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← A Religious Military? Spiritual Fitness Test or Rationality Fitness Test?

Enkidu90046's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by Enkidu90046

I think there are more atheist members of the military than you might realize. Back in January of 1994, I joined the United States Marine Corps, not as an officer, but in the enlisted ranks (despite my college education). I, like every other Marine, had to complete basic training. USMC basic training is very unlike boot camp in the other branches and Marine Drill Instructors are renowned for their in-your-face, high-stress methods of making basic Marines. They are often much-feared, particularly during your first weeks in boot camp.

I am (and was) a Jewish Atheist. At some point, probably the first Sunday of boot camp, we were asked for our religious preferences. We had one Muslim Marine, one Buddhist Marine, one Jewish Atheist Marine (me), and the rest either Catholic or Protestant. We were basically told that we would attend some form of religious services. I objected, which, you must understand is not something you are encouraged to do in USMC boot camp.

I was punished by being forced to stand at attention for the entirety of that first Sunday while various groups headed out for services. I endured, but at the first opportunity requested to speak with the senior drill instructor (the punishment was handed out by one of the assistant DIs). I told him that I refused to be singled out for punishment because of my lack of religious belief and that I would endure anything that the USMC asked of me, but if this continued, I would make sure to "request mast" to go to the next level of the chain of command.

From that point onward, I was no longer forced to either go to religious services or be punished. Basically, I got all of Sunday to myself (mostly spent polishing, studying, cleaning my gear, working out, etc.) Soon after, about a half dozen or so other Marines began to choose not to attend services either.

There were actually no repercussions from my act of disobedience other than on the first day. I was rapidly promoted to being a squad leader and later. During the course of boot camp, on more than one occasion when I was alone in the presence of one or more DI (including the one who had punished me) they actually talked to me like a human being and, amazingly enough, asked my advice on getting through to some of the slower Marines. Following boot camp, I had an opportunity to run into the senior DI and we had breakfast together. He, a devout Catholic told me how much respect he and the other DIs had for me because I was unafraid to stand up for my beliefs (or lack thereof). I am sure that the fact that I was a damned good Marine helped me, but it is amazing how all it takes is one voice to speak up and you will find kindred spirits and even admiration among those who don't share your skepticism.

On a side note, when I was a squad leader, I got wind of the fact that several marines planned to give the slowest Marine there (who was always getting us in trouble) a "blanket party." Interestingly, this slow Marine was the most devoutly religious Marine I remember at boot camp. Nothing the DIs did seemed to shape him up. All the would-be members of the "blanket party" (save one) were also part of the religious Marines. Yet I, the atheist Marine, was the one who stood up to them and told them that if they were going to harm the slow Marine, they would have to get past me first (I was soon joined by several other Marines, both religious and non-religious, who agreed to stand guard over the would-be victim).

But I guess I wouldn't be able to pass the spiritual fitness test of today's military. That is sad.

Mon, 20 Aug 2012 22:26:32 UTC | #951083