Atheists Find Drama in Military Reenlistment

US Army Sgt Justin Griffith recently posted a video of his last reenlistment.  In presenting it, he repeatedly emphasized the facts the officer was a chaplain (a “high ranking” one, at that), the “so help me God” was left out (by a chaplain!), and this confluence of events is “unheard of.”  Writing in the third person, Griffith said:

This moment is potentially historic. The military’s long-standing climate of hostility towards atheists is beginning to change. Foxhole atheists like Griffith are slamming the ‘atheist closet’ door shut behind them.

There are plenty of evangelical Christians inside and outside of the chaplaincy that are vocally opposed to equal treatment for atheists. But this video demonstrates the silent majority of Chaplains who really do ‘get it’.

While Griffith is to be congratulated on his reenlistment, and continuing service is a significant event in its own right, his ceremony wasn’t quite as dramatic as he seems to think it was.

Yes, it is an honor for an O-6 to perform a reenlistment for a junior enlisted soldier, but most officers with a personal relationship with a soldier (Griffith says they’re friends) would be willing to perform the ceremony.  Chaplains can, and do, conduct reenlistments.  (Virtually any officer can conduct a reenlistment, and generally troops can ask any officer to do it for them.)  It is not significant the chaplain left off “so help me God” (or earlier said “affirm,” as opposed to “swear”) since it is not a required part of the oath, and it is omitted at the request of the reenlisting soldier.

Beyond that, Griffith took the opportunity for subtle digs against the Army into which he just reenlisted.

It is a misrepresentation of the US military to say, without substantiation, it has a ”long-standing climate of hostility toward atheists.”

Griffith’s statement about “evangelical Christians” opposing “equal treatment for atheists” in the military is somewhat surprising.  While some military atheists have taken issue with US Army programs and policies, this appears to be the first time Griffith has categorically defined “evangelical Christians” as the responsible party.  Notably, the statement also depends on what one considers “equal treatment.”  To this point, atheists have demanded equal treatment with religion, which is a debate in itself.

Finally, Griffith takes the selflessness of this chaplain to make yet another dig at chaplains in general, saying this chaplain represents a “silent majority…who really do ‘get it.’”

As has been noted here many times before, the “majority” of chaplains aren’t even “silent” in their support of the religious freedom of all troops, of every religious belief, including those of non-religious belief.  Griffith creates a caricature when he claims the chaplaincy does anything but that, and it is a misrepresentation that does not benefit the Army or the military as a whole. 

Again, Sgt Griffith is to be congratulated on his reenlistment (and he’ll likely enjoy the tax-free money joked about in the video).

Contrary to his melodramatic presentation of the event, however, it was a simple ceremony representing something that happens virtually every day in the US military — whether you’re an atheist or one of those dreaded “evangelical Christians.”