MASH Hawaii to Godless Liberty
Sean McGuire, Nick Stenkamp, Jacob Milich, Susan Settles
by Alexandra Meehan
As the need for a stronger community of freethinkers continues to grow, MAAF has expanded to inspire and support affiliate programs in many areas including MASH Hawaii. MASH leaders work closely with the Hawaii Secular Society, which is a “community of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, brights, skeptics, naturalists, and all other nontheists.” MASH Hawaii consists primarily within Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Marine Corps Base Kanoehe Bay, and the Army’s Schofield Barracks, and they have met at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel and at Dixie Grill just off post. The original leader was Petty Officer Sean McGuire who changed station in February and now departing is Petty Officer Nick Stenkamp.
Recently, Nick Stenkamp has decided to step down from his position of leadership at MASH Hawaii to pursue other ventures in furtherance of his nontheistic values. Under his leadership, MASH Hawaii was able to expand and flourish; while actively contributing to the community through dedicated service and activism. Nick Stenkamp and his MASH members assisted the community through toy drives for children, food drives for the homeless and various charitable causes. Nick’s newest passion, Godless Liberty, will be tackling pop culture and politics through edgy and humorous radio and podcasts:
Godless Liberty Radio: A place for misfits that fit in the atheist and libertarian category. We go over news, political commentary, underground and local music, and general pop culture. Our official launch date and the first show is June 1st, 2013.
Check Godless Liberty out on Facebook, or Twitter :@godlessliberty
Though Nick will be remembered and hard to replace, MASH Hawaii will still continue to develop and maintain the same civic standards as previously, with new leaders: Marine Sergeant Jacob Milich and Army Specialist Thomas Faulkner. In the same funny and satirical sense as Godless liberty, Faulkner has written a book titled, Fired From Heaven: A Believer’s Tumble to Truth, which “expose(s) the horror that follows religious dogma, and promote(s) positive atheism and skepticism,” and is “atheistic humor mixed in a comfortable writing style.” It seems only appropriate that Nick’s former partner and Faulkner, who clearly has similar taste to that of Nick, would pair up to lead the group.
As books like Faulkner’s emerge and efforts like Godless Liberty arise, the slow but steady wheel of change progresses. Though MAAF had aided and inspired such projects, local leaders continue to make change at installations worldwide. Holidays like Christmas bring annual challenges for for local groups, but leaders focus on family, patriotism, gift bearing and celebration.
Despite a positive attitude, MAAF affiliate MASH Hawaii still struggles against some unfair practices. Schofield Chaplains, for instance, advertised and promoted an evangelical prayer walk, to “take back this ground for GOD,” which clearly attacks the beliefs of military personnel who are atheist, agnostic or humanist. This walk was done through military housing areas, thus implying that the housing areas were property of Christianity alone. Such events contradict the charitable activities provided by the nontheist military community, who according to the ideology of the Schofield Chaplains, might be the enemy if they don’t subscribe to Christianity. Chaplains encourage efforts to “take the fight to the enemy through prayer!” which comes across as extremely aggressive, and when supported by the military, can be seen as a violation of the Constitution. Such “walks” could make non-Christian military personnel feel segregated and even targeted by Chaplain programs.
Prayer walk flyer – click for full size
While issues arise, MAAF and its affiliates are focused primarily on gaining equal rights and support. When necessary, MAAF and affiliates like MASH Hawaii continue to challenge these military-sponsored religious expressions which infringe on nontheist rights. As more individuals join MAAF and other affiliates, more awareness is conveyed, as there is always strength in numbers. This helps not only military personnel, but also civilians, as the military is an institution that has effects on all people. MASH Hawaii is just one affiliate of MAAF among many in the global network of local leaders and groups.
Below is a short selection from Nick’s heartfelt farewell letter. He tells of why the group was important to him and thanks everyone for their support and inspiration in a tough time:
In December of 2011, a member of my family was the victim of a heinous crime, I will spare you the details, but know and understand that it was violent and horrific. … With my new found inner conflicts I did as many did, I turmoiled [sic], I suppressed the rage, I did what many do I “took it like a man.” … My drinking got out of hand, I never slept, and my anger started to boil over to other parts of my life unintentionally. … One day I finished a book, called A Voice of Reason in an Unreasonable World. … Long story short I got involved with a local chapter on the Island of Oahu, where I was stationed and started running with it. … Once I got involved with MASH/MAAF and [Hawaii Secular Society] I became, well I am not sure of a word to describe it. The point is that I got excited. For once in my life I had something that I was passionate about, that seemed to desperately need me, and I was welcomed to with open arms. Over time my anger towards religion, was over ridden with affection for the other members of my own community. I went from, battling religion to let out anger, to helping create and support a giving and loving community that desperately needed a positive reputation. Something about that over time changed me. One specific memory was when MASH Hawaii sponsored a toys for tots drive. We collected and donated so many toys, I could see, in my mind, the children that would be getting these great, great gifts. That is when something clicked for me. It was no longer about being mad at pedophile priests; it was not about stopping the religious from taking over our government, it was about us being better. … My call to everyone reading this, is to get excited, talk to people, do things that make a difference, It will feel good. It will help you deal with the rough road of life that we all have to bear together.”
For many of us, traditional religious values and beliefs fall short in meeting our existential needs. As many of us expand our minds to incorporate new possibilities, our culture’s assumed Christian beliefs still dominate our everyday customs and practices. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, is here to close the gap for service members who identify with a more nontheistic sets of beliefs by providing “a community for atheists, humanists and other nontheists in the military.”