Army to host concert for atheists at Fort Bragg

Was this really necessary?  Some people evidently think so.


A group of military atheists have won the backing of U.S. Army officials to hold a “Rock Beyond Belief” concert for nonbelievers at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg next year.

The victory came after several church-state separation watchdog groups complained last month to the Secretary of the Army that a Christian-themed concert held at the fort last September gave “selective benefits” to religious groups.

That concert, staged by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, received more than $50,000 in financial support from the base, according to records obtained by local atheists through the Freedom of Information Act. The nonreligious concert will receive the same funds and will be held at a similar venue at the base.

Military atheists are hailing the decisions as a major victory, and say they are on the “cusp of a major breakthrough.”

“This just might be the turning point in the foxhole atheist community’s struggle for acceptance, tolerance and respect,” Sgt. Justin Griffith, a member of Military Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH), a Fort Bragg-based group that complained about the Christian concert, wrote Tuesday (Aug. 2) on the “Rock Beyond Belief” website.

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16 responses to “Army to host concert for atheists at Fort Bragg”

  1. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these atheists are no mere nihilists. It isn’t a simple matter of some soldiers believing that nothing exists for them when they cease breathing.

    This is a militant attack on faith. Hence, “Rock Beyond Belief.”

    In other quarters, they seek to deny the faithful their expressions in the public square. A true nihilist would simply be amused by a group of people invoking a deity that does not exist. Militants seek to restrict the public expressions of the faithful with faux claims of selective disadvantage.

    The issue here is not the selective disadvantage of those who believe in nothing greater than themselves, but their hostility toward people of faith and their never-ending attempts to disadvantage the faithful by muzzling them in the public square.

  2. I’m having a hard time even thinking of a good atheist song. About the only one I can think of that would fill the bill is Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” Always thought it was a downer. Gerald is probably right that it is not-very-well disguised hostility; a passive-aggressive thing. Bet it will be a flop; how many people want to go to a concert to basically hear “Life’s a bummer, and then you die!”

  3. I think I can empathize with them, even if I can’t sympathize.

    I would imagine that Evangelical protestants might be very aggressive in the spreading of their faith, and that this could rub a number of people the wrong way.

    I’m not sure that a rock concert constitutes a militant attack on the faith. If there were to be a Catholic rock concert, and atheists argued that this was an example of Catholics trying to aggressively convert non-believers, would we give them heed?

    Perhaps they just want to feel validated in their beliefs, and affirmed in their community?

    Also, I don’t think it follows that because these Atheists don’t believe in God that they believe in nothing greater than themselves. In fact, I imagine that it would be very difficult to be an atheist in the army or navy or Marine Corps and believe in nothing greater than oneself. (I will leave aside the Air Force for the time being)

    Presumably there are many Atheists in the armed forces who believe deeply in the values of friendship, honor, truth, and service to one’s country.

    @ Melody: I think “life’s a bummer, and then you die” fails to appreciate the appeal of atheism. Many atheists, who grew up in a Church, experienced firsthand the hypocrisy of their parents and pastors, and perhaps picked up on an oppressive element to Xtian belief if they went a “fire and brimstone” style of church.

  4. @#3 Peregrinus: I’m willing to concede that my comment failed to appreciate the appeal of atheism; and that perhaps the poor witness of some “church people” may have pushed some young people into atheism. I also recognize that an atheist can serve his/her country loyally in the Armed Forces. Maybe you would care to elaborate on what you feel the appeal of atheism is? I am not trying to be snarky; I honestly find it hard to understand atheism (in someone raised a Christian) as anything other than a loss.

  5. @#3 Melody: Thanks for lack of snarkiness, it’s duly appreciated.

    What do I feel the appeal of atheism is? Hmm…

    First, I would say there is the appeal of atheism as liberation. That’s mainly what I had in mind when I wrote the above post. Let’s say you grow up in a very strict Xtian home. There’s a lot of stuff you’re not allowed to do (sex, etc) and a lot of stuff you have to do (Church on Sunday, etc). Become an atheist, and you feel liberated. “I’m free of all that stuff now.” Throw in a bad relationship with religious parents, and that’s a pretty powerful incentive.

    Second, I think it fits a fairly compelling narrative of human progress. We started off as superstitious cavemen, but as we’ve gotten rid of religion we’ve made huge advances in science and really making people lives better, rather than just promising them a better world once they die.

    Third, it’s hard to believe in something you can’t see, and that no one else can see. It could seem like a pretty obvious ploy to get control over gullible people.

    Plus, throw in all the religious wars and you have to ask yourself, why would I want to buy into a worldview that brought humanity so much suffering?

    So I think the appeal of atheism would be a sense of liberation, from difficult and painful social constraints, from a superstitious/irrational worldview, and the simple conviction that it’s true.

  6. Why not have the concert? If the Army helped pay for the other concert—then actually it is only fair they contribute to one that isn’t faith based to give others a chance to express their ideas.

  7. As the father of a non-believing soldier, I am very happy to see that the Army is finally treating non-theist soldiers’ interests as seriously as they address the interests of the evangelical soldiers. And given how much stress our soldiers are under these days as they not only deal with the danger of their job but also have to deal with the uncertainty from Washington, I am very happy to see a concert, ANY concert, held for them.

    I think that some are missing the point here. This is not about whether non-theism has any kind of affirmative appeal or not. It is about a group of non-theist soldiers who risk life and limb defending their country (including those of us who safely comment and argue on blogs) who request that the Army support their efforts to have a concert and a speaker that reflects their particular religious beliefs.

    And with all due respect, Gerard, if this concert is an attack on people of faith, should we not also consider the Christian-themed concert to be an attack on non-believers?

  8. Missing from this story is the problem that Ft. Eustis had with one of these Christian concerts.

    From that article:

    “On Thursday 13th at 1730 we were informed that instead of being dismissed for the day, the entire company (about 250 soldiers) would march as a whole to the event. Not only that, but to make sure that everyone is present we were prohibited from going back to the barracks (to eliminate the off chance that some might ‘hide’ in their rooms and not come back down).

    “We were marched as a whole to chow and were instructed to reform outside the dining facility. A number of soldiers were disappointed and restless. Several of us were of different faith or belief. A couple were particularly offended (being of Muslim faith) and started considering to disobey the order.

    “From the dining facility we were marched back to the company area. There was a rumor circulating that we may be given a choice later on to fall out or attend. Though it was only a rumor it was also a small hope enough to allow us to follow along a little longer before choosing to become disobedient. We were marched back to the company area. To our dismay there was still no sign of as having a choice.
    “We started marching to the theater. At that point two Muslim soldiers fell out of formation on their own. Student leadership tried to convince them to fall back in and that a choice will be presented to us once we reach the theater.
    “At the theater we were instructed to split in two groups; those that want to attend versus those that don’t. At that point what crossed my mind is the fact that being given an option so late in the game implies that the leadership is attempting to make a point about its intention. The ‘body language’ was suggesting that ‘we marched you here as a group to give you a clue that we really want you to attend (we tilt the table and expect you to roll in our direction), now we give you the choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us.’ A number of soldiers seemed to notice these clues and sullenly volunteered for the concert in fear of possible consequences.

    “Those of us that chose not to attend (about 80, or a little less that half) were marched back to the company area. At that point the NCO issued us a punishment. We were to be on lock-down in the company (not released from duty), could not go anywhere on post (no PX, no library, etc). We were to go to strictly to the barracks and contact maintenance. If we were caught sitting in our rooms, in our beds, or having/handling electronics (cell phones, laptops, games) and doing anything other than maintenance, we would further have our weekend passes revoked and continue barracks maintenance for the entirety of the weekend. At that point the implied message was clear in my mind ‘we gave you a choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us. Since you chose to disappoint us you will now have your freedoms suspended and contact chores while the rest of your buddies are enjoying a concert.’

    “At that evening, nine of us chose to pursue an EO complaint. I was surprised to find out that a couple of the most offended soldiers were actually Christian themselves (Catholic). One of them was grown as a child in Cuba and this incident enraged him particularly as it brought memories of oppression.”

    I think that wiser heads up the chain of command have intervened in the aftermath of this mess, thus the go-ahead for the non-theist themed concert.

  9. “I am not trying to be snarky; I honestly find it hard to understand atheism (in someone raised a Christian) as anything other than a loss.”

    Are you willing and able to grant that even though you do not understand this viewpoint, those who hold it are entitled to the same rights and privileges as those who hold to your (or my) particular religious viewpoint?

    I know many non-theists, having attended a Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship for over ten years now. I have yet to meet any who insist that every Christian they meet must understand non-theism. That is unrealistic by any standard, just as unrealistic as the notion that everyone *must* understand Catholicism, Pentecostalism, or {insert faith here}. What they do ask is an equal place in society, equal consideration before the courts of law, and equal consideration in the public square.

    To those faiths who have enjoyed a relatively unchallenged dominance of the public square for generations it no doubt seems as if they are being asked to give something up. I would suggest that they are simply being asked to relinquish the de facto monopoly they have held in the public square and make space for others.

  10. Richard Johnson: Thank you for relaying the story of the soldiers being “marched” to the concert then the punishment for those that didn’t choose to attend. That is outrageous. The Army, IMO, totally overstepped it’s bounds. It was a religiously based concert—WHY should anyone have to attend? This had nothing to do with training etc. to enhance their military skills.
    Nice to hear the opinion from another UU.

  11. Richard Johnson: Your daughter is the soldier in the military that you mentioned above?—-I know you are proud of her. Is she still in the US or in a war zone? I will keep her in my thoughts and wish her good luck and good health as she serves this country. I will check the site you mentioned. Thanks again.

  12. Pagansister, my daughter is currently stationed at Camp Humphries in South Korea. She is due to end that assignment in April or May of next year, and after that she is hoping to be attached to a unit from either Tennessee or Georgia that is scheduled to deploy to the Afghanistan region next summer.

    She is a helicopter mechanic (CH-47 Chinook), and is working her tail off to make flight crew. If successful she will be going out on missions as part of the flight crew, and might find herself on missions such as the one last weekend that claimed the lives of all 30 soldiers when their Chinook was shot down.

    Your prayers (and anyone else’s) are truly appreciated. I am VERY proud of her, but also fearful as she faces these challenges.

  13. As for what an Atheist themed concert might look like…

    Speakers: Dan Barker, Ed Brayton, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey, Jen McCreight, Dale McGowan, Hemant Mehta, Nate Phelps, Al Stefanelli, Todd Stiefel, Mikey Weinstein

    Music: Baba Brinkman, Jeffrey Lewis, Spoonboy, Words Such As Burn, Roy Zimmerman

    Not sure the music is my cup of tea, but it is nice to note that Baba Brinkman has his Masters in Medieval and Renaissance English Literature, which definitely caught my eye. I’m sure it will be a fun time for the soldiers, their families, and the community, especially with Roy Zimmerman there.

  14. Richard Johnson:
    I hope your daughter makes her goal of becoming part of the flight crew and gets posted to the place she wants—Afganistan. As a parent also, I can totally understand your pride and also your fear for her safety. Thanks for sharing and as I said—she is in my thoughts.

    Checking out the site you mentioned. 🙂

  15. Richard Johnson:
    Checked out the 2 sites you mentioned—and am glad that the military religious freedom site is there for advice etc. As to the concert—probably not my cup of tea either—but am glad the concert is going to be held for those that want to go. (will the soldiers be marched there too and then given a choice to stay or leave?)

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