Atheists in the military struggle against censure and isolation
A young man walks into a chaplain's office. Ever since joining the military, he's been feeling a growing sense of alienation. He's known for years that he doesn't believe in God, but he'd like to meet others like himself -- people who are interested in discussing ethics and defining the purpose of their own lives. What will the chaplain do when this non-believer walks in the door? Quote verses from the Bible? Hand him a book by Christopher Hitchens? Or simply send him away?
Seventeen years ago, Jason Torpy was that young man. Today, he's the president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and he'll be speaking this week at a West Point conference on religious diversity. His own experience at West Point was often frustrating and lonely. When his superiors learned that he was an atheist, they responded with indifference or hostility, thwarting his attempts to build community among the non-believers.
Since that time, Torpy has watched U.S. soldiers head into battle bearing special armed forces Bibles, or even rifles stenciled with New Testament references. Torpy argues that this evangelical spirit tarnishes America's good name abroad, and it makes life as a military non-believer more isolating than ever. He spoke to TheAtlantic.com about his hopes for broader-minded, more compassionate military chaplains -- people of faith who will offer services to the faithless, or at the very least, listen respectfully without proselytizing or closing the door.