Believing doesn't always mean thinking
Here we go again. A small group of veterans erected a cross at Camp Pendleton to commemorate Major Zembiec, Major Mendoza, Lance Corporal Austin, and Lance Corporal Zurheide. All were once stationed at the huge base, and all were killed in action.
And once again we see protesters. And the argument is underway. The question they will be asked is do they have a moral right to protest a sacred symbol erected to commemorate fallen heroes.
The first to raise a voice in protest was Jason Torpey, himself a veteran. Jason is a graduate of West Point. He served in both Kuwait and Iraq, and he is an atheist. Jason knows what it is for any nonbeliever to serve in an institution as resolutely religious are our Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
Jason is now president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, an outfit started by an old friend of mine, Kathleen Johnson, now a retired Army sergeant.
Jason was quoted by the North County Times as saying, "No cross or statue of Jesus represents military service. Military service is being exploited to secure unconstitutional Christian privilege. His arguments were echoed by Debbie Allen, head of the San Diego Coalition of Reason, a partnership of fifteen local secular organizations. "We must be faithful to the first amendment to the US Constitution . . . after all, all soldiers take an oath to defend it."
I'm with these folks, both sentimentially and as a member of both their groups. I am a Navy Veteran who served his country in uniform for nearly twenty-three years. Of course, I mourn the loss of all my fallen veterans. Although I'm no longer religious I can understand the comfort those who are get from symbols of their own religion.
But does it hurt that somone wants to use a symbol of religion to honor their buddies? With so many crosses, all around the county. What does one more matter. A single cross can't hurt much. Neither could the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school. Neither could opening a school session with a prayer invoked over the loud speaker. Our money spends quite as well with our national motto emblazoned with "In God We Trust."
The constitutions of Arkansas, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee forbid any non believer from holding office of any sort, but I don't live in any of those states. So why should I worry about it?
All these things are defended by "oh what does it hurt?" And they don't, not if they are taken separately.
But taken as a whole, we hear the incorrect and dangerous words "we are a Christian nation." Many Supreme Court Decisions have determined that to be untrue. The Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, signed by President John Adams and approved by the Congress affirmed it.
It is dangerous because nations basing laws, treaties, and wars on religion rather than on facts lead almost always has led to irrational acts, acts which cannot be challenged by facts or any sort of rational thinking. A glance at history shows us crusades, inquisitions, book burning, and countless wars done in the name of one god or another.
And it continues to this day. Despite the outrageous claims of many, those guys who flew airplanes into buildings were not atheists.
Neither was the man who ordered the retaliation against the act of 9/11 who once claimed his told him to bomb Baghdad.
Some religious based laws would forbid acts which would save women's lives in order to keep a fetus alive.
When religion holds sway we see laws, treaties, foreign policy decisions all made on religion. Take embryonic stem cells. The religious belief that a soul was put in each stem cell stymied support for this research on them for years. This despite the fact that only research could discover treatment, perhaps cures, for our some of our most dreaded diseases.
Or how about the actions of a recent administration that aid to some countries would be denied if they even thought of abortion, even to save a woman's life.
The solution to our many problems isn't simple, but our attempt to find it should not be acceptance of dogma. .
// Keith Taylor is a retired Navy officer living in Chula Vista. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org //