Love how they burn your synagogues…
– Lyrics by Aiden, Rock Beyond Belief lead-in act
The band Aiden has announced it will be playing the atheist festival “Rock Beyond Belief” at Fort Bragg in March 2012, as the lead-in act to Richard Dawkins, the main attraction at the “concert.”
Never heard of them? You’re not the only one. But first, take a look at what the band said in their announcement [emphasis added]:
Justin Griffith, the soldier in charge of setting this up has a very interesting story to tell. The United States military had no problems funding a christian based musical event, but when it was suggested that the large number of atheists and secular humanists who are enlisted, would like to have a function of their own choosing, the top leaders at Fort Bragg decided to pull the plug on the entire thing. Cutting the funding without any reason at all, that I can see, except that maybe christians in the Army are the only ones allowed to have fun…
They fought the law and THEY WON.
Given that they attribute their information to the soldier hosting Rock Beyond Belief, Justin Griffith, its unlikely a call to correct their misinformation would go far.
For the record (again, and again), the US military did not fund a “Christian musical event” when it hosted Rock the Fort — Christian military congregations funded it. “Top leaders at Fort Bragg” didn’t pull the plug on anything — Griffith did. Nor did anyone “cut” any funding.
Finally, they fought nothing and won nothing. Based on public information, it appears they did little more than a lot of complaining about the US military, even as Fort Bragg’s leadership remained magnanimous in the face of very public — and very personal — insults by Rock Beyond Belief supporters. Griffith finally raised money to fund the event (as a result of the publicity over his decision to cancel) and finished the appropriate paperwork, as had always been required. The only victory was the one over paper cuts.
So, once again, the US military gets drug through the mud over its decision to allow an atheist festival to be held on military grounds — and it is the participants of the festival doing the dragging, not critics of it. Graciousness is apparently a lost virtue.
As to the band itself: One of the criticisms of the original effort to launch Rock Beyond Belief was its lack of “chart-makers.” For the record, the “glam-goth” band Aiden did touch a chart a few times, including the Billboard 200 with three of their albums, though the last one was in 2009. Their actual popularity is something else, though. Their agency indicates they’ve finally crested into the “six figures” of album sales — for their album that’s six years old. They still do covers in their albums, they just lost their lead guitarist, and they no longer have a label. A few now-deleted reviews cite the sales of their latest release at as high as 800 and as low as 20 copies in the first week.
While it seems Rock Beyond Belief ultimately failed to attract a mainstream musical group, they appear to have struck gold in ideology. While not explicitly saying they are atheists, the self-described “rock/goth/punk” band has strong lyrics (language warning) on the topic of religion:
Christ died for sh–, and was a f—ing c–t
F— your God
F— your faith in the end
There’s no religion
Love how they burn your synagogues
Love how they torch your holy books
Faith whether Christian, Muslim, Jew
Still you all distort the truth
The death of fiction will save us all
(In case you think they’re using a “literary device,” their video opens with shots of burning churches. As a final touch of class, the video is filmed in a Veteran’s Cemetery.)
Note Griffith qualified the song by saying “They are in the right place.” and “Yeah. Pretty much amazing”:
In late 2010 the organizers of Rock Beyond Belief were adamant there was “no need for divisive language” or negative criticism toward religion. Griffith repeatedly pointed out the purpose of “Rock Beyond Belief” was not to be an “anti-” anything event. In fact, then-SPC Griffith originally said
We are not holding an anti-religious event. We are not holding an anti-theist, or anti-Christian event either. We are simply putting on a day of secular entertainment…
We are simply proud of who we are, and we are celebrating in a way that we wish that the Rock the Fort organizers had chosen to do so [sic]. They didn’t. So what. We are taking the high road.
He invited — and praised — a group who sings “F— your god” to an event that was not “anti-religious”?
Griffith repeated the “high road” claim at another point, specifically denying any attempt to denigrate religion:
Our festival was not going to attempt to ‘de-convert’ or ‘de-baptize’ anyone. Rather, we were going to raise awareness and tolerance of the non-religious segment of the military, while at the same time respecting other’s beliefs as private. We had no interest in telling our crowd that their current religious preference was wrong, incomplete, or in some way needing to be changed. [emphasis added]
Their emphatic and supportive choice of lead-in musical act — with its decidedly “anti-religion” “atheist anthem” that is “in the right place” for Rock Beyond Belief — contradicts those initial conciliatory tones over the past two years.
This appears to be how military atheists will “celebrate” at the US military post of Fort Bragg (which caps off a week of atheist events on the East Coast). Think the promised bouncy castles and face painting for the kids will be near the stage?
The bigger question might be whether the event risks undermining its open support by Fort Bragg. For example, Michael Weinstein and his Military Religious Freedom Foundation, with which Griffith is associated, successfully lobbied against Franklin Graham’s presence at a military base because of his previously stated ideologies.
Think the Pentagon might have issues with US soldiers at Fort Bragg “thrashing” to a group singing about “burning synagogues?”
More to the point, atheists are claiming this is all about equality. So, would religious groups be allowed to say similar things about other faiths as Aiden?
Turns out, that isn’t a hypothetical question. As was noted once already, the leadership at Fort Bragg explicitly restricted the content of the “Rock the Fort” event to which the atheists so strongly reacted. From the After Action Report on Rock the Fort:
The bands and speakers stayed within the parameters that we gave them as directed by LTG Helmick, “in other words keep it low key…share encouraging music and a gospel message with no statements that are critical of other religions.” [emphasis added]
As has been said before, atheists at Fort Bragg or anywhere else should be — and are — free to hold any event they want, so long as it is organized and run consistent with the rules, as every event must be. (Even arguably “offensive” bands have played military venues with little fanfare.)
With regard to the event itself, the presence of any drama is directly attributable to the supporters and organizers themselves. There doesn’t appear to have been a single major group or organization publicly opposing Rock Beyond Belief (as opposed to the treatment of Rock the Fort). At every opportunity they’ve laid the martyr complex on thick, claiming persecution, struggle, and triumph over “them.” (This was repeated in just the past few days, despite the fact the event has been approved without issue for nearly six months.)
The true “victim” has been the US Army, which has been demonized at almost every turn. While the group “thanked” Fort Bragg leadership at one point, they have yet to apologize for (or even correct) their mischaracterization of the Army either before that moment or since, as Aiden’s recent announcement highlights. In fact, the man who equated Fort Bragg leadership with racists and rapists is Michael Weinstein — one of the booked speakers. He has not recanted.
The US Army values and protects the rights and freedoms of its servicemembers. Organizers of Rock Beyond Belief would do well to more forcefully acknowledge and appreciate that. All they have to do is follow the same rules as everyone else, as Fort Bragg itself recently emphasized:
The sponsors of Rock Beyond Belief are undertaking this event as a private organization and will be held to the same standards as all private organization events on the installation. [emphasis added]
Think Rock Beyond Belief will be able to conduct itself without making statements “critical of other religions?” Jason Torpy of the MAAF has previously implied atheists need the freedom to denigrate.
Based on their history to date… If they can go their 9 scheduled hours with Richard Dawkins, Michael Weinstein, Aiden and others not making statements critical of other religions, it will be…a miracle.