This I Believe

David - Vista, California
Entered on January 12, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

When I was in basic training in the Navy, back in 1975, we would get Sunday mornings off to attend religious services. We were to assemble below the appropriate banner. The largest group was the Catholics. There were also Mormons, Baptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, various other Protestants, and Jews.

There was no assembly point for Atheists and Agnostics, so I lined up with the Catholics. I mistakenly believed that those that didn’t attend would be put on work details. I later discovered that this was not true. Those that stayed behind got to goof off. I only made that long, lock-step march to chapel once.

We were issued dog tags embossed with name, rank, serial number, blood type and religion. The form we had to fill out for this did not list Atheist and Agnostic as choices. The only choice we had was to check “no preference”. There were no write in choices. I was raised Catholic, but checked no preference, and was assigned Lutheran by the Navy. One guy in our company attempted to write in Atheist. He was yelled at by our superiors, and given extra duty as punishment. Fortunately, that guy, Rick, was alphabetically ahead of me, so I knew better than to try it.

I would get to know Rick fairly well because we were both part of the small, Sunday morning, stay behind, bull session. He was thoughtful and intelligent, if a bit crazy in a “take on city hall” kind of way.

One day we awoke to find Rick at attention with his nose to the wall. We were told rather forcefully that he was not to be spoken to. When we returned from breakfast, he was gone. I never saw him again.

I never learned the nature of Rick’s crime. I suspect that it involved some sort of self expression. I don’t think he was gay. That did get two other guys the nose to the wall treatment. In those cases we were actually told that they were. . . well, they used two “f” words to describe it.

I have referred to atheists and agnostics without revealing which I am. In order to do so, it’s important for me to explain what these two words mean to me first.

An atheist is a believer. Someone who believes there is no God. An agnostic is not a believer. Someone who questions the existence of God. I can now say that I am an agnostic. In the last several years, as my values have evolved, I have tried to avoid expressing belief. Often, I would catch myself using the expression “the truth is. . .” I try hard to avoid doing that too.

There were headlines recently of cadets at the Air Force Academy being coerced to adopt fundamentalist Christianity. I guess I value freewill and reason so much, that I cannot be forced to believe.

I do not believe. I know. There are atheists (and agnostics) in proverbial foxholes. I was one of them.