pastors which I have heard on the radio, and probably others just form their local pulpit, project this cultural change as a war.  Onward Christian soldier.  The problem is that war is inherently violent.  Even if these pastors are just using the phrase symbolically, the images of violent confrontation still leap into mind and excite the emotions.  After all, There have been a scarce few conflicts in human history where one side marches out to the battle field just to "turn the other cheek."
This is a sad, sad story, but it is one that will play out time and time again in the future until we learn mutual respect and honestly make truth and justice the foundation of all of our relationships.


  1. Wow. I've seen some similar things on Facebook. That's the only social networking I do. But every time I see it, even when I was a devout believer, I'm saddened. No matter what when you ask the question, "what would Jesus do?", you'd never come up with the responses of his followers above. So very sad.

    1. Thanks Sabio and D'Ma. It is very sad. I do thing that we, as a society, are getting better; slowly, arduously. But clearly we have a long way to go.

  2. When you combine nationalism with religion and introduce a perceived threat, this is the result, unfortunately. The five conclusions you've drawn from this incident are right on the mark. I might add a couple more: 1) There are lots of unhappy people out there; many of them drifting aimlessly in life. When such a person finds a raison d'etre--animal rights, religion, etc.--watch out, because they'll confuse it with something meaningful and use it to justify their actions. 2) TwitBook makes it fun and easy to hate. This might have happened even without social media, but... probably not.

    Yet another example of division and nastiness between the self-professed Christians and the self-professed atheists. As the Presidential Election approaches we'll see the same kind of wickedness as liberals and conservatives do battle with each other.

    1. Thanks Ollie. You raise some good points as well. While I am not sure if your first point is accurate in this particular case (it's tough to say with certainty), it does holds some truth in the larger perspective.

      I think that your second point is especially valid. Relatively recently I had discussed this point with Paul Sunstone on his great café-style blog. Social media allows for a mob-mentality to take over and divide us from our better wisdom, without all of the hassle of physically being in a mob.

      I suspect that you are too right about the coming election...

  3. I read the article on the link and heard about this on the TV. I did a little more investigation, and the story in the link misrepresents the banner as "controversial". It had been hanging in the school since the 1960's (see Washington Post Article on this story). The Examiner story also made it sound as if there was a "christian" mob. The local TV reported one student was disciplined, and it doesn't take training in literary criticism to see a common signature in the small sample of messages published.

    While intolerance is intolerable, this story could just as easily have been reported as if Jessica was the instigator of intolerance insisting on the removal of something that, as the district argued was a tradition, "more secular than sacred." The backlash, though never acceptable (no matter how few were involved), is not unexpected when human will is thwarted.

    The really interesting part is that even though we all know that the behavior ascribed to "christians" is absolutely un-christian. We (even me) were ready to believe that Christians behaved that way!

    How sad that we Christians have done such a poor job of representing our Lord to the world, that it was not considered incredible (as in NOT credible) that we would behave in such a manner.

    There is a war, but it is not one of flesh and blood. When we loose sight of that it's less clear whose side we are fighting on.

    P.S. I had trouble with my credentials.
    David Holland

    1. Hi David! Sorry for the troubles. You are the second person to say they had difficulties. Blogger rolled out a new commenting system allowing specific replies (like this one), and I think they broke a few things along the way. I'm guessing it will be fixed shortly.

      I read the banner myself and I didn't think that it was really controversial. Even if I was in school today, I don't think I would have raised a fuss about it.

      However, I think that some of this often-too-aggressive action to remove specifically Christian endorsements actually serves a purpose for you and others, even if the medicine is painful. We live in a multifaceted country with many religions, and there are alcoves of high densities of specific religions, such as Islam. Would you be OK with a prayer to Allah being on the wall in front of your Christian kids? Or perhaps an invocation to Shiva?

      From that perspective, I support removal of all symbolic and textual references to specific religions, but I don't mind more generic prayer banners, and I actually have no problem with teaching from the Bible (and other religious texts) in school.

  4. I agree it serves a purpose. That banner hanging on the wall was little more than decoration, and now some people have had to confront it and its potential meaning. Others to confront their own nominal belief and imagine a different perspective. These are not bad things in my view.

    WRT - different religious teaching, my youngest was exposed to Islam and Christianity in High School. I helped him with his homework on both counts and learned in the process. Recalling our earlier exchanges any faith that can't stand up to a challenge might not be of much value. So I guess the diversity doesn't frighten me, my God is big enough to take it ;-)

    1. Now that's a healthy attitude, David! I wish more Christians had that attitude. :-)