This was supposed to be the weekend when Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker, Margaret Downey, Baba Brinkman, and a handful of other atheists (including myself) were supposed to speak at Rock Beyond Belief, a concert supporting atheists in the military, taking place at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
That effort was stopped when Fort Bragg officials restricted the event to a smaller venue and offered no financial support — as opposed to the larger venue with ample financial support that was offered for a similar Christian event.
The event may be rescheduled, but for the time being, the cancellation has served as a jumping point for some well-deserved press about “foxhole atheists.” An Associated Press article by Tom Breen is making the rounds in newspapers and on websites across the country:
“We exist, we’re here, we’re normal,” said Sgt. Justin Griffith, chief organizer of Military Atheists and Secular Humanists, or MASH. “We’re also in foxholes. That’s a big one, right there.”
“People look at you differently if you say you’re an atheist in the Army,” said Lt. Samantha Nicoll, a West Point graduate who in January attended her first meeting of MASH. “That’s extremely taboo. I get a lot of questions if I let it slip in conversation.”
It is difficult to pin down how many nonbelievers are in the military, in part because some soldiers lose their faith or convert to a different one. But a report last June by the Pentagon’s Military Leadership Diversity Commission concluded that about 20 to 25 percent of military personnel have no religious preference. Up to 3.6 percent identify themselves as humanist — a catchall that can refer to a nonreligious ethical philosophy.
“Granted, most soldiers are Christian, but I’d like to see some secular kind of spiritual and emotional support,” said Sgt. Adam Jennings, a Special Forces medic who has been in the Army for 11 years and served in combat in Afghanistan. “I want a place where I can go and be part of a close-knit community.”
That’s what Rock Beyond Belief and the military atheist groups are all about — giving atheists a place for community in a place where that community is so vital. And it would be nice to have our government recognize these groups in some “official” way, as they do so easily when it comes to religious groups.
(Thanks to everyone for the link!)