Symbolizing Dead Soldiers

Sgt. Patrick Stewart, 34, was killed in Afghanistan last September when his helicopter came under enemy fire. His widow and family are in a dispute with the Department of Veteran Affairs over the religious symbol on his grave. Specifically, Stewart was a Wiccan and the Department of Veteran Affairs doesn’t have an approved symbol for Wiccans/pagans/neo-pagans/witches/whatever-the-hell-they’re-calling-themselves-this-week.

It is a bit strange that there is no approved Wiccan/whatever symbol given that there are almost 40 other approved religious-oriented symbols. On the other hand, the Wiccans might want to be careful what they wish for. As the Associated Press notes,

The Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetary Adminstration allows only approved emblems of religious beliefs on government headstones. Over the years, it has approved more than 30, including symbols for the Tenrikyo Church, United Morovian Church and Sikhs. There’s also an emblem for atheists — but none for Wiccans.

Sounds good, except the atheist symbol is that piece-of-crap symbol that the American Atheists in the 1960s — a stylized picture of an atom with a capital A in the middle. According to the American Atheist site,

When American Atheists was formed in 1963, a contemporary scientific symbol was chosen; this acknowledges that only through the use of scientific analysis and free, open inquiry can humankind reach out for a better life.

This is a bit like approving a single image of Akhnaton to be used by Jews, Christians, Muslims and other monotheists (and, in case you haven’t noticed, atheists for some reason are litigious-prone — someone’s bound to sue at some point). And the explanation for the symbol makes no sense. Hundreds of years from now, future generations are going to come along and think people buried in those graves were some strange electron worshipping cult or something.

Frankly, I’ve always thought that a better choice for an atheist symbol would be the logical negation symbol: ¬

Then again, I think we should put Cthulhu on the $5 bill, so I may be a bit out of the loop with my fellow atheists.


For Wiccan soldier, death brings fight. Associated Press, May 25, 2006.

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