Navy atheist required to pray, say “Amen”, and feign hatred of atheists

Aron Ra is a prominent atheist on YouTube, and also the new Texas State Director for American Atheists. He and Thunderf00t, and the rest of the gang at the Magic Sandwich Show had me on as a guest just recently. It prompted an anonymous sailor to write in to Aron Ra, who forwarded it to me.

He’s trying to deal with being in the atheist closet. It’s time we all start calling this stuff out every time. If you can’t speak out for whatever reason, at least report it to someone like me. I’ll scream it into a megaphone for you.

Dear Friend,

I am writing today to make you aware of my situation. I am an Atheist, yes, that’s right, an Atheist. I am also an active duty Sailor with the U.S. Navy.

You may be asking why this concerns you.

You might think that because you don’t care, no-one else does.

You may be thinking that I should not be in the military.

You may be telling yourself that Atheists are evil, misguided or deluded.

You may think that Atheists don’t have the courage or the “moral fiber” to be in the military.

I am here to tell you that all of the above is false.

It concerns you because no matter what country you are from, someone in your military, the people who protect you, is being persecuted, discriminated against or just disliked, just because they are different.

You would be wrong if you thought that because you don’t care, ‘why would anyone else?’

I have only been in the military for a short time, a little more than two years, yet in that time I have been in many occasions required to pray in public, required to listen and respond “Amen” after a blessing of food, and been in conversations with my superiors and been forced to respond in agreement to their comments on how Atheists are ruining America due to fear of reprisal based on how hateful their comments were.

My supervisor is a Christian, but he has never made any comments and I suppose I should be thankful about that, his supervisor has stated that Atheists are evil and should not exist, his supervisor made the comment I mentioned earlier about “Atheists ruining America”, and his supervisor, who is our Director, has a degree in Theology and every comment from him has religious undertones.

You would be wrong to think that I shouldn’t be in the military. Why would you judge that because of my lack of belief I am not worthy of serving my country, that I am not worthy to die protecting your freedom to believe what you do?

You are most definitely wrong if you think that Atheists are “evil”, if anyone could be called “evil” it would be those who would make a statement like that. I have known a few Atheists, I have never known one who would say that “Christians are evil” or “religious people are evil”, They might make a statement regarding certain people being “evil”, but would never go so far as to say that a whole group of people were “evil”.

I personally don’t believe in “good and evil” because I cant see the world as being made up of absolutes like that. I can certainly say that some thing are generally more “wrong” than others, for instance I would say that murder is almost always certainly wrong, but I can conceive of situations where there is a good reason to murder someone to better the cause of humanity in general. I can also conceive of situations where letting someone live is the most “wrong” thing to do.

You would be wrong to think that Atheists are not courageous. Of all the people I know, it is people who are vocal about being themselves, whether saying that they were Atheists, or saying that they were gay, or just saying that they were different and they accepted themselves as they were. I would also say that it takes no courage to stand with the crowd, to be the same as everyone else, it takes great courage to be the one by yourself alone on the hill with the crowd gathering around chanting for your demise.

It takes courage to be proud of yourself and who you are.

Thanks for listening,

The Military Atheist

Sent to: AronRa

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  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    When I was in the Navy I had a Chief who was a fundamentalist Christian. He made life miserable for the one Jew in the division because he wouldn’t “let Jesus into his life.” I knew better than to bring up my atheism while I worked for this Chief. The story does have a good ending however. We got a new Engineer who was also a Jew. It took exactly two days for the Eng to call the Chief out and tell him, in no uncertain terms, that if he didn’t keep his religion out of his job then he would be explaining his religious prejudices to a court-martial board.

  • Mark Nebo

    I am an atheist, and was in the Navy for 9 years. I had never experienced any of what he mentions, in fact, people around me were accommodating, at several different commands.

    I am not saying he is overstating his issue, but I have a hard time believing it is as hostile as he says.

    marknebo@gmail.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevenbrungard stevenbrungard

    It seems to me that pretense is disrespectful. To explain that you will not disrespect the beliefs of others by pretending to hold the same beliefs might be an approach that even a zealot can respect and appreciate. If pushed to explain what your beliefs are, you can explain that you want to hold your beliefs privately. If pushed even further, What I often say is: “I believe that you can make ethical decisions which produce moral outcomes”.

    Firstly, you have demonstrated respect for the beliefs of another person. Secondly, you have demonstrated that you hold your beliefs privately. (no need to say that you will not push your beliefs on someone else because you just did) Thirdly, when further pushed to state a belief, you put the person in a position of questioning their ethics and the morality of how they are treating you.

    In the military, a superior who also thinks their beliefs are superior can be testy at best. You will usually prevent a situation from getting worse than testy by leading off with your demonstration of respect for their beliefs. Standing firm in your wish to hold your beliefs privately will be important. Hold your position. Giving way will lose the respect that you just earned by respecting the beliefs of the superior.

    Use step three only as a last resort. It works much better in a civil environment, between equals.

  • Justin Griffith

    Mark Nebo,

    I’m Army, so it’s probably a little different here. I have been forced to stand through prayer countless times. I’ve seen extremely innappropriate blessings of this and that, like on marriage counseling retreats… In one weekend, I tallied them up. Statements like “The family that prays together, stays together.” and blessings of every meal, and proselytizing just before we are released for the hourly breaks. I counted 57 instances that were OVER THE TOP in one weekend alone… This is systematic.

    I’ve been personally on the receiving end of quite hostile religious commanders and even an out of control chaplain or two.

    Chaplain viciously attacks me over RBB festival

    A Chaplain leaves a note on a book on my desk, then accuses of me of having demons in me…

    I don’t think the anonymous sailor spoke effectively about “forced to pray”. I’ve been ordered to bow my head and pray, but I never bow, and I wouldn’t know how to pray to something that I don’t think exists. So clearly, there is some clumsy language.

  • Mark Nebo

    Justin,

    Yea, I am not saying what he say didn’t happen, and maybe I got lucky.. but I just never experienced anything like that. I don’t know, it just seems like whenever something came up, my leadership was accommodating to my non-belief, despite theirs.

    I look forward to meeting you at the convention!

    Mark

  • leecolleton

    Commander Mack of the nuclear submarine USS Houston once exhorted his crew to “do God’s work” over the internal announcement circuit while underway. I was also physically attacked while aboard that boat by the crew for expressing my atheism.

    Religiously motivated violence happens in the military. Being ordered to stand and coerced into prayer is unfortunately unsurprising to me.

  • http://chaotic-nipple.livejournal.com Mike Crichton

    Mark Nebo: I was in the Army for eight, and while I never encountered the sort of anti-atheist bigotry described here, I saw a wide variety in unit attitudes towards another despised minority. Everything from “The CO doesn’t care if anyone is gay, and neither should you”, all the way to “We can’t ask, and you can’t tell, but we’ll make your life a living hell anyway”. I have no problem believing I simply never served in units where atheists are treated poorly, while other people have.

  • Steve

    Just as with DADT enforcement, a lot of it probably depends on the atmosphere and example the leaders set. If they engage in bigotry, the subordinates see that’s condoned and even encouraged and naturally join in.

  • ~pickles

    I dealt with a lot of this during my 10 years in the Navy, it’s a big part of why I stayed so quiet about my lack of belief during that time in my life. It’s why my dogtags had NO-REL-PREF.

  • Justin Allen

    Heyo,

    @Mark Nebo. It really depends on who your bosses are, I was a Nuke School Dropout who spent 2 and a half years working with in Deck at an Undesignated Seaman before I managed to strike ATI.

    At nuke school, and boot camp, religion was something you did in your free time on sundays or whatever. Not a big deal. At ATN school there were a couple of times during breaks the class got into a discussion about religion and our teacher joined in, but it wasn’t preachy (especially since the teacher was either very liberal theologically or an undeclared atheist)

    Deck Department though? Shit man. Our 2nd boss, the department head, who got their after I’d been on for about 2 months had the occasional “lets get the chaplains to pray over the whole department” moments. One of my bosses, a BM2, wouldn’t let anyone know he was an atheist because he didn’t want his evals to be in jeopardy. He didn’t tell me that until I was… rather out in the open about my beliefs, however accidental that originally was.

    While my DH and various upper level bosses were actually supportive of what I believed to the extant that if I wanted to go watch the “creationism vs evolution” series someone was playing in our library sunday morning I could go (And thats where I heard about Kent Hovind) and when one of the BM3′s told me that I shouldn’t have a bible at one of our dirty jobsites (I bought a copy of the NSRV to read/highlight with the other atheists) my O5 reversed the BM3′s decision on, basically, religious freedom issues.

    AIMD though. Never came up. Just… never came up.

    So in deck I was the first atheist most people had ever met (other atheists didn’t start mentioning it until after I’d created a bit of a name for myself and the reaction wasn’t apocalyptic) and people had pleeeeenty of misconceptions. For whatever reason, black southern men would tell me how their pastors had said that all atheists are bad people and that they believed that, never having met one, but after they met me they wondered what their pastor was talking about.

    There were a couple of really negative incidents that come to mind, back around 2008 when I was on my last deployment, that really bothered me.

    One of which was at the tail end of the 04-08 bridge watch I was having a nice conversation with my one of my BM1′s, the female one, and we’d been talking and at some point their was this giant rant about how liberals and atheists and their type were destroying the country. This lasted like… 30 minutes or whatever time (BM’s can be longwinded) and I was just like… thinking to myself… “does she not know who I am?” and I conferred with a different BM1 about what to do. His advice was to just ignore it, so I did. I liked the first BM1, rant notwithstanding, so eh…

    The other weird incident was when I was having some pretty serious personal issues with the navy and this EM1 who I played DnD with in my spare time tried to convert me to Christianity :-/ Eh…

    So, yeah,

    This happens and the only thing standing in the way of it happening is the personal integrity of the people in the military.

  • Brian Engler

    The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) exists to support all non-theist soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. This individual–and anyone else in his or her position–should go to http://militaryatheists.org/ and join.

  • sumdum

    Can you imagine the deafening roar of outrage if this had been a man forced to say Allah akbar instead of amen ? Maybe that’s the story they should send to the media. Then wait for the outrage, and reveal it’s still the same story, but a different religion. If then they retract their outrage they’ll be revealed for the hypocrites they are.

  • Justin Griffith

    @#11, Brian Engler -

    MAAF is great and Jason Torpy is a friend. But I am the Military Director for American Atheists. We are advocates for exactly these types of situations as well. We are a bit better funded, but the main point is that people need to know that MRFF, MAAF, and AA are out there. Other resources exist too, and we will steer you where you need to go.

    I handle a lot of stuff that you will never read about publicly. We win big every day. That’s why the American Atheists Rock Beyond Belief festival is so important. It’s a signal – we are sick of it, and we refuse to stay closeted anymore. We’re the New Foxhole Atheists. See you at Fort Bragg on 31 March.

  • Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Mark Nebo-

    You surely don’t mean to be, but you need to know what you wrote is incredibly obnoxious. Why in the world do you think that, just because your experience wasn’t bad, that the anonymous sailor must be exaggerating? Why is Mark Nebo’s Personal Experience supposed to be the objective, reasonable standard by which everyone else’s should be judged? Why, instead of giving the sailor the benefit of the doubt, you immediately doubted his/her account?

    That approach—total empathy and charitable interpretation failure—is beyond “not helpful,” it actually functions to prop up the discriminatory attitude that anonymous sailor(s) have to put up with. You’re actively contributing to the system when you rudely and dismissively question other people’s claims of discrimination.

    I’m betting your hackles are up and you very much don’t want to see yourself as part of the problem; I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped. Please take some time to mull it over and please don’t shut down because you’re personally offended. That’s not intended, but you’re engaging in some very not-nice, not-helpful behavior and I hope you recognize it.


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