Atheism in the military

soldiers prayingEarlier this week an atheist in the U.S. military filed a lawsuit claiming that the Army had violated his right to be an atheist. Only the Associated Press has covered this very interesting situation. What was produced only gives one side of the story partly because the military, as one would expect, refused to comment on pending legal matters.

But even if the military did comment on the story, I doubt they would have said anything of significance. The story could have conveyed a more thorough and balanced message if the reporter did not rely so much on the papers filed in the lawsuit:

Hall alleges he was denied his constitutional right to hold a meeting to discuss atheism while he was deployed in Iraq with his military police unit. He says in the new complaint that his promotion was blocked after the commander of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley sent an e-mail post-wide saying Hall had sued.

Fort Riley spokeswoman Alison Kohler said the post “can’t comment on ongoing legal matters” and offered no further statement.

According to the lawsuit, Hall was counseled by his platoon sergeant after being informed that his promotion was blocked. He says the sergeant explained that Hall would be “unable to put aside his personal convictions and pray with his troops” and would have trouble bonding with them if promoted to a leadership position.

Hall responded that religion is not a requirement of leadership, even though the sergeant wondered how he had rights if atheism wasn’t a religion. Hall said atheism is protected under the Army’s chaplain’s manual.

Whenever you see someone claiming a right to something, it’s very important for that person to be required to identify the source of that right. Last time I checked, the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establish of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What is said in the Army’s chaplain’s manual is a far cry from rights established in the Constitution.

The big question for the reporters covering this lawsuit should be is atheism an establishment of religion? Does an atheist exercise religion? I’ve always said that being an atheist takes a great amount of faith, but that’s my personal opinion. That doesn’t give this soldier 5 votes on the Supreme Court, which is what you need to create a right based on the Constitution.

I don’t know the answer to this. There may not be a clear answer. Calling one of the many First Amendment law experts out there would be a good place to start getting some answer. A broader legal perspective on the First Amendment rights being claimed here would do a lot to balance this story.

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  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NonDualBibleVerses/ Eric Chaffee

    Daniel,

    Here is a link to a troubling account which would seem to corroborate the soldiers complain. It describes inappropriate “force-feeding” of Christianity at the Air Force Academy. (The story appeared in The Christian Science Monitor in October, 2007). http://tinyurl.com/25xzlj I find it truly alarming, and unacceptable.

    ~eric.

  • Asinus Gravis

    dpulliam is off base in several respects in this piece, I believe.

    First, is the perpetuation of the old canard of trying to convert atheists by definition–i.e., if you believe anything at all you must be a theist. That is patent BS.

    Second, the claim quoted is that the Army chaplain’s manual protects atheism. That is confused with the claim that there is a constitutional claim involved here. I don’t know what the Army chaplain’s manual says (do you?). But whatever it says, the constitutional claim is based on the First Amendment–not the chaplain’s manual.

    Third, atheism does not need to be considered a religion to fall under the purview of the First Amendment. According to the Lemon test [Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971] governmental actions must neither advance nor inhibit religion, nor must it result in an excessive governmental entanglement with religion. It is quite plausible to see the actions of Hall’s superiors as seeking to advance religion rather than being neutral with respect to it.

    Fourth, Hall is not seeking to get a right created; he is rather seeking to get one respected and honored. Isn’t this kind of freedom of religion (including having no religion) precisely what Hall is supposed to be fighting to defend?

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NonDualBibleVerses/ Eric Chaffee

    Asinus,

    Members of the military do not enjoy constitutional rights. They are governed by another instrument: The Uniform Code of Military Justice. That’s a horse of a very different color, which includes no First Amendment.

    ~eric.

  • Matt

    Nonsense, Eric. It’s well established that the troops have constitutional rights. It is true that they bear additional legal burdens via the UCMJ, and even more when outside the US. For example, during Desert Storm, troops in Saudi Arabia where prohibited from displaying Christian or Jewish religious symbols (including the chaplains’ crosses on their uniforms!). This was to defuse tensions with the Muslim religious leadership — and it was very unfortunate from the point of view of the troops’ religious rights!

    It’s also nonsense that atheism isn’t a religion! ;-)

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    Asinus: just raising questions that I thought the journalist should have mentioned in the news story. I had forgot about the Lemon test. Thanks for bringing it up. I wasn’t trying to say the atheist was a theist. Just that I believe they should receive the same protections that those are not atheists.

    As for rights created/enforced, I am merely stating that journalists should point towards the source of that right whenever they cite someone claiming a right. Legal rights don’t come out of thin air. There is always a source.

    Eric: I am not an expert in this but I would imagine that the UCMJ submits to some form of constitutional review. Perhaps it’s the case that the Supreme Court is hands-off on it, but the UCMJ is enacted ultimately under the Constitution. To what level the UCMJ must comply with the Constitution is another matter for journalists to examine.

  • Dave

    Sorry I don’t have a URL or case cite for this, but the US Supreme Court gave atheists the same First Amendment status as conventional believers decades ago, in conscientious objector cases.

    A reporter who wanted quick references to the First Amendment rights of atheists should consult the ACLU, who could doubtless provide cites. (Not suggesting the ACLU doesn’t have a pov, but they should be able to back it up.)

  • Michael

    Athiest Conscientious Objectors were given First Amedment protection in Torasco v, Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961).

  • http://www.InklingBooks.com/ Mike Perry

    This entire debate has me confused. Atheists have no religion to practice, so what sort of religious activity is he being denied?

    If he intends to form a group to discuss or promote the idea that God doesn’t exist, which would seem to be all that atheists can claim as belief, that would appear to be the equivalent of Christians meeting solely to discuss that Judaism is a lie, Catholics meeting to attack Protestants, Protestants getting together to slander Catholics, and so forth. That is most certainly not something the military permits today, since it would be highly destructive to social cohesion and morale.

    Imagine a quirky Protestant group obsessed with the ‘last days” that meets to discuss the Pope as the Anti-Christ and come up with clever ways to get 666 out of the present Pope’s name. Imagine a group of black Muslims who listen for hours to tapes in which an imman calls Jews “monkeys” and “children of the devil.” Imagine White Supremacists or their counterparts among black people who make a religion out of racial bigotry or anti-Semitism. Such religions do exist, and that’s precisely what we’re talking about here. Atheism is a-theism, a denial that anyone’s God exists. It’s hard to go from that enormous negation to any positive belief that can be called religious. You can have no revelation because there’s no one to speak. You can have no worship because there’s no one to worship. You can have no spiritual beliefs, because accepting anything that comes from outside our senses is forbidden. Believing that baptism by water in some way sanctifies your life is religion. Believing that water is merely wet would seem to be a rather anemic religion.

    And it could be argued, I imagine quite effectively, that all these peculiarly negative, derogatory sorts of ‘religious’ activities–activities that exist almost solely to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, are not activities that should receive sanction from the military or any official stamp of approval. In the context in which the military operates, there is a crucial difference between a religion that stresses positive beliefs, only occasionally touching on differences with other faiths, and a “religion” that focuses almost exclusively and even arrogantly on what is wrong with other religions. That’s what this atheist’s platoon sergeant meant with his remark that attempting to get official sanction for his atheism would result in this militant atheist having “trouble bonding with them [any men under him] if promoted to a leadership position.”

    And yes, a group of atheists could meet to discuss topics from science or nature, so they did not spent all their time attacking their fellow soldiers as fools and idiots. They could, for instance, watch Carl Sagan DVDs, as he drones on about how humanity and our little planet are of no significance in a universe filled with “billions and billions” of stars. That grey and dismal little idea appears to be the closest someone might get to an a positive atheism. But that raises another problem. If that is “religion,” requiring special indulgences by the military, then so is any interest group from football to bird watching.

    In short, it really does appear that only way to have an atheism that’s anything other than a morale-wrecking attack on the religious beliefs of other soldiers is to make almost everything religious, reducing this entire debate to nonsense.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II.

    P.S. G. K. Chesterton made a similar point in Everlasting Man in a passage that I quote in a just-released book, Chesterton on War and Peace, when I discuss the blatent racism in the writings of Ernst Haeckel, the premier German biologist of that day. (Hanwell was an insane asylum near London.) Haeckel’s Monism, an attempt to create a religion out of atheism and science, is quite similar to Carl Sagan’s beliefs about the “Cosmos,” a term both liked to use. What Chesterton says about Haeckel’s materialism applies equally to well to any attempt to manufacture a religion with positive content out of atheism.

    *****

    It must be understood that I am not now discussing the relation of these creeds to truth; but, for the present, solely their relation to health. Later in the argument I hope to attack the question of objective verity; here I speak only of a phenomenon of psychology. I do not for the present attempt to prove to Haeckel that materialism is untrue, any more than I attempted to prove to the man who thought he was Christ that he was labouring under an error. I merely remark here on the fact that both cases have the same kind of completeness and the same kind of incompleteness. You can explain a man’s detention at Hanwell by an indifferent public by saying that it is the crucifixion of a god of whom the world is not worthy. The explanation does explain. Similarly you may explain the order in the universe by saying that all things, even the souls of men, are leaves inevitably unfolding on an utterly unconscious tree—the blind destiny of matter. The explanation does explain, though not, of course, so completely as the madman’s. But the point here is that the normal human mind not only objects to both, but feels to both the same objection. Its approximate statement is that if the man in Hanwell is the real God, he is not much of a god. And, similarly, if the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. The thing has shrunk. The deity is less divine than many men; and (according to Haeckel) the whole of life is something much more grey, narrow, and trivial than many separate aspects of it. The parts seem greater than the whole.

    ****
    Note: Feel free to post these remarks elsewhere as long at their source is given.

  • Mark

    This is going to be a much simpler, less law-based comment than some of what has gone before, but it seems to me that if someone’s promotion is held up because he or she “cannot pray with the troops” comes dangerously close to establishing a religion. So whether or not atheism is a religion, a soldier’s belief (or lack thereof) should not inhibit possibility of promotion or leadership.

    This is one of the reasons we have chaplains. Chaplains are trained to help uphold the free exercise and non-establishment clauses, and could have helped that sergeant sort out the situation. Most chaplains I know would also have helped this soldier find a way to meet with other atheists, too.

  • Jerry

    According to the lawsuit, Hall was counseled by his platoon sergeant after being informed that his promotion was blocked. He says the sergeant explained that Hall would be “unable to put aside his personal convictions and pray with his troops” and would have trouble bonding with them if promoted to a leadership position.

    This is key in my view. If the military has instituted a religion test for promotion, then they’ve gone very far over the establishment clause line. Eric Chaffee pointed to a story which seems to indicate that there is a widespread problem in the military upholding the constitution – specifically the establishment clause.

  • Mark

    Of course, it is possible that this is a case of a sergeant gone wrong. If the sergeant had asked his commander for advice, or a chaplain, they would have likely said, “Whoa! No, you can’t tell Hall that! That’s no reason he can’t be promoted.”

    I’m not saying it is right–if the allegation is true and all. Just that we should be careful assigning what one sergeant may have said to the whole Army. The words of a sergeant do not policy make.

  • Martha

    Yes, this is a tough one. If he is being denied promotion solely because he’s an atheist and for no other reason, then of course he’s got a case.

    If there is chaplaincy for believers, then I suppose there can or should be the equivalent for non-believers; there’s no reason atheists can’t have discussion groups.

    But I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here; first it sounded like he was taking a case to establish the rights of atheists on a par with religious believers in the army, then it sounded like he was taking a case because he was denied promotion.

    So which is it? Or is it both? I agree that there shouldn’t be a religious test applied for promotion, but is that what is going on?

  • Michael

    There are interesting stories here. The military in quickly being seen as a hostile place for minority believers and non-believers. Despite conflicts in the chaplaincy, there is a perception that Evangelicals and other religious conservatives have disproportionate power and influence in the military and have used that power to be coercive.

    Because people in the military don’t talk much to the press, it’s a hard story to report. But there are plenty of stories to report.

  • pat

    An atheist and other are covered under “AR600-20 Para 6-2(C(2)). Do a google search for this regulation.

  • D. Edward Farrar

    If he is being denied a promotion based on his being “unable to put aside his personal convictions and pray with his troops” then he does have a case. Even before the founders added the First Amendment with its prohibition against the government attempting to establish any state religion, they had already written Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution which unambiguously states: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”.

    Anyway, even if he were not an atheist the sergeant’s explanation fails to be convincing. What if the soldier in question were Jewish? Would it be acceptable to claim that his inability to attend Christian worship with his mostly Christian troops was an acceptable reason for denying him a promotion to which he was otherwise entitled? Bigotry remains bigotry when its victims are Christians, Jews, atheists or anyone else and it should be as unacceptable in our army as it in civilian life.

  • Dave

    Mike Perry writes:

    Atheists have no religion to practice, so what sort of religious activity is he being denied?

    If he intends to form a group to discuss or promote the idea that God doesn’t exist, which would seem to be all that atheists can claim as belief[...]

    If there happened to be another soldier under an atheistic sergeant’s command who drew from prayer no solace from the horrors of war, that sergeant could be of immense value sharing a more seasoned adaptation to life under fire. One such might be the Joss Whedon quote, “If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do.”

    Of course GK Chesterton writes at great and eloquent length about the shortcomings he perceives in atheism. That’s his job as a Christian apologist. For another pov try http://www.americanhumanist.org.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NonDualBibleVerses/ Eric Chaffee

    For those who are not aware of this fact, for whatever it may be worht, atheism is a THEOLOGICAL statement — namely, that God does not exist. Surely most, if not all, chaplains know this. Therefore, the soldier has made a theological statement. He has a “religious” point of view, even if that view states that there is no God.

    If soldiers were required to attain theological agreement before doing their jobs, peace might actually break out! (Of course, the first murder mentioned in the Bible was over a theological argument: how to worship God — see story of Cain and Abel in Genesis.)

    ~eric.

  • http://www.InklingBooks.com/ Mike Perry

    I’m afraid that, with all this legalistic chatter about court decisions, many of you are missing the key point. It’s imprecise to state that this atheist has a religious point of view. It’s much more accurate to say that he has an anti-religious point of view.

    The “a” of “atheism” means “anti,” meaning he is against theism, a belief in some sort of divine being or spirit, whether that’s the monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or the pantheism of Hinduism.

    Imagine a soldier who’s fiercely anti-Catholic, holding meetings in his barrack room to convince other soldiers that the Pope is the head of a worldwide conspiracy. Or picture a second soldier who is anti-Protestant, claiming that all such people are fools. Or imagine a third solder who anti-Islam, equating Muslims with terrorists and quoting verses from the Koran to back up his assertions. Finally, imagine a fourth soldier who tells everyone he meets that India is a backward country because it is Hindu, a worthless, primitive religion.

    Does anyone think that the Army would be wrong to lean very heavily on each of these four soldiers, telling them that they are hurting unit cohesion and must keep their disagreements with the beliefs of others more private? Does this issue change in the slightest if all four soldiers are a single soldier whose core belief is that the believers of all theistic religions: Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, etc. are deluded? No it doesn’t. If anything, it makes that soldier even less qualified for a position of command.

    Remember, atheism is defined solely by the one thing it does not believe. I could be an atheist and disbelieve in evolution. I could be an atheist and think the earth is flat. I could be an atheist and believe that our existence is an illusion, that we’re merely images on a Star Trek holodeck run by a highly intelligent race of beings who are, none the less, not gods.

    Most atheists may, in practice, have a rather narrow set of beliefs, much as most people who live on the same block in upper Manhattan might have similar political views. But stating that I’m an atheist doesn’t define what I believe in any extensive sense any more than living in upper Manhattan defines what I must believe politically. Catholics believe certain positive things. Protestants believe certain positive things, particularly when you define them down to their denomination. Hindus believe certain positive things. But atheism is a negation. Atheists merely believe that Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Hindus are wrong. They are a-almost-everyone-else-who-is-religious. That is their identity.

    That’s an enormous difference. As a Catholic or Protestant, I could talk about what I believe for months on end, hardly ever mentioning other religions. Most Catholics and Protestants, in fact, do just that and agree on quite a bit. As an atheist, however, it would be very hard for me to talk about my beliefs for more than a few minutes without attacking theists, meaning Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and others. Atheism is, after all, a-theism. Catholicism isn’t a-Protestantism and even the most hardcore Lutheran isn’t an a-Catholic.

    Finally, some of you seem to believe that life is a game of Monopoly, that when someone restricts what you can do, it’s like being in jail and that you can pull out a Rights Card that lets you “Get Out of Jail Free.” You think that this atheist ought to be able to play his Rights Card, trumping all else.

    Life isn’t like that. Life is a muddled maze of rights and responsibilities that continually overlap and clash. It’s childish to think otherwise. There is no definitive, non-conflicting scheme of rights. Something you consider your right may clash with something I consider my right. And life isn’t like poker either. It doesn’t come with numbers and symbols on our various “Rights Cards” to determine whose right trumps the others.

    In the midst of all those complexities and in the context of a tightly bound, mission oriented, life-risking organization like the military, no one has a religious trump card. The military has a very dangerous and difficult job to do, one that requires everyone to work together. Those whose religious beliefs center almost exclusively on what is wrong with the religious beliefs of others really are different and certainly should not expect any official sanction for their anti-beliefs. Give the peculiar context in which the military operates, that would be too disruptive and might result in failed missions and lost lives.

    That applies equally well to open hostility between traditional religions as it does to atheism. The difference is that in our modern society Catholics don’t define themselves as a-Protestants and Protestants don’t define themselves as a-Catholics. They have vastly larger, and more life-affirming identities. But atheists do define themselves at a-theists.

    And in that distinction lies an enormous difference.

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of these books, among others:

    Chesterton on War and Peace by G. K. Chesterton, a Catholic layman

    Theism and Humanism by Arthur Balfour, a Scottish Presbyterian

    The Manhood of the Master by Harry Emerson Fosdick, a liberal Protestant preacher, who, alas, did define his religion far too much in negative terms, although he does not express those views in this book.

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  • Dave

    Mike Perry wrote:

    It’s imprecise to state that this atheist has a religious point of view. It’s much more accurate to say that he has an anti-religious point of view.

    This is just a dogmatic (and protracted) expression of a narrow view of what “religious” means.

  • Kenneth Conklin

    As a National Guard Chaplain Candidate (in training for chaplaincy) in Missouri, I handle religious issues in the military all the time. I counsel soldiers periodically about their beliefs and religion, and ensure that every soldier, as much as possible, is given the opportunity to practice their religion as their conscience leads them. This includes Christians, Jews (not many of these anymore in the military), Muslims (not so many of them in Missouri either), Buddhists (a few, not many active), Wiccans (more than I thought), Druids, etc. If I find out about a “minority” group of soldiers, I make sure they have access to resources for their beliefs, since I can actively perform, say, chapel services for the Protestant Christian side of the house (though Catholics and others are welcome as well if they wish). My troops know that I never push religion on them, but talk about Jesus and Christianity quite often.
    With Hall’s case, as I previously commented on World Magazine’s blog, there’s a few challenges. Hall has the freedom to believe/not believe whatever he wants. His chain of command and chaplain should know this, and actively promote this. If, as the articles are alleging, there truly is a conspiracy of Christians in the military successfully gagging atheists and skeptics, then it will be the first time in 14 years of military service that I’ve discovered a situation where theists are in charge of the military. This typically doesn’t happen, since the military usually has an equal ratio of believers and skeptics in charge of things.
    If an NCO did prevent Hall from having a meeting of atheists, this is wrong, and the NCO should be punished. Atheists have as much right to meet (mission permitting, of course) as any other group of “believers” (I’m treating atheism as another belief system here, since that’s how the military would treat it, analogous to the Freemasons or whatnot).
    As for Hall being denied promotion because of this, it’s the first time I’ve heard of religion/lack thereof being a cause. Perhaps something else is going on with Hall, and this is simply a smoke screen. I don’t know, because typically NCOs never use religious belief (though typically seen as a beneficial quality in leadership) as a definitive quality. Prayer in Iraq before a convoy is usually a voluntary things, sometimes seen as a “good luck charm”, so to speak (which I would imagine most pragmatic skeptics wouldn’t necessarily object to).
    Finally, anything that involves Mikey Weinstein automatically engenders suspicion within me, because Mikey seems to be advocating a “jihad” against any type of evangelical believers, no matter what stripe. This is challenging because when there are legitimate cases of religious difficulty needing a solution, someone like Weinstein comes along and screams about many different things which have little bearing on the subject. Screaming wolf (when it’s really just a chihuahua puppy) doesn’t help anyone, let alone this soldier at Ft. Riley.
    SPC Hall needs to have an airtight case regarding his blocked promotion. He has to be absolutely correct regarding what’s going on with him, otherwise skeptics in the military will have a difficult time being heard. If Hall is correct, and is the victim of religious discrimination, I will happily defend him, because that is the mission of the chaplaincy.
    But if Hall is covering something else up with this, then God help him.

  • benjdm

    The “a” of “atheism” means “anti,” meaning he is against theism

    No. The “a” of “atheism” means “without”, meaning he is without theistic beliefs.

    That’s an enormous difference. As a Catholic or Protestant, I could talk about what I believe for months on end, hardly ever mentioning other religions. Most Catholics and Protestants, in fact, do just that and agree on quite a bit. As an atheist, however, it would be very hard for me to talk about my beliefs for more than a few minutes without attacking theists, meaning Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and others. Atheism is, after all, a-theism.

    As soon as people are educated enough to give me something other than a blank stare when I say I’m a naturalist or secular humanist, I will use those terms. Until then I am stuck with atheist. We can and do talk about our beliefs for way more than a few minutes without attacking anyone in the atheists meetup I attend.

    But the point here is that the normal human mind not only objects to both, but feels to both the same objection. Its approximate statement is that if the man in Hanwell is the real God, he is not much of a god. And, similarly, if the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. The thing has shrunk.

    Holy cow, what color was the sky in Chesterton’s world? It sure wasn’t blue. My human mind objected to religion about as soon as it was introduced to me – nothing shrunk. ‘It is not much of a cosmos’ if humanity doesn’t have an invisible friend who is overly concerned with us? Wow. That’s nuts.

  • benjdm

    (I’m treating atheism as another belief system here, since that’s how the military would treat it, analogous to the Freemasons or whatnot).

    Kenneth Conklin, are you familiar with Wayne Adkins’ case? He filed an EO complaint against a General that was ignored and pushed off. The Ohio National Guard EO adopted the incident as part of their training – that atheists do not have religious freedom protections in the military. He posted the documents from his FOIA request somewhere on his website – I think I still have a link to them somewhere.

    http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/17380 – first article about EO complaint and his resignation

    http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/25659 – second article about EO training

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    The original quote brings up more than one situation. It begins with Hall alleges he was denied his constitutional right to hold a meeting to discuss atheism while he was deployed in Iraq with his military police unit. Here the claim to a specific right sounds questionable. In civilian life there should be no legal barrier to atheists holding meetings. But the quote does not make it clear whether there is ample free time for such meetings, whether others wish to attend, or whether facilities must grant him opportunity to use them and under what conditions. Whether or not these are rights depends on a lot of factors.

    On the other hand, there seems to be a clear violation of the Establishment clause in making this man pray with the others. And I think other conservative Christians should feel leery about the idea that the purpose of religion here is to bond people together. The purpose of religion is not for the army to decide.

    While I believe I have a right to pray, I can’t imagine that I would have a right to force my neighbor to pretend to pray when he did not believe in prayer. (Nor would I want him to even if I imagined I had that right.) Hypocrisy is not a religious virtue. And what kind of bonding happens when people are asked to do this kind of thing? Do you imagine the atheist will feel closer to the Christians after such a prayer? While I think atheism is deeply mistaken, I can’t figure out why the atheist is considered the problem in this situation.

    I accept what is said above about skepticism regarding the actual grounds of denial of promotion. I don’t assume I have the facts of the case. But I do think some of the principles regarding how to treat such matters are clear.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    This is a very strange story to me. When I attended the U.S. army chaplain school in the mid 1980s (the enlisted chaplains assistant program) we were told repeatedly that it was our duty to help any soldier in their religious practice, and the field manuals spcified athiests, humanists, satanists, jains, hindus, and every other imaginable religion. We were taught to be the chaplains eyes and ears in this regard; to let him know if a soldier in the command was encountering difficulty in practicing his religion.

    I wonder what the chaplains and their assistants are doing in regard to the athiest soldier. To me it sounds like they aren’t doing their job. But all the facts are not known.

  • http://Atheisminthearmy.blogspot.com Atheist Soldier

    I’m an atheist in the army and just started a blog about my experiences. You can check out what i have to say about it at Atheisminthearmy.blogspot.com, so i’m not going to go into to much more detail here except to respond to Mike Perry’s post. Specifically

    “Does anyone think that the Army would be wrong to lean very heavily on each of these four soldiers, telling them that they are hurting unit cohesion and must keep their disagreements with the beliefs of others more private? Does this issue change in the slightest if all four soldiers are a single soldier whose core belief is that the believers of all theistic religions: Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, etc. are deluded? No it doesn’t. If anything, it makes that soldier even less qualified for a position of command.”

    You are making an assumption here, and a very false one. Your assumption is that Atheists hate all other religions(and i do consider Atheism a religion) and think those who worship God are deluded. I grant you this, those Atheists do exist, but they are in a minority. The reason people think they are the majority is because they are so outspoken. Those are the ones who go on TV and complain that the words “under god” are in our pledge of allegiance. The rest of us just leave that part out, just as i did when i was sworn into the army. I do not know what the purpose of his meeting was. It was an MAAF meeting that drew a whopping 4 people. I would have to guess it would be to find other soldiers to lean on because Atheists are often outcasts in the military. If you do your research, i think you’ll find there are many more Christians in the military that hate atheists than there are the other way around. I’ve never met a group of atheists that meet to discuss their hatred of all religion. Most of us disagree with it, but respect it. Even when someone like the major in the story crosses the line, i respect his beliefs, but he has to respect mine because of military regulation and the constitution.

    And your argument that Atheism isn’t a belief system because the only thing we all agree on is that we don’t believe in god, the rest of our beliefs are our own. Thomas Jefferson said he belonged to a sect with just one member. I think he would still agree he deserved the right to have his freedom of religion.

  • str1977

    ben,

    We can and do talk about our beliefs for way more than a few minutes without attacking anyone in the atheists meetup I attend.

    Hear, hear. Only then to turn around and do exactly that. It takes you 61 words from your above claim to your declaration about nuts (or 126 if we include the Chesterton word in the reckoning.)

  • str1977

    To me the case presents itself like this:

    If that man is denied promotion simply because of his being an atheist, it is a clear violation of the ban on religious tests.

    However, his atheism and the way he “practices” it surely might have an impact on his qualification for leadership positions. I don’t know whether it is, but it might.

    Atheists should enjoy the same rights as any other believer, but the question still remains what the “meeting to discuss atheism” would have been like. I don’t have to repeat what others said about “atheism” being basically negative in content. If he wanted “to discuss secular humanism” this would be a different matter as this would be something positive (regardless of strange naming).

    I take it that the sergeant thinks that someone who wanted to hold such a negative meeting displays such beliefs so strong that it would prevent him from being a good military leader.

    Tying in is the question of “praying with the troops”. Is it proper that a military leader prays with his troops? Should it be required of a leader to set aside his convictions to do that?

  • benjdm

    Hear, hear. Only then to turn around and do exactly that. It takes you 61 words from your above claim to your declaration about nuts (or 126 if we include the Chesterton word in the reckoning.)

    And in an atheists meetup, how many people are claiming the cosmos is shrunk? If the claim is made – and it was made here – we’ll discuss it. Saying that we can go without discussing it is not the same thing as saying we voluntarily gag ourselves to not criticize ridiculous statements.

  • str1977

    ben,

    I see no criticism on you part. Only bashing. Which was my point: you are either unwilling or unable to seriously criticize Chesterton’s quote. True, you are making progress from “nuts” to “ridiculous” but that’s still a long way from a serious discussion. Until you arrive there, may I consider atheism ridiculous and nuts?

    my point was: you have failed to

  • benjdm

    True, you are making progress from “nuts” to “ridiculous” but that’s still a long way from a serious discussion.

    There’s nothing serious to discuss in Chesterton’s quote. The idea of the cosmos (billions of light-years across, billions of years old and continually surprising us as we learn about it) being ‘not much of a cosmos’ ? And somehow adding one sentient super-being on top of it makes it bigger and ‘enough of a cosmos’ ?

    I am as unable to take that seriously as I am someone saying:

    It must be understood that I am not now discussing the relation of these creeds to truth; but, for the present, solely their relation to health. Later in the argument I hope to attack the question of objective verity; here I speak only of a phenomenon of psychology. I do not for the present attempt to prove to Haeckel that (finite amount of money in your checking account or FAMCA) is untrue, any more than I attempted to prove to the man who thought he was Christ that he was labouring under an error. I merely remark here on the fact that both cases have the same kind of completeness and the same kind of incompleteness. You can explain a man’s detention at Hanwell by an indifferent public by saying that it is the crucifixion of a god of whom the world is not worthy. The explanation does explain. Similarly you may explain the finiteness of the amount of money in your checking account by saying that money and resources are finite – money doesn’t grow on trees. The explanation does explain, though not, of course, so completely as the madman’s. But the point here is that the normal human mind not only objects to both, but feels to both the same objection. Its approximate statement is that if the man in Hanwell is the real God, he is not much of a god. And, similarly, if FAMCA is the real amount of money in your checking account, it is not much of a checking account. The thing has shrunk. The deity is less divine than many men; and (according to Haeckel) the whole of your finances are something less than particular aspects of them. The parts seem greater than the whole.

  • str1977

    Well, that is exactly the problem with your posting and probably with Mr Hall’s “atheism talk” – it is all just bashing what you don’t like or don’t understand.

  • benjdm

    We just had our atheists meetup last night. We talked about how we met our spouses and our weddings, hiking, sports, our state governor (Mr. Spitzer), and the local humanist society. Unsurprisingly no one brought up G.K. Chesterton, nor advanced any pro-theism argument. Yes, there was some rolling of eyes at some of the religious stories that had happened since our last meetup, but this was not a major topic.

    Perhaps if atheists got together and voted to make “The fool says in his heart there is a God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who do good” holy scripture we could meet together? How about if we declare theists will be tortured for all eternity and we approve of the person who made it so?

    This story is about discrimination. On my submarine we had Sunday services and to my knowledge no one (including me) ever challenged the participants’ right to meet. It didn’t matter that their beliefs were objectionable to others. But if atheists try and do the same, oh noes!

  • str1977

    Oh yes, poor persecuted atheists. /Irony off.


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