Letter to America from an Atheist in a Foxhole

Jordan Elias has a short-but-excellent open letter to America about being an atheist in a foxhole:

You will not vote for me for public office, but you will let me fight your battles. You will not let me teach your children, but you will let me protect them. You will not listen when I speak, but expect me to hang on your every word. You will question my morality, call me a sinner or worse, but will not see moral hypocrisy or the sins of your people. You call me irresponsible, misguided, unaccountable, but you are wrong. I am accountable to the world I live in, and whether you see it or not … so are you.

… for now I remain a devoted husband and father, a loving son, brother, and friend, a lifelong student and teacher, and conflicted American Soldier. I will do my duty on your behalf, alongside my brothers and sisters at arms. Not because I expect anything from you in return. Only because I am accountable for my actions in this world.

I don’t know where the “teach your children” thing is coming from (I’m an atheist teacher myself), but I’m on board with the rest of it.

There’s discrimination against atheists in the military and it’s even worse for soldiers who are gay. I don’t understand why so many Christians are so intent to boot out openly gay soldiers yet they don’t call for kicking out openly atheist ones. (Where’s the equal opportunity bigotry?) Maybe someone can explain that to me.

(via Helium — thanks to @adventuresofJ for the link!)

  • Dave

    There was a teacher who had a channel on YouTube that was outed as an atheist at his school prompting abuse from the staff and students. I’ve also heard about parents complaining about atheist teachers and trying to get them fired. I think that most of us are lucky in that our atheism really doesn’t stand in the way of anything. I can’t think of a single instance where I was challenged as an atheist in any meaningful way. I also know it’s true that this doesn’t hold for everyone.

  • http://andrewfinden.com/findothinks/ Andrew

    As a non-american, I really find this anti-atheist abuse etc. to be baffling and completely foreign. I can only guess that it’s somehow connected to the prominent nationalistic ‘God bless america (but no where else)’ view, and so it is somehow seen as unpatriotic…

  • Stephanie

    To the Gentleman Soldier:

    Thank you for serving this country and protecting ALL of her people. I for one am damn proud of you.

  • Ali

    Yes, I’ve also heard many Christian parents voice their concerns about having an Atheist teacher for their children. It’s like they think their kids will “catch” atheism, like a cold or flu.

  • http://eruditehypocrite.blogspot.com Jesus

    In America, the religious right has a stranglehold over much of the Southeast. In areas like Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and others, teachers who are outed as atheists are at risk of harassment from other teachers and parents. These people don’t want their children taught, nor their country led, by non-believers. It’s sad, backwards, and hopefully soon to be a thing of the past as atheists like ourselves become more prominent a figure in the national and local political scene.

  • http://rrlane.blogspot.com Rich Lane

    I’m an atheist teacher, and I’ve never had any issues with that aspect of my life. I don’t go around announcing it at school, but I don’t shy away from it either. It’s been rather “live and let live” so far.

  • Sackbut

    Hemant, there are people in the IFI who do not want you to teach their children.

  • Beriaal

    Regarding the teacher mentionned by Dave, this great video explains it all.

  • HamsterWheel

    That is an awesome letter, especially since the Christian Taliban thinks they can claim ownership of the US Military with their worn-out cliche.

  • http://davark.wordpress.com/ Dave

    Allow me to preface my remarks by saying that I don’t boast about being a Christian as the word is very close to meaningless to me.

    In the same manner, your being an atheist tells me little to nothing about you. The fact that you are an atheist, alone, does not mean that I will not listen when you speak. Were I to take that approach, I would be guilty of prejudice and I may not always be successful but that is something I try to avoid.

    Do I expect you to hang on my every word? NO!! I do expect a fair hearing – without prejudice because I am a theist – but I expect nothing more than that.

    As I read the Christian Bible, the one thing that stands out to me is the injunction (emphasis is mine), “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them . . .” The way I interpret this is simply I need to set the example. If I dismiss you simply because you do not believe the same way I do then that is the example I set and, thus, the way I should expect to be treated.

  • jose

    Not only I fail to see why should they discriminate, but I don’t understand why a Christian would enlist in the military in the first place.

  • Anna

    They can’t keep atheists out of the military like they do gays because it would violate the first amendment of our constitution. They can do lots of other discriminatory things and often they get away with it. Same thing for teachers, you can’t fire someone for being an atheist, though some overt-religious communities would do a lot to try and get rid of such a person.

  • Eddie

    @Anna: Having taken American government and politics myself even as a Brit, I can tell you I wouldn’t trust the constitution to protect you. In Britain we have an uncodified constitution and I have been given more rights de facto than de jure. In the USA I have noticed the other way around. You’re given less rights de facto than specified de jure. You realise womens’ rights haven’t even been amended into the American constitution yet.

    De jure, only Congress has the power to declare war. Congress haven’t initiated war since you fought Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Everything after that has been initiated by the Executive. Somehow everything was overridden in war and Japanese-Americans were no longer American enough therefore where interned. That’s imprisonment and no one had anything on the individuals that they were guilty of anything apart from sharing racial heritage with the country you were at war with. The PATRIOT Act has also overridden so many rights when Dubya pushed it through. I hope you have been rid of that now though.

    Can someone tell me if there’s an amendment that springs to mind that would implicitly protect political stance, e.g. socialism? Anyone understand why I asked that?

    To me, too, all this anti-atheism is baffling, as well as the anti-socialism/Marxism to talk about other recent topics.

    I am an Atheist Socialist with Marxist views especially on religion (not to mention my gender identity and sexual orientation are “out of the ordinary” as well) Should I ever come to the USA? Honest answers, Hermant, if you will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Should I ever come to the USA? Honest answers, Hermant, if you will.

    I wouldn’t if I were you, Eddie. You are much better off in the UK.

    It rather sounds like he got fired or harrassed out of the school when outed as Atheist (unclear if he was just honest or outed by someone else) and joined the military to make a living. Hemant, you’ve had at least one woman you’ve talked about on here give you a hard time and that’s in Chicago. I’m in NY and have been harrassed for being an out Atheist on a State job no less. I don’t know about you but I really don’t even want to experience the Bible Belt. Colorado was bad enough.

    To our Atheist in the foxhole: fight proud, fight strong and come home safe to your family. And thank you.

  • http://onefuriousllama.com/ Furious Llama

    Equal and equality, even when it comes to bigotry is something that religionuts, especially Christians have a problem understanding. I’m pretty sure it’s because of their reference material.

    Having spent a lifetime learning from a single book that is in constant conflict with it’s self in both facts and message, is it really that surprising that your average Christian is unable to even discriminate evenly?

    “Kill all your neighbours! No, love your neighbours!”

    “Don’t kill anybody! Except this nation and that nation and this city!”

    “Obey all the Mosaic laws! No, don’t bother, believe in me instead.”

    “Cut a piece of your kids penis! No, don’t bother any more, you just have to believe.”

    Give a billion children constantly conflicting messages for their entire lives and what you get is the insanity that is Christianity.

  • Dee Van Horn

    i’m a 28 year teacher, now retired, and an atheist since i was 5. (santa claus and god went simultaneously.)

  • Sean O’Brien

    I thank you for sharing this letter, as I am in the military, too. I have not outted myself at work, yet, but I know that more and more people in the military are becoming more open about atheists. I had to give a class on Equal Opportunity one day (I’m the EO representative for my unit, go figure) and at the end, the Sergeant Major wanted to say something. I was floored when he started talking about different religious factions and mentioned atheists. The military needs more people like him. If more people in the military had open minds like he does, the military would have fewer social issues than it does and would be able to focus on what the military should be doing.

  • janson

    I am currently serving in the US Army and haven’t really found any overt discrimination against atheists. The military might be religiously oriented in some regards, but I have witnessed no backlash from my [lack of] beliefs.

  • http://therightatheist.blogspot.com Hortensio

    I don’t understand why so many Christians are so intent to boot out openly gay soldiers yet they don’t call for kicking out openly atheist ones. (Where’s the equal opportunity bigotry?) Maybe someone can explain that to me.

    It is my understanding that opposition to openly gay soldiers serving rests primarily on the argument that bringing the issue of sexuality into the military would create discomfort and unease among men who would have to e.g. shower with their gay comrades. At least, that and similar arguments are the ones I have heard most often, and I am willing to take people at their word if they say that is why they oppose repeal of DADT.

    (I still don’t buy their argument, though; to me if someone is mature enough to fight and die for their country, they ought to be mature enough to handle serving alongside homosexuals.)

    I am not sure how accurate this hypotheis is, since I support both openly gay and openly atheist soldiers, and I don’t peronally know anyone who doesn’t whom I could ask for their reasoning. Nevertheless, I hope it might shed some light as to why the opposition to openly gay servicemembers is more noticable than opposition to out atheists.

    Any other thoughts on this?

  • Jim [different Jim]

    Watching all this from a Canadian point of view is both sadly amusing and puzzling. Here in Edmonton Alberta, we had a public school division and a completely separate Catholic school division, publically funded. Public funding is also available to Islamic schools too. This actually works out quite well, as the public division is completely secular with not even the slighest suggestion of teaching “intelligent design”. Especially surprising since Alberta is Canada’s version of Texas in many ways. Being an atheist is never an issue here, at least it never has been an issue for me. Strangely enough, we don’t really have separation of church and state explicitly stated in our constitution yet it’s less of an issue here than south of the 49′th parallel. Go figure.

  • Claudia

    First off, my thanks to the solider for his service.

    There’s discrimination against atheists in the military and it’s even worse for soldiers who are gay. I don’t understand why so many Christians are so intent to boot out openly gay soldiers yet they don’t call for kicking out openly atheist ones

    I fully trust you are being disingenuous in order to call them on their supposed Biblical hypocrisy. I’m sure you know as well as the rest of us the real reason: the gays are “icky” and homophobes, especially the male ones, seem to have a odd idea that gay men are just itching to rip their clothes off and rape them the minute they get the chance.

    Sure, if their objection was purely religious, then it would make sense to not have atheists, or jews, or muslims, or women etc. However they actually rely on “gay panic” and implying that somehow gays are going to be staring intently at other soldiers privates in the shower. It’s sort of like the Muslim bullshit about women having to cover up because men can’t be expected to, you know, not rape any woman who blatantly shows her knees. In the feverish fantasies of the homophobe, gay men are sex crazed and only need the slightest provocation to jump them.

    Should I ever come to the USA? Honest answers, Hermant, if you will.

    I think you absolutely could, but not any part. You would have to stick to a small subset of cities. You’d be fine in San Francisco, LA, Seattle or New York, particularly if your profession keeps you in academic settings. You will have to put up with an unbelievable amount of bullshit in the news though, and understand that the US is more conservative and a lot less used to open disdain for religion, so you would have to be ready for some odd looks, even sometimes in the liberal havens.

  • Steve

    It is my understanding that opposition to openly gay soldiers serving rests primarily on the argument that bringing the issue of sexuality into the military would create discomfort and unease among men who would have to e.g. shower with their gay comrades.

    That’s one of the main arguments from the immature parts of the rank and file. Never mind that the only place where you’ll find open showers these days is boot camp. Or that they have always showered with gay people. I think one of the main fears of some straight men is that gay men will treat them like they treat women.

    But it’s certainly not why the leading generals created DADT in 1993 (or wanted to keep the previous ban rather). That was 100% rooted in Christian morality. That has been documented in books like Nathaniel Frank’s “Unfriendly Fire”. By now they have admitted that it was based on “literally nothing”. All the rationalizations about readiness and unit cohesion are just that. Empty, meaningless soundbites. They knew they couldn’t just make a law based purely on hate, so they came up with some official-sounding excuses.

    And some don’t even try to hide it. Not so long you had Army General Pace for example testify in front of Congress that homosexuality is immoral. The whole congressional debate in the early 90s was disgusting and vicious with many politicians openly displaying their bigotry. Thankfully, things have changed a little bit since then.

    The initial impetus to codify the existing sodomy statutes more clearly came in WWII from psychiatrists btw. They wanted a way to validate their ideas and profession. And lashing out against homosexuality as a mental illness was very convenient.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    I can tell you why some military people they don’t want gays serving with them.

    When men and women serve together in a combat zone, the same core social situations eventually come into play. Sexual attraction is one of those situations, and we all know how humans have difficulty resisting that particular urge.

    Well a lot of males in the military have told me that very simply, if men and women have sex in a combat zone, and they do, then what are the chances that they’re going to stumble upon a sexual encounter between two men or two women?

    The chances of that happening are good. That’s because combat typically elevates a soldier’s natural emotional drives, especialy the drives that are strongest in them to begin with. So all of the most extreme emotions people feel – they feel in combat even more.

    People in combat zones do what we normally do, if at all physically possible, and sex is not difficult for adults to have. Straight sex can cause a perceived automatic breakdown in discipline, but when it’s gay sex, there’s the basic fact that a lot of people can’t handle even knowing about things like that happening among their fellow soldiers. Yes, that’s a weakness that seems to be slowly fading from our society here in the USA, but the bottom line is, for now anyway, the very idea of gay sex is devastating to a lot of people. They’ve been taught from birth about what’s normal and what’s not, and being gay wasn’t taught as normal. So it’s almost silly to expect millions of people to change their thinking on this.

    They don’t mind Atheists serving right now, because when’s the last time you discovered a gay Atheist? I suppose they think that Atheism is easier to change than being gay. But I know a lot of military people who probably just think, “Not believing in God is one thing, but doing THAT…is totally different.”

  • Steve

    Your whole point is basically “gays are icky” :)

    That’s because combat typically elevates a soldier’s natural emotional drives, especialy the drives that are strongest in them to begin with. So all of the most extreme emotions people feel – they feel in combat even more.

    More likely it’s boredom. A deployment is like 95% boredom. People don’t fight all the time. But they sit around a lot. And the people who have the most contact with women are the ones in support and combat support roles.

    If it’s going to happen it is already happening. Sex between men and women is forbidden. But it’s happening anyways and everyone knows it (they hand out condoms so people are at least responsible about it). The fear of punishment is not going to stop some gays and lesbians from having sex in a combat zone. Just as it’s not stopping straights.

    The important point however is that gay people want to have sex with other gay people. Despite some people’s erotic fantasies, they don’t want to sleep with heterosexuals. And if a gay person hits on a straight person just say “Sorry, I’m not interested”. What’s so hard about that? Again, they hit on women all the time and expect them to like it.

    Other countries are a lot more mature and adult about this. Both about gays in the military and men and women serving together. It’s the typical American prudishness and sexual immaturity at play again.

  • jose

    “the very idea of gay sex is devastating to a lot of people.”

    So it’s those people’s problem. Get used to it. Deal with it. Being a bigot is not ok. They are the ones hurting the military, not gay people.

    “it’s almost silly to expect millions of people to change their thinking on this.”

    They’re not required to stop hating. They just have to pretend like they weren’t bigots so discrimination can end, just like racist people do. Just like we say “Good morning” to our boss, even when what we really want to say to him is “I wish you would get dick cancer.” It would be enough in practical terms.

  • Claudia

    but the bottom line is, for now anyway, the very idea of gay sex is devastating to a lot of people.

    I find it unthinkable that it could even approach the devastation of seeing your buddy blown to bits by an IED, something that we expect soldiers to handle.

    Sexual assault is a problem within the armed forces, and the vast majority of it is male to female. No one (or not many people) is seriously suggesting removing women as the solution.

    I’m sure that for some people being around gays is a problem, but you know what? Suck it up. We expect our soldiers to endure things that are rationally awful, there’s little reason to think that somehow seeing boys kissing would be the last straw.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Steve, so applauding that. I’m a straight women who’s often perceived as gay. Shrug. Frankly, some of the women who have been interested have been a whole lot less nauseating than some of the truly repulsive (not just ugly but attitude-wise) men who have hit on me. (Sigh. How fat, old, gray, crippled and grandmotherly do you have to be to stop being hit on?) And accepted a no thank you, just not my cup of tea, far more graciously then a lot (but not all) of the men I have turned down.

    So many men get beligerent when you simply say no thank you. Like there’s something wrong with me just because I don’t dig them. (And, yes, it’s sometimes been expressed as, what are you, a lesbo?) Of course, the ones who get nasty get the I was trying to be polite but if you must know you’re an ugly chauvinistic toad who I’d rather die than be with. Get lost because you wouldn’t want a liberated bitch like me anyway. Yes, I have a tendency to get pissed off and defensive if they act like I have no right to turn them down. I’ve never had a woman act that way.

    Joe, that was ridiculous and if anything an argument for allowing gays in the military. I can remember when the argument against women in combat was exactly the same as the one you’re putting forth here with the added trembling, they’ll get pregnant. Geeze, now come up with something more real. (And, yes, I know some women do get pregnant in the military. Hell, one of my sisters did.) But your argument, oh my gosh, they might walk in on two people of the same gender having sex? Gasp, no. Anything but that! Man, if you’re in combat and you’re more worried about that than you are enemy fire, I’d say you are a tad obsessive and should examine why you are.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    It’s not my argument. I went out of my way to make that clear. It’s an argument that I’ve heard. I don’t really agree with it, but I’m not in the military anymore.

    Anyway I was just relating what I’ve heard.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    As for why religious people don’t try to force atheists out of the military…

    I think there are several related reasons.

    1. For many religious people, attitudes and prejudices about sex trumps attitudes and prejudices towards alternative theologies (or lack there of). Homophobia.
    2. Many religious people tacitly accept that being gay is biological and can’t be changed, while being atheist is a choice… Why loose an evangelical opportunity with a “captive” audience.
    3. The lawyers and courts (at least so far) have told the religious people that the 1st amendment to the constitution means that they can’t force the atheists from the military by law.
    4. The bible calls homosexuality an abomination while calling atheism just “foolish”. Although they believe God will cast both homosexuals and atheists in the lake of fire, they view God as more bothered by homosexuals than disbelief. In trying to be more “God-like” they too have a greater visceral dislike of homosexuals than atheists.

  • cat

    Pro-military things like this open letter always piss me off.

    “You will not vote for me for public office, but you will let me fight your battles.” You aren’t fighting my battles. My battles take place on the streets of my own country, not half way around the world.

    ” You will not let me teach your children, but you will let me protect them.” You aren’t protecting anyone’s children, you are killing some people’s children.

    “You will question my morality…You call me irresponsible, misguided, unaccountable…” Yes, I do, and I am an atheist too. Anyone who willing participates in any sort of violence that is not in immediate self defense is all of these things, and worse. And, yes, you are willing, because you volunteered, but, even if you hadn’t, going along with something so evil is enough. I expect better from people. I have sat with the old guys who resisted Nam, many of who did jail time, so I know that people can do better. You, however, aren’t even trying.

    ” I will do my duty on your behalf” You do nothing on my behalf. I am telling you to stop. I have been telling you to stop before you even started. I have been trying to stop the military recruiters, fight the military industrial complex, and end these fucking wars. You are doing this for yourself and your idealogy, not for me. Stop scapegoating the rest of us for your choices and your actions.

    “Only because I am accountable for my actions in this world. ” If people behaved out of the military the way the military behaves, they would be in prison. The US is a militray imperialism with bases in dozens of countries. Accountability? I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • http://skepticat.blogspot.com/ Skepticat

    Dave the Christian,

    For every person like you, I know probably five other Christians who hate atheists and would have no problem saying and doing whatever it took to get that atheist out of the community. That’s life in the South and it makes some of us very wary about coming out.

    It’s not right and it’s not fair but, perhaps more importantly, it tells me that they don’t take Jesus very seriously. They seem to be so wrapped up in their own version of Christianity that they don’t remember or care how he treated the sinners of his day.

    I wish there were more Christians like you down here because our Southern culture could use a big injection of tolerance and compassion right now.

  • nealbirch

    I’m 55 years old, retired after 20 years in the military. Atheist. I personally prefer women. I couldn’t give a fig about anyone else’s sexual orientation. It’s just not important, in my experience, unless I’m trying to have a sexual relationship with you. I have served with gay/bi sailors, as well as some that seemed to have no sexual orientation or drive. No transexuals that I know of…

    The affect on good order and discipline comes in because it’s against the rules and so you have a breakdown in the discipline right there. Good order breaks down because it opens the individual to pressures to remain private about that part of their lives and they become subject to blackmail, or worse.

    If it were legal, non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would #1: remove that security issue and #2: foster good order and discipline.

    Good order and discipline is important in the military settings, one of the things I learned as a NCO was to NEVER give an order that would not be obeyed. You only encourage the people who should follow your directions to disobey in the future if you do so, even if you promise and deliver harsh disciplines in retaliation for non-compliance. Having an order or regulation on the books that some of your people are going to break, by their very nature, and whose purpose you cannot explain without invoking nonsense that is easily contradicted, is not fostering good order and discipline, but actively seeking a breakdown in the command structure.

  • http://davark.wordpress.com/ Dave

    Skepticat,

    I lived in Louisiana and Mississippi as a child; Texas and Arkansas as an adult. I have also lived in Missouri and southern Illinois which aren’t all that much different than the South when it comes to certain attitudes – like lack of tolerance and compassion.

    On Facebook, I list my religious views as unaffliated heretic. That might be why I somewhat more tolerant.

  • Ben

    I don’t understand why so many Christians are so intent to boot out openly gay soldiers yet they don’t call for kicking out openly atheist ones.

    Because there are no atheists in foxholes *puts fingers in ears* there are no atheists in foxholes *I can’t hear you!* there are no atheists in foxholes *lalalala*

    AND gays will destroy the military complex *puts head in the sand* the enemy (whoever that might be) will laugh at us *Islam must fear us* and the temptation to have sex will be too much for all the men *my son is a good Christian boy, really he is, he would never do that, not with a straight man, honestly*

  • http://findingmyfeminism.blogspot.com/ Not Guilty

    Ya but didn’t that lunatic lead a campaign against you because you’re an atheist teacher? That might be what he is getting at.

  • Silent Service

    Ben,

    That sounds so much like all of my dad’s family it’s scary. You’re not from Iowa, are you?

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    Muggle,

    That’s what I thought. In the words of my hero, Darth Vader, “Apology accepted.”

    Joe :o)

  • Ben

    You’re not from Iowa, are you?

    Nah, Australia, but I’ve somehow inherited the delusional-lyre-bird genes and can mimic religiosity well :)

    But really it’s simply: deny, deny, deny. And if that doesn’t work, just make shit up.


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