My first act as Military Director of American Atheists

My first act as Military Director of American Atheists July 27, 2011

This is a big announcement for me.

SGT Justin Griffith appointed as American Atheists’ Military Director

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.

SGT Griffith, foxhole atheist - there are no chaplains in foxholesThe 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.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Congratulations!!

  • My father served with The Flying Tigers in WWII. My mother was a Staff Sergeant with the USMC. I never joined the armed services but have always admired the mission and the people who serve. Actually, the closest I came was joining the USAF Auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol. I’m still a Captain and work to recruit others who wish to help others.

    I’m also from a family of atheists. I know we can all be good without god. Keep up the fight!

    • Justin Miller

      Hey Bob, that’s really cool-my grandfather wasn’t an actual Flying Tiger, but he had a support MOS and was attached to them.

  • Annie

    Congratulations Justin!

  • Corinne Perez

    Congratulations! I’ve followed your courageous battle from the beginning over the Spiritual Fitness Test. It’s wonderful how American Atheists recognizes what a valuable contribution you will be. Your approach will strengthen the organization and continue to help further raise awareness.

  • Chris Perry

    Congrats! You do a great job and I really admire your guts. Humor and a positive attitude are more powerful weapons than you realize. The more people realize that you can be a normal happy person without being a part of this cult (and let’s be honest, that’s what it really is) called christianity, the more people are going to come to rationality. Keep up the good work!

  • Kevin C Jenkins

    Wow… this is awesome, man!

  • mundo

    Killing people for the profits of an empire is still immoral, whether you justify it with religion or with any other rationalization. What’s the point of refusing to play one stupid game if you’re going to keep playing another?

    • Justin Griffith

      I understand your point of view, though have grown away from that line of logic. I was once a pacifist peace-punk of sorts. I have my reasons for joining the military. I’d make the same choice in a heartbeat given the chance. I’m not going to flesh this out in a footnote / comment here, but perhaps one day I’ll explain more about my own personal history. Every person who joins the military has a different reason.

      Perhaps you can still be grateful that logic seems to prevail in one instance, instead of two. Better than zero, no? I think this is one where we’re going to have to agree to disagree, though.

      • John

        you can still be grateful that logic seems to prevail in one instance, instead of two

        Its a candid reply at least.

  • Nice. I would have gone with, “There are no gods in foxholes,” but yours seems to have worked, which is all that counts.

  • Awesome, Justin! Congratulations! And I agree about using humor in such situations — actually I tend to use it in every situation, so it’s all good. 🙂

  • I also heard a response that’s not as pithy, but pretty good: “Actually, an army of them defeated Hitler at Leningrad.”

  • Helmut Hein, USA, SF, MSG (Ret)

    You shouldn’t be so smug about the “No chaplain in a fox hole” statement. You are obviously unaware of the thousands of awards for valor presented to military chaplains over the years (which include the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross or equivalent), many of them awarded posthumously.

    • It’s a REPLY to a person being smug about the very large community of non-believers who most certainly ARE combatants, and outnumber Chaplains in both awards and total numbers. It’s a disgusting thing to say to an atheist, and this *reply* shows them their error.

      It’s also true, whereas the other saying is just a personal attack. You are way off here, MSG.

  • SSgt Griffith, The National Atheist Party would like to express our support for your organization and congratulate you on your appointment. We plan to be at the concert and will be available to answer any questions anyone may have. Bravo Zulu!

    – Troy Boyle

  • Ridelo

    How many of those Russian soldiers do you think were really thoughtful communists or atheists? They were only cannon fodder for an oppressive regime fighting another oppressive regime. They came from a country as medieval religious as you can get. And now, I’m afraid, Russia is returning to that state now the orthodox church is regaining power as accomplice of ‘statesman’ Putin.

  • Sines

    You know why there are no chaplains in foxholes?

    Because, if there was a god, they’d be good for a +1 to AC and Saving Throws.

  • Greenforest

    Great points.

    Also, historically, many of those in foxholes who were adherents to a religion probably thought the enemies’ god(s) do(es) not exist. Hence they would be atheistic regarding the gods of the enemies. In wars where the opposing parties were of the same general religion, but where there was a difference in sect or interpretation, each side could view the other as not true believers, as heretics, apostates, etc. Again, the religious on each side would be non-believers (atheists) with regard to the other side’s “wrong” interpretation.

  • Jeff Johnson

    Good Job SGT Griffith and I’m sure you’ll, in the finest Airborne tradition, do a great job.

    BTW, what’s your MOS?

    • 25V, though I haven’t seen a camera since AIT. I’m more like a 25B computer dude. Kinda shows, huh?

  • Graham

    “No atheists in fox-holes” seems to be a claim that anyone faced with death (whether on the battle-field or not) will abandon their atheism, presumably out of sheer terror. From the experiences of myself and friends:

    > My wife spent her last month of life in a hospice here in England. I sat with her every day as her condition worsened. At no point did she question her lack of belief, ‘turn to god’ or ask to see the chaplain.

    > A friend who is a hospice nurse has stories of the reverse happening: members of the church hierarchy dying in agonies of doubt. I suppose it’s one thing to earn your living spouting platitudes, but when death stares you in the face you really have to ask yourself whether you truly believe the comforting stories that have been your stock in trade.

    > Another atheist friend late in life married a christian. Whilst he didn’t recant his faith on his death-bed he did become very distressed at the end, confused as to whether he’d been the ‘right’ kind of christian and whether he’d done the right kind of things to qualify him for heaven and not hell. Sadly his christianity brought him no comfort at the end.

    Of course there are atheists in fox-holes. If you can see god myths for what they are- flawed attempts to make sense of the world, stories to comfort the gullible and instruments of social control- they are surely the last things you’d turn to when your back’s against the wall and you need to be sure of what’s true.

    All good wishes to you, from someone ‘across the pond’ in a relatively godless UK.

  • James

    Thank god. My short 2 years in the Army was the worst experience in my life. I am an out and out atheist, being the son of evangelical ministers. I was harassed daily in the military, the same way they were treating gays. Fuck em. They booted me and my queer friends out and we are still alive. I wonder how many of those religious saps that beat one of my friends half to death in AIT got shot by another religious sap.

    Good work Justin, you have a hard road to march on, but I am glad someone is making footprints.

  • David

    I think many people on both sides of the god argument miss the most important fact about the “no atheist in foxholes” statement; that it is not an argument or evidence in favour of belief in gods. Whether or not it is literally true is irrelevant; it still represents a true observation of human nature: that under imminent terror of death, humans will sometimes give up their most logical and reasoned arguments and clutch at any straw that might seem to save them, for instance, an atheist might pray to god in desperation. This provides no evidence that god actually exists, or that the atheist’s prior reasoned conclusions were wrong. However, it does bolster the case for atheism because it shows how billions of people can choose beliefs that defy logic or reason, out of fear of eventual death.

    So I’ve never understood why believers speak the “foxhole” quote so triumphantly. At best, it provides no evidence for belief in god, and worse, I think it is more correctly interpreted as evidence for the atheists.

    – David

  • Tim Brown

    I’m getting a picture with you me and the wife! Better be available kid! Love you pal.