I was originally going to write this posting as scathing critique of an event held on base here locally yesterday.  I was waiting for the event to be over in order to not draw any additional press for the event.  My criticism actually has nothing to do with the subject of the event, I was all for it, what it the source of my ire stems around is the things that have transpired over the last two years to bring this thing to a conclusion.  I actually have some intimate knowledge of the course of events that led to the less than stellar outcome, and I had intended to bring to light some of the truths that had been ignored because a greater community of organizations felt the need to support the organizer(s) of this event, despite the collective knowledge that what they were doing was not going to generate the support and outreach they would rather have as part of their philosophies.

Before we go on, I just want to say, where possible I am going to talk in generalities.  I will try to limit the names, of people and organizations, at least for the negative part of the post.  I really do not feel like dealing with the vitriol that comes with the feelings of inadequacy that come when the result is a sparkler instead of the mushroom cloud you had intended.   I will provide as many web links as I can at the end of this piece so you can fill in the blanks.

A few caveats on my personal position as well.  I am a soldier.  I am a secularist.  As such I am a firm believer in the separation of religion from government.  I am a firm believer in a person can hold whatever beliefs they want and I try to maintain friendships with people of multiple faiths and beliefs.  I believe that any event that is held in an exclusionary manner is doomed to fail.

The intent of the event held yesterday was to allow non-theists everywhere to have a place to gather in what was to be a “groundbreaking” event on a military installation.  The event was held in protest to an evangelical christian event, held in the same location almost two years ago.  Yesterdays event, which had a few hundred people show up was originally to be held last Spring, but was cancelled by the organizer (a soldier) because they were offered the use of a theater to hold the venue in because the cost analysis done by the base determined they would not draw enough of a crowd in order for the base to provide any offset funding.  This was felt to be a slight and the event was cancelled and eventually held yesterday.  Just to provide a little clarity, based off the number of people who showed yesterday, had they used the same theater, rather than the enormous parade field they so desperately fought (and paid for through an outside donor), they  would have had a standing room only event that would have been larger than the venue the headline speaker, Richard Dawkins, spoke at the evening before.  A little more comparison, the event the evening before was a paid ticket event and sold out, the free event yesterday actually went over the initial $50,000 donation by $20,000.

I could go into what the initial plan was for holding a counter-evangelical event.  I will not, but to say that it was not going to be exclusionary in any means, was going to be a celebration of 1st Amendment freedoms, it was simply going to be sponsored by an Atheist group, and invitations were going to be extended to multi-faith organizations to participate.  The event that happened yesterday was the antithesis of what was originally planned and as such that was the core of what went wrong.

The exclusionary concept of yesterday’s event was the brainchild of a soldier who feels he needs to speak out for the rights of ALL members of the military who hold beliefs contrary to Christian-Judeo, or anything that is not recognized by the chaplaincy.  He has launched numerous criticisms and diatribes against the military and specifically the Army on his road to the “Event”.  He has developed a group of followers that hang on his every word as if he is the repository of all knowledge in military issues and the force of change needed to bring freedom to the masses from oppression by the vile chaplaincy.  Unfortunately, all his followers have done is help enlarge an ego and aid in removing his inhibitions about lashing out, when instead what he should have done was seek out a mentor that could have guided him in ways to address his issues in a positive manner, rather than calling negative attention to himself and his cause.  Instead he present himself and his group more as rebellious teenagers, acting out their angst and anger against authority rather than a harbinger for change.

I could point out all the glaring deficiencies in the planning and execution for yesterdays event, but I will not.  Instead what I will do is speak of an event that also happened here in North Carolina yesterday, and about everything it did right.  I will also speak of an event held in Washington D.C. last week, also a success and what it did to become one.

In stark contrast to the couple of hundred that showed up for the non-theist event, 60,000 free tickets were given out for an event at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration.  The event was sponsored by the NC Association of Broadcasters and the USO of NC.  Why was this event a success, despite the same foul weather?  It was a success because it was in honor of something.  It was a success because it included everyone, Vietnam veterans, current military, civilians, organizations that have habitually supported and sponsored the military.  Most of all, the event was a success because the organizers used positivity to draw a crowd and to honor people who at one time were spit on, cursed and reviled for their service to the country.  This was just one of several events that have already or will happen this year for Vietnam veterans, all of which are 40 years late.

Last weekend in Washington D.C., the Reason Rally was held on the mall with the stage centered around the Washington Monument.  Upwards of 30,000 people of secular and non-theist beliefs showed up to hear speakers, musicians and see other events and attend more formal gatherings.  Unlike the event yesterday, there were protesters allowed, and they were dwarfed by the crowd.  From reports of people I know who attended, it was very peaceful and the counter groups more often than not greeted each other and had some spirited verbal sparring.  One of the beautiful things about being American, that can happen.  Why was this event a success, despite the fact it did not gain the national media attention one would expect?  It was simply an inclusion event.  Yes, it was hosted by non-theistic organizations, but many people who spoke at and endorsed the event were religious and in the government.  Again, one of those beautiful things about being an American.

I have stated before that I  do not like religion, but this is for me.  I have my beliefs and my convictions, and my moral compass has never guided me wrong.  My children are free to make up their own minds on things and I have no problems providing what they ask for or even attending any event they may want to, even if it runs counter to my personal beliefs.  I came across an article in the Military section of the local paper today.  No matter what my personal beliefs may be, the well written article touched me. I can, however, see the organizer of yesterdays event scoffing at the content, because from experience being around him, it is what he does.  Please read the article here: Soldier Came Home to Die .  I do not think I could adequately describe the last 11 months for this family.  I do however, admire the strength of character of SGT Jarboe to not only want to be home, in America, before he died, but to want to be surrounded by his young wife and children.  I admire the strength of the family that it took to be there for those many months as well.  The reason I bring this up is, despite the story of a fellow soldier who was felled in battle and the 11 additional months he and his family were able to spend together, the exclusionists would have stopped when it began mentioning faith and prayer, simply because it runs counter to their beliefs.  That is shameful.

There is no place for exclusivity in the military.  Cliche as it may sound, it is a brotherhood (sisters included, but since I am on a cliche roll, sorry).  That brotherhood consists of all manner of people and the beliefs they bring with them.  Exclusivity is for elitists and at some point in time that same lack of diversification eventually leads to the downfall of the group.  The Army and our sister services are effective through tradition, discipline and the evolution of the principles that have been effective for us through our history.  Inclusion has strengthened us through time, from racial integration in the 1950’s to gender barriers beginning to be thrown away in the 1970’s, even to the removal of DADT just last year.  We are the sum of our parts.  At different times, different parts may be the main focus, and that may come with an unfair prominence compared to the other parts.  Take those supporting pieces away and the others will crumble.  That is the problem with exclusivity and the practice of exclusion.

Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration


  1. geriweaver says:

    Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I am amazingly impressed by your ability to maintain restraint. Love you always, and proud beyond words.


  2. […] A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Atheist festival that happened on Fort Bragg and the things I observed as what went wrong in bringing it to its lackluster conclusion.  Feel free to brush up here The Exclusion Delusion. […]


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