Getting Acquainted with An Atheist in a Foxhole: John Scripp III

By John Scripp III

I am a retired naval officer (23 years service, 1941-1964), brought up in a military family that moved up and down the East Coast during the years my father was in the Navy.

While my parents did enroll my brothers and me in the Congregational Church Sunday schools, religion and politics were not much discussed in our family.

In the Navy, optional Sunday services were held by ministers of various faiths–ministers and priests who didn’t mind holding neutral services–but I rarely attended them. Also, I never liked calling the Catholic priests Father” (as I had a real father), and that still bothers me today.

After I retired from the Navy in 1964, I continued in college to get a teaching degree. I then taught 8th- and 9th-grade history in the classroom and 8th grade as an on-camera TV teacher. My liberal wife was active in the Unitarian Church, which I joined because I liked the freethinking atmosphere, discussion groups, and political action.

When, during the ’60s the national Unitarians developed a much-needed comprehensive sex education program for 5th to 7th grades, I volunteered to go through the training and I organized a male-female team which was approved by our local Unitarian Church. For 20 years, ten in Norfolk, Va., and then ten years in St. Louis, I was a part of this worthwhile program.

I no longer fear being known as an atheist even though some of my relatives and friends didn’t and don’t approve. I frequently wear my FFRF T-shirts in public, which bring comments (positive and negative) from those who see me. Some approve, some have mad faces!

Being retired from the Navy and other personnel positions, I have reduced some of my activities, but I am an elementary-school volunteer who has worked with a cooperating teacher for 18 years, spending one to two hours once a week helping students with reading. But I don’t just correct their reading, I try to get the second graders to think–asking them, “Why learn to read?” “Are there really aliens in space?” “If you could have one wish, what would it be?” “What is your favorite subject? Why?” “Do you smoke?” (“Oh no, Mr. Scripp.”) I then encourage them to stay away from tobacco and drug use.

I work with students starting in the early morning in the teacher’s office, and when the P.A. announces the pledge, I tell them the pledge is voluntary–join the class to do it, or remain seated here with me (most do).

Being a freethinking atheist has its lighter side at times. Once, while waiting for the doctor to start my colonoscopy, he said, “Do you mind if I pray before I start the operation?”

“No,” I said, “because I am an atheist, your prayer won’t affect me.

“But,” I added, “if it improves your aim–go ahead!”

Also, at hospitals or doctor’s offices when I am asked, “What is your religion?” I respond, “I am an atheist, thank God!” which shakes them up!

I believe there are many atheists who will soon come out of the closet and openly identify themselves as freethinkers or atheists. I tell my friends that I have never heard of atheist terrorists and for them to remember that there were no atheists driving planes into the New York buildings on 9/11!

Foundation member John Scripp lives in Florida with his wife, Mary.

Freedom From Religion Foundation