Friday, July 25, 2008

An Atheist in a Foxhole: Hump’s First Exposure to “Christian Love” in the Military

A friend in a message group posted this recent article: Army Base Cannot Coerce Soldier Trainees To Attend Church Services, Says Americans United

The full story here:

In short, soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood are being pressured to attend Baptist religious services, under the guise of it being an Army directed event / off day. Anyone not submitting to the proselytizing “field day” is restricted to base and made to train.

It’s not an isolated occurrence. The military is rife with Christian fanatics throughout the chain of command. Recent stories in the news about the Air Force Academy’s anti-Semitic activity and Christian proselytizing caused a major investigation. An atheist soldier in Iraq is suing the Army for discriminating against his non-belief.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. I was personally on the receiving end of this kind of un-American, fanatical Christian mentality when I joined the Army in 1968.
And I paid a price.

I’ll skip over the details of what prompted a reasonably intelligent, suburban New Yorker from an upper middle-class family to leave college and set himself up to go to Vietnam. But, the bottom line is I volunteered for the draft in the spring of ’67 and by September I was in basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

The initial introduction and indoctrination into the military is disorienting to say the least. You’re perpetually being yelled at, verbally punished, and physically pushed to the limit. You don’t know shit, and they make sure you’re told that hourly. By the end of the first week the thought of having a day of rest was very appealing.

In formation outside the barracks that Saturday after the first week of basic, the drill sergeant, a Southern white trash “lifer” (career soldier) with the IQ of a sandbag, announced to the platoon that he expected “100% attendance at church” the next morning. The directive was roundly answered with a loud “YES SERGEANT!” by my fellow trainees. My non-responsiveness caught his eye. Charging over to me, he pushed his skinny pock marked sweating face as close as he could to mine. The exchange went something like this:

SGT. Cracker: “What’s your PROBLEM, Trainee?”
Me: “No problem Sergeant. I just won’t be attending church tomorrow.”
SGT. Cracker: “What the fuck you talking about, BOY?”
Me: “Well, Sergeant, I don’t believe in God. It would be against my “beliefs” to go to religious services.”
SGT. Cracker: “You a fuckin ATHEIST, BOY?” (The ‘F’ anointing my face with his spit)
Me: “Yes, Sergeant, I guess I am.”
SGT. Cracker: “Well, ain’t that something special!? Tell ya what, if I don’t have 100% attendance at church tomorrow, including your Godless New York shit ass, then the whole platoon will be confined to barracks for the day. Is that clear, PRIVATE?”
Me: “Sergeant, I thought one of the things we are fighting for is to preserve our freedoms. Don’t I have the right, the freedom, not to go to church without penalizing everyone else?”
SGT. Cracker: “Right???!! Maybe your fellow soldiers can help convince you of what your RIGHTS are. IS THAT CLEAR TRAINEES?”

In unison the platoon shouted back “YES SERGEANT!”, and we were dismissed.

The dehumanization of the trainee experience tends to make fellow sufferers closer ... it's part of the whole point of the process … oneness. So, I thought I had made some new and close comrades. I felt they would understand my position, even back me up against a bully and this injustice.

But, as we sat in the barracks, all that comradeship evaporated in the face of the sergeant’s threat. This was the Army, and these were Christians, and I was, after all, “the other”. There was one Jew, but he had been singled out on his first day. Nicknamed "CK" (Christ Killer) by the drill sergeants, and so abused by them, his religion so vilely defamed and insulted, that he demurred and opted to attend church with the Christians. He’d had his fill of Christian love … it was my turn.

Over the next hour I was subjected to some serious peer pressure, verbal abuse, and threats. I understood their frustration, but it seems my perspective was totally lost on them. Finally, two guys jumped me and a fist fight ensued. One of them was my “buddy”.

The fight lasted about three minutes, a veritable eternity to me. After it was done, with fat lips, and a bloody noses all around, things calmed down. I reiterated my unchanged position. Everyone was resigned to our communal fate. I didn't sleep that night.

The next morning the platoon went to church, I went to KP, and everyone but me had the rest of the day off base. The bluff of the threat was called, the Sergeant opted not to pursue it further, or again. I went onto AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) at Ft. Polk, Louisiana; eventually ended up in Nam in April ‘68, as expected; and was assigned as a replacement to the 82nd Airborne as a rifleman “11Bravo”, where I was an “atheist in a foxhole”.

Three things I learned from that early experience:
1) The military expects everyone to be Christian; to be other is to be less.
2) Standing up to the injustice of religious coercion makes you feel more like an American.
3) Christians are hypocrites to whom protecting Freedom and Rights means their Freedom and their Rights, not everyone’s.

And so it continues.

Support The Military Religious Freedom Foundation.


OJ said...

Wow. That's a really powerful story. There was absolutely nobody who took your side? Nobody said, "I'm a Christian, but this guy has a point"?

You're right about the Christians valuing their rights but not anybody else's. I read somewhere that the Ten Commandments were originally read the same way. Thou shalt not kill (a fellow Jew), thou shalt not steal (from a fellow Jew). The Jewish Talmud says that if you steal from a non-Jew and are caught, you don't have to give the stolen property back. I guess this kind of thinking is still around today in Christianity.

DromedaryHump said...

I wish I could report that at least one of them had the courage and integrity to come to my defense. But no.

If a Xtian were being discriminated against, mistreated, he can go to the Chaplan. Since atheists don't have advocates / chaplans and are a miniscule minority they are pretty much on their own within the service. Thats why the Military Freedom Foundation is so important.

You're right about the Talmud..its true of the Q'uran as well. Muslims claim to be a "religion of peace", but peace toward fellow muslims. Let the "people of the book" (as they call xtians and jews) be danmned. And atheists can kiss their asses good bye.

Anonymous said...

this really, really sucks, man. this is the kind of thing i absolutely hate to read. i understand exactly (well, as much as i can) how terrible this would have made anyone feel. i'm a "Xtian" and i do not in any way, shape or form condone this sort of thing or anything even closely resembling it. i myself would probably not even attend a baptist anything (much less one held by the military). what i'd like to say is that you would not have been treated this way by the Messiah. only by men. even if men say they know Him, follow Him, or otherwise, they don't necessarily (as i'm sure you've figured out) and even scripture tells us that very same thing over and over again. likewise with this Talmud stuff. Talmudic Judaism was not around when God gave the law to Moses. this abuse came much later - like the catholics with their horrendous stuff - muslims with their's - and even Xtianity with it's own. the mistake many folks make is projecting this horrible garbage onto Messiah - who has absolutely nothing to do with the sinfulness of man, beside giving up His life so that we might be freed from it. as you can see, many have yet to take Him up on His offer. again, i'm so sorry to hear of this DH - very sorry this happened at all - and to know it will happen many times more - and to know that Christ will be somehow dragged through the mud once again for the insanity and evil of mankind.

Luke (the guy arguing with you over at the fractal place)

DromedaryHump said...


Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'll be over at Fractally Wrong in a few minutes ;).

Indeed, one would assume that if a jesus did in fact exist, he would be disgusted with the way in which his teachings have been perverted. No doubt he'd be offended at the kind of suppression, intollerance, and arrogance conducted in his name. I understand that.

The problem is, that scripture, all scripture irrespective of the religion, is open to interpretation. Scripture is/has been used to justify hate and violence against homosexuals, endorsement of slavery, killing of abortion doctors, wars against non-christians and other christian sects, and most notibly anti-Semitism for almost two millenia. The last point being clearly defined and built into the doctrine and dogma. A belief system can't embue an entire people with collective guilt in their scripture, pass it on generation after generation; lay at their feet deicide; and then wonder why Jews have been persecuted, segregated, shunned, exiled and killed for almost 17 centuries by that majority beleif system's adherents. Denying the cause and effect of that scripture, that doctrine, would be disengenuous.

As far as my personal Army experience goes, I havn't thought about that incident in a long time. The recent article I posted about the baptist thing brought the memory back. Hell, as things went in the Army given where I went and what I did, that incident was practically a positive :)

Thanks for the input.


Anonymous said...

yeah, i gotcha. and you're right about all the atrocities and what not, but that's kinda my point. i'm a Messianic Jew - a jewish believer in Yeshua (aka Jesus) i know all too well about anti-semitism and many of the scriptural distortions so prevalent in the gentile church (both today and in the past)- it's no pretty thing. having said that, my point is that i've learned not to pin all that evil and error on my Creator & Redeemer and ask that if someone is going to make the very serious decision of believing there is nothing else but himself, that he does so by only looking at himself - not a bunch of maniacal hypocrites - and that, only after honestly asking his Creator to reveal Himself to him... not by taking a college course or watching the freaks on TBN. if you've honestly asked God to reveal Himself to you and subsequently arrived at the idea that He doesn't exist, i take no issue with you. not that it really matters what i think anyway. i get where you're coming from & i respect your views greatly. do you get where i'm coming from?
~ Luke

DromedaryHump said...

Luke said: "if you've honestly asked God to reveal Himself to you and subsequently arrived at the idea that He doesn't exist, i take no issue with you."

Luke, see...what we have here is a complete disconnect. You cannot comprehend that the concept of asking a fictitious character to "reveal himself" to me would be the same as my asking if you have "honestly asked BigFoot to reveal himself to you".

Yes..i can understand where youre coming from. From a place that doesn't allow one to comprehend that the concept of god, gods, angels, devils, satan, heaven, hell..etc., etc., is no more real to atheists than Zeus, Thor, Mithra, Tammuz, Molech, Batman, Luke Skywalker, Bugs Bunny, and Moby Dick are to you.

As far as being a messianic jew. Let me say this. The very term is offensive to Jews. You may have been Jewish once (maybe not, alot who claim to be jewish are really Xtian's who are Jew wanna bes, and never were really Jews at all) but once you profess belief that Jesus is son of god and/or messiah, you're a Christian.

As far as what you believe / where your coming from: Frankly, I don't care what you call yourself. One kind of theist delusion is pretty much the same as any other kind to me.
As long as your not hurting anyone, not trying to spread theiism in the public schools, don't seek to establish a US theocracy, don't force your religiosity on me or others, and don't stand in the way of medical / scientific progress, how you care to spend your life is your choice.

Anonymous said...

ok, so you haven't asked Him, i take it. what are you afraid of? if he doesn't exist, the worst you'll experience is a private, and temporary awkward mumble that no one will ever have to know about. if He does exist, however, you stand to experience something far less comfortable - not my words, but His.

if the majority of the world believed that Bugs Bunny were the Creator of timespace, i might be inclined to make certain he didn't exist. but since you're just trying to be silly, i'll have a laugh.

let's be serious, Hump.
~ Luke

DromedaryHump said...

Luke said: "ok, so you haven't asked Him, i take it. what are you afraid of? "

I can only explain in terms that a normal thinking person can understand. I'll try it one last time.

Lets try it this way: "Ok, Luke, so you havn't asked Bigfoot to come into your life. Why? Why do you reject HIM? Can't you see that Bigfoot is your salavtion? What do you have to lose? Can't you just meet Bigfoot 1/2 way? Maybe it will change your life"

Now, does that prompt you to disolve your ability to think and drop to your knees and worship the fictional being called Bigfoot? NO??? GASP!!! I can't understand why not!!!

Luke, asking a thinking, educated, intelectually aware person to abandon their thinking,education and intellect and speak to a fictional boogie man, who has the same reality, the same value, the same degree of existence as any mythical character, from Boigfoot to Dracula,to Santa, would be the same thing as what I have just done above. If you can't understand that, accept it; can't make that connection, is simply a symptom of your religious mind virus, and quite possibly a mental impairment.It's entirely possible you havn't the full compliment of either intellect, honesty, or control of your thoughts to perceive this.

LUKE said: "if the majority of the world believed that Bugs Bunny were the Creator of timespace, i might be inclined to make certain he didn't exist".

So, since the world doesnt worship Bugs Bunny, then you don't either.?? If 1/3rd of the world would too? LOL. Thats quite a statement. Religious belief based on popular acceptence. Brilliant.
Since 1/3rd of the world sees Muhammed as their prophet and worship Allah, maybe you'd like to go that route.

heck, in the 16th century the vast majority of the world accepted slavery as the norm... and witch burning as socially acceptable. Somehow a proponderance of belief does not reality, nor morality, nor ethical right make. But my guess is, once again, I'm talking over your head and this is all lost on you.

Luke, I can't possibly see what else we have to discuss. Your inability to maintain intelligent discourse , comprehend analogy and apply it to the present exchange, or proffer an intellgent thought unencumbered by your religious foolishness has, I fear, rendered the value of your input, and entertainment value, nil.

Best of luck to you and the man-gods or superbeings of your choice.

Anonymous said...

cool. i mean, you present a really sound, intellectual argument, Hump. i guess you're right. there's no God.

stay sweet & have a great summer.
~ Luke

Crazydad™ said...

Drom, what a story! Army trainees probably don't have rights as we think of them, but you held your ground, which is admirable. Your buddy was right to choose Christ over your' fucking atheis ass, I gotta say!

Since we're on the topic of the service, do you plan to have your remains interred in a National Cemetary? What marker options are there?

DromedaryHump said...

Thanks, and LOL!!

In retrospect, I was wrong to expect Christians to come to the defense of a non-Xtian, much less a non-believer. They didn't during the excesses of the Crusades, nor during the Inquisition, and the church turned a blind eye toward the Shoah/Holocaust. Indeed, sacrifice of "the other" on the alter of Christian love is a veritable sacrament. The history of christianity repeats itself...over and over.

No, I have no interest in being interred in a military cemetary. Let the true heros, worthy of rememberence and the admiration of future generations have my spot.

My arrangments are simple: I'll be cremated, my ashes loaded into 10 gauge shot shells, and fired out over my property. My buddy says he can hardly wait ;)

Crazydad™ said...

Down-wind from the Weber grill, I hope.

DromedaryHump said...

Actually, directly over the ice tea.
I'll besure you're invited for the post ceremonial brunch.


OJ said...

There was another good story of military "love" in the news today:

DromedaryHump said...

Indeed, there are more dangers for women in the military than just going to Iraq.

But, much like rampant religious proselytizing; failure to provide adequate mental health resources for combat vets; and not giving war zone soldiers adequate armour/supplies...nothing will be done as long as they can deny, ignore or delay.