Tag Archives: Atheist

Military atheists get ready to ‘rock beyond belief’

By Kimberly Winston
Religion News Service

Justin Griffith, 29, is a sergeant in the US Army and an atheist, to which his "A" tattoo alludes. Recently named as Military Director of American Atheists, Griffith is trying to get atheists more respect within the military and has organized a pro-atheism event, Rock Beyond Belief, at Fort Bragg, where he is stationed. RNS photo courtesy Ted Richardson.

After more than a year of planning, atheists in the military will stage a public festival and rock concert celebrating their lack of religious beliefs at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases.

Dubbed “Rock Beyond Belief,” the event is believed to be the first of its kind to highlight “freethought” — atheism, humanism and skepticism — on a U.S. military base.

Organizers hope the March 31 event will lead to broader recognition and support of nonbelievers in the armed forces, where they say they receive little support and often discrimination from an overly Christianized military.

“This is perhaps the first step in a new direction away from the evangelical proselytism that has permeated the military for decades,” said Sgt. Justin Griffith, an atheist serving at Fort Bragg and the event’s chief organizer.

Griffith said the concert is a “bitter pill” for some of his superiors on base, which is home to the storied 82nd Airborne Division, “but they get it. They are supporting us and I am really proud of them.”

The event, which will be open to the public, will include music and public speakers, including Richard Dawkins, a best-selling author of several books, including “The God Delusion.” Base officials expect approximately 5,000 people to attend.

How many of those will be atheists is an open question. According to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, which analyzed a Department of Defense census, Christians account for 68 percent of the military population, while those who state “no religious preference” make up the second-largest group, at 23 percent. Those who choose to have “atheist” stamped on their dog tags account for less than 1 percent.

Many military nontheists report being the unwelcome targets of proselytism, sometimes by superiors, and complain of compulsory religious prayers and practices at official events. One area of growing concern is the mandatory assessment of soldiers’ “spiritual fitness,” which they say is both unconstitutional and an attempt to proselytize.

“If you are a nonreligious soldier, you are a third-class citizen in the U.S. military,” said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a military watchdog group, who will attend the event in Fayetteville, N.C.

“You are basically told that you lack intellectual integrity, courage, character and honorability . … Rock Beyond Belief is an attempt to stick a fist up in the sky and say, ‘We have our rights.'”

The idea for Rock Beyond Belief grew out of “Rock the Fort,” a Christian-themed concert held at Fort Bragg in September 2010. That event, staged by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, included Christian music, speakers and an altar call for attendees to publicly embrace or affirm their Christianity.

That upset many nonreligious service members at Fort Bragg, including Griffith, who has been an atheist for 12 years. He asked officials for equal time and support for an atheist-themed event.

Griffith said he initially met with resistance — piles of paperwork to file, approvals to obtain, proof of interest and financing plans. An agreement was reached early last year and Rock Beyond Belief was slated for April 2011. But Griffith soon canceled it.

“I felt we were not getting all of the support we were promised,” Griffith said. “We were not getting an equal level given to Rock the Fort.”

Fort Bragg officials say they asked nothing extra of Griffith that they do not ask of anyone seeking to hold an on-base event. Further complicating the process were reports by Fox News that the concert would feature the rock band Aiden, whose lyrics are perceived by some as anti-Christian.

With funding from several freethought organizations, Rock Beyond Belief was rescheduled. And while dissenting opinions about religion will likely be expressed, Griffith and base officials have agreed the content will be “family friendly.”

Still, the concert has its critics. The Associated Gospel Churches, an organization of independent evangelical churches that endorses chaplains for the military, has asked the Department of Defense to step in.

“What we want to see is the Secretary of Defense say enough of this nonsense and shut this thing off,” said Chaplain James Poe, president of AGC. “It is not in any way constructive to military discipline. It reeks with rebellion. The Army has had for years a sense of core values and this tears down those values. It is an assault on the things Army people hold most dear and it needs to stop.”

But Col. Stephen Sicinski, Fort Bragg’s garrison commander, has signed off on the concert and issued a statement, reading in part, “Fort Bragg will not discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint.”

No taxpayer money is supporting this event, a base spokesperson said, nor did any public money go toward Rock the Fort — a claim Griffith and others dispute. The base will provide security, setup, tear-down and cleanup for Rock Beyond Belief, as it did for Rock the Fort.

Griffith would like to stage similar events at other bases, especially those where Christian-themed events have been held with support from military brass. Meanwhile, he hopes Rock the Fort gives unbelievers in the military the courage to come forward and seek tolerance and acceptance.

“At the end of the day we are asking the same questions as the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians,” Griffith said. “We just have a different answer.”

Richard Dawkins says he’s not entirely sure God doesn’t exist

By Al Webb
Religion News Service

Richard Dawkins, seen here at a book signing, is the author of ``The God Delusion.'' Religion News Service file photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

LONDON — A controversial Oxford University professor billed by many as the world’s “most famous atheist” now says he is not 100 percent sure that God doesn’t exist — but just barely.

In a 100-minute debate with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Thursday (Feb. 23), Richard Dawkins surprised his online and theater audiences by conceding a personal chink of doubt about his conviction that there is no such thing as a creator.

But, to the amusement of the archbishop and others, the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was “6.9 out of seven” certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs.

Replying to moderator Anthony Kenny, a noted English philosopher, Dawkins said, “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing (is) very, very low.”

Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” and other best-sellers, is a leader of the “New Atheist” movement that aggressively challenges belief in God and criticizes harm done in the name of religion.

“What I can’t understand is why you can’t see (that life started from nothing and) is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God,” Dawkins told Williams, according to The Daily Telegraph account.

The archbishop, who heads both the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, replied that he “entirely agreed” with the “beauty” part of Dawkins’ statement — but said “I’m not talking about God as an extra who you can shoehorn onto that.”

Meet Thomas J. Brown, our atheist contributor

Thomas J. Brown

Thomas J. Brown is a 30-year-old web designer and developer. He was born and raised in Honolulu and moved to Spokane after graduating from
Punahou School. He attended Eastern Washington University where he earned a B.A. in Electronic Media and Film.

“I always joke that I went to school for the wrong thing,” says Brown of the disconnect between his education and current career. “I still love filmmaking and screenwriting, though, so it hasn’t gone to waste.”

An atheist since high school, Brown is active in Spokane’s local secular community. He is the president of the Spokane Secular Society and works closely with other non-theist groups as part of the Coalition of Reason of Spokane.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about atheism out there, and I’d like to provide a clear voice for the non-theist community in our area,” he said.