Despite rumors: SGT Griffith does exist. Sorry, fundies!

Last week, I was (somehow) the first person to break the news about the Soldier Fitness Tracker (SFT) survey which implies that atheists like myself are unfit as soldiers, need therapy, and lack a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.Well the story went viral and the millions of people trying to get to my site made our server explode. Luckily, there were many articles that summed it all up within hours all over the secular blogosphere. We expect some major developments from a variety of angles to emerge in the coming days, so keep your eyes peeled.

The controversy churned up many comments, the overwhelming majority were positive. Interestingly, there were quite a few religious people who denied that the survey exists, or even that I exist. I suppose my picture from last week (not the first picture I’ve posted either) might not be enough. So here are my dogtags (sans SSN).

SGT Griffith - foxhole atheist - dogtags

These statements would be funny if it wasn’t so disturbing. Are these the same people who thought (still think?) that President Obama was born in Kenya? Quick to demand proof for a person of faith, and continue to deny it in the face of mountains of evidence (my screen capture, google… etc). You don’t have to dig too deep into the comments sections on certain blogs for examples of this.

Denial in action

Jeremy-17: a brigade Chaplain would definitely have heard of this. Perhaps you asked him incorrectly? In fact, if you aren’t retired, you should have taken this exact same survey TWICE, as it is a relatively new annual requirement Army-wide. Here is the website. They even have idiotic SSL (https://) settings, like all ‘good’ army training sites. Their phone number is listed right there (the 202 area code number). Why don’t you call them and ask them if they exist, and if the survey is mandatory for all soldiers?

Jeremy-17 seems to agree that this would indeed be messed up if the SFT existed ‘NEVER received anything like this’. But then he goes on to ‘disprove’ it, convincing people immediately. This pattern of willful ignorance is more common than you think.

But here is an interesting take a few comments later from Proud Pagan who claims that I am a ghost / pseudonym.

SGT Griffith exists

Proud Pagan’s comment can almost be taken as a compliment. He understands that there really is a backlash against standing up for what is right, and fighting the far-reaching evangelical takeover of the last decade. This is unconstitutional, and it’s shocking that I even have to stand up. But I am not alone. Nor am I afraid. I understand why some nonbelievers are closeted, but if we want to change things, somebody has to take a stand.

Many comments seem to misunderstand the phraseology “Mandatory Soldier Fitness Tracker says atheists are unfit to serve.” I wasn’t saying that I was in danger of being kicked out. I was saying that this survey is a giant slap in the face. Remember what my results said?

Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.

WTF, Over.

***UPDATE 4 January 2011 (18:09 Eastern)***
Proud Pagan mentioned in the above comments, has responded. We had a nice talk via e-mail and despite the abrasive tone of his initial comment, we came to rapid agreement. We are both on the same side. His original comment is posted below, and our conversation that followed.

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  • Stephen

    https://www.sft.army.mil/ I found the site as well, half my family is military and those who are in active duty have confirmed the test and the questions regarding faith. Sad how dismissive people are of others rights when they don’t agree with their views. The founders of this country would weep at how manipulative idiots are trying their best to undermine the second secular government (which has brought a lot of advancement with it) to ever exist. They all endangered their lives and many died fighting for independence so that no one would suffer such horrible treatment over religious belief (or lack of) Disgusting theist hypocrisy.

  • Amy

    Not only can I vouch for your existence, having met you many times, but my husband who is in the army took the same SFT as Sgt Griffith here.

    I’ve been shaking my head at idiocy at lot lately, it seems…

  • Kristy

    So you’re a ghost? That means I’ve seen a ghost IRL!!! That’s all the “proof” I need to start believing in supernatural!

    Craziness.

  • http://nocoercion.com Darren

    Wow, that’s too funny. You know, despite my intense philosophical opposition to tax-funded militaries, what you’re doing to fight the unacceptable Christian/theistic dominance and proselytizing in the military is god-damned heroic!

  • Chip

    Wow, this is just to cool, I’m friends with a ghost. I feel like Harry Potter. Hey Justin, can I call you Casper from now on?
    LOL

  • http://atheistcamel.blogspot.com/ Dromedary Hump

    Kudos on your stand against religious oppression in the military. What you are doing is courageous and important.

    In 1968, basic training in Ft Jackson, SC…I declared my atheism and refused the drill sargents demand of 100% attendence in church the first sunday. The fall out, the ttreats, the abuse made me realize they only believe in freedom of/from religion for themselves. I wrote about it in my book.

    Good luck.
    Dromedary Hump- author: The Atheist Camel Chronicles
    facebook name: Bart Centre

  • Michael

    I don’t understand. The man said you were a ghost, but then he said you were a pseudonym. Wouldn’t that imply you didn’t exist? I thought Christians believed in this stuff!

  • Druweid

    I hope you all are enjoying your casual mud-slinging.

    When I posted to Newsvine, I stated my honest opinion; that I believed “Sgt. Griffith” was a “ghost” or pseudonym. There was absolutely nothing disparaging or derogatory about that opinion. Even the author of this article said, Proud Pagan’s comment can almost be taken as a compliment. He understands that there really is a backlash against standing up for what is right…

    Yes, I do understand about backlash. In fact, from the exact same Newsvine column, copied and displayed above, further down I had clearly said, “I am very familiar with the religious discrimination and proselytizing which occurs in the military.” There is no shame or dishonor in using a pseudonym under such circumstances, and thus would not have been a surprise. That is all.

    Nonetheless, I am far more concerned with actual and egregious acts of active discrimination, such as what happened to Chaplain Don Larson and Sgt. Patrick D, Stewart, than I am about petty complaints over test results which mean virtually nothing.

    I never disputed the existence of the test, but before I even begin to believe that the DoD is targeting somewhere between a quarter to a third of it’s fighting forces, for any reason, I’d like to see a bit more than mere opinion to support such a claim.

    — Proud Pagan

    • Justin

      Just letting you know, I’ll be posting your comment and editing the post (annotating the bottom, that is) with clarification. I think you took it a little too hard, but I can see why. Thanks for keeping an eye out. I actually did notice that both you and the other guy I quoted were definitely not fundies (only after I posted, probably a day later). However, your comments did directly lead to immediate examples of people not checking their facts (just like you), but they were taking your word for it, assuming that your comments were coming from (valid) research. Yours was much less at fault than the other one, but you can see the commenter directly below yours taking your word for it. I was also not that harsh in my assesment of your comment.

      Hey, we should be on the same side here. Judging by your screen name (the Proud Pagan one), you have faced similar struggle as well. Maybe you were projecting on to me your previous feelings for the need to use a psuedonym. I’ve done that too, but its just become too much hassle to use a pseudonym when you want to really make a change.

      I’d like to invite you to take a look around the rest of the site. We are (and have been) fighting a different component of the Spiritual Fitness: a series of fundamentalist evangelical concerts that are aimed at converting soldiers to their specific form of Christianity (pentacostal). They have been successful. 500 soldiers on stage at one event, and 200+ at another, etc. There was much protest at the Fort Bragg event last september, and it looked like it was going to be stopped. However the post commander said that he was going to allow it to happen because “he would be providing the same level of support to other groups”. There is a lot more to this story, but you should poke around the website, it’s worth a look.

      I’ll be posting your comment in full when I get a minute to craft a tactful way to thank you for contacting me and briefly sum up the above. I’m not just going to ‘delete’ it. Don’t worry. I’m extremely busy today, but I should get the chance later tonight.

      -V/r
      SGT Griffith
      Proud Atheist (;

  • Russ Butler

    I posted your story as a discussion topic on the Freethinkers group on LinkedIn. One person replied that he thought something was ‘amiss’ about the story and he would persue it. Later the same person posted the following:

    “OK. I talked to Sen. Mccaskill, to the US Army and two advocates. There is no truth to the story. In fact one of the Christian advocates I spoke with said that the story started in 2004. Disappeared for a bit, resurfaced two years ago.”

    I made a followup post that said there ARE rumors that Sgt. Griffith does not exist, but he begs to differ and offered a link to this post.

    If you do exist, I applaud your courage standing up to those appointed over you and adhering to your convictions. In 1980′s I was not allowed to put Atheist or Agnostic on my dog tags, they said I had to pick a religion, so since my wife’s parents were Lutheran that’s what my tags said. I had no affiliation with any church and still don’t. I’m glad you were able to not only have “Atheist” on your tags, but also the extra credit “FSM”! Way to go!

    • Justin

      You have been trolled. It’s okay, as you can see, people are willfully ignorant of situations that they want not to be true, or assume some disingenuoius person was telling the truth. It’s human nature. However, this guy is easily debunked. He’s trying to provide you with a snopes-esque debunking. However, the things that he says are easily verified. As is my entire story, by the way.

      Please, call the number on the SFT home page (202 area code). Ask them how long they have been around (or just google it.) This ‘story’ could not have started in 2004. I wasn’t in the army then. I didn’t kick up this story until 22 December 2010. There is no controversy before then.

      I think you already sensed this, because you decided to write a positive comment. If the people who click on the links you submitted still believe me to be ‘possibly’ a ghost writer, please please have them tell me how I could possibly prove otherwise. Thank you for ‘getting’ it, and I respect you for your calm acceptance of my ‘likely’ existence. But for real dude, I’m balls out here. My wife says that existing is basically all I ever do.

      About the dogtags, yeah, they don’t reflect my ERB (Enlisted Records Brief). It actually officially states: “Atheist”. But I couldn’t stop myself from putting the FSM in there on the dogtags I ordered from General Jacksons (military supplier). The army refused to issue me new ones. They said that if you needed something changed (like your name… females getting married etc.) that the person wanting the change would be responsible. The asshole recruiter I was stuck with basically froze me with ‘NO-REL-PREF’ for about 2 years until I learned how to at least change it to ‘atheist’.

      Russ, if you do exist, you are awesome too and I applaud that you try to help me spread the word (seriously. sorry bout the sarcasm. I can tell you are on the ‘sane’ side of the fence)

      • Russ Butler

        Ah ha! I thought the rules had relaxed a little allowing “Atheist” on dog tags, much less the FSM. I found General Jacksons online and I’m thinking of ordering a set for myself. I lost my original tags.

        Thanks for the reply. I really do support separation of church and state. I was wondering if you have received any replies or comments from the Center for Inquiry. This ‘movement’ you seem to have going would generate interest in the skeptic circles. I can imagine the title line of the article in Skeptical Inquirer, “Of Ghosts and Atheists”. (sarcasm font needed)

        I understand that you don’t intend to be anti-anything and that’s very respectable. It’s not often you find real rational thinkers. The plea for respect and dignity for all is a noble effort. Keep on writing, and I’ll see you around sometime.

  • Auntiegrav

    Thanks for the headsup on this issue.
    My military experience was during a time when half worshiped God and the other half were too stoned to know when they were awake.
    Today’s system of systems is all about creating ‘normal’ out of the randomness of humanity. That’s why they make you wear a ‘uniform’. It isn’t so much that you ARE like everyone else, but that you are willing to pretend to be just like everyone else, and to die just like everyone else. When the middle of the Bell curve is a false premise of normality (patriotic, mindless, and too young to know better), then any rules can be established, and all are required to be ‘guided’ toward that mean mean.
    The fringe is not meant for the uniform services. The fringe is what creates the NEXT uniform service to defend themselves from the old uniform service.
    That’s how evolution works.

  • Auntiegrav

    Sorry, I ended that too soon.
    Supposed to add, : Survival of the fittest uniform.

  • Druweid

    It is true, I can be abrasive with my posts, and I make no apologies for that. This is a topic about which I feel very strongly, and I’m not shy about showing it. If however, I had said anything unfair, uncivilized, or cast personal insults, then I would apologize. I might fight with a big stick, but I endeavor to fight fair.

    As many might imagine, my primary concern is the discrimination endured by my Wiccan, Pagan, and Neopagan bretheren, but make no mistake; I abhor religious discrimination in all its ugly forms. I would stand by and defend an Atheist, Agnostic, Muslim, or Jew as I would a kindred Pagan.

    That having been said: Sgt. Griffith’s article on the SFT contains a number of subjective opinions, and is weak on empirical facts. Truth is the rock one stands on when it comes time to fight. Standing on subjective rhetoric is like standing on straw-covered manure; one slip, and you end up covered in it. If and when it comes to light that this is an *actual* threat to religious libery, then I’ll begin to take it more seriously.

    Now, as a show of good faith, let me show you all something about one of our Founding Father’s thoughts regarding religious freedom in the military. The religious conservatives will do everything they can to bury or discredit it, but the words are recorded in this great nation’s history for all to see. From James Madison’s “Detached Memoranda:”

    Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy, than erect them into a political authority in matters of religion. The object of this establishment is seducing; the motive to it is laudable. But is it not safer to adhere to a right principle, and trust to its consequences, than confide in the reasoning however specious in favor of a wrong one. Look thro’ the armies & navies of the world, and say whether in the appointment of their ministers of religion, the spiritual interest of the flocks or the temporal interest of the Shepherds, be most in view: whether here, as elsewhere the political care of religion is not a nominal more than a real aid. If the spirit of armies be devout, the spirit out of the armies will never be less so; and a failure of religious instruction & exhortation from a voluntary source within or without, will rarely happen: and if such be not the spirit of armies, the official services of their Teachers are not likely to produce it. It is more likely to flow from the labours of a spontaneous zeal. The armies of the Puritans had their appointed Chaplains; but without these there would have been no lack of public devotion in that devout age.

    Kind regards

    • Justin

      Empirical facts: check.

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/05/smoking-gun-proves-mandatory-army-spiritual-fitness-test-is-religious-test-unconstitutional/

      Also

      http://www.truth-out.org/armys-fitness-test-designed-psychologist-who-inspired-cias-torture-program-under-fire66577

      Why do you keep saying things like “strawman” and “subjective rhetoric” and “If and when it comes to light this is an *actual* threat to religious liberty, I’ll take it seriously.” especially in the light of our email conversation and that first link in this comment.

      I have empirical evidence. You have irrational doubt (still!)

      We should focus on our common struggle.

      What if I started saying “James Madison didn’t write that. It’s an obvious strawman myth. I can’t accept such superstitious BS.”? Well, you would respond with links to ‘proof’.

      Hence, my screen captures. Hence, the other foxhole atheists speaking up. Hence, you should have been able to access the website yourself?

      • Druweid

        Empirical facts: check.

        There is nothing in either link which empirically proves the test results will affect you, your life, or your career, in a negative manner.

        Why do you keep saying things like “strawman”

        I never said “strawman.”

        …and “subjective rhetoric”…

        In your original article, you said “According to the SFT, I’m unfit to serve in the U.S. Army because I’m a non-believer.” No where in the test is this literally said. This is your opinion on what the test results meant. A different person might believe it means something slightly different (not necessarily disagreeing with you). That makes it subjective, i.e., “subject” to opinion. In the original article, this line was bolded for emphasis. Also, it could be said your choice of words were also to provide emphasis. That makes it rhetorical. Thus, subjective rhetoric.

        …and “If and when it comes to light this is an *actual* threat to religious liberty, I’ll take it seriously.”

        Let’s be fair, I said “…I’ll take it more seriously.” I’ll answer this one with my next answer.

        …especially in the light of our email conversation

        I’m not saying anything contrary to anything I’ve said in the past. You need to understand, however, if you really want to put this SFT to a Constitutional test, you’re going to need a LOT more than what you’ve presented so far. A court won’t even consider hearing a case on Constitutionality until three basic requirements are met; 1) You have to declare which Amendment or court precedent is being violated by maintaining the SFT(with a brief explaining how and why), 2) prove quantifiable damage or inevitable potential damage, and 3) prove that eliminating the SFT negates the aforementioned damage.

        I, not unlike yourself, have little free time. I do try to lend support to such issues when and where I can. Before I can take this issue more seriously, I’d have to believe it’s a more “winnable” case than the next three issues under consideration.

        We should focus on our common struggle.

        I am trying to do just that. Trust me when I tell you that I have a good idea what flies in a courtroom, and what falls flat. From a legal standpoint, this case barely has legs to stand on, nevermind wings.

        What if I started saying “James Madison didn’t write that…

        I would direct you to the Library of Congress, who holds the original, hand-written document, along with a statement of tests performed, and passed, to certify its authenticity. That is empirical; able to be tested by logical or scientific means which provide an objective, predictable, and repeatable conclusion.

        Here’s a hypothetical for you: Suppose a year from now, some US Army number cruncher sifts through these results, compares them to combat stats, and finds that people with lower Spirituality scores actually had fewer cases of PTSD? What then?

        Kind regards

        • Steve

          “There is nothing in either link which empirically proves the test results will affect you, your life, or your career, in a negative manner.”

          The fact that the Army allows this kind of questionnaire is enough of an issue to warrant Justin’s actions. It probably will not have a negative impact on him in any way, because his character will not be overcome by the overbearing manner usually employed by those in the Army seeking to push their ideals onto others. This is true because there is no constitutional authority for this and many other religious policies military personnel dream up, and when put to task those personnel have no choice but to back down.

  • Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM

    It sounds like the U.S. army is full of religious bullies.


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