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Where Did God Go in Afghanistan? An Atheist Writes.
New York Times ^ | 11/18/2010 | Kathleen Johnson

Posted on 11/18/2010 7:03:06 AM PST by SeekAndFind

On Nov. 5, 2010, I read an article titled “Where Did God Go in Afghanistan?” by Capt. Michael Cummings. Captain Cummings, who reported his thoughts concerning sparse attendance at religious services in Afghanistan, speculated as to why so few soldiers were willing to attend these services. He stated that he personally could not imagine anyone being in combat without a belief in God, but theorized that being openly religious wasn’t “cool” enough for modern troops and that’s why they failed to attend religious services that were arranged for them.

Throughout his heartfelt article, it was clear that he was distressed by the seeming lack of overt religious practice in combat theater and was bewildered by the cause.

I, however, as an atheist who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, viewed his experience as a reason to hope that the problem of religious coercion in the military has perhaps reached a peak and is starting to subside, at least in some places under some commanders. It has been a few years since I last served in a combat zone (my last redeployment was after a tour in Iraq near the end of 2007), but what Captain Cummings reported was far, far different than the situation I remembered from both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In both combat theaters, I recall endless and constant mandatory prayer circles being held by small units before military operations at which unit members who elected not to participate risked harassment, rebukes from their peers and supervisors, and even punishments. I recall dining halls decorated with bible verses, units adorned with bibles, and meetings started with Christian prayers. I recall the panic in a young soldier’s voice when he called me to tell me how his approved social meeting of military atheists was intentionally disrupted by an Army officer

(Excerpt) Read more at atwar.blogs.nytimes.com ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: afghanistan; atheism; atheist; god
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kathleen Johnson is the Vice President of American Atheists and founder of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. She is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and retired as a First Sergeant after more than 20 years service. She is now a Department of the Army civilian. This is her response to the At War post ‘Where Did God Go in Afghanistan?’ by Capt. Michael Cummings.
1 posted on 11/18/2010 7:03:08 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

As an atheist, this author chooses NOT to attend a public prayer meeting.

Her argument is public piety does not always correspond with private virtue. The faithful who choose not to attend these meetings practice their faith as a private relationship between them and the deity of their choice, as they should, with no coercion or interference. And for some, perhaps the horrors of war have shown them that there is no benevolent, loving god guiding the universe and they choose not to pretend to believe otherwise.

She is against an environment where service members are strongly “encouraged” to attend religious meetings through the implied threat of negative consequences should they fail to conform.

She wants the officers in the military to recognize that religious coercion is a blight that destroys morale, creates conflict, and turns friends into foes. I truly hope we are starting to see the end of those days.


2 posted on 11/18/2010 7:06:24 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

Is she married, with several children?


3 posted on 11/18/2010 7:11:40 AM PST by SamuraiScot
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To: SeekAndFind
She wants the officers in the military to recognize that religious coercion is a blight that destroys morale, creates conflict, and turns friends into foes. I truly hope we are starting to see the end of those days.

I, for one, am confused. Do you want to see the end of those days in which religious coercion is a blight that destroys morale, etc., or do you want to see the end of those days where nosy athiest reporters try to bias the story to suggest that religious effort is essentially coercive (when it is not)?

Just asking', brotha'. :)

4 posted on 11/18/2010 7:11:40 AM PST by BelegStrongbow (St. Joseph, patron of fathers, pray for us!)
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To: SeekAndFind

“The real irony is that commanders like these truly believe they have the duty and right to force their faith on others”

If this has been this former First Sergeant’s experience, I hope - and pray - that she brought her concern to the chain of command and/or the IG. As a sold-out, born-again believer in Jesus Christ, I know (based on scripture) that Christ has no use for coerced “followers”. That’s what they call Islam.

Colonel, USAFR


5 posted on 11/18/2010 7:14:25 AM PST by jagusafr ("We hold these truths to be self-evident...")
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To: SeekAndFind

I can only speak to my own observances. Yes, in the military there are a lot of very religious and committed Christians. However, I was never in a command where the climate was one of forced participation in religious services, even in a combat zone. Being a nominal Christian I never felt forced to participate or not participate in religious services by anyone. I remember having an Egyptian Marine who was a muslim (a nominal one at that) who the unit went out of their way to accomodate. This was long before 9/11.


6 posted on 11/18/2010 7:15:48 AM PST by Old Teufel Hunden
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To: BelegStrongbow

This must go by unit. I went to war and, although the environment was quite religion-friendly, it was not in any way coercive. I even thanked the chaplain for obtaining a bunch of paperback books for us to read during downtime. The books were generic, not religious, and didn’t come with any catch like attending a service or such. The chaplain deeply cared about the morale of all troops, not just the religious ones.

However, this isn’t the first story I’ve heard about a coercive unit that alienates the non-religious, through news sources and within the Army.


7 posted on 11/18/2010 7:20:50 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: Old Teufel Hunden

as someone whos been there, i can say that some people in the chain of command do try and force it on you which just pisses everyone off.

almost everyone is a christian, but we dont want it force fed to us. nor do we like mandatory church time either.

it definitely happens. more than you think.


8 posted on 11/18/2010 7:22:04 AM PST by And2TheRepublic
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To: BelegStrongbow

An old friend told me that when he was in Boot Camp he was offered a choice on his first Sunday morning. Church, or “GI Party”. He chose GI Party....and cleaned toilets with a toothbrush.


9 posted on 11/18/2010 7:29:47 AM PST by massgopguy (I owe everything to George Bailey)
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To: And2TheRepublic
"it definitely happens. more than you think."

I know this woman in the article seems to have been in the Army and I'm not sure what branch of service you were in. In the Marines, there is a procedure called requesting mast. That is the ability to jump the chain of command to speak to a CO up the chain about something going on at the unit. Obviously if you do this and it's something stupid, you'll be in a world of pooh. However, something like a unit commander forcing people to attend religious observances or ostracizing non religious people would be a valid reason to do a request mast. That's what should happen in the Marine Corps.
10 posted on 11/18/2010 7:33:41 AM PST by Old Teufel Hunden
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To: antiRepublicrat

My daughter spent 11 months in Afghanistan and my son-in-law much the same amount in Iraq. I’ll try and ask them about this when they get a chance (they are in transit to a new posting at the moment and really would not be helped by me asking something like this right now).

That said, I’m still not sure that this wasn’t push-reporting and that the non- and anti-religious are notorious for construing every encouragement to religious expression to be toxic coercion.

I happen to know a number of chaplains and what you report is what they do and how the minister. They are there for whoever under whatever circumstance and do not ask about affiliation nor do they press for any kind of particular expression of belief. What the men and women on the front lines need is confidence and reassurance. That need not involve praying (though, as a priest, I naturally tend to that kind of expression) and the chaplains I know would not insist on it lest someone who needs care decides not to seek it. That could lead to diminished morale and might lead to injury and death from despondency and lack of resolve.


11 posted on 11/18/2010 7:34:22 AM PST by BelegStrongbow (St. Joseph, patron of fathers, pray for us!)
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To: massgopguy
"An old friend told me that when he was in Boot Camp he was offered a choice on his first Sunday morning. Church, or “GI Party”. He chose GI Party....and cleaned toilets with a toothbrush."

Now that you mentioned that, this was one time where I do remember being sort of forced to a religious service. I remember our first Sunday in boot camp. They separated out the Catholics and Protestants. I don't recall any Jews or other religions. After the two were separated into two different groups, there were two recruits left over. The Senior Drill Instructor asked them what their problem was and they said they were athiest. My Senior Drill Instructor told them he has no athiest in his platoon and to get in one of the groups.
12 posted on 11/18/2010 7:37:17 AM PST by Old Teufel Hunden
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To: massgopguy

That’s funny right there, I don’t care who you are. (h/t Jeff F.)


13 posted on 11/18/2010 7:43:06 AM PST by BelegStrongbow (St. Joseph, patron of fathers, pray for us!)
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To: BelegStrongbow

Basically, if you don’t like a religious environment, then don’t join the military. The military is fine for reasonable atheists, I was an example, but militant atheists or anti-Christians just won’t be comfortable with all that religious expression going around. BTW, our chaplain educated himself about Judaism as much as he could so he could at least help out the Jewish soldiers in my unit. Rabbi chaplains are apparently kind of rare. We also had a rather outgoing pagan soldier, everybody liked him.

As with all large organizations you will eventually get bad apples, in this case commanders or chaplains who consider it their mission to make it hard for non-Christians. They’re a throwback to hundreds of years ago when it was considered acceptable for Christians to convert by the sword. This is not allowed in the Army, and the Army has mechanisms to deal with it, from going higher in the command, to the IG, to a congressional.

BTW, tell the kids thanks from me, and to keep their heads down.


14 posted on 11/18/2010 7:54:15 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: massgopguy
An old friend told me that when he was in Boot Camp he was offered a choice on his first Sunday morning. Church, or “GI Party”. He chose GI Party....and cleaned toilets with a toothbrush.

I totally forgot about that. I had that too. But since I don't think I'll go up in flames if I set foot in a church, I chose church and read a magazine during the service.

15 posted on 11/18/2010 7:56:07 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: SeekAndFind
I, however, as an atheist who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, viewed his experience as a reason to hope that the problem of religious coercion in the military has perhaps reached a peak and is starting to subside

I thank you for your service, but good grief, there isn't any "religious coercion" in the military. Me thinks you're just feeling the tug of God on your heart.

Be careful. If you continue to harden your heart, you just might get a few plagues thrown at you.

16 posted on 11/18/2010 7:56:27 AM PST by MEGoody (Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.)
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To: SeekAndFind
I, however, as an atheist who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, viewed his experience as a reason to hope that the problem of religious coercion in the military has perhaps reached a peak and is starting to subside

Show me this. I challenge you. Dumb broad.

17 posted on 11/18/2010 7:58:27 AM PST by Future Snake Eater ("Get out of the boat and walk on the water with us!”--Sen. Joe Biden)
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To: SeekAndFind

To bad we can’t enforce a return to the Military as we trained 69-77-under the guidance of leaders who knew and
respected the foundations- and taught us to consider the General Orders issued by Gen.George Washington, and similar
utterances by men of that era.Es verdad the atheist who has
rejected God and the record declared in stone would probably
reject a Moral and Religious Congress governing a Moral and
Religious people as seems true when the Articles of War were
adopted.


18 posted on 11/18/2010 7:59:39 AM PST by StonyBurk (ring)
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To: And2TheRepublic
. . .as someone whos been there, i can say that some people in the chain of command do try and force it on you which just pisses everyone off.

There are also probably some unbelievers in the chain of command who mock people of faith. It has nothing to do with the armed services, but with the individuals involved in the situation. People are people, no matter where you are.

19 posted on 11/18/2010 8:01:25 AM PST by MEGoody (Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.)
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To: jagusafr

It’s also called “free will” espoused by several theologians
and here is my contribution. http://www.theusmat.com/freewiil.htm . That theological aspect of Islam is avoided by MSM whenever a discussion of Sharia law, a suicide bombing, or Allah’s authorized killings of Christians and other “infidels” by muslims takes place .


20 posted on 11/18/2010 8:05:47 AM PST by mosesdapoet ("To punish a province Let it be ruled by a professor " Frederick The Great paraphrased)
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To: jagusafr

It’s also called “free will” espoused by several theologians
and here is my contribution.(2nd posting correction) http://www.theusmat.com/freewill.htm . That theological aspect of Islam is avoided by MSM whenever a discussion of Sharia law, a suicide bombing, or Allah’s authorized killings of Christians and other “infidels” by muslims takes place .


21 posted on 11/18/2010 8:09:46 AM PST by mosesdapoet ("To punish a province Let it be ruled by a professor " Frederick The Great paraphrased)
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To: MEGoody

absolutely right! I remember all the non-religious types crying and whining about having KP every Sunday because they weren’t going to church. so as result, many of us faithful church goers had our church services “cancelled” so we could do KP, never mind the fact that some of us had done it the day prior. All this bitching and moaning about force and coercion regarding religion is another attempt by the divisive people to do their work.... divide the faithful, God-fearing, patriots of this country.


22 posted on 11/18/2010 8:18:45 AM PST by killermedic (Git some, baby)
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To: jagusafr; BelegStrongbow
FTA: "I recall how my statement...resulted in several military members seeking me out through the government e-mail system to threaten me with rape, abuse, and murder."

Surly that's a clear, egregious, prosecutable offense. If it were prosecuted, wouldn't she have said so? If it were not, why not? Because she didn't take it seriously enough, at the time, to prosecute? Because the evidence was weak or nonexistent? Because it didn't happen?

I'd really like to know. Those who make coercive threats need to be tried and punished. Why didn't this happen?

23 posted on 11/18/2010 8:30:48 AM PST by Mrs. Don-o ("You can observe a lot just by watchin' " . --- Yogi Berra)
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A little off topic, but not entirely since it seems we’re talking about coercion - are soldiers ever told who or what party to vote for?

A student told me that a friend in the military said that his platoon was told to ‘vote Republican.’ While I appreciate the extra votes, I don’t want them at the threat of harassment or without thought. Does anyone think this is true?

Of course, we know the Dims round up union folks and tell them to vote Dim, but since no one knows how you vote anyway, does this kind of ‘coercion’ even matter?


24 posted on 11/18/2010 8:34:57 AM PST by radiohead (Buy ammo, get your kids out of government schools, pray for the Republic.)
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To: antiRepublicrat
tell the kids thanks from me, and to keep their heads down.

Wilco. Thanks for the conversation, twas good to chat about this.

25 posted on 11/18/2010 8:36:04 AM PST by BelegStrongbow (St. Joseph, patron of fathers, pray for us!)
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To: SeekAndFind

Lack of attendance at services sponsored by the Chaplain’s Corps may be a matter of soldiers wanting full-blooded Christianity, rather than lack of belief.

I have a godson whom I catechized who found the Orthodox Church while serving as an Air Force EOD-tech in Afghanistan.

Of course, the Orthodox are the only Christians to have an actual church in Afghanistan: the Romanians built one in their main base.


26 posted on 11/18/2010 8:44:47 AM PST by The_Reader_David (And when they behead your own people in the wars which are to come, then you will know. . .)
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To: Mrs. Don-o

Perhaps because it never occurred? My experience has been that “reasonable” atheists tend to make stuff up to make their position seem more vulnerable than it really is, and it’s always great to look brave in the face of harsh attacks by violent Christians, don’cha know...

Colonel, USAFR


27 posted on 11/18/2010 8:59:07 AM PST by jagusafr ("We hold these truths to be self-evident...")
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To: SeekAndFind
The fool has said in his heart,"There is no God." They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.

God looks down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek God

Everyone of them has turned aside they have together become corrupt;

there is none who does good, no, not one.

Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up My people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God? Psalm 53:1-4

Why do the nations rage and the people plot a vain thing?

The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed saying,

Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us."

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh..Ps 2:1-3

If atheists wish to be atheists, let them go. I know in my heart who is God, no one can convince me otherwise. Nevertheless, God has spoken in His word to those who refuse to acknowledge him. It's a choice, a freedom of volition. Some ask me, " I must see to believe." I say " You must believe to see." The debate cannot end until death.

28 posted on 11/22/2010 8:16:54 AM PST by Karliner (Now this is not the end. .... But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning, Churchill 1942)
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