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Archive for July 27th, 2009

Atheists In Foxholes

Monday, July 27th, 2009

note from skippy: As always, opinions expressed by people that are not skippy do not always reflect the views of skippy.

skippy is not afraid to go political, and neither am I. So I’m gonna go there, oh yeah.

I am a member of one of the most-despised, misunderstood, and vilified socio-political groups in the world: Atheists.

For the ill-informed or willfully ignorant, an Atheist does not believe in God. (Atheist is sourced from the Greek atheos, a = without and theos God, hence “without God”.) More on it from infidels.org:

“What is atheism?”

Atheism is characterized by an absence of belief in the existence of gods. This absence of belief generally comes about either through deliberate choice, or from an inherent inability to believe religious teachings which seem literally incredible. It is not a lack of belief born out of simple ignorance of religious teachings.

Some atheists go beyond a mere absence of belief in gods: they actively believe that particular gods, or all gods, do not exist. Just lacking belief in Gods is often referred to as the “weak atheist” position; whereas believing that gods do not (or cannot) exist is known as “strong atheism.”
Bringing up Atheism nowdays is akin to bringing up equal/civil rights in the 50 – there’s going to be people vying for both sides, a possibility of violence, and a huge shitstorm. I will not apologize for any potential shitstorms that result of what I say or believe (or rather, don’t believe) because I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion – no matter how much it may conflict with mine.

Since this is a military blog, I’m going to bring up a military-centric topic. An old adage states “There are no Atheists in foxholes”. It’s a phrase that’s meant to evoke the fear of soldiers in the battlefield that will drive them to a higher power.

Despite being shot at, blown up, wounded, and K.I.A., there are indeed Atheists in foxholes and there have been for hundreds of years – just as there have been Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and people of all sorts of religious, ethnic, social, and national backgrounds. To say otherwise is to do a disservice to all soldiers, not just the non-believers who have served their countries in battle.

“A Theist’s Nightmare” asks “Why are there so few famous ATHEISTS in the military. The comments range from sarcastic (“And why are there no great atheist inventors? Could it be they’re waiting for stuff to invent itself?”) to straightforward “(Because atheists realize war is stupid?”) to the extremely faithful (“Because athiests are afraid to die…If a religious person dies in battle,normally they go to Heaven…if a athiest dies, they just die…”) and to the unoriginal thinkers (“Because there are no atheists in foxholes.”). This small Yahoo! Answers thread is an example of the kind of discussion that can result.

Anyway, on to the military bit. Military non-believers have been in the news more and more lately, often because of some sort of discrimination from their peers or higher-ups:

TOPEKA, Kan. – Military officials in Iraq are investigating allegations that [Spc. Jeremy Hall] is being harassed for being an atheist but said Saturday that they cannot find an officer the soldier has named in a federal lawsuit.

. . .

In responding to the lawsuit, a Pentagon spokesman said the military does value and respect religious freedoms, but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.

. . .

In the lawsuit, Hall said that his free speech and religious rights were violated a year ago when he sat down with soldiers to eat a Thanksgiving holiday dinner. When asked to join hands and pray, Hall declined, but sat as the other soldiers prayed over the food. A sergeant asked why he would not pray and Hall told him he was an atheist, meaning he does not believe in God.

The sergeant demanded that Hall move to another table and not sit with the other soldiers. Hall said he stayed and ate without speaking to the others.


Another one, featuring Mr. Wayne Atkins:

On July 18th, 2006 Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, lumped atheists and agnostics together with bigots and in a paraphrase of an old untrue negative stereotype declared that there are no atheists in foxholes. It is ironic that such a bigoted remark would come during his speech about diversity to the NAACP. The National Guard received a number of letters complaining about his remarks and several atheist organizations denounced them. But the Army, despite how it defines unlawful discrimination in its own regulations, has decided that the remarks were not discriminatory. I disagree.

. . .

Army Regulation 600-20, section 6-2, paragraph a says “The U.S. Army will provide EO and fair treatment for military personnel and family members without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin, and provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination and offensive behavior. They have failed miserably at providing an environment free of offensive behavior for atheists. The regulation defines several terms in these sections which make it clear that the public comments of Blum and others constitute “unlawful discrimination”. Disparaging terms are defined as “Terms used to degrade or connote negative statements pertaining to race, color, gender, national origin, or religion”. Claiming that there are no atheists in foxholes implies that they do not serve at all which is patently false or that they all really do believe something other than what they say. It implies that all atheists are liars and cowards. That fits the definition of making negative statements about an entire group of people based solely on their religious identification.

The first response given when atheists complain is that atheism isn’t an organized or acknowledged religion and therefore atheists are not covered by the regulation. But the regulation defines the term “religion” as “A personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, moral or ethical beliefs and practices held with the strength of traditional views, characterized by ardor and faith, and generally evidenced through specific observances”. The regulation’s definition of religion includes “a personal set” of beliefs and does not require organization or outside acknowledgement. The regulation also defines prejudice as “a negative feeling or dislike based upon a faulty or inflexible generalization (that is, prejudging a person or group without knowledge or facts)”. Claiming that there are no atheists in foxholes is both a “faulty” and “inflexible generalization”.


That is from 1st Lt. Wayne Adkins, who resigned from the military on grounds of discrimination.

WASHINGTON — A coalition of atheists and agnostics wants the new White House to protect young military members from what they see as rampant religious discrimination in the services.

The Secular Coalition for America held a news conference Monday urging new rules against proselytizing and more training for chaplains on how to handle nonreligious troops.

. . .

The coalition also wants President-elect Obama to develop a new directive for all chaplains and commanders that eliminates public prayers from any mandatory-attendance events for troops and ensures the Defense Department will not endorse any single religion, or even the idea of religion over nonreligion.

Jason Torpy, a retired soldier and president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said his group isn’t opposed to Christianity or any other organized religion.

“We just recognize that religion and religious people get a lot of support from the military,” he said. “What about the rest of us?”

. . .

About one-fifth of current servicemembers identify themselves as having no religious preference, according to Defense Department statistics.

Only a small percentage of troops identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, but Torpy said that’s because they fear retribution. Without new rules, he said, there isn’t any guarantee they can avoid that kind of treatment.

“We’re as dedicated to the military as our Christian counterparts,” he said. “We just want to serve our country, too.”


Related to the above story (and quite possibly my favorite):

A former evangelical Navy chaplain hopes that president-elect Barack Obama will not take actions aimed at completely removing any vestige of Christianity from the United States military.

The Secular Coalition for America recently held a news conference urging president-elect Barack Obama to, among other things, enact new rules against proselytizing and develop a new directive for all chaplains and commanders to eliminate public prayers from any mandatory attendance events for military troops.

Gordon James Klingenschmitt is a former naval chaplain who says, unfortunately, the Secular Coalition for America will eventually get its way. “There is a day coming in the end Gordon James Klingenschmitttimes when the military will be forced to be atheistic because, in order for the eventual man who is the man of sin — the Anti-Christ — as it is describe in the Bible, for him to come to power and to stamp out Christianity around the globe, he’s going to need a good strong atheist military,” he contends. “That is the first step toward Armageddon, and I’m concerned about that. And I pray that President (elect) Obama is not foolish enough to lead us down that road.”

Klingenschmitt notes he intends to watch the Obama administration very closely for the first sign of anti-Christian persecution, and when that time comes, he says he will blow the trumpet and sound the alarm.


But let’s not forget what is probably the most outrageous recorded incident involving an Atheist/agnostic/nonbeliever in the military to date: Pat Tillman.

Pat Tillman was what any layman would call a hero. He left a cushy job in the NFL for a slightly-less-than-cushy job as an Army Ranger.

He definitely considered himself “not religious”:

Shortly after, Ferguson received a phone call from Tillman. The Seahawks general manager hoped it would be regarding his open-ended offer. It was not.

“A company chaplain at Fort Lewis was hoping to get a Seahawks player to come down and speak,” Ferguson said. “And the chaplain had Pat call me.

“He said, ‘(Expletive), I hate calling you like this, Fergie, but this chaplain needs a favor. You know I’m not religious, but he’s a really nice guy, and I want to help him out.”


Pat Tillman did what many non-religious people have done over the years and enlisted. He was a poster boy for the military and the talk of the town – nay, the nation – when he enlisted. And for all that work, he gets shot to death by his own comrades.

Initially the Army lied out of their ass and said that he was killed by enemy fire. With recruitment dipping faster than tech stocks in 2001, one’s given to believe that they absolutely fucking loved the idea of a Real American Hero (TM) being K.I.A.

Except he wasn’t. Pat Tillman was apparently killed by friendly fire.

The government ruled it an accident. But since they bullshitted about how he died, and (according to the previously linked article) “No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene – no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck,” I’m inclined to believe that a guy who wouldn’t tow the company line got fragged and the military is glossing it over.

Pat was a student of many religious books (as many Atheists surprisingly are, including myself) and counted Noam Chomsky among his favorite authors. After details such as this were released via The San Francisco Chronicle, Ann Coulter “seethed”. The All-American football star who supported the war apparently didn’t support the war or the President at all. And to top it off, his evil liberal agenda included a distinct lack of belief in God:

Just when we thought we had a pure and simple hero, a millionaire athlete who gave up wealth and fame to become the ideal patriot, to make the ultimate sacrifice, his friends and family complicated everything. They turned Pat Tillman into a human being Monday, showing us what was really lost during that ambush in Afghanistan, insisting that we question every assumption we’ve made since he died an icon on April 22.

Yes, there were uplifting tales, moments when tears and pride swelled in everyone watching Tillman’s memorial service at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. There were jarring moments, too, and they carried the message of the afternoon — “challenge yourself” — more powerfully than those laden with conventional inspiration.

Tillman’s youngest brother, Rich, wore a rumpled white T-shirt, no jacket, no tie, no collar, and immediately swore into the microphone. He hadn’t written anything, he said, and with the starkest honesty, he asked mourners to hold their spiritual bromides.

“Pat isn’t with God,” he said. “He’s f — ing dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s f — ing dead.”

What? This didn’t happen for God, as well as country? A professional athlete turned soldier, and we’re supposed to believe that he’d have no use for piety? Robbed of a cliche, where does that leave us?

Challenge yourself.

His brother-in-law and close friend, Alex Garwood, described how Tillman handled his duties when he became godfather to Garwood’s son. He came to the ceremony dressed as a woman. Not as a religious commentary. He was doing a balancing act.

“We had two godfathers, no godmother,” Garwood explained. And what NFL player turned Army Ranger wouldn’t don drag to make that math work?

Who on earth was this guy?

He was the same person who often talked late into the night with his linebackers coach at ASU, prying apart stereotypes about college football players and future soldiers.

“He talked about gays,” Lyle Setencich, the former ASU assistant said. “He asked me, ‘Could you coach gays?’ ” Setencich told Tillman yes. He could, and he had. He repeated that at the memorial service, televised on ESPN, in front of the sports world, showing another side of a coach, another side of an American hero.

Challenge yourself.

Tillman talked about everything, with everyone. According to the speakers, he had read the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and he underlined passages constantly. Garwood recalled how he’d mail articles to friends, highlighting certain parts and writing in the margins: “Let’s discuss.” A quotation from Emerson, found underlined in Tillman’s readings, adorned the program.

It concluded with this: “But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.’


Pat Tillman was loved by his team and comrades, and he will be sorely missed by his family. While we can all take guesses as to what happened, the Military will shitcan anything that could make them potentially look bad and we will never really know what happened to him.

Aside from the fourth and fifth of the five articles, let me go on with the one bit that pisses me off the most from the first three:

In responding to the lawsuit, a Pentagon spokesman said the military does value and respect religious freedoms, but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.

“Unit cohesion” and “discipline” are the same reason that LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered) people are discriminated against in the military via the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I’ve never served and I don’t intend to unless an invading force marches into America proper, but there are people with my personal philosophies who do.

As anyone who has served can tell you, the military is all about falling in line. The old Japanese adage “The nail that stands up gets hammered down” applies like a rock-solid rule to the military. If you don’t want to go to a foreign country and blow shit up, you’re un-American. If you don’t want to pray before meals with your fellow soldiers, you’re un-American. If you don’t make fun of the funny people with the camels and silly beards, you’re un-American.

According to the Pentagon’s statement, they say that “the military does value and respect religious freedoms”. Most Atheists just want to step out of the prayer circle, eat their food in peace, and generally be left the Hell alone, yet they are continually harassed and discriminated against by their fellow soldiers.

Thankfully, our non-believing boys and girls in the milly are not alone. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers fights for their rights to not believe. American Atheists, America’s foremost Atheist activism organization, has a Military Director who focuses on this particular prong of Atheist civil rights.

The most puzzling thing of all, though, is the statements of our former Navy Chaplain, Gordon James Klingenschmitt. Quoting again:

Gordon James Klingenschmitt is a former naval chaplain who says, unfortunately, the Secular Coalition for America will eventually get its way. “There is a day coming in the end Gordon James Klingenschmitttimes when the military will be forced to be atheistic because, in order for the eventual man who is the man of sin — the Anti-Christ — as it is describe in the Bible, for him to come to power and to stamp out Christianity around the globe, he’s going to need a good strong atheist military,” he contends. “That is the first step toward Armageddon, and I’m concerned about that. And I pray that President (elect) Obama is not foolish enough to lead us down that road.”

Regardless of what you believe, I can not fathom how someone could interpret these words as anything other than preposterous. The military will never “be forced to be atheistic”, nor will it become an army that will “stamp out Christianity around the globe”.

This all comes down to the crux of my beliefs about Atheism and government that’s seated in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

A common argument against Atheist rights in relation to the first amendment is that it states “freedom of religion”, meaning that you have to have a religion to be granted these rights. That is specious, ludicrous, and insulting reasoning and so very against the spirit of the Constitution. It’s not something that can be taken 100% literally; otherwise the second amendment would let us keep howitzers in our backyards (a discussion for another time).

So what do we want? Why do we fight so hard, and why do so many of us live in fear?

Why can’t we just shut up and leave the believers alone?

America is not a Christian nation. It’s not a Muslim nation, or a Zoroastrian nation, or a Satanist nation (despite what some of those people way out East say). We’re a nation of many cultures and religions, and our core principles are respecting all of those equally.

To many Atheists (and to myself), “In God We Trust” on our money is an affront to every agnostic, atheist, polytheist, and believer of non-monotheistic faiths. “Under God” in the Pledge of Alliegiance is the same, as is swearing on a Bible in court and the continual attempts to advance religious platforms in politics.

E Pluribus Unum (Latin for “From Many, One”, our original national motto) is way more uplifting than an affirmation of trust in a God that almost nobody can agree on how to believe in.

We want to be free of harassment. We want to be free to say that we don’t believe. We want to serve our country just as anyone else does without discrimination. We want our country to respect the principles it was founded on. And we definitely do not want to do it at the exclusion of any other belief system – we just want to be on equal ground.

Right now, we aren’t, and I truly hope that in my lifetime I will be able to see the day when we’ll get the respect we deserve as people – not because of the color of our skin, our nationality, our sexual orientation, or our belief system – but because it’s the right and fair thing to do.

Ihmhi is a developer for Fortress Forever, a free, fast paced Team Fortress mod for Half-Life 2.