This sunday will be rememberance day, and (since a young age, as I recall either 9 or 10) I've played the last-post/reveille at the village service. When younger (despite never believing in any god) I didnt look at the whole thing too critically and saw it as merely showing respect.
However, when exploring the question of religion more, I came to realise just how ridiculous it all is and became hostile to it on an intellectual level (though I try hard to voice my dissent politely), and have become increasingly uneasy with this service each year.
I'm now at a point where I feel both uncomfortable and angry by the service (for the record - rememberance services in this country basically comprise of a lot of prosetylisation, 2 minutes of silence and a quick reading of the names of the dead from ww1/2 from the place of the service) because I feel that its a really gross manipulation.
And yet, despite this it isn't easy to just refuse and walk away because it feels like I ought to be paying my respects to these people. And therein lies the problem - if it gives an anti-theist pause, how many normal people are drawn out by a feeling that its the right thing to do. It seems like the church is insulting the memories of the dead by holding services of rememberance, only to ignore them (save for a minor side-note) and concentrate on prosetylisation instead.
Ultimately though, I've come to a realisation (atleast, in my own mind) that I dont need to show my gratitude (to the dead, obviously, not the church) in public alongside my peers in order to be thankful - and I don't need to support a service that I feel is deeply offensive.
Am I being unreasonable?
This gives me pause, if nothing else because I dont want to show disrespect myself (towards the memories of the dead) due to my outrage at the abuse of their memories by the church.
I served in the Canadian Army as an officer for several years. I was a brand new Second Lieutenant in 2002 when Remembrance Day rolled around. By custom, my regiment participated in a church parade near a local cenotaph. I was too overawed by the newness of army life to raise an objection that time around, but I remember it not feeling good having been forced to participate in a religious ceremony. The next year, in advance of the ceremony, I informed my chain of command that I wouldn't be attending a church service, but would still like to participate in the secular aspects of our Remembrance Day activities. I expected a big fight, but the CO backed down under pressure from a number of officers who shared my position or at least understood it. A "compromise" position was struck whereby the secularists would accompany the regiment to the church and wait in the basement while the others did their church thing. The CO did not understand why I and others continued to object to this arrangement. We eventually got him to understand that being exiled to the bowels of a church, essentially being singled out, was not good enough. In my third year, a number of secular minded officers and non-commissioned officers won a big victory. Instead of marching to the church and hanging around in a musty basement, we participated in the secular aspects of the day and while the Christians went to church, we did something that was actually useful and taught lessons on military and regimental history. I think that was a really good way to remember the sacrifices of our fellow soldiers.
The point I'd like to make is that we can, by speaking up, slowly change mindsets. Armies tend to be conservative institutions, but a small group of us collaborated to make important improvements. I still observe Remembrance Day, and every year I try to do something that is actually useful (unlike praying for peace in church), like speak at a school or spend time with the older veterans.
Follow us on:
From the officers:
The ACA Lecture Series continues Sunday, March 8th at 12:15pm at the Austin History Center, 9th and Guadalupe. The building opens at noon. Ryan Bell will talk on "My Year Without God: Now a Permanent Condition."