Fort Bragg’s MAJ Ray Bradley seeks recognition for humanists

Fort Bragg’s MAJ Ray Bradley seeks recognition for humanists February 14, 2012

An associated press article that ran in dozens of newspapers nationwide tells the story of US Army Major Ray Bradley. Major Bradley is currently fighting to get ‘humanist’ on the military’s official list of recognized religious preferences.

US Army Major Ray Bradley - champion for humanism

RALEIGH, N.C. – Soldiers who don’t believe in God can go to war with “Atheist” stamped on their dog tags, but humanists and others with various secular beliefs are still officially invisible in the Army.

Maj. Ray Bradley is applying to be the first humanist recognized as a “distinctive faith group leader” by the Army. In the meantime, he can’t be designated as a humanist on his official records or dog tags, although he can be classified as an atheist.

The distinction may not seem like a large one to those unfamiliar with humanism, but the Fort Bragg-based officer says it’s the equivalent of being told that “Christian” is an acceptable designation, but not “Catholic.”

He’s actually the second person at Fort Bragg to apply as a lay leader. I’m proud to have inspired this strategy, though my application was eventually denied (and I wasn’t even told until 6 months after it was denied.) I’ve not told the rather depressing end of my lay-leader story, as I didn’t want to discourage all of the others who followed my lead. But if they keep denying packets, or dragging their feet forever… we’ll be forced to change tactics.

Fort Bragg still bans atheist and humanists from meeting regularly on post. This situation is mirrored everywhere else too, even on Air Force bases like Travis. I’ve explained the reasoning behind this before, as the ban comes from chaplain regulations.

I hope Major Bradley gets the support he deserves in getting Humanist approved. Jason Torpy, at the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) has been extremely vocal in supporting this action. MAAF is now also taking my little ‘MASH Fort Bragg’ concept to other bases, an extremely promising development.

Unfortunately, Ray Bradley hates me right now.

Have you ever unintentionally pissed someone off with your words? I did that to him recently, and it must have really hit a nerve with him. I re-tooled the offending sentence in a blog post and sent an apology / explanation within an hour of his message. But he has not responded. Which totally sucks, because he was a valuable member of the group here.

When he joined, he told me his main allegiance was with another secular group (though not military themed). He let me know that it would occupy most of his time and energy, but he still wanted to help. We had an extremely strong first six months. Our meetings attracting so many people that we were filling the houses we’ve been forced to hold our meetings at. But all of the core leadership team deployed or moved to another base at the same time. Including me.

Naturally, it eventually became too difficult for me to run remotely while deployed. My wife’s PTSD symptoms were peaking, and she sought her family in Florida. There was no ‘civilian anchor’ to keep it going. So it quickly started to die. Ray was instrumental in providing at least the appearance of activity while it lay dormant for 4 months. He was cross-posting many of the non-military / movement events from his other group, and I most certainly approved of and appreciated this. A side-effect was that the other group tended to absorb some of our enthusiastic new members.

CTRL+Z I'm sorryI included a clumsy / thoughtless statement in a post the other day. Something like “We were sort of infiltrated by another group…” It pissed him off in the extreme. He felt unappreciated and defensive, and he referred to it as ‘life-support’. (a mean joke, but funny.) He then quit MASH Fort Bragg – a move that I hope is only temporary. Honestly, I think he could have picked up the phone… but I totally understand what his issue was. All I can say is that I did immediately reach out, apologized, explained, and even adjusted the sentence within a few hours (before I even noticed he quit the group!)

Now that I’m back, it’s time to get off life-support and get back to life. I’m training my replacements and showing them how easy it is to make it a successful and meaningful community. We’re putting things in place so as not to ever let it crumble away again. Lesson learned, and I’m still very grateful to Ray for cross-posting his meetings during the dormant period.

Obviously, even if he doesn’t return to his always-available slot in the MASH Fort Bragg group – I wish him the best. Kudos on the coverage, Ray. Take a bow.

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  • Gregory

    I have to admit, I find the idea of a Humanist servicemember as bizarre the idea of a Buddhist servicemember. My own understanding of Humanism tells me that it is wrong to kill others, no matter how one might justify doing so.

  • Justin Griffith

    Ray is a good champion of Humanism. You may notice that I don’t really speak about it ever. That’s because I can defer to people like Ray! I hope he leaves a comment here to answer that question.

  • I am a Secular Humanist.

    I am “other” also, such as a “Free Thinker”, a “Bright”

    & a “None”. I don’t

    choose to label myself

    an “Atheist” since any

    “God Concept” does NOT

    operate in my life other than as an issue of my idle curiosity.

    What is important, in this seemingly minor tiff , Bradley vs Griffith, is not to allow interpretations & hard feelings to interfere with all of our like minded efforts.

  • Gregory

    @Justin – I did not mean to imply that there was anything wrong with being a Humanist service member, my apologies for that. Its just that I consider myself a Humanist and the… school? denomination? … to which I subscribe leads me to be a pacifist.

    Humanists in military service would be an interesting topic, but that kind of philosophical discussion is more of a Camels With Hammers kind of post 🙂

  • Matrim

    @Gregory> There’s nothing specific to the tenants of secular humanism that lends it to pacifism. You could argue that “a concern for life” could imply pacifism, but it by no means demands it or proscribes violence in any way. You could reasonably defend violence in many circumstances depending on the situation.

    Additionally, while the military’s job is to effectively wield violence as a political tool, not ever position is concerned with violence. A vast number of jobs in the military are non-combat positions. And while the military as a whole is violent, most of the people in it will never have occasion to use violence.