Fort Bragg’s Rock Beyond Belief passed quietly last Saturday. While organizers had predicted a crowd of 5,000, Richard Dawkins, the main draw of the event whose “sell out” crowds were the justification for the attendance forecast, ultimately spoke to only “a couple hundred” spectators. Photos of the event show Aiden, the musical act originally billed as Dawkins’ lead-in, playing to only a few dozen who had stuck out the day. It also appeared the military base was hosting a largely civilian crowd.
Rain early in the day may have affected attendance, much as the heat affected the Christian Rock the Fort the atheist event was meant to protest. Rock the Fort reportedly drew 3,000 to 4,000 of the forecast 10,000 (and the atheists had been quick to mock the attendance numbers of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association event).
Interestingly, Col Sicinski was on site of the event and indicated the event wasn’t the controversy it may have been made out to be:
Garrison Commander Col. Stephen Sicinski…estimated that the BGEA evangelical concert generated twice as much controversy as the atheist event.
In other words, critics were far more interested in stopping the Christian event than the atheist event. It’s notable, too, that much of the controversy around the event was self-generated (and some of it was outright false), likely for sympathy and publicity. Just a few days before the event, for example, lead organizer Justin Griffith claimed the US Army wanted to starve homeless veterans and decried the attempt by an Army Chaplain to cancel his event — except the Chaplain wrote the letter nearly two months ago, and it never once asked the Army to cancel the event. In fact, it did the opposite.
As an aside, Justin Griffith has forcefully promoted the canard that atheists are “banned” from meeting on post, “even in a gazebo.” His commander, Col Sicinski, had an interesting retort to that atheist-generated “controversy” [emphasis added]:
Col. Sicinski said that any group of soldiers, including atheists, can meet on the installation for any reason, they just need to ask.
“I haven’t been asked for them to actually get space somewhere on post to do regular meetings,” said Sicinski. “If they want to be recognized as a distinctive faith group, that’s a question that needs to be answered by the Department of Defense…”
Military leaders have said before they cannot answer questions that are not asked. But, as noted before, Griffith isn’t looking for atheists to have a space to meet on post (even a gazebo). He wants to copy what the Christians are doing. Apparently, atheists admire Christians enough to emulate them.
Back at Rock Beyond Belief, Griffith expressed grave concern over the consequences of insufficient attendance at the event [formatting original]:
But all of that fails if we have a low attendance.
Well, attendance was low…but it wasn’t a failure. Yes, it showed that Fort Bragg was correct in its initial analysis of the event (when it offered the 700-seat theatre as more appropriate in size and for the speaker/singer format). That’s a learning point for Griffith, as many things have been over the past two years. More importantly, however, it showed the lengths to which the US military will go to support military members, even when they represent a small minority.
Those who profess atheism (that is, lack a belief in God) represent less than 1% of the military population (as Fort Bragg publicly acknowledged). Those who go to the effort of professing anti-theism (that is, God and those who believe in Him are to be opposed, “mocked” and “despised“) are likely an even smaller fraction than that.
Even they got to have their festival, small though their numbers are. The military demonstrated it was willing to allow an atheist event, despite claims from atheists they would be denied for their beliefs. The canard has been broken.
On the other hand, the true outcome will be to see how these atheists react the next time a Christian event occurs on a military post…