Barely four years ago, Air Force Academy cadets who were Wiccans, pagans, nature worshippers or atheists had to endure a humiliating ordeal known as "Heathen's Run" - forced to run a gauntlet between bible-toting believers who smashed them upside the head and shoulders with their good books.
Now, thanks to Mikey Weinstein's interventions, all that has changed, and Constitutional protections have arrived for these minorities.
As reported in today's Colorado Springs Gazette (p. A3), an outside worship area has now been set aside for Wiccans, Druids, pagans, and other naturalists....while atheists are permitted to have their own freethought meetings.
Marking the area is a double circle of stones atop a hill on the AFA campus, designated for the group. As pagans know, the circular format of the stones is intended to convey the essential unity between Man and nature. As noted by Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longerier, quoted in the Gazette:
"Being with nature and connecting with it is kind of the whole point."
Indeed, and for Wiccans - long miscast as "Witches" or "warlocks" this holds equally true. The problem is that all these groups have been marginalized in a nation that gives way too much front stage area to fundamentalist Christians, who actually hold the real exceptional beliefs.
One of the AFA's chaplains, Lt. Col. William Ziegler, reminded local journalists that designation of the worship space is part of the Academy's ongoing efforts to foster religious tolerance. This was also the motivating force behind Mr. Weinstein's efforts, on learning that his son - a Jew- had also been subjected to the Heathen's Run. As he pointed out when organizing the move to take back the AFA from the fundie domination, no military should be ruled by a group of religious zealots. If it is, then the nation's military becomes no different from a Christian Taliban - out to enforce their values above those the military must defend in the Constitution.
As the AFA Chaplain also observed:
"It's about our committment as airmen to protect freedom and defend freedom. To me, this is a freedom thing".
Kudos must also go to AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, who has said his institution has made religious tolerance "a priority".
In most Earth-centered nature religions - as Cadet Longrier notes, it is the Goddess that is worhipped. (In some cases, multiple goddesses are worshipped, each representing a natural domain of our world).
Longrier and his fellows are also smart enough to cede that their goddesses are not believed to be actual beings, but rather "personifications of natural events that our human ancestors wanted to put a face on".
Interestingly, there also remains an ongoing effort in the Catholic Church to re-direct focus from a patriarchal, authoritarian male deity to a less uptight female one. The reasoning here is that a female deity would be more sympathetic to human needs, and suffering- more resonant with the theme of love, as opposed to punishment. The male image is too much like a white corporate CEO or dictator who has lost his moorings. At least - that was the reasoning a nun offered to me once. While some uptight Xtians may complain, they often overlook evidence that Jesus himself may have been a hermaphrodite, as a number of religious scholars have speculated- including Elaine Pagels.
Maybe one day, humans will mature enough to be rid of all gods - or goddesses. In the meantime, until that day arrives, tolerance must be allotted to all, especially since no human brain is capable of knowing for certain which god-concept may be the right one. All are relative, especially if none even represent an actual entity.