“You’re the first Atheist I’ve ever met”

“You’re the first Atheist I’ve ever met” June 8, 2013


Introductions are necessary

My name is Casey Leavings and I am an active duty AIr Force member. I’ve been in for almost ten years and I have been an out and proud atheist for eight. I have been fortunate enough to have never been forced into the corner for my lack of beliefs. When I heard about the extreme pressures that others in uniform have been put under for holding the same beliefs I adhere to, I felt that I had no choice but to step into the activist movement and the blogosphere. These are my brothers and sisters in arms who have taken an oath to uphold  the Constituiton while their own right to freedom of (and from) religion is being denied.

My preconceived notions

Last night, I posted on my Facebook wall that I was making my first foray into the blogosphere by joining as a308563_575148722506667_774709101_n contributor on the Rock Beyond Belief page. That post sparked a conversation between myself and a junior airman. He asked me what I was blogging about and I simply replied that the blog related to atheism and secular issues in the military. I must admit that I misjudged this individual. I expected the typical litany of responses from the religious that I have received time and again:

  • “Why don’t you believe in god?”
  • “How can you be moral without a higher power to answer to?”
  • My absolute favorite, the derisive and dismissive “I’ll pray for you”.

His response was none of these. Instead, he said “You know, you’re the first atheist I’ve ever met”.

Others preconceived notions

I recount that story with this point in mind: YOU may be the only atheist many of your coworkers know (even if they don’t know it yet).  To them, you’re the public face of atheism. I don’t need to remind you that atheists are constantly maligned in popular culture and the media.

o-BILL-OREILLY-facebookWe’re described as baby-eating reprobates with no moral foundation. We’re constantly told to keep our non-belief to ourselves, while we’re expected to silently endure the openly Christian culture that permeates the military and society as a whole. By openly admitting your atheism and being a respectable, moral person, you’re combating the constant stream of propaganda seeking to marginalize our movement.. In the past couple of days, Rock Beyond Belief has featured articles about atheists in the military who suffered negative consequences for being open and honest about their non-belief. Unfortunately, discrimination is still a reality for many servicemembers in hostile units with “leaders” who are aggressive fundamentalists seeking to convert those they command.. The tide is slowly turning, however, thanks to individual marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen and coastguardsmen who aren’t afraid to show their comrades that non-believers are just as moral as anyone else.

If you haven’t already, consider making your atheism more public. Don’t be afraid to mention your non-belief in casual conversation and honestly answer questions anyone might have. Be the public face of freethought  in your unit. You may just be the only one they know.

In fact the latest studies show the biggest path to acceptance for the atheist community and foxhole atheists is to let your non-belief be known.

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  • jaxkayaker

    Good to see activity on the Rock Beyond Belief blog. Any news on Justin?

  • I was an out and loud atheist for most of my 27 years in the Canadian Air Force. Admittedly, it was a lot easier to do in that organization given that we don’t have the critical mass of fundies you guys south of the border have to deal with. In Canada, fundamentalists are generally laughed at. However, I did find that being open about my non-belief gave many others the courage to proclaim their atheism, particularly as I rose in rank. There were a lot more atheists, agnostics and Christians-in-name-only around than I would have ever guessed. I work in Afghanistan and it’s only the American soldiers, sailors and airmen I see praying over their DFAC slop. Good luck bringing your military into the 21st century.

  • Paul Loebe

    Justin is around. He is extremely busy with recruiting. I’m jumping into the lead to make sure this movement keeps its momentum. He’ll be back. I can’t promise when or how often, but he will be.

  • otrame

    Welcome to Casey. Glad to see you here. Glad that you pointed out how important not being an asshole while being publicly atheist is.

    I agree that that coming out of the closet is an important first step in ending the discrimination of atheists. I’ve never really been in the closet, but then I was in an open, loving family (my Christian mother’s response to my announcement that I didn’t believe that stuff was “you’ll figure it out”–and actually she figured it out and is an atheist today) and my career was within a university setting where tolerance of beliefs is a big part of the social setting.

    It is important to be out, and the earliest people to come out loudly are very brave, but it is still the case that you may pay more than you expect and I have no problem with an atheist who chooses to stay in the closet because their kids might get taken away because of their atheism (yes, it still happens all the time).

    That being said, if your only concern about being openly atheist is that you might lose friends, I have to say that any friend you lose because you are honest about your lack of belief in the supernatural isn’t really your friend.

  • If you’re not of an abrahamic faith, and you’re in the U.S. military, I really feel your pain. I was in the military for four years. The Navy has chaplains, vice psychologists or therapists, so if you recognize you need help it’s tough. I remember having to endure the nightly prayer over the ship’s intercom every night.

  • Casey Leavings

    Hey everyone! Thanks for giving this a read. As I said in my post, this is my first entrance to the blogosphere. Thanks to Paul Loebe for all the help he’s provided me and I’m sure will provide me in the future. Looking forward to more writing!

  • Alex Holland

    Very interesting. Here in the UK, it seems almost the opposite in some places. I live in Cambridge and it’s rare to meet anyone young who is not atheist. Consequence being, when they are, shoving faith down others’ necks would be fairly frowned upon.

  • sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    “You know, you’re the first atheist I’ve ever met”.

    When Bertrand Russell was gaoled in the First World War the warder who took down his details on admission asked his religion.

    “I’m an atheist.” said Russell.

    “Never had one of them here before,” said the warder, “Still, we all worship the same god in the end.”

  • MarkWarm

    Yes, let your blasphemy be known so we know who to deal with

  • Paul Loebe

    There should be no “dealing with”. That’s the point. “Dealing with” based on religion is unconstitutional.

  • patricksimons

    A good counter question is, “Why aren’t are prisons overflowing with atheists instead of people who self identify as Christian?”

  • My very brief stint at Lackland AFB when I was 18 (before they washed me out for having a genetic Rheumatoid Arthritis) was interesting in that I noticed right away that if you didn’t have a church service to go to on Sunday mornings, then you had to stay back at the barracks and clean the bathrooms, the floors, etc. It was an unstated punishment for not going to some religious service. I went to a couple of church services, kinda liked the music of one, but I didn’t remember a single thing about the message from the preachers – I tuned them out and was just people-watching. 🙂

    I’ve always been agnostic/atheist, mom raised me to be a skeptical agnostic, and the only time as a kid that I went to church was to hang out with Grandma for the day. A couple hours of church then 6 hours of just hanging out was worth the attempts to quit fidgeting. I still never really listened to the messages the preachers were trying to tell us. Thank you for doing everything you do for us civilians, and for your own rights as well. It is because of soldiers like yourself that I’m free to express my atheism without fear of being fired from my work.

  • Casey Leavings


    Funny that you feel that open atheists need to be “dealt with”, doesn’t say much for the deity you believe in, does it? I am completely within my constitutional rights to publicly voice my non belief, and if any action is taken against me for pursuing those rights, I can guarantee that I won’t be the one being “dealt with”. Or maybe you’re just a troll who’s wasting my time.

  • Casey Leavings


    I was in Lackland in late 2003, and can attest to the preferential treatment religious folk received. There were gatherings for most religious affiliations which offered a break from the rigorous training schedule, but no meeting for the non-religious that I can think of. If you were non-religious, your choices were to either go to a religious service anyways or suck it up and clean the barracks. This would be an awesome project for an atheist group in the San Antonio area to take up.

  • MarkWarm

    By “Deal With” I mean evangelize to and convert