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July 23, 2006

Pat Tillman -- Non-Christian

Tillman.jpgPat Tillman was an American professional football player who, after September 11, gave up a million dollar contract to fight "for his country" in Afghanistan. He was killed by "friendly fire," though the US military managed to hide that embarrassing fact for almost five weeks. Tillman's family has been pressing for an investigation. Now there is a report that the selfless Tillman was an atheist, or at least a non-Christian, which has some in the Army upset.

This investigation of the incident, from ESPN.com (thanks to Blawg and Economics), quotes Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, an officer with responsibilities for Tillman's unit:

Kauzlarich said he'd learned Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother's body was returned to the United States.
Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.

Lt. Col. Kauzlarich's discomfort with atheism is interesting:

In an interview with ESPN.com, Kauzlarich said: "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more -- that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

Guess that's true. Guess atheists do find death "pretty tough."

Asked by ESPN.com whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

Here, in response, is Tillman's mother:

Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we're not Christians, and the reason that we can't put Pat to rest is because we're not Christians," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, said in an interview with ESPN.com. Mary Tillman casts the family as spiritual, though she said it does not believe in many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion.
"Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady," she said sarcastically, "But it is because we are not Christians."
After a pause, her voice full with emotion, she added, "Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn't lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble.
...The Tillman family has continued to try to push through layers of Army bureaucracy for answers, about both the death of their son and the appearance that Pat Tillman's Army life, and death, might have been used for political purposes.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at July 23, 2006 9:31 PM


Where have all the flowers gone?

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 23, 2006 11:27 PM

Lt. Col. Kauzlarich's remarks remind me of Kryten from Red Dwarf series 3 episode 6.

Lister points out that this is 'Whacko Jacko' and that there is no such thing as Silicone Heaven. "But where do all the calculators go?" asks Kryten. "Surly you believe that god is in all things, aren't you a pantheist."

"Yeah," says Lister, "but I just don't think it applies to kitchen utensils, I'm not a frying pantheist!" he adds that calculators and other machines don't have an afterlife.

"But of course they do!" Objects Kryten, "…. It's common sense sir, if there wasn't an afterlife to look forward to, why on earth would machines spend the whole of their lives servicing humankind? Now that would be really dumb!" Lister decides to agree. He doesn't want to spoil Kryten's picture of going to heaven on his last day. He asks Kryten, just out of interest, if Silicone Heaven is the same place as human heaven. Kryten laughs, "there is no such thing as human heaven." He says, "Someone just made that up to prevent you from all going nuts!"

Posted by: Todd Sayre at July 24, 2006 7:42 AM

This whole circus over Tillman's atheism makes me incredibly angry. While this family is being disparaged for not being christian, the military is about to court-martial another thoughtful, dedicated young man (First. Lt. Ehren K. Watada) who in refusing to serve in Iraq, says he "owed his allegiance to a 'higher power' -- the Constitution -- based on the values the Army had taught him: 'loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.'" (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/23/us/23refuse.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)

But Mitch, strongly disagree with your generalization on atheists' stance toward death ("Guess that's true. Guess atheists do find death 'pretty tough'"). Says who? Got evidence for such a broad statement like that? Some of us at least don't see it that way...

Posted by: JM at July 24, 2006 9:35 AM

I find it hard to believe anyone alive doesn't find death tough, even if they want a way out.
Death may be inviting but it seldom is easy.

The end of existence, just what is that? Miles to go before I sleep and I won't go gently into the night, etc. I'm with Mitch, I am an anecdotal piece of evidence.

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 24, 2006 5:53 PM

I was taking issue with the implication, at least, in M's statement that atheists somehow find death 'tougher' than believers for some reason (because of its finality?), rather than suggesting that death was somehow 'easy.' Never said that. But it isn't particularly tougher b/c of not believing in god, afterlife, etc., is it?

Posted by: JM at July 24, 2006 6:46 PM

Why then does it make people so fuzzy, warm and comfortable believing they will live with their loved ones forever after they die? Don't you think it is harder to believe that death is the end rather than some magic doorway? Perchance to dream? Wouldn't it be nice to live forever without pain or sorrow?

Now I think talking about what "atheists" believe is just as glossing as talking about what superstitious people believe. No one knows what anyone else believes. We seldom are even sure of what we believe ourselves.

Is death tough? We'll have to ask a dead guy--hmmm, they all seem so mum. Death is easy, dying is the hard part.

Those not busy being born are busy dying.
But it's allright, Ma, I'm only bleeding.

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 25, 2006 12:51 AM

"Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew."

Though she leaves out the "but" inbetween these sentences, I still think what she's saying is indicative of the status of having a Christian faith in the USA. If you are a Christian, you are by default a good person. If you're an atheist, you have the burden of proof to show that you can still be a good person despite your lack of faith in God.

It's so sad, and it's doubly sad that atheists give in to this kind of thinking, and "admit" that they may not be Christians, but they're still good people.

Posted by: Kristian Z. at July 25, 2006 9:01 AM

Pat Tillman believed in himslef and what he was doing. Lt. Col. Kauzlarich believes in whatever suits himself and whatever makes his actions seem OK with top brass or any other brass that will let him skate. His day of reckoning may soon come and I hope his god is mercy full whatever about the judge.

Posted by: Lorcan Keating at July 29, 2006 11:50 PM

If someone's statement that they are christian means that they associate themselves with a set of values then everyone should judge them by the set of values that they have endorsed. If someone says they are an atheist, this gives others no basis for judgement. It is impossible to say what set of values a person with that stance may endorse, and as such others remain hostile to the unknown which is implicit in such a statement. Society is built upon commonalities, those who do not adhere to the norms of the society will be mistrusted, wrong and right, truth and fiction simply don't enter into the equation.

Posted by: Animus Regulus at October 9, 2006 10:33 PM

Are we certain that the Tillmans are atheists? Non-Christian and atheist aren't necessarily the same thing. I've known quite a few people who identify as "spiritual" and don't believe in "many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion" yet are decidely theist or at the very least nontheist rather than atheist (which despite the literal translation of the word generally refers to people who reject all supernatural claims not just deities, right?).

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 10, 2006 3:08 PM

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