Foxhole Atheist Jeremy Hall Tells His Story

You may have read a number of stories about Jeremy Hall, a military atheist who filed a lawsuit that was unsuccessful. He spoke about his experiences at last year’s Freedom From Religion Foundation convention — the speech is now available online:

… The first time [my atheism] ever became an issue was Thanksgiving 2006. I was with a bunch of soldiers, and there were non-commissioned officers at that table. I had been invited to this table and had accepted their invite, sat down with them, had my tray in front of me, a little Mountain Dew, turkey and trimmings — all freeze-dried, I’m sure. Then one of the soldiers offered a prayer. Well, coming from a religious family, I knew the etiquette. I waited until they were done. That was my intention.

When I didn’t hold hands to the left and right of me, I was asked “Why?” by the senior non-commissioned officer sitting with us. I replied, “I’m an atheist, Sergeant.” He wanted to know what that was. I elaborated and said, “Well, it means, in a nutshell, I don’t believe in God, and it means I don’t pray.”

This really offended him. He said, and I quote, “Well, you can just sit somewhere else, then.”

I still stumble on that, because I have never experienced discrimination. I’m a white guy from the South — come on! So, I really did not know how to handle it. Actually, it was a Mormon soldier that took up for me. And I respect her for that, because she herself had gotten lots of flak for her non-mainstream religion in the military.

It only got worse when Hall tried to have a meeting for other atheists in the military:

I had my atheist meeting. I had it all set up… I had permission from the Chaplaincy, and the Garrison commander. Okay, I’m good, right?

No. No, not good. Major Freddy Welborne saw one of my flyers on a bus stop. So he comes by. At first, I’m pretty excited to see a field-grade officer at my meeting. I think this is pretty cool. I’m like, wow, neat. Okay, I’m not alone. There’s someone up in rank, too. So I felt comfortable.

Well, that didn’t last long. The first words out of his mouth, more or less, were: “In the dictionary, atheist is defined as ‘someone who does not believe in God, but also has no morals.’” Now, I don’t know what dictionary he’s talking about, but I called BS on him, which in turn tee’ed him off. But I was respectful, you know, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” position of attention, parade rest, all that.

Well, some soldiers went out to go smoke, and they came back, and we had to move out of the area we were in originally because the karaoke was starting. So we moved to the library, and Welborne starts going off about how we’re wrong. And okay, I can have a difference of opinion, I can have a debate. But when you use your military rank to hold me at the position of attention, and to “at ease” my mouth, and you’re telling me that Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 134, to be specific, can be used against me because I’m having a meeting of atheists and freethinkers, that I am disgracing all those who fought and died for the Constitution by holding a meeting such as this?

How upsetting that anyone fighting for our country has to deal with this shit. Thanks to Jeremy for bringing his experiences to our attention.

You can read the rest of his story in Freethought Today.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    “During the Korean War, the draft was in effect, and there was some indication that I might be required to go into military service. In a preliminary session at the draft board office, I was interviewed by an army colonel. He was obviously concerned about me after I gave several
    indications that I might have problems about killing in battle. I distinctively remember that colonel looking across his desk at me and
    sternly asking me why I had doubts about the rightness of killing for my country. I told him about reading In His Steps and said I was trying to figure out what Jesus would do if He were in my shoes. The colonel asked me directly, ADo you think you could shoot another human being or drop bombs from an airplane?

    I answered, ‘If I got into a plane and flew over an enemy village, just before I pulled the lever to release the bombs, I would have to ask, “Jesus,
    if you were in my place, would you drop these bombs?”

    The colonel answered me gruffly, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. Everybody knows that Jesus would never drop bombs!”

    Tony Compolo

    I can’t speak for atheists, but I have trouble believing there are serious, Christ-followers in the military, religious maybe, but not those who associate with Jesus.

    Still it’s nice to know that religious people aren’t the only ones who are pro-war isn’t it?

  • Sarah

    What was Jeremy fighting for? Freedom to be told what to believe? What a joke.

  • http://www.thinkathiest.com/profile/Frink postsimian

    Fucking ridiculous. Mr. Hall ought to be honorably relieved of duty to avert further targeting, but draw a full pension. The guy who used his rank to violate everything the country stands for ought to be dishonorably discharged. That’s what I would call justice.

    Lex – that’s the equivalent of saying “they’re not real Christians.” Every Christian says that about other Christians who make them look bad. The problem is not with their interpretation of Christianity. The differences are subtle nuances at best. The problem is Christianity itself.

  • Brian Macker

    When I discovered that non-believers were second class citizens in the military I did my best to get out. I did so while still retaining an honorable discharge.

    Non-believer cadets were made to clean rifles while the believers were off at church and enjoying socials with girls. No such arrangements were made for non-believers.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    @postsimian,

    Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that any Xian can use that excuse (just as an atheist might separate themselves from a social-darwinist), you have to learn to look beyond the person to what is actually supposed to be the standard.

    The standard as set by the Christ that all true Christians follow is love God and love your neighbour – do as you would want done to you – how can anyone disagree with a moral code such as this?

    So when someone professes Christianity allows them to drop bombs on others, or allows them to exclude others and treat them wrongly – it’s not a subtle nuance as you disingenuously put it.. they’re actually in direct conflict with what they are supposed to believe (IF they truly are Xian) – therefore YES I bloody-well do call their faith into question!

    (Note, this is not the same as someone who professes Christ yet admits they are NOT doing as they should ie. just as a sports person might say ‘I didn’t put the team first’ or a teacher might say ‘I didn’t teach that class the right things’).

  • Bryan Lowry

    I was in the Marines for 4 years and while I never had an experience like that, I can empathize with the guy. I know how higher rank officers like to pull their weight and I don’t think that I would be able to be polite when it came to something like that.

  • http://www.thinkathiest.com/profile/Frink postsimian

    Lex:

    It’s not disingenuous at all. If you ask people what they believe about Jesus or the bible, you’ll tend to get very similar answers. Still, it is the bible that gives those who use Christianity to drop bombs on others the authority to do it. There are enough passages in the bible that one can find justification for any evil they desire. Entire followings are based and things like this which, when compared to the body of shared beliefs between them and those like you, is but a subtle nuance.

    If you want to commit genocide against people who think differently, the bible has plenty of support for that. If you want to murder something, there are passages which condone that. Want to dehumanize and subjugate others? You’ve come to the right place.

    Let me ask you this: if people who choose to do these things have such a lack of faith (or a false faith), why do they consistently resort to their bibles to find divine support for their actions? Why this, rather than just doing it, and to hell with the consequences?

    Coyly pretending the only things the bible commands or condones is “love God and love your neighbor/treat others the way you wish to be treated,” that’s disingenuous. Unless you and the majority of other Christians are prepared to abandon the whole of the Old Testament (and a fair percentage of the New Testament), which I seriously doubt that you are, then I’m calling shenanigans.

    Finally, I’ve yet to meet an atheist who considered themselves a social Darwinist, though I would imagine some exist. On the contrary, Social Darwinism is an ideology I frequently witness among those in the religious right, who we are diametrically opposed to. Using that as a comparison to what seems to be a mandatory disowning of Christians by Christians when they do something embarrassing is, in short, a false analogy.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    @postsimian,

    By your logic, any book that contains information about war or violence you read, be it fiction, history or science, is a manifesto for war.

    Oh and if you have a problem with the Old Testament then you find yourself diametrically opposed to Zionism, not the Religious Right.

    However I will reiterate that you are being disingenuous, I’m not sure whether intentionally or through ignorance but the bible is a collection of works made up of census data, personal accounts, poetry, song, prophecies, parables, letters and instructions. If you have read it and chose to read it literally word-for-word then there’s no point discussing this further with your limited understanding.

    But you are correct about one thing, the bible can be used as an excuse for just about any bad behaviour, if used wrongly, but – and this is the disingenuous part – there are specific instructions also contained in it on how Christians should act in love towards all people. In many cases these instructions include an explanation or overriding of what could be interpreted falsely in the Old Testament.

    But go ahead and disagree with me, I’m not the one suffering with a scotoma here.

  • postsimian

    Buddy, perhaps you should learn what logic is before you start criticizing it. Again you use the logical fallacy known as the false analogy. Worse than that, you’re flat-out misrepresenting what I’ve said. Nowhere did I even hint that “any book that contains information about war or violence… is a manifesto for war.”

    First off, the bible is claimed to be the holy word of God, not some dime novel. Second, find me a single history or science book which demands servitude from the reader and gives examples of when child abuse, murder, rape and genocide are moral actions. Let me know how that search goes.

    Second: I’m beginning to wonder if your comprehension is intentional or accidental. Here you blatantly misrepresent an earlier statement:

    Coyly pretending the only things the bible commands or condones is “love God and love your neighbor/treat others the way you wish to be treated,” that’s disingenuous. Unless you and the majority of other Christians are prepared to abandon the whole of the Old Testament (and a fair percentage of the New Testament), which I seriously doubt that you are, then I’m calling shenanigans.

    …by combining it with this one, then issuing a response:

    Finally, I’ve yet to meet an atheist who considered themselves a social Darwinist, though I would imagine some exist. On the contrary, Social Darwinism is an ideology I frequently witness among those in the religious right, who we are diametrically opposed to. Using that as a comparison to what seems to be a mandatory disowning of Christians by Christians when they do something embarrassing is, in short, a false analogy.

    Again, my problem with Social Darwinism, not the Old Testament, is what puts me at diametric odds with the religious right. This is not difficult to express, nor is it difficult to understand.

    And yes, I’ve read the bible word for word, cover to cover, as I come from a conservative Christian background and attended a Christian school in which a mandatory bible class was taken each semester. I had guidance with what passages were supposed to mean. Please, do cease to limit your attempts to stifle the conversation by attacking my credibility. Respond to what is being said, or don’t bother.

    As for what is “falsely interpreted,” that’s exactly the problem. Interpretation is incredibly subjective. There are those who will disagree with your assessment of what constitutes a false interpretation. What measurement do we apply to determine whose interpretation is correct? Furthermore, what makes destructive interpretations so potent is the absolute authority claimed by the text. God regularly commands the Israelites to kill every man woman and child of a group that doesn’t agree with them, even going so far as to cut pregnant women open just in case. Surely you see the problem with this. If God is good and commands things like that, who are we to question it, right?

    Now you’re going to say “that was the Old Testament! Jesus says ____.” Again, if you want to make a serious claim that the Old Testament doesn’t count anymore because Jesus said the greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor, then abandon it.

    Oh, that’s right, you can’t! Why not? Because nothing was abolished. Nothing was nullified. In Jesus own words: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

    That’s from Matthew 5:17-18. Or maybe I’m just interpreting incorrectly, right?

    The Law he’s referring to are the laws of Moses, which can be found in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Among the greatest hits are:

    1) Rebellious teenagers are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:9)
    2) Adultery is punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10)
    3) Homosexuals are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:13)
    4) Citizens of foreign cities are to become your slaves. If they refuse, kill every man and plunder then women and goods. In cities God says are yours, kill every last one of them (Deuteronomy 20:10-17)

    …to name a few. Adherence to the laws of Moses were also frequently mentioned in the New Testament, including the gospels and Paul’s letters. But maybe that’s just my “limited understanding” speaking. *headdesk*

    Lastly: A scotoma? Honestly? If you’re going to attack me rather than what I’ve said, as you are apparently wont to do, there is no point to this conversation. How typical.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    I note that you seem to have dropped your “subtle nuance” for a more direct exegetical approach. Not so subtle anymore is it?

    I’m not going to attempt to dissect your post word for word, so I’ll just highlight some points that jump out at me..

    First off, the bible is claimed to be the holy word of God, not some dime novel. Second, find me a single history or science book which demands servitude from the reader and gives examples of when child abuse, murder, rape and genocide are moral actions. Let me know how that search goes.

    Can you tell me where it states in the bible that these acts are moral, or where it instructs Christians to

    a) abuse children
    b) murder
    c) rape and
    d) commit genocide?

    And please, spare me the historical passages which describe what was happening, show me direct instructions.

    As for what is “falsely interpreted,” that’s exactly the problem. Interpretation is incredibly subjective. There are those who will disagree with your assessment of what constitutes a false interpretation. What measurement do we apply to determine whose interpretation is correct?

    Since you seized upon my mention of social darwinism as an example, let’s continue to use that analogy. What measurement do we apply to determine whose interpretation of Darwinism is correct?

    Also can you explain how your opposition to Social Darwinism puts you diametrically at odds with the Religious Right?

    God regularly commands the Israelites to kill every man woman and child of a group that doesn’t agree with them, even going so far as to cut pregnant women open just in case. Surely you see the problem with this. If God is good and commands things like that, who are we to question it, right?

    I can’t pretend to know all the reasons behind certain things that happened in the OT. I do know that
    a) There was never a time he instructed killing because they just don’t “agree” with them
    b) In some cases it was kill or be killed, there were not established national borders, international law and powers like there are today
    c) Whenever someone answered back to God and pleaded for mercy for those he intended to punish – he answered their prayer and had mercy.

    It could be argued that God had to issue judgement within context of the law that the Israelites had agreed to, but he was ready to forgive and have mercy if someone pleaded.

    It would be the same as a judge issuing and order. They may have sympathy with the offender for whatever reason but they must uphold the law.

    But then, you’re not going to accept that, because I suspect you’re more of a fundamentalist when it comes to faith than I am. Your conservative Christian worldview will not allow you to see it that way.

    Again, if you want to make a serious claim that the Old Testament doesn’t count anymore because Jesus said the greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor, then abandon it.

    Well now we have a problem don’t we. We have contradictions in the bible if we take it as a whole book.

    We have on one side you, an atheist, arguing and telling me I should read the OT and do as the OT tells me and rape, pillage and abuse children, then we have Jesus who says pretty much the opposite.

    You see the problem is, you have already chosen your interpretation, whereas people far more learned than you have taken time to study the texts, study the culture and history of the time and conclude that what you are saying is wrong.

    Oh, that’s right, you can’t! Why not? Because nothing was abolished. Nothing was nullified.

    If your friend breaks the law by driving 35mph in a 30mph zone, whether accidental or intentional, whilst you are in the car – do you immediately dial 999 and report him?

    If you choose not to report your friend does this mean the law has been abolished? No the law stays the same it’s illegal to drive over 30mph in the zone. However what you realise is the love of your friend is more important than following the law to the letter – especially if you know that it was an accident.

    If your friend continues to disobey the law intentionally, putting people at risk then obviously you should report him.

    So the law as it stands is correct and true – but you are advocating, ‘being Jesus’, to your friend, you know whether he is an intentional unrepentant speeder, or whether it is something which can be overlooked and forgiven.

    That’s about the best analogy I can use, you can try and find ways to dismiss it but it simplifies the role of Jesus in relation to the law in the best way possible for anyone who has not studied the subject.

    And it is here where I can now see that your disingenuity is intentional. I know this is going to be interpreted as ad hominem, but you really seem to be ignoring half of the scriptures in order to reinforce your bias against religion. If you went to a bible school I would at least expect you to know all this, therefore you are betraying an emotional interest.. but I’m not going to try and work out what that is.

    I’m also intentionally not going to address the scriptures you quoted because this is not the forum for a debate over exegesis, I think I covered this already when I explained that there are:
    a) contradictions in the bible which are only resolved by
    b) people who take great time and care trying to work out what is and isn’t a contradiction and what the context and meaning of each one is.

    If you don’t feel this conversation has a point then you have no need to reply. I’m not going to continue this further since you have clearly planted your flag and will not entertain anything that may conflict with your take on the bible or religion.

    If I do not reply to your next comment, it is not a sign that I have conceded to your rhetoric, but be assured that if you manage to persuade me on any point I will respond to let you know.

  • postsimian

    1) We’ve already established that the Old Testament is in full effect despite the New Testament, in Jesus own words. Therefore, anything the Old Testament commands, it commands to Christians. Every single quote I’ve used counts. Do the ten commandments mean anything to you? If your answer is yes, it is inconsistent to disregard what is written virtually alongside them.

    2) Had you actually read my previous post, you’ll notice I already listed passages where this is commanded. Except, technically, rape. That is, if you don’t consider the forced taking of women as plunder as “rape.” These “historical passages” don’t merely describe what was happening. They described the commandments of God, not simply how they were carried out.

    3) Re: the question of Darwinistic “interpretation.” This is not a valid question and does not deserve a response. Darwinism is and has always been specific to biology. It is blatantly deceptive to try to apply the term interpretation to determine what he meant when he stated, in very clear terms, what he meant.

    4) If you want direct examples of God saying “kill _____,” read Joshua 8 and 1 Kings 14.

    Or perhaps you’d like some examples of God doing the dirty work himself? For that, see 2 Samuel 24.

    God commanding rape: After commanding the utter slaughter of the Midianites (who did what to Israel, exactly?), check out Numbers 31:17-18. Hint: they weren’t keeping them as pets. If they were interested in slaves, they’d have kept the men alive. Female slaves already have their roles prescribed as sex slaves (see Exodus 21:7-11). Unless you don’t consider forcing a woman into slavery for the purposes of sex as being rape. Before you accuse me of something I’m not doing, I’m preemptively trying to reduce the number of split hairs offered in my direction.

    In these cases, it doesn’t matter that Jesus said he was not abolishing the law–these were direct commandments from God. For further reference, look at Psalm 111, which claims everything God does or asks is good. While you’re at it, read some of the works by William of Ockham, who argues that if God commands murder, it’s moral.

    —-

    5) Yes, there are examples of killing over disagreement. Any time a group believed in a different god, the default response was KILL KILL KILL or ENSLAVE ENSLAVE ENSLAVE (As prescribed by God’s laws in Deuteronomy 20:10-17). While there are instances of “kill or be killed” (as was purportedly the case of Amalek, though theirs was actually a case of revenge for earlier transgressions against Israel), I have not used these as references. Also, the book of Job strongly disputes any sense of mercy. In case you were unaware, Job was a man who was holy. God struck him with disease, leprosy and kills his children as well as inflicting other terrible misfortune–over a bet: whether or not Job will curse him as a result. What an asshole (for clarity’s sake, that’s me calling God an asshole, not calling you an asshole. I wish I didn’t have to take these precautions, but after having words put in my mouth or be misrepresented for the umpteenth time…).

    —-

    6) Again, you mislabel. I said I came from a conservative Christian background, not that I hold a conservative Christian worldview. Again you’re making it about me, rather than my statements.

    —-

    7) I’ve chosen my interpretation? One cannot “interpret” things stated plainly. Sorry, your statement was meaningless. It doesn’t take any sort of interpretation to recognize the stupidity in verses like 1 Kings 20:35-36, nor does it take any sort of interpretation to understand the cruelty of biblical laws. I can’t imagine any other interpretation to “kill your teenager if they’re disrespectful” that doesn’t mean “kill your teenager if they’re disrespectful.” Interpretation is a scapegoat people use when someone doesn’t agree with what they believe about the bible, even when verses are presented that directly contradict those beliefs.

    —-

    8) Re: Laws. Fair enough analogy, but it still doesn’t resolve the issue nor does it pardon it. The old laws are still barbaric, and Jesus says they’re still fine with him. No doubt he advocated a more liberal way of doing things, as evidenced frequently throughout the New Testament. I acknowledge there are commendable things in the bible. All I ask is that you acknowledge there are parts which encourage evil.

    —-

    9) If my problem is “ignoring half of the scriptures to reinforce (my) bias against religion,” then your problem is obtuse presumptuousness. For instance, I accept that there are good parts of the bible. There have to be for the religion to be perceived as moral by any sensible person in modern society. You, on the other hand, seem content to pretend that the bible consists only of good parts and non-bad parts (due to the scapegoat of interpretation), or that all the admittedly bad parts “don’t count” because you want to believe they don’t count, as evidenced by your quotes from Jesus “two greatest commandments,” even though my argument is supported when he proclaimed that he didn’t come to abolish the Law.

    I doubt you’ll address the scripture previously quoted, nor those which I’ve brought up in this response. Judging by the caliber of clarity in your responses, I doubt you will even bother to look them up. Frankly, I don’t think you have a response that doesn’t consist of “you’re misinterpreting,” as if that carried any weight whatsoever. I’ve used the verses in context, or I’ve used verses that can be judged objectively both within and out of context. If you’d actually bothered to read them, you’d have already come to that conclusion.

    Finally, if your goal here was to get me to entertain other ideas about the bible or its merits, you should have started by being intellectually honest and admitting its flaws–not simply the alleged flaws of others who “falsely interpret” it.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    OK you persuaded me to rethink, but it’s getting long winded now since I have to condense a lot of eschatology into one post, so I’ve responded on my own blog.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X