Saturday, May 17, 2008

Onward, Christian Soldiers

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason: The Morning Daylight appears plainer when you put out your Candle." -- Benjamin Franklin


From Atheist soldier claims harassment on CNN:

JUNCTION CITY, Kansas (AP) -- Like hundreds of young men joining the Army in recent years, Jeremy Hall professes a desire to serve his country while it fights terrorism.

Spc. Jeremy Hall says the pressure to believe in God is so strong, "I was ashamed to say that I was an atheist."

But the short and soft-spoken specialist is at the center of a legal controversy. He has filed a lawsuit alleging that he's been harassed and his constitutional rights have been violated because he doesn't believe in God ...

"I'm not in it for cash," Hall said. "I want no one else to go what I went through."

Known as "the atheist guy," Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and -- just as severe to some soldiers -- gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals.

"I see a name and rank and United States flag on their shoulder. That's what I believe everyone else should see," he said.

Hall, 23, was raised in a Protestant family in North Carolina and dropped out of school. It wasn't until he joined the Army that he began questioning religion, eventually deciding that he couldn't follow any faith.

But he feared how that would look to other soldiers.

"I was ashamed to say that I was an atheist," Hall said.

It eventually came out in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight. Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said.

"I said, 'No, but I believe in Plexiglas,' " Hall said. "I've never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I'm worm food."

The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall's allegations.

Hall said he had had enough but feared that he wouldn't get support from Welborn's superiors. He turned to Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation ...

"The average American doesn't have enough intestinal fortitude to tell someone to shut up if they are talking in a movie theater," Weinstein said. "You know how hard it is to take on your chain of command? This isn't the shift manager at KFC."

Hall was in Qatar when the lawsuit was filed September 18 in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. Other soldiers learned of it, and he feared for his own safety. Once, Hall said, a group of soldiers followed him, harassing him, but no one did anything to make it stop.

The Army told him it couldn't protect him and sent him back to Fort Riley. He resumed duties with a military police battalion. He believes that his promotion to sergeant has been blocked because of his lawsuit, but he is a team leader responsible for two junior enlisted soldiers.

No one with Fort Riley, the Army or that Defense Department would comment about Hall or the lawsuit. Each issued statements saying that discrimination will not be tolerated regardless of race, religion or gender.

"The department respects [and supports by its policy] the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs," said Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense...

Lt. Col. David Shurtleff, a Fort Riley chaplain, declined to discuss Hall's case but said chaplains accommodate all faiths as best they can. In most cases, religious issues can be worked out without jeopardizing military operations.

"When you're in Afghanistan and an IED blows up a Humvee, they aren't asking about a wounded soldier's faith," Shurtleff said.

Hall said he enjoys being a team leader but has been told that having faith would make him a better leader.

"I will take care of my soldiers. Nowhere does it say I have to pray with my soldiers, but I do have to make sure my soldiers' religious needs are met," he said.

"Religion brings comfort to a lot of people," he said. "Personally, I don't want it or need it. But I'm not going to get down on anybody else for it." ...

Take a moment to think about the statement that Hall was told - "faith would make him a better leader". Does giving up control of your life to a higher power make it easier to be a leader of others? Let's look at the dictionary definition of leader: "a person or thing that leads." It doesn't say, "a person or thing that follows". I'm not saying that religious people cannot be leaders of men. I'm just trying to point out that there is nothing that necessarily makes them more suitable to lead than an atheist.

It's not faith specifically that binds us, but rather common interests or concerns. Faith may be one of those concerns, but it doesn't have to be the only one. Especially in a wartime environment, the overriding concern should be surviving and taking care of each other.

The misconception that those without faith are less suitable lead may arise out of the belief that those without faith are without morals. Hall obviously cares about his fellow soldiers and is respectful of their beliefs - two things that seem considerably more important for leadership than faith. Because he doesn't believe in God doesn't mean he doesn't have morals.

It's ironic that a lot of soldiers find solace in religion while performing acts that fly in the face of a lot of the teachings of the bible. Do they feel guilty and are looking for redemption? Do they believe that God absolves them of their sins? The fact that our own President casts our wars as "crusades" and uses every opportunity to stress that God is on our side certainly seems to give them moral certainty that truly isn't there.

One last thing that I'd like to highlight in this article is this passage:

Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and -- just as severe to some soldiers -- gay ...

Demonization of people who have different beliefs seems to be endemic of this administration and many in the military. If we cast even Americans with different views in this light, imagine what we do with those of a different culture and darker skin. Is it any wonder that we don't understand Muslim culture and continue to exacerbate conflicts in the Middle East?

-------------------------------------------------

I'm consistently amazed that people are more distrustful of atheists than any other group. The article I link to talks about the study that most of us have heard of before. This particular article is amusing (unintentionally so) because of it's additional quotes and comments by local people. Here's my favorite:

Cole Ries, the president of the Maranatha Christian Fellowship said, "I don't believe that anybody is really an atheist. I believe that deep down everyone knows there is a god."

I know this is just one person, but it that really the perception of a lot of Christians? That's really scary if it is ... and delusional. I'm sure that most atheists don't hold to the same type of logic in their view of Christians. For ex. Nobody is really a Christian ... deep down they all know there is no God. While I don't believe in God, I would not deign to suggest that most Christians don't truly believe there is a God. I know there are some practicing Christians (and Jews) that do not believe in God but follow along out of societal or social pressures, but they are certainly not the rule.

-------------------------------------------------

For more in the the atheism/religion vein, Cyberkitten at Seeking a Little Truth and Jewish Atheist have typically good posts on their blogs this week:

Even More Good Quotes

Common Causes of Deconversion

"Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions. -- Blaise Pascal

7 comments:

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad asked: I know this is just one person, but it that really the perception of a lot of Christians?

I don't know if its the attitude of *lots* of Christians - but I have come across the idea many times since I began Blogging. Some Christians certainly believe that non-belief in God is actually impossible & that atheists are either lying to them or lying to themselves (but in their heart of hearts *really* know that God exists). That sounds deeply psychotic to me - but then again I think that belief in God is pretty strange to begin with! [laughs]

Thanks for the link (again).

Laura said...

Sadly this is not the only case of this happening, it's just receiving the attention it deserves because this soldier is taking legal action. There were videos out a few years ago that were leaked showing training seminars for troops that included Christian indoctrinations.

The sad irony is that these troops are supposedly defending our freedoms and our constitution - which specifically prohibits the actions the military has taken. These soldiers give up a great deal of their freedoms and liberties to serve in the military. The least the government can do is protect the freedoms the troops are allowed to have. It's insulting.

wunelle said...

Welcome to George Bush's America. He didn't invent the issues, but he's done everything in his power to turn the clock back to the dark ages.

This is the inevitable result when you have people--admittedly, smart, capable people--with little balanced, liberal education. This is where ROTC and other school programs come in: they are indoctrinated from day one and, like a 12-step program, they are glued together by the easy association with some "larger thing." If we choose the constitution and our body of laws--concepts conceived as separate from our religious faiths (it's what separates our governments from so many of the governments of human history)--then we have to do a whole bunch of educating.

So let's just tap into the larger thing that they already carry with them. It doesn't hurt if we convince them that their religion gives us sanction for our actions.

Voila! Crusade.

Sadie Lou said...

"Take a moment to think about the statement that Hall was told - "faith would make him a better leader". Does giving up control of your life to a higher power make it easier to be a leader of others? Let's look at the dictionary definition of leader: "a person or thing that leads." It doesn't say, "a person or thing that follows". I'm not saying that religious people cannot be leaders of men. I'm just trying to point out that there is nothing that necessarily makes them more suitable to lead than an atheist."

I, obviously, would have to disagree with you. Some of the qualities I admire in good leaders are their abilities to be humble, self sacrificing and accountable.
When a leader also subjects himself to the authority of someone else--that leader tends to have a better handle on both sides of the fence. He understands.
Accountability is key to leadership. You want a leader that doesn't just answer to his own judgment. You want a leader that feel comfortable voicing his choices to someone that he trusts and then gaining wisdom or insight from someone he "submits" to/respects.
Some of the world's worst leaders didn't answer to anyone and had a horrible ego problem.
~Sadie
(Hello!)

dbackdad said...

There's no one that I enjoy disagreeing with me more than you Sadie. Good to hear from you. Hope you and the family are well.

Sadie Lou said...

We ARE doing well! Thanks for asking. I assume you and yours are plugging right along?
*hugs*
~Sadie

dbackdad said...

Yep, getting ready for summer. Alex has one more week of school.

*hugs* back at ya.