Are Paganism, Atheism Growing in the US Military?
A US Army Private recently related how the pagan community at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, helped him find his way:
I graduated [training] a few weeks ago and only got to attend one gathering, It was a great experience…I was raised in an environment always surrounded in crystals and meditation, energy and magics, Reiki and healing, spirits and the like, but no words to put to what I knew…
It wasn’t until I went to the circle at Fort Jackson that I could definitively say I’m a white magic practitioner and hold pagan beliefs as far as karmic law and universal ties and energy go…
[The] soldiers form a big circle outside, under a tree. Their spiritual leader, Rachel, begins to walk clockwise around the circle, the Athame (ritual knife) held high. The soldiers’ voices swell as they chant in unison, welcoming the Guardians of the North, South, East and West. Today is a day of celebration – it’s the Fall Equinox, also known as the Witches’ Thanksgiving.
The article includes a video showing the chanting Soldiers and noting the pagan attendees outnumber Jewish soldiers on Fort Jackson.
On another site, the wiccan Sacred Well Congregation says it has been recognized by Veterans Affairs as an Ecclesiastical Endorser. While not the same thing as an endorser for the military, they view it as an important step toward having wiccan chaplains in the US military.
Meanwhile, the atheist “church” on Lackland Air Force Base boasts nearly 1,000 attendees each week, and is even hosting Bart Campolo, an atheist “evangelist,” in December. Campolo is a former Christian pastor and son of Tony Campolo, a somewhat controversial progressive Christian figure.
Are the sizes of these groups — which are notably only at two of the US military’s basic training facilities — evidence of a religious trend, or just evidence of basic trainees who will do anything to get away from their drill sergeants?
Are these evidence of an environment of religious liberty in the US military, in which a rising tide lifts all boats?
Or are these the result of an anti-Christian environment within the culture and the US military, which is minimizing Christianity so much that it actually promotes alternative faiths?
The dichotomy might not be as great as it sounds. The same religious liberty that protects the rights of troops to attend a flourishing “pagan circle” on Fort Jackson (or have their own “chapel” built at another training location on the US Air Force Academy) certainly protects the rights of troops to attend church and synagogue services of all kinds, as well.
At the same time, there is a growing hostility toward Christianity in the culture — the same culture from which the US military is drawn — that is not repeated toward other religious beliefs, making “counter-Christian” beliefs a socially popular alternative.
For example, militant atheists will spend significant effort deriding Christians for their beliefs in a “sky fairy,” yet not even seem to notice or care about US Soldiers talking about how they “practice magick” as pagans. (Rather, the anti-theists’ schadenfreude is shown in how they revel in the discomfort of Christians at the sight of these pagan displays.)
If nothing else, these displays of popular paganism and atheism indicate Christianity is not a foregone conclusion within the US military — despite optimistic declarations by some supporters and conspiratorial accusations by some critics.