This is another inspirational and informative letter from a New Foxhole Atheist.
He already took the oath of enlistment, and expects to ship out to Basic Training soon. His experiences at the regular ‘drill’ sessions contained a few pink flags.
I’m an atheist in the bible belt, and currently serving in the Army National Guard.
Reading about Megan Hurtwitt in Texas is really inspiring, it can be really difficult in the bible belt. I too omitted “so help me God” from my oath, and the Marine who was swearing me in gave me a look with fire in his eyes. (Justin Griffith: Awesome!)
Our Master Sergeant is open about his Catholic religion to us. He brings up God at least once per drill weekend, although nothing as overt as having us all pray.
This past drill during personal time our Master Sergeant approached us while we were in our cots. At first it was the usual inspirational stuff and if we had any questions for him. Then he asked us, since it was “the holidays” for a show of hands of who would be interested in going to his church service Sunday morning, and most people raised their hands.
Then he asked those who didn’t wish to attend, who would prefer to do PT instead (Justin Griffith’s note: Physical Training, or formal exercises), and maybe a dozen or so raised their hands. I chose not to raise my hands for either, just thinking I would stay out of it all together, and just let things fall as they would.
He then told us all to put our heads down and close our eyes, and asked “Who here is offended by religion”. Here I did raise my hand. I have no idea who else did, as I chose to just keep my head down during this.
Fortunately, Sunday came around and we ended up practicing Drill and Ceremony for 2 hours instead. I don’t know exactly why the church service got cancelled, but I’m glad it did, because of course, being forced to suffer 2 hours of PT while most everyone else went to service would have been pretty obnoxious.
I’m really enjoying your blog, and thank you for standing up so strongly for all of us. Reading all the stories of other atheists serving is very encouraging.
Another New Foxhole Atheist (name withheld)
I think you have the right attitude. From the portion of our conversation that remains unpublished, it’s clear that you are level headed. I did offer to call someone in your unit (in my capacity as the Military Director of American Atheists), but I agree that this is not an ‘emergency’ situation. I honestly think you can handle this yourself, and I’ll be contacting you with easy ways to make sure this happens. I can tell you are going to be just fine.
It is entirely inappropriate for that MSG to offer exemptions from PT only to Christians, or religious people. That is favoritism, and Christian privilege showing its ugly face, whether intentional or not. What about Jewish services (Saturdays), or Muslim services (Fridays)?
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Also, it is very unreasonable to state “Who here is offended by religion?” in such a manner. I’m not offended by ‘all of religion in every way shape or form’, although some concepts – yeah sure. The question is too vague, and asked in an inappropriate setting / manner. I bet many were either confused, intimidated, or apathetic. But it might explain why he backed off so dramatically. What he did there is a feeble and laughable attempt to do CYA (cover your ass). I’d like to think that somebody complained and he was corrected, but perhaps he’s just waiting until the next opportunity.
Heads up. You are about to go to boot camp where you will almost certainly experience this every week. It wont just be an empty threat there, you simply will be forced to clean the barracks for the 2 hours while everyone else goes to church. Some atheists will just go to the farthest church service (far enough to need busing) so that they can get a tiny bit of rest and perhaps write a letter home. Cleaning, or Church – pick your poison. The problem is so pervasive that I can’t even recall hearing from a single atheist who hasn’t experienced this during boot camp.
Just keep cool, and be firm. You’ll earn the respect you demand. Watch this scene for some ‘encouragement.’ It does have a happy-ish ending.
I hope the advice I’m offering to you privately will help you through boot camp. It’s the same advice I gave to Megan Hurwitt. It is a pleasure knowing so many feisty atheists are starting their careers out, loud, and proud.