This is a big announcement for me.
American Atheists is pleased to announce the appointment of Army Sergeant Justin Griffith as American Atheists’ Military Director. Sergeant Griffith replaces First Sergeant (Retired) Kathleen Johnson, who stepped down in order to focus on her duties as American Atheists’ Vice President. SGT Griffith is the founder of the Military Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH) at Fort Bragg, NC and is the creator and sponsor of the upcoming Rock Beyond Belief event planned for next spring at that location. SGT Griffith was responsible for breaking the story about Army “spiritual fitness testing”. Justin has some great ideas and promises to be a great asset for our Atheists in uniform. As SGT Griffith likes to say: ’there are no Chaplains in foxholes”.
First off: “And SGT Griffith does not speak on behalf of the Army or the Department of Defense!” [He also says "Whoohoo!"]
Although nearly every major secular organization has helped me tremendously these last ten months, American Atheists is my new home. I’m grateful to know that these organizations all play nice with each other. I was a little worried about creating the perception of picking sides. But, at this level – if you don’t pick a team you don’t get to play at all. They all know this.
I’m extremely grateful to be able to step into the big leagues like this. I’m excited to be a part of such an epic force, and I’m constantly impressed by the leadership at American Atheists. David Silverman is simply brilliant. Military veterans, Kathleen Johnson and Blair Scott have already carved the path before me with fierce determination. Kathleen is a passionate atheist with an illustrious career in military-based atheist activism. She issued a challenge me to ‘out do’ her, a sentiment based in nurturing encouragement. Then she double-dared me to ‘out do’ her. It’s on!
ACT ONE: The death of “No atheists in foxholes”…?
With my first act as Military Director I’d like to take the opportunity to arm my fellow foxhole atheists with a weapon against bigotry. That weapon is humor.
The next time a condescending theist uses the no-atheists-in-foxhole ‘gotcha’ slogan, it just might be their last. I have actually had more than one Chaplain say it to me.
The most recent occasion went like this:
Chaplain: “You know they say there are no atheists in foxholes. And it’s true!“
[he grins as if this is some ultimate stumper of a statement]
Griffith: “Sir. You’re close, but you’ve got it wrong. There are actually no Chaplains in foxholes.”
After a second or two, he smiled really big and I think he realized that he had lost whatever ‘chess game’ he intended to start. There was a surreal, almost naked look on his face.
I didn’t have to debunk the saying in some long-winded fashion. It was instant, it was brutal, it was absolutely cathartic.
And you know what else? I think he now understood where I was coming from, and how offensive his initial statement was.
Technically, there really are no Chaplains in foxholes (in the US military.) They are designated ‘non combatants’, are not assigned a weapon, and are not supposed to be on the front lines of a battlefield. If they somehow stumbled into a foxhole, it would cease being a fighting position. It would simply be a hole.
That particular Chaplain was usually very friendly with me, I think he just hadn’t thought it all the way through. But now he must have thought about how he really couldn’t claim that I was wrong, and how I wouldn’t have said anything of the sort if he hadn’t provoked me.
In the hopes of this becoming a meme that eventually kills the offensive statement altogether, I pass it on to you. I encourage all of my fellow service members to use it. Use it respectfully, but fearlessly. You are right. They are wrong.
Don’t view the Chaplain (or whoever) as the enemy, view them as simply needing to be corrected on this one subject. There are many Chaplains that I consider friends, allies, and mentors – and I have even discussed this counter-punch at great length with a few.
You have to pick your battles as an atheist in the military. Luckily, this one is now incredibly easy to win. It’s an opportunity to break down barriers and abolish stereotypes, so do it with a smile.