A Latent Atheist in a Foxhole

Name: Jody White
Branch: U.S. Army National Guard
Rank: SPC-4 (Specialist)
Basic Training: October 1996-January 1997, Fort Jackson, South Carolina; B Company, 6th Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 4th Platoon
AIT: Ft. Gordon, Georgia; MOS 31N (Tactical Circuit Controller)
Main Unit: Florida Army National Guard, B-Company 111th Signal Battalion, 1st Platoon

Most of the time I was in the military, I was somewhere between agnostic and Wiccan. I hadn’t given any particular thought to being an atheist until 1999.

On my dog tags, I specified “No Religious Preference,” and left it at that. During Basic (Fort Jackson), I half-heartedly joined some of the other trainees in “church” in the first weeks (services were held in the auditorium)–but this was just to get out of doing the Sunday barracks clean-up. I got bored and decided I’d rather push a mop than sit in on a multidenominational christ-fest.

My entire Company was marched to a pre-xmas church service, all because the duty NCO wanted to go. We were on our own time, but he took it upon himself to get everyone into uniform so we could all go watch the chorus sing praises and listen to preacher-talk. I was one of maybe a dozen out of a couple of hundred men and women who simply sat in the pews and didn’t participate. I got a lot of dirty looks, but I’m sure I was giving them right back. I amused myself by playing through the entire Def Leppard “Pyromania” album.

When I got to AIT at Fort Gordon, I had a deck of Tarot cards confiscated “for my protection from the powers of evil” by some sergeant who turned out to be one of the chaplains, and the pastor of one of the holy-roller churches on base. I stole a deck of playing cards and used them until I got my own back… not an atheist even, but just one more strike against those who wish to dominate others’ lives with their own beliefs.

During a 2-week Annual Training exercise in Live Oak, FL, I bought a guitar… and had another run-in with some local religious goober sergeant. I had no idea how to play the thing, but I was learning to tune it. This sergeant walked by my cot and asked me what sort of music I played; I replied, “Rock.” He gave me that Look the faithful get when they’ve spied another lost soul and said, “Well, just remember, Jesus loves you.” Then he vanished like I had the plague. Too bad I wasn’t an atheist back then *g*

I’m not sure I even knew what an “atheist” was when I was 18 or so. I hadn’t given it any thought–and I think that’s very common. People simply absorb the “conventional wisdom” that gets thrown around by others, rarely thinking about it. Government propaganda and the media portrayed the USSR as “godless/atheist Communists,” purely for political purposes. But that sort of thing gets accepted as the truth by the average flock-dweller American. It wasn’t until I specifically looked for a newsgroup about atheism and started reading posts from actual people that my brain awoke and started sifting through the garbage of 33 years of subtle media/social programming.

It wasn’t until then that I realized that I’ve always been an atheist to some degree. I did my time in foxholes during training–so that’s just one more atheist in a foxhole for the nay-sayers to deal with.