Here’s a guest post by Justin Griffith. Justin is well known for his fight against the idea that “there are no Atheists in Foxholes”. He was recently profiled in the New York Times for his activism.
A little while ago, news broke about a Pastafarian
winning the right to wearing a pasta strainer on his head for his official driver’s license photograph *edit: it seems that there was no legal battle*. Coincidentally, around the same time, I got a few emails from the contributors to a Wikipedia article on Religious Symbols in the US Military asking if I would contribute a photograph of my Atheist dog tags.
Shortly after I donated the photograph to Wikipedia, the photo was added to the Flying Spaghetti Monster entry as well. Awesome.
I actually have a few funny stories about FSM and the Army. *warning: quoting a Drill Sergeant is NSFW*
Why the Flying Spaghetti Monster was bigger than Jesus in boot camp.
There are strict rules about what non-military texts you can posses during boot camp. They only allow one book, and it must be a holy book from your religion. As you’d expect from this rule, there were a few Bibles, a Koran, and even a Book of Mormon in various wall-lockers in my company. Most people just didn’t have a book at all.
I, however, brought my copy of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
My book was incredibly popular, and people kept talking about it during the few short breaks you get during the typical boot camp day. Then other people would hear about it and ask me if they could borrow it. Everyone laughed like a bastard, and really enjoyed it.
Many people told me that the book really made some sense to them. I must have accidentally converted dozens of people, as the humorous parody religion’s messages actually sank in.
Drill Sergeant VS Flying Spaghetti Monster
At one point my Drill Sergeant tried to take it away from me. He thought it was just some book that I smuggled in. Keep in mind that Drill Sergeants are professionally trained in the art of not laughing at anything (yelling and freaking out are more appropriate responses to most situations.)
Anyway, this is the gist of the conversation:
Drill Sergeant: “Private Griffith – is that some contraband?”
Me: “No, Drill Sergeant. It’s my holy book.“
Drill Sergeant: “Give that to me…” *Yoink!* “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? What the fuck?”
Me: ”I’m a Pastafarian, Drill Sergeant.”
[he shot me a look like he was t minus 5 seconds from throwing me into the Sun]
Drill Sergeant: “Are you fucking with me? Are you fucking with me at 0600, Private Griffith? Before I even get some goddamned breakfast?”
[I did my best to return the intensely humorless stone face.]
Me: “No, Drill Sergeant.”
Drill Sergeant: “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? I don’t fucking believe it!!!”
Me: “I believe it, Drill Sergeant.”
Drill Sergeant: “What the hell is wrong with you, warrior?”
[I went for broke]
Me: “Drill Sergeant, I’m afraid I can’t really talk to you about this any further unless I’m in my religious clothing. I need to be in full pirate regalia, or at the very least wearing an eye patch.”
….Then he just looked at me for about 30 seconds. Crickets. Time stopped… The other soldiers that were around were extremely scared of the coming mass punishment they imagined that I had surely just earned them.
Then he flipped through the book. He read a few sentences out loud. And then it happened.
Then he handed me my book and told me to do some push ups – a slap on the wrist. And my punishment was really only for making him smile, not for anything else. He just couldn’t bring himself to treat this situation like every other situation.
My recruiter put his own religion on my forms, instead of Atheist.
First off, I actually had quite an ordeal simply getting my ID tags to accurately reflect my atheism. When I was speaking to Army recruiters, the first one that I worked with was a very religious person. Normally, this isn’t relevant. However, when asked what my religion was, I answered “Atheist”. He entered a “Baptist” variation.
At one point he asked me to look over his computer screen for any errors, and I hastily fixed this. I only had a few seconds, so I scrolled through the list and found “NO-REL-PREF”. A few days later, I had more issues with this recruiter and asked to be assigned to another one. He was great, but I guess he forgot to fix my religious preference on my forms as I requested. A similar set of circumstances prevented the mistake from being corrected when they were being issued at Basic Training.
Religious Preference – that’s the Army’s term. It’s a little garish and awkward, but it does the job. I was pissed off that I was stuck with dog tags that said “NO-REL-PREF”. I do have a religious preference – “none for me please… Atheist!” That’s not the same as “I don’t have a religious preference”.
I’ve thought about religion quite seriously, and I most certainly have a preference. Atheist has been on the military’s approved list of responses to this question for quite some time, so I was not breaking any barriers. I was finally told that I could (and did) change my religious preference to Atheist on my paperwork, but that I couldn’t receive updated dog tags. I was told that soldiers change their last names and religious preferences frequently enough, but must get their updated dog tags made off post at their own expense.
I was a little bit angered that I now had to buy my own set of ID tags to fix this, but at least I had an answer and a way forward.
Being a former creationist, I really identified with Flying Spaghetti Monster meme. Leaving creationist indoctrination was a long and painful journey for me. Absurd as FSM might be, it’s as culturally significant to me as religion is to many others. I truly identify with it, appreciating both the humor and the reality underpinning the parody religion.
Obviously, a strictly serious answer to the question about my religious preference is “Atheist”. But given the amount of hassle I went through to get my dog tags corrected – I decided it was time for some levity. Unfortunately, the limited writing space is a factor. I considered these:
But I wanted to include ATHEIST too, so in the end I settled with
ATHEIST / FSM
And I’m happy with that. Yes, these are legitimate ‘officially accepted’ dog tags by the way. Interestingly, there are more than a few that legitimate sets that say “Jedi Knight”.
You can check out Justin’s excellent website Rock Beyond Belief here.