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Monday, May 25, 2009

On Memorial Day...

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day when we should all pause to remember, and give thanks to, those who have worn the uniform of our armed forces and fought in the service of our country. Whether we agreed with the decisions of our government or not, it is nevertheless the case that some among us must carry arms and risk their own lives to carry out the orders of our duly elected government.* Military service does not sanctify a person, but it sure as hell deserves recognition.**

On this Memorial Day, in lieu of any raving of my own, please enjoy this very well written essay by a serving member of the United States Navy who tells us about his childhood, some of his experiences in the Navy, and his love of these United States. And how all of these are colored by his atheism:

Once I accepted that this life is it and came to terms with it, the idealistic principles of making the world a better place became much more focused. I became a more liberal person. When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, my being a liberal as well as an Atheist was like I lived in Sodom and summered in Gomorrah to my family. Just before the election one of my brothers sent me email stating, “You are the enemy. Goodbye.” He then deleted me from his MySpace account. Then my mother called to disown me as her son. That conversation was painful. Not only did she disown me but said that I do not deserve to wear the uniform of a U.S. military service member because I had betrayed the Constitution of the United States, a document I swore to protect. I know what our constitution and our other founding documents say, and when I asked my mother how, specifically, I had betrayed our country, she couldn’t answer. I think the reason for that is that she has a religious idea of what the United States is about, not based on any particular item included by our founding fathers. It is true that America still faces an identity crisis, one that in my opinion will soon be resolved. Our country was founded on freedom and liberty, and I stand, now and always, behind those principles. In fact, I have discovered that the very reason to found a country on those principles was to preserve and protect the pool of ideas which have made our country great.

That wasn’t the first time I was attacked for my atheism or liberalism. The U.S. military attracts many fundamentalist Christians. About five years ago, I had a roommate (a military colleague) who saw himself as a kind of Crusader for Christ serving in the army of God. This is not a fabrication of his ideology. He once told me that the historical Crusades were a “just and noble time for Christianity” – his words, not mine. Others have joined our military for this same reason. While I was his roommate, he was intent on trying to convert me back to Christianity. He had been a philosophy major, so I can see how it became frustrating for him when, time after time, I defended my position. He once got so frustrated that his response was to tell me that I shouldn’t be in the military since, as an atheist, I had no bearing on right and wrong; argumentum ad hominem. Eventually we ended up in an altercation in which he punched me in the face and broke my nose. I am not one to go around and tell everyone around me what my views are or to create division so let me be clear: This guy meant to convert or destroy me. Though uncommon in the majority of American society, this type of person is much more common in our military.

To all veterans, regardless of race, color, or creed: Thank you.

* Seriously, folks. Even if we disagree with the war, we should be grateful to our soldiers for carrying out their orders. Because a military that doesn't follow the orders of the civilian government is- historically speaking- a Very Bad Thing.

** If you've never done this before, find a veteran today and shake his or her hand. The experience is definitely worth the time.

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