In the army I served in for three years, every soldier had two "dog tags" he was required to wear around his neck. One tag was to be gathered up by survivors when he was dead. The other was to be jammed between his front teeth so that those collecting the bodies could identify whose body it was.
Dog tags announced name, serial number, blood type and religion imprinted on the metal.
|Dog tag format|
In the brief sparring match that ensued, I could see that my views pained him in some way. I was the cause for his discomfort. I really didn't want to upset him in this somehow deep way. Finally, I relented and said, "OK, put down Unitarian." His face relaxed and grew suspicious simultaneously. "What's that?" he asked as if I had made it up. I said something to assure him that Unitarians were not just some flight of fancy. At last he surrendered and he asked, "How do you spell it?"
And so I became a dog-tag Unitarian.
Several weeks later, as basic training progressed with its marching, saluting, bed-making, shooting, calisthenics, and all the rest, the platoon fell out and formed up and we were informed that everyone was going to religious training. Catholics would go in one pod. Jews in another. Protestants in a third. When I didn't raise my hand for any of those, the platoon sergeant got on my case. "I'm a Unitarian," I said and I showed him my dog tags. He wanted to pretend he knew what that was, but the bald fact was, he didn't. What he did know was that everyone had to go for religious training. I almost escaped, but not quite. After a little discussion, he decided that I was more or less a Protestant, so that's the group I would form up with. Orders are orders and I was ordered to be religious.
Today, I read that there is an atheist movement afoot at Fort Bragg, N.C. Atheists get no respect ... or at least within organizations that wave the God-flag-country banner around. Atheists can debate and complain and whine in the same ways that any minority group might. At Fort Bragg, it seems to be gaining some traction ... albeit an uphill battle. But today, as so long ago, I wonder who it is who gives a shit what anyone believes as long as they can shoot straight.
You must believe what the group believes in order to be a member of the group. But what's wrong with the wider group? We're all human beings engaged in the same task more or less ... isn't that enough? And the answer is no, it is not always enough for those whose stricken and bellicose faces require "you gotta be(lieve) something!"
These days, I am no longer so sympathetic or malleable as I was in basic training. You wanna be a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Buddhist, atheist or NASCAR driver? Go ahead. Just don't expect me to join in the hoorah. I'm on the lookout for straight shooters.