Jason Torpy — president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers who served in the military from 1994 to 2005 — gave a speech at Pennsylvania Nonbelievers’ 9/11 remembrance event that took place at the Harrisburg state capitol. Torpy’s speech titled “Learning from the 9/11 Tragedy” mainly discussed the consequences of 9/11, the common threads that link humans and the need for humans to work together no matter what their ideological positions may be.
Torpy noted that he fought in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 with the Army’s 1st armored division and was motivated to “help the Iraqi people rebuild from our invasion and the removal of Saddam Hussein.” He said that others had different motives ranging from “a Christian crusade to convert Muslims, a corporate push to seize Middle East oil, a breakup of a terrorist stronghold, a defensive action to stop a nuclear attack, an imperialistic expansion of Western dominance, simple vengeance, and even blind, stupid politics.”
Torpy said, “As we reflect on 9/11, we pause to remember the thousands who died. As atheists and humanists, we know that they are gone in the literal sense, but we can focus on their legacy and what we, the living, can learn from their lives and deaths.” Torpy explained that instead of viewing groups of people who are seem very different than us as “them,” we should take a different view and recognize that we are “not so diverse” because “we are all in this together.” Torpy added, “With all of our difference and fears and hurts and desires, we must see people as people, equal in worth and dignity.”
The view away from the “us and them,” Torpy noted, should lead atheists to join hands with religious persons and religious persons to join hands with atheists in order to “rise up against intolerance, religious division, and violent extremism.” Torpy added, “We can stand as allies in our goal of peace and unity, even if we draw our inspiration from different sources.” Torpy hopes “that our differences become smaller, not larger” and that future military action should seek to “free people from suffering” instead of “seek[ing] vengeance or destroy[ing] enemies.”
Torpy has contributed the full text of his speech for this article, but due to space limitations it could not be included in its entirety. The full-text of his speech, including more information about Torpy, can be found here.
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers is a national non-profit organization that builds community for non-theistic veterans, takes actions to educate and train the military and civilian communities about issues facing secular individuals in the military, responds to actions that promote religion over non-religion in the military, addresses discrimination against non-theistic service members and works with various non-theistic organizations. Torpy joined the military in 1994 and soon after has been active with the non-theist community.