Get Out Your Hankies: HuffPost Live Guest Says Military 'Marginalizes' Atheists At Christmastime

December 22nd, 2015 10:57 AM

Have you heard about the Christmastime plight of atheists and humanists in the military? Apparently, they’re feeling marginalized.

In a HuffPost Live segment entitled “A Very Atheist Christmas,” moderator Josh Zepps questioned whether the religious and non-religious alike can share Christmas. With a bit of sarcasm to his voice, the Australian host declared, “Merry Christmas!” then stopped himself. “Or is that offensive to say? Am I, as an atheist Jew, appropriating a holiday that doesn’t belong to me? Or conversely, am I cruelly foisting my non-existent belief in the divinity of the sweet baby Jesus onto innocent atheists, Muslims and Jews in a vile act of religious microaggression? In other words, can non-Christians do Christmas?”

What ensued was an odd discussion among a few atheists and a pastor, with topics ranging from Christianity to pagan celebrations to monopoly to the contingent of atheist servicemen and women who cannot congregate officially to celebrate during the Christmas season. What exactly would they be celebrating? Who knows?   

One of the most vocal members of the discussion was Annabelle Gurwitch, who authored an LA Times op-ed called “You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Revel in the Holiday Season.” When asked to weigh in to the conversation, Gurwitch explained her reasoning. “What I was really writing this to do was to draw attention to the plight of atheists and humanists who serve in the American military. There’s 22 percent of our military, active service members who identify as humanists or atheists. It is primarily a theist organization, where prayer is built into ceremonies, including holiday ceremonies.” The horror!

“And I really wanted to advocate for this population,” she continued, “because humanism and atheism is not recognized as a religion in our military, which means that humanists are not allowed to congregate officially within the military, so on bases, so when everyone else is going off to their, maybe, holiday celebration whether its Hanukah or Christmas, the humanists aren’t officially allowed to congregate. … What they want … is to have a humanist chaplain so they can get that same right …”

A “humanist chapel?” So many contradictions …

“There’s a population of Americans that are being marginalized,” she concluded, “and that’s our service members who are performing a heroic duty and yet can’t enjoy the holidays in the way they want to celebrate them.” blogger Hemant Mehta agreed. According to him, it’s a “travesty” that humanists in the military “don’t get the same perks that other religious groups” do around Christmastime. “The fact that everyone else can take time off, they get the benefits of being part of an organized religion, but humanists, because we disavow religion, don’t get the same benefits, it’s kinda disappointing, especially when it’s coming from the military of all places.”

I don’t know about you, but I noticed several problems here. First, it’s not clear how Christmastime perks differ according to the religion of the employee. It’s news to me that atheists don’t get the same amount of time off for Christmas. And another thing. Isn’t the right to peaceful assembly built into the first amendment of our constitution? Who’s stopping people from meeting if they desire to?

In the end, one of the comments posted in the sidebar seemed to sum up the issue well. A woman with the username “Jan_Cummins” posted: “a Humanist Chaplin?  What the hell is that?” and then later, “I am an atheist. I have no desire to ‘congregate.’ If I did, I'd go to a church. But I'm atheist.”  

Alas. That view is too sensible to be aired.