More than 12,000 military personnel identify themselves as atheists
Lackland Air Force Base is different from its peer military institutions. It has a meeting ground for non-believers and humanists which witness a large-scale attendance when the rest of the defense personnel attends religious services.
The weekly meetings are led by Vicki Gettman. Participants discuss a variety of subjects, from stress and grief to ethics and morality. Taylor Grin started the weekly sessions. The then 26-year-old wanted to start a chaplain facilitated service for non-believer trainees like him. His efforts went on to play an important role in the national culture wars happening in the American military.
Grin started small with the commander's consent in 2013. There were eight participants, and their first meetings were held in a lobby. Publicity about the gatherings was done through word of mouth. Air force personnel were informed when they walked towards the restrooms. After a few sessions, the number of attendees went up to 50. The humanists moved behind a stage where Catholics held their meetings in front of it. After 100 members were reached, they moved to a bigger location. The commander continued to support the movement. Such was the dedication of participants that only four Sundays in three years saw the meetings not being held.
From the first seven participants, the meetings now have an attendance of 1,000 trainees if not more. This is encouraging as religious services attract 3,800 people. The best part is that chaplains of San Antonio have not opposed the humanist meetings.
Mikey Weinstein, who served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, described the situation in the military as “a battlefield. He helped to begin Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Along with the rest of the civilian population, which has seen the rise of atheism, the military also witnesses the same varying demographics and rising antipathy towards religion. This is happening even as the conservative religious continue to be in power. The rise of atheists, in fact, in the military are now a proven fact. Statistics gleaned from Department of Defense state that 12,764 atheists serve among the 1.3 million serving military personnel. In contrast, Southern Baptists number 12,360.
These signs are excellent as atheists are usually younger compared to the general population. It is anticipated the military will look a lot different after ten years compared to now. There is much hope that humanist services will be available in more military bases and non-believers will feel more welcome.
— Christianne Smith (@ChristiAnne67) October 23, 2017