Fort Bragg to Host Atheist Counter Event

Fort Bragg has reportedly agreed to host “Rock Beyond Belief,” the atheist response to last fall’s “Rock the Fort.” Rock the Fort was led by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association in September.  The RBB event is scheduled for April 2nd.  (The “other” atheist event, the “Fort Bragg Freedom Festival,” which divorced from Rock Beyond Belief in October, appears to have been abandoned due to a lack of interest.)

As noted when the push was first announced late last year, it is entirely appropriate for the military to allow its troops the freedom to exercise their faiths.  The military is made up of men and women from all walks of life, beliefs, and ideologies.  Just as Christians are permitted to gather and share their common faith, so, too, can atheists. 

While some supporters are holding their breaths as if this is a watershed event, it is essentially standard operations within the military.  The only reason such an event hasn’t happened to date has been that no one asked.

It is possible and even likely that the atheist event will come and go with little fanfare.

On the other hand, like any ideological gathering, Rock Beyond Belief may generate its own grief.  For example, some supporters of Rock Beyond Belief still seem to suffer from a kind of complex: some are still calling the original Rock the Fort “offensive” and unConstitutional, but are more than happy to take advantage of the same support for their ideology.  Thus, while ostensibly a stand-alone event, it has undertones of being a critical counter-response to the prior Christian event. 

As if to prove the contrast, while there were a chorus of calls last fall for the Army to ban Rock the Fort, no similar demands or criticism have been levied at Rock Beyond Belief.

If it doesn’t exercise intentional discretion, RBB also risks communicating a theme of “anti-theism” rather than the “pro-reason” some have said it should be.

For example, the invited RBB speakers include Richard Dawkins — who has equated religion with child abuse — and Michael Weinstein, whose repeated public comments over the past five years have focused on conspiracy theories that Christians are trying to take over the US military and institute a second Holocaust.

It will be a coup if Dawkins and Weinstein, given their “government supported platform,” can speak for any length of time on the positives of their own beliefs (or lack thereof) without denigrating others’ as they have so routinely done.

(Ironically, Weinstein has twice demanded the military ban speakers (once successfully) from voluntary events for their prior ‘divisive’ statements.  Yet, as here, he continues to speak his ‘divisive statements’ to military audiences…)

If Rock Beyond Belief can avoid those pitfalls, it may be a positive celebration of the beliefs of servicemembers, presuming, of course, servicemembers participate.  To date, it seems a large part of the interest has been from civilians.  The RBB announcement even places greater emphasis on the invitation to civilians than it does the one to military servicemembers, almost as if civilians are the primary target audience.