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The Rapture is Not an Exit Strategy
April 26, 2008 5:59 AM   Subscribe

“People like you are not holding up the Constitution ..." Or so said Major Freddy Welborn, Specialist Jeremy Hall's commanding officer in Tikrit. "Last month, Specialist Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, filed suit in federal court in Kansas, alleging that Specialist Hall’s right to be free from state endorsement of religion under the First Amendment had been violated and that he had faced retaliation for his views. In November, he was sent home early from Iraq because of threats from fellow soldiers." (NY Times)
posted by fourcheesemac (123 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh575.sht
posted by Postroad at 6:14 AM on April 26, 2008


I admire him for having the courage to stand up for himself. I was an Army wife for 7 years and I know how scary and difficult it can be for a soldier to say/do/think anything that's considered outside the norm. I hope he prevails.

P.S. Great thread title!
posted by amyms at 6:21 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Having spent ten years in the USN, I met all sorts. Most shipmates were religious, but not righteously, so I doubt they'd support the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Remember, the loudmouths don't define the organization.
posted by Mblue at 6:23 AM on April 26, 2008


The thread title comes from a slogan used by the MRFF, and is not my own coinage, just to be clear
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:24 AM on April 26, 2008


Mblue, which ones are you calling loudmouths? And why would non-righteously religious sailors NOT support religious freedom for their colleagues?

This, by the way, is on the heels of a long period of outright proselytizing with impunity in the military academies!

Hypocrisy at the highest level, we've already got theocrats in the officer corps, all the way through it, probably planning a coup if a democrat wins the white house; what we need is a serious purge of these creeps.

Military officers (or for that matter, grunts) who don't support my freedom not to believe in anything in particular don't deserve my support either. I guess that makes me an unpatriotic atheist, confirmation bias and all .

The US is on a shitslide to the bottom of the cesspool -- Jeremiah Wright (8 year US Marine veteran who volunteered for duty in Vietnam and gave up his student deferment to do so but is now portrayed as a raving racist anti-American zealot) is right.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


And as far as I can see, the loudmouths DO define the organization, quite prominently and proudly .
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:30 AM on April 26, 2008 [8 favorites]


(PS -- with all due respect for your service, mblue, and I mean it)
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:39 AM on April 26, 2008


From the outside it may look like the loudmouths define the organization but that just the perception driven by the media. If all you know about any given group of people is what you read in the paper, you don't really know anything substantial about them.
My experience in the navy matches mblue, it wasn't a particularly theist crowd.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:41 AM on April 26, 2008


The loudmouths were the fanatic Christians. Religious and non-religious mates absolutely supported religious freedom. Your theory of a religious military coup is ridiculous. Do you know why?

Most military men believe in the Constitution.
posted by Mblue at 6:42 AM on April 26, 2008


I love the phrase "all due respect".
posted by blacklite at 6:48 AM on April 26, 2008


the heels of a long period of outright proselytizing with impunity in the military academies!

I'd often wondered about this. The service academies typical draw the same calibre of student that the Ivy League or equivalent does. I wonder how well this sort of attempt at indoctrination works with a population that's quite a bit more intellectually gifted than, say, the average congregation member of an exurban megachurch.

My own data points are quite few, but I have had friends and colleagues over the years that were West Point and Annapolis grads, and while they said that if you held deeply radical political views, you kept them to yourself, but the Christian thing was pretty far down the list of things you needed to worry about.
posted by psmealey at 6:56 AM on April 26, 2008


As an atheist and an Army Officer, these stories hit close. Everywhere I go, the proselytizing is strong. I've had to file several complaints about things such as mandatory prayer, and they almost always stop at the first General-level command where someone tells me not to "blow it out of proportion."

I've had to defend against negative commentary on my evaluations because of my belief. I had other Officers try to sink my career more than once. I suppose I'm lucky that I haven't had death threats...yet.

Because of all of this, I usually tend not to discuss religion, just like I don't discuss politics since they also go against the mainstream sounding-board. I keep my complaints formal, legal, and restricted to the bare minimum of personnel who need to know.
posted by mystyk at 7:05 AM on April 26, 2008 [17 favorites]


Most military men believe in the Constitution.

Military men who complain about people who discuss their atheism do not believe in the Constitution. They are cowards, at least in their inability to handle freedom of expression and religion. If they were secure in their own faith perhaps they would have more courage to embrace someone else's different faith or lack of faith. Whatever the reason, they are not supporting the constitution. There is no valor in such action.
posted by caddis at 7:05 AM on April 26, 2008 [12 favorites]


Why would you join the military if you don't want to deal with idiocy? Reasonable people don't tend to take jobs that involve killing the people who are living over our oil. I grew up in a town with a base on it, and I can tell you from attending open floor time at school board meetings that rational thought, regard for personal freedoms or even an understanding of grammar are not required to enlist in the military. I would call a soldier if I needed something burned or date raped, but not if I wanted to discuss something as heady as theology or as wordy as the Bill of Rights.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


Complaints include...officers proselytizing subordinates to be “born again.”
“Religion is inextricably intertwined with their jobs,” Mr. Weinstein said. “You’re promoted by who you pray with.”


Maybe the "loudmouths" don't represent the majority of the military. But in the military, the majority doesn't mean much. If hard-core evengelical officers are promoting other hard-core evangelicals, then you'll wind up with a "born again" command structure.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:08 AM on April 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


"I would call a soldier if I needed something burned or date raped, but not if I wanted to discuss something as heady as theology or as wordy as the Bill of Rights."

Ouch! While I won't say that those people are non-existent in my organization, I would say that the latter point is more dependent on getting a feel for the soldier-in-question first.
posted by mystyk at 7:15 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mblue, maybe I misunderstood you -- I took you to be saying that *despite* not being theists, your former comrades would *not* support Specialist Hall's cause here. That's not a contradiction, but you suggest otherwise when you say most military men (and presumably women) "believe in the Constitution." That is what I hope is true, and I've known plenty of military members well and respected many; I've also known many tolerant, freedom-supporting Christians.

This issue enrages me: the constitution says you can believe anything you want and socialize with anyone you want based on communities of belief, so why should that not extend to atheists? The military is a unique social institution in the US, a very successful (for the most part) experiment in privileging civil authority over a professional military establishment, while respecting that establishment and giving it a voice in policy. And while continuing to fund that military to be the biggest and most dangerous in the world, to boot. The US military is a social experiment on a grand scale, and the danger of its failure is -- at the worst -- a military dictatorship complete with all the red white and blue symbolism and the branding of dissent as treason. War will become the business of the nation, and violence its currency.

In my view, we've been sneaking up a little too close to that line in the US, and 9/11 seems to have been the catalyst for a shift to fear rather than freedom as the locus of our emotional sense of national identy (using "our" very loosely, since many have never felt the tug, myself included, and plenty have resisted). I view 9/11, frankly, as a coup by the military-industrial complex (actually, I think that was the 2000 election, and 9/11 came along very conveniently, too conveniently for my bullshit detector, anyway, but I know that's a banned topic here).

For what soldiers and sailors and airman are asked to do, and risk, I have nothing but respect for their courage in the abstract. But I have far more respect -- all *due* respect, in fact - for soldiers and sailors and airmen who do so reluctantly, representing the values of a free society that turns to war as a last resort, that makes peace with former enemies, that lives up to the better angels of human nature at least when the chips are really down -- you know, like in World War II, right? For every service person who knows and believes that s/he fights for the dirty fucking hippie's right to protest and the atheist's right to sneer at religion, as well as for Mom and Baseball and Apple Pie and Jesus -- we are a stronger and better country.

Problem is, then shit like this happens.

And I'm not, of course, going to argue with the proposition that "a few bad apples" make an organization look bad. Of course that's true, and the vast majority of officers are not theo-fascists (as Welborn seems to sound to me, using the standard theocratic talking point that this is a "Christian" nation they're fighting for). But there's been a quiet explosion of this theification of the military culture not for the purpose of spreading the good things belief can do for people, but for the purpose of building a political force within the military in support of theocratic politics in Washington and a theocratic message in the mainstream media. I know this has been the case before, and that it is just part of American democracy that we have to push back against these forces to keep moving forward, but -- call me paranoid if you like -- things seem a little worse and more cynical to me than ever before right now, as I watch the campaign season unfold while the Iraq war and a global food crisis just sit there on the shelf like unwanted distractions from bowling and flag pins and Jesus talk and I cannot just let stories like this one bounce off me. Too many Abu Ghraib photos, too many Haditha stories, too many stolen elections.

I am certainly not trying to call all service people theocratic zealots, and apologize if I came off that way; but the ones who are need attention from all of us, because they will eventually become enough bad apples to shame us all.

As a defender of the constitution, I'd assume you agree that an atheist soldier should not fear for his life from his comrades, or his career from his commanding officer, for holding beliefs the constitution guarantees his right to hold and when he is risking his life just as much to defend their right to believe Jesus Died For Our Sins.

Due respect is earned.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:18 AM on April 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


mystyk, thank you for your service as well, and for describing your experience
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:31 AM on April 26, 2008


The service academies typical draw the same calibre of student that the Ivy League or equivalent does. I wonder how well this sort of attempt at indoctrination works with a population that's quite a bit more intellectually gifted than, say, the average congregation member of an exurban megachurch.

Part of my job involves administering surveys at military academies. I can tell you that, on at least two occasions, I have seen stacks of bibles in supply closets found in the back of regular, academic classrooms at these academies. At the Air Force Academy, I found a whole stack of bibles that had camouflage-style coloring on the front cover, so it was definitely a set of bibles that were designed to target military members. And I saw this at the Air Force Academy after 2005, when there were supposed to be guidelines that curb this.

By the way, the Navigators is an evangelical group with a ministry that targets the nation's military academies. I saw them a lot when I was at the Air Force Academy.
posted by jonp72 at 7:31 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


All that death and destruction? It's carried out by Christians, dammit! And don't you forget it!

/sarcasm
posted by Rykey at 7:33 AM on April 26, 2008


The average grunt knows absolutely nothing of consequence regarding the constitution.

The average officer supports the service inculcated theocracy even if he is not personally a religionist. He pretends to be so as not to limit his chances at promotion.

My source? Personal experience.
posted by notreally at 7:36 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Camouflage bibles... heh heh.
posted by crazylegs at 7:38 AM on April 26, 2008


notreally, from my own personal experience, you are describing the average American, and therein lies the most serious problem of our democracy!
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:44 AM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


By the way, Pat Tillman was a non-Christian, and by some accounts an atheist.

We don't talk about Pat much, do we? No idea what to make of the proposition that a star quarterback turned military hero turned fragging victim might not believe in Jesus.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:53 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


sorry, *alleged* fragging victim, since he was killed by nice, friendly fire.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:54 AM on April 26, 2008


We now have an American Jesus and an American Holy Spirit, and have largely banished Yahweh, except that he marches as Warrior God, endlessly trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
-- Harold Bloom
posted by matteo at 8:01 AM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, previously.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2008


Remember, the loudmouths don't define the organization.

What fourcheesemac said. Silence=Consent. If members of your organization are loudly proclaiming that said organization holds that bananas are the fruit of the Devil, and you remain silent, you are tacitly agreeing with that position.

You can speak out, or you can resign (well, in this case, you can't) or you can take action in the organization to make the loudmouths retract the position. If you do nothing, you are agreeing.
posted by eriko at 8:15 AM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have a small paperback Special Forces bible. So what?

My son is about to graduate from USAFA, is a Christian himself, and from what he tells me the atheists have nada to worry about. In fact Mike Weinstein (go google him if you don't know who he is) just spoke there recently. If there was anything going on at the Academy that seems the least bit Christian, he'd leap on it with all four feet. And call a press conference in the process.


(Loud voices are not limited to either side, just saying.)
posted by konolia at 8:24 AM on April 26, 2008


eriko Bullshit. Your positing that there's there's a terrible problem, I'm saying that that there isn't. Trying to blame each individual soldier/sailor for corruption gags. If you want a different military, they won't stop you from voting.
posted by Mblue at 8:38 AM on April 26, 2008


It not by accident that Focus on the Family and New Life Church put up their multi-million dollar complexes right across the street from the Air Force Academy.
posted by Balisong at 8:47 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


We can vote on the military? I think I missed that part...
posted by crazylegs at 8:47 AM on April 26, 2008


they won't stop you from voting.

Yet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Sunday 31 December 2006
The former New York Times Mideast Bureau chief warns that the radical Christian right is coming dangerously close to its goal of co-opting the country's military and law enforcement.
Chris Hedges - Americas Holy Warriors
posted by adamvasco at 8:57 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Balisong, it might just be that's where the open land was to build. If it makes you feel any better the Academy proper is still ten miles or so down a windy road away from New Life. It isn't like cadets are gonna be walking over.
posted by konolia at 8:57 AM on April 26, 2008


Oh, and I have it on good authority that there is actually a*gasp* CHAPEL on Academy grounds. They even put a picture of it on a US Postal stamp. The horror!
posted by konolia at 8:59 AM on April 26, 2008


fourcheesemac, I was under the impression that once you posted here., it was best to leave that post go without trying to set the tone for the discussion. The post is fine, but you seem to be prostylitizing. I was also under the impression that it is best for each of us to call that out when it is happening, rather than running it over to Metatalk. I am doing what I think I have been told to do. I am newish, so if I misunderstood something, then by all means, carry on.
posted by LiveLurker at 9:02 AM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


konolia, check out google maps. They are right across the interstate. Less than a mile from USAF property. I'm sure they have a shuttle bus to pick up the cadets that don't have bicycles/cars to cross the street.
The Christian harassment is prevalent, and documented.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
posted by Balisong at 9:08 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


LiveLurker is on the right track. fourcheesemac, back off some and let your thread breathe, please.
posted by cortex at 9:14 AM on April 26, 2008


Okey dokey
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:33 AM on April 26, 2008


The Harold Bloom quotation above hints at the other side of this problem--evangelical churches that have decided that their role is to be chaplains to power, anointing Republican leaders and cheering on the latest American military venue. Faith should be larger than national interests, and should be able to stand apart from the military-industrial complex to critique it, but more and more congregations have abdicated their responsibility. That's part of the uproar against Jeremiah Wright--white evangelicals have been trained to bow and scrape toward Washington--they think that it's their role to endorse, never critique--especially regarding the military. The role of the American soldier and of Jesus have become so conflated that there's a popular email sig line that says:

Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you. Jesus the Christ and the American G.I. One died for your soul. The other for your freedom.

(Googling "only two defining forces" yields over 60,000 hits, mostly variations on that line.)

That's an odd way to phrase things, and it shows the extent to which the military and Jesus have been conflated. They are co-redeemers of the American evangelical, worthy only of undivided loyalty and unwavering support. That's why so many people have bumper stickers or ribbons that read "Support the Troops" and yet take no overt actions of any kind to tangibly support them. Supporting the Troops is a doctrine, and article of faith, on par with the resurrection and forgiveness of sins. It's something that you are supposed to believe in, and having confessed the holiness of the military, you have fulfilled your obligation.

In other words, for every soldier pressured not to critique faith, there is a church-goer pressured not to critique military action. While the impact is clearly more onerous for the soldier who cannot escape his environment and must work within the system, the conflation of Jesus and the G.I. life is detrimental to both institutions. Churches who cannot prophetically stand against injustice and abuse that is sanctioned by the government and carried out by the military have sold their birthright for a red bean soup MRE. A God with an office in the West Wing and an attache in the Pentagon is simply too small and provincial to be worthy of worship. It's way past time that my fellow American Christians learned that "American" and "Christian" are actually two separate things. I'm more in favor of a separation between church and state than anyone, not so much because of what it does to the state as because of the devastating way the conflation has co-opted churches.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:58 AM on April 26, 2008 [39 favorites]


If they had a shuttle my kid would have USED it the first couple of years he was there. And I didn't say they weren't right across the street from USAFA PROPERTY. I AM saying you gotta go miles and miles before you are where the cadets are located.

Oh, and all but the last link you linked went back to 2005 when all the kerfuffle was taking place. Let's just say that you can't believe everything you read in the papers. As to the last one, those guys were supposed to be speaking as former terrorists. And yes, there were complaints, so there's that. But hey, they have a right to their own opinions just as Mikey Weinstein does-who also got to speak at the Blue Zoo. BTW a lot of unreligious cadets and alumni were not too thrilled with Weinstein's presentation either. I have my sources.
posted by konolia at 10:00 AM on April 26, 2008


konolia, given that you have a long history of dishonesty and lies in service of your religious beliefs, why should anybody believe a word you post?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:26 AM on April 26, 2008 [6 favorites]


Sheesh, talk about a derail. Konolia, the subject of this thread is Christians silencing atheists -- you know, the same thing you're always claiming that atheists are trying to do to you on this website? Not how far your son has to walk to Sunday School.

I swear, if it wasn't for posters like Pater Aletheias, I'd be convinced all you Christians were clinically insane.

all but the last link you linked went back to 2005

Yeah, the culture of institutions like the military can change dramatically in three years, can't it -- NOT!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:27 AM on April 26, 2008


you can't believe everything you read in the papers

I guess CNN (not a newspaper), The Washington Post, USA Today, The Charlotte Observer and the New York Times (all referenced in Balisong's hyperlinks) all spun fairy tales regarding the religious climate at the Air Force Academy.
posted by ericb at 10:34 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Constantine's Sword
"Casting bestselling author/columnist James Carroll as the teller of his own tale, Oren Jacoby’s magnificent, thought-provoking essay film “Constantine’s Sword” examines the unholy alliance between organized religion and military power. Jacoby’s focused yet peripatetic approach perfectly suits Carroll’s unique blending of historical and personal pilgrimages, as he travels to the U.S. Air Force base at Colorado Springs on the one hand and to ancient Rome on the other. Taking anti-Semitism as a paradigm for religious intolerance, Carroll sets out to ascertain where Christianity went wrong."*
Air Force Academy Pulls Anti-Catholic Movie Clips
"Officials from the U.S. Air Force Academy announced clips from the movie 'Constantine's Sword' would not be shown during a forum on religious tolerance and terrorism held at the Academy's Colorado Springs, Colo. campus. The announcement was made just two days after a prominent Catholic civil rights group voiced concern over the film."
posted by ericb at 10:44 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


United States Airforce Academy: Interim Guidelines Concerning Free Exercise Of Religion In The Air Force (Revised) | Unclassified.
posted by ericb at 10:46 AM on April 26, 2008


Washington Post | February 10, 2006: Air Force Eases Rules on Religion
"The Air Force, under pressure from evangelical Christian groups and members of Congress, softened its guidelines on religious expression yesterday to emphasize that superior officers may discuss their faith with subordinates and that chaplains will not be required to offer nonsectarian prayers.

...The guidelines were first issued in late August after allegations that evangelical Christian commanders, coaches and cadets at the Air Force Academy had pressured cadets of other faiths. The original wording sought to tamp down religious fervor and to foster tolerance throughout the Air Force. It discouraged public prayers at routine events and warned superior officers that personal expressions of faith could be misunderstood as official statements.

But evangelical groups, such as the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, saw the guidelines as overly restrictive. They launched a nationwide petition drive, sounded alarms on Christian radio stations, and deluged the White House and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne's office with e-mails calling the guidelines an infringement of the Constitution's guarantees of free speech and free exercise of religion.

Seventy-two members of Congress also signed a letter to President Bush criticizing the guidelines and urging him to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of military chaplains to pray 'in Jesus' name' rather than being forced to offer nonsectarian prayers at public ceremonies.

The revised guidelines are considerably shorter than the original, filling one page instead of four. They place more emphasis on the Constitution's free exercise clause, which is mentioned four times, than on its prohibition on any government establishment of religion, which is mentioned twice.

The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of New Life Church, a congregation near the Air Force Academy, said the revised document restores the proper balance between the free exercise and establishment clauses."
Yeah -- Teddy, you know all about free exercise, don't ya?
posted by ericb at 10:51 AM on April 26, 2008


BTW -- trailer for Constantine's Sword [2:17].

A Conversation with James Carroll [20:41].
posted by ericb at 11:00 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


America is in decline. As we race towards a class system, the poorest will become cannon fodder for questionable wars, while religion will be the only thing left to motivate them. Most of our soldiers will never feel free to question popular beliefs within the confines of their class culture, nor would they defend the freedom of thought as a principle--which is a problem when considering a war of liberation. The officers in the new military will be the cream of the working class and will be expected to toe the religious line as motivators and examples. It will make a far less effective military, because mass emotion will take precedent over calm gamesmanship, and that means victory comes as a result of dogmatic brutality and overwhelming odds, while a smarter and more flexible force that thinks on its feet could beat us.
posted by Brian B. at 11:11 AM on April 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


Evangelist Video Shot at Air Force Academy Exposed | December 21, 2007
"A video made by a Christian ministry group shows Air Force Academy cadets being pressured to become 'government paid missionaries when they leave' the academy, according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which released the video this week.

MRFF president Mikey Weinstein says the video is unconstitutional and an outrage.

'This is absolutely out of control. You cannot engage the U.S. government to propel your religion,' said Weinstein.

The video features former Academy Campus Crusade for Christ director Scot Blum saying, 'They're government paid missionaries when they leave here,' referring to graduates of the academy.

'Our purpose for Campus Crusade for Christ at the Air Force Academy is to make Jesus Christ the issue at the Air Force Academy and around the world,' said Blum on the video."
Watch the 'Campus Crusade for Christ' video here.
posted by ericb at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2008


This makes me very sad and angry. I wonder if giving cadets a course in constitutional law would help; maybe not, if the forces of unthinking deference to slogans like "atheism is against the constitution" and similar garbage are so strong. There's all this talk about how soldiers etc fight to Protect Our Freedom, but for some it means to Protect The Right to Force Their View on Subordinates.

konolia, you are saying things like "oh the horrors -a chapel! har har" and "don't worry, the atheists have nothing to worry about, my son hasn't seen anything like that happen".

But do you agree that IF this kind of proselyting and bullying were going on, it would be bad? Even against the spirit of the constitution?

And do you think that maybe, if your son belongs to the majority religion at the AFA, he might be less aware of how atheist cadets are treated? (That is, nobody's going to give him a hard time about his religion there, and he might just not be seeing what's happening to the atheists.) I assume that if there is bullying etc, the worst of it is behind closed doors, etc, rather than being announced from the podium.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, mustn't forget: DOD Stops Plan to Send Christian Video Game to Troops in Iraq [previous MeFi thread].
posted by ericb at 11:19 AM on April 26, 2008


I teach at West Point. (Disclaimer: the views I express here are my own, and do not represent the views of the institutions with which I'm associated.) Among my officer colleagues, there are many who are deeply religious, and there are some who are less so. In terms of student extracurricular activities, there are certainly more religious clubs than any other kinds of clubs. At the same time, I've never seen proselytizing in the classroom, and in fact, some officers I've talked to look at the proselytizing situation at USAFA with concern, including some of those who are deeply religious: the problems they see Air Force having with religion are problems most don't want to see at West Point.

Many of the cadets are religious. Some are less so. It may be worth considering that while we have top-notch students, they all self-select, knowing they incur a five-year service obligation in return for their education. And people who self-select for the military may often have value systems and politics (including an ethic of service and sacrifice) that differ somewhat from those espoused by others. (Mayor Curley's ugly comment uniformly slandering any and all people who have served or are serving the military notwithstanding. Yes, there are stupid people in the military, as in any group. Perhaps remarkably, there are also stupid people not in the military.) So yes, the service academies may get a student body of people who tend (not necessarily in all cases) toward cultural conservatism, of which religiosity can be one aspect.

In a broader sense, that tendency towards cultural homogenization in the military seems to be what fourcheesemac is decrying. I think the situation SPC Jeremy Hall found himself in is a lousy one, and I think that any sort of religious discrimination -- including the kind he faced and faces -- is unprofessional, unconstitutional, and anti-American. Clearly, there are those who disagree.

In which case, I think it sure would be nice if there were more people who shared SPC Hall's views who elected to join the military. It might help to change and diversify that culture, which I think would be a fine and productive thing.
posted by vitia at 12:03 PM on April 26, 2008 [11 favorites]


Brian B. : we've already seen that movie, it was called "Vietnam" IIRC.

Defending the friendly Catholics for whom had established a state against the godless Communists was part of what got us involved in there.

The konolias of the 50s and 60s were gung-ho for preserving the Diem and successor regimes. That dynamic was usually subtle, but it was there.
posted by tachikaze at 12:05 PM on April 26, 2008


sorry vitia, but I think Abu Ghraib, 'wax first and ask questions later', and playing bumper cars with civilian traffic over there is generally how we Americans roll.

The hallowed halls of West Point are not the normative Army experience.
posted by tachikaze at 12:11 PM on April 26, 2008


"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."
- James Madison

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."
- John Adams

"In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot ... they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose."
- Thomas Jefferson

"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."
- Benjamin Franklin


"George Washington's practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian... He repeatedly declined the church's sacraments. Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary... Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative."
- historian Barry Schwartz

more here
posted by crazylegs at 1:05 PM on April 26, 2008 [20 favorites]


how could I forget Thomas Paine!?

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."
posted by crazylegs at 1:08 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


OF COURSE I do not want anyone harassed, about religion or anything else. I just think that a lot of what you are reading in the media is overblown and taken out of context.
I don't think kneejerk reactions on either side serve anyone well.

As for majority religion at the Zoo, that would be beer and Halo.
posted by konolia at 1:18 PM on April 26, 2008


Some are less so. It may be worth considering that while we have top-notch students, they all self-select, knowing they incur a five-year service obligation in return for their education. And people who self-select for the military may often have value systems and politics (including an ethic of service and sacrifice) that differ somewhat from those espoused by others.

Self-select? Service and sacrifice? Values? C'mon vitia. Today's soldiers, sailors, and marines are are people who choose to seek employment with the armed services. No one is drafted anymore. There is no such thing as a volunteer army. "Volunteers" are those who give their time for free and expect nothing in return. TNo, these people choose to join the military because they want to - whatever their personal motivation. The holier-than-thou (figuratively, not literally) attitude (we serve, we sacrifice) is wholly without basis.

At the end of the day, they seek and are hired to do a job and receive remuneration for their efforts. And like any other job, it's not for the employees to tell the employer what's up. No establishment of religion means no establishment of religion. Them's the rules in the US of A. Certainly a "top-notch" student should be able to grasp this simple concept. If they don't like it, they can seek employment somewhere else.
posted by three blind mice at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


The military cemetary emblems are interesting. My father was very happy to arrange (ahead of time, like any good Yankee) for a UU symbol on his grave marker. Adding the Wiccan symbol took a lawsuit. (A survey found 1,800 Wiccans in the Air Force -- who knew??)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:01 PM on April 26, 2008


(may I come back now that there are 60 comments?)

konolia, what would be the "in context" way to make it alright that an atheist soldier is getting death threats from his colleagues and his tour cut short by his CO?

The only context in which it's not a big deal is a context where it's not a typical occurrence in the US Military; we have direct testimony in this thread, and more in the article, that this is part of a pattern. Nothing in the specific context of this case makes it seem minimal to me, and the account is verified and credible, with a witness.

I take three blind mice's point seriously: I don't so much care whether the average soldier understands the bill of rights or the constitution or the freedoms for which s/he fights, though like some above I am convinced doing so makes you a better soldier in every sense. But I do care that the rules are followed; military discipline is *all* about following the rules, so to see COs dismiss the rules -- from rulebook number one, the US Constitution, no less -- tells me there is a breakdown in discipline, which is very serious indeed. This is a command level issue that has been neglected for political reasons, not cultural or ethical ones, in my view anyway.

You think people are shouting at you when you come in and do battle in threads on religion, but we're not. We're pointing out that you have a double standard of which you are apparently unaware, where you identify your beliefs, mainstream or not, with a consensus that is somehow shared and unproblematic. It certainly isn't, on MeFi or anywhere else. If you can tell an atheist to shut up or be killed, you can tell a Pentacostal to stop praying too. Think about it.

OK, back to the sidelines.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:09 PM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Okay, Annapolis over here.

1) We do take a course on Constitutional Law. After the whole Iran-Contra thing, Congress mandated that we wouldn't just some simple civics lesson, but a real course on how the government does operate and how it should.

2) This is just one service Academy, but religious toes are tricky things over here. For students, having everything provided means having religious services and counseling provided. We have that nice chapel, but I've only been in it when I was watching the Halloween Concert and the glee club put on The Messiah for Christmas. For those that are interested, they can spend a lot of time in the Chapel or the new Synagogue, but I've never been encouraged to attend by anyone in any position over me (a friend did ask if I wanted to go once, bless his ever-lov'n heart).

3) This may be due to the fact that half the Academy is Catholic, a large minority is Jewish, and there are quite a few religious subgroups that organize. Evangelicals are here, but they aren't in power, and most behave themselves decently.

4) Additionally, the Navy does tend to be pretty live and let live. Though I have come across my fair share of bigots and assclowns, most know when not to push it in the official sense. Every so often, I'll hear some old grad bemoan the loss of traditional values, but in general, the culture is "as long as it doesn't affect work, we don't care". Of course, there are a few petty tyrants that appear, and sometimes it takes a bit to dislodge them. We're working on it.

5) There ARE plenty of dissenters, but the nature of our career means dissent is tricky. I've known a few loudmouthed atheists here, but most only talk about it when asked, which is how I prefer both religious and atheistic proclamations. Politically, . . . we're kinda tricky. Lot's just support the status quo and there are few times when I've butted my head up against the wall with my colleagues as far as political conversations. But then again, I've lent my friends Hedwig and the Angy Inch and we've had conversations about such things at our squad (though peer) tables.

6) There are stupid people in the military. There are smart but ignorant people. There are bullies, jerks, and those without class. But in general, they tend to be marginalized rather quickly if they step out of line on things. We have a military culture that is in many ways progressive, but at the same time reactionary. We're talking about for all intents a very socialist system where people live very closely with each other, almost every part of their lives is somewhat government-sponsored, and orthodoxy is considered a generally good thing. Due to these considerations, the individual's privacy and rights sometimes get lost in group conformity and utilitarian ethics. This is not because of what the military does, but rather what is, due to its organization.

Oh, but Air Force Academy? They scare the dickens out of me. I dislike them extremely and consider many unprofessional. West Point grads tend to pretty okay, but depressing. Coast Guard just rocks. I have no clear opinion on Merchant Mariners.

I'm sorry for the good PFC and hope the media will force the issue as it is wont to due. For all its wonder, military culture needs a kick in the pants sometimes.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:12 PM on April 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


COs dismiss the rules -- from rulebook number one, the US Constitution, no less -- tells me there is a breakdown in discipline, which is very serious indeed.

Not just rulebook number one, but the very thing that you take an oath to defend as a US Servicemen.
posted by psmealey at 2:12 PM on April 26, 2008


I remember when my stepdad was in the Army, and I was attending my senior year at Fort Campbell, I got tons of shit from the FCA and other zealots because I was an atheist. It helped me foster a bitterness at the time, but as time went on, I felt sorry and pity for them.

There was a definite sense of superiority amongst the Jesus followers at the time (this was the early 1990's) as opposed to non-believers. I do hope this has changed.
posted by Chocomog at 2:14 PM on April 26, 2008


Self-select? Service and sacrifice? Values? C'mon vitia. Today's soldiers, sailors, and marines are are people who choose to seek employment with the armed services.

Um, if they are people who "choose to do X", that would make them "self-selected".

As for values like service and sacrifice -- vitia is talking about West Point, not the recruitment station at the mall. It is absolutely a sacrifice and a service to go to West Point, in 2008, knowing full well that you could die in a transport blown up by an IED when you're finished, and that you could just as easily go to a school that didn't require 5 years of service in a place where people shoot at you. The alternative for students who can make West Point is a nice, safe college education, followed by a nice, safe, and comparatively lucrative career in the US. If you don't think they're making a sacrifice by going into the officer corps, you're not thinking things through. I suggest starting with how much Army officers get paid (graduating West Point cadets will start at less than $30K per year as lieutenants; I started at double that with the exalted rank of "someone just out of college with a bachelor's degree in CS"), and moving on to how often people Stateside get shot in the head by snipers or blown up by bombs.

That said, I considered the military (through USMC JROTC) in high school, and passed on it partly due to issues related to atheism. Saying "it sure would be nice if there were more people who shared SPC Hall's views who elected to join the military" is all well and good, but people can tell when they're not welcome, and the military did not seem like a very welcoming place for me. The amount of what I call "collateral Christianity" seemed pretty high even in 1991... certainly a lot higher than the level in most civilian occupations. To fit in with the ROTC kids, you had to be able to either ignore or embrace that; I couldn't, so I didn't.

Expecting people who don't fit in to join a tight-knit organization that you can't easily quit is a bit much. If the Armed Forces can go, in a top-down way, from being a male-only, racially segregated force to one in which women and minorities are allowed, I don't think it's too much to ask for them to make serious top-down strides to welcome people of all (or no) faith. But, of course, that would require the top-level organization in each branch to want to do so. Considering the Air Force's flip-flop on the Free Exercise rules, it seems like they don't want to make the effort, but I've heard that it's different in the other branches.

At any rate, this is going to become an increasingly important issue, as the number of people who check the "other" box on the form increases.
posted by vorfeed at 2:49 PM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Tachikaze, I'm glad you can generalize from those incidents. Please, tell me about the experience you have that backs up your arguments.

Because, if you couldn't guess, I served, and that's part of the reason I love working with the cadets.

Ditto for Three Blind Mice: please, back up your claim. Because I work with these cadets and officers every day. You're welcome to come up to Hudson High and visit and talk to them and see for yourself. The pose of the hip cynic is, I'm sure, a pleasurable one to take. But in point of fact, you are fundamentally mistaken.
posted by vitia at 2:49 PM on April 26, 2008


oops, I found a typo: I said '91 above, when I meant to say '92 (I was class of '96).
posted by vorfeed at 2:53 PM on April 26, 2008


sorry, *alleged* fragging victim, since he was killed by nice, friendly fire.

Pat Tillman was killed by a tight three-bullet group to the forehead. From Special Forces. It strikes me as exceedingly unlikely that it was an accidental death.
posted by Malor at 2:56 PM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


George Washington... how could I forget Thomas Paine!?

Protestant fundamentalism, at least the kind that affects (poisons?) American politics is a very recent phenomenon, even in the short history of the U.S. The puritan phenomenon was there at the establishment of the colonies, but its religious effect was long gone among the power elites within a century. What we're seeing here mostly takes its roots in Depression era revivalist movements in the Southern Baptist tradition, and then the resurgence of fundamentalist "Born Again" movement that in that started up in the 1970s.

The fact that the venerated Founding Fathers were almost to a man, agnostic or at least non-practicing Christians (Christians in name only) should surprise exactly no one. I'm not sure if this is particularly meaningful weaponry against religious fanaticism, but it's definitely worthwhile pointing out.
posted by psmealey at 3:24 PM on April 26, 2008


The loudmouths and the zealous do define an organization or group, and not simply in a "media sense," primarily because the less intense will either remain silent, or worse, echo their sentiments, simply so they will not be perceived as less-holy-than-thou, less committed to La Revolution, and so forth.

I have said it before, I will say it again: If you do not wish your fringe elements to define you, police your nutbags; if you fail to do so, they will first be your caricature, then your leaders upon majority, and finally the witchfinder generals when it comes time to put the unfaithful to the sword.
posted by adipocere at 3:33 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the connection between the military and Christians. If this were a predominantly Jewish, Muslim, or Asatru country it would make sense, but Christians? Because if there's one thing that Jesus was all about, it was murdering brown people.

We shouldn't have chaplains in the military. Your right to freedom of religion does not extend to getting government dollars. Why are my tax dollars going to witch doctors?
posted by 1adam12 at 3:38 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well said, vorfeed, and I think your point about top-down change is eminently sensible. I guess part of what I was trying to get at was that rhetorically speaking, it's incredibly easy to take potshots from positions of relative privilege (which you start to get at in your comment), but rather more effective -- and more difficult, as you point out -- to actually have a stake in enacting a remedy to the situation one might snipe at. Be the change you seek, as the cliché goes.

(And "collateral Christianity" is wonderful and apt, BTW.)
posted by vitia at 4:07 PM on April 26, 2008


konolia, what would be the "in context" way to make it alright that an atheist soldier is getting death threats from his colleagues and his tour cut short by his CO?

OF COURSE that is unacceptable.

I just wonder in what context this occurred...because I know there are tons of atheists and wiccans and pagans in the service-both at the Academy and at Bragg-and I do NOT think this is regular occurrence, because if it was I would more than likely be hearing about it.

I'm asking-because I know I don't know, but it makes sense to me-if perhaps, just like some folks who are Christians or claim to be might be bad soldiers or pains in the neck, etc and be treated poorly as a result-could it be that someone who was an atheist could be treated poorly not because of his atheism but for other reasons?

One reason I ask this is because on another board, frequented by Academy grads, there is some discussion of Michael Weinstein-apparently when he was a cadet he was the recipient of ill treatment, which he put down to being Jewish. Some of the grads posting-who were NOT religious types, guys who would fit in pretty well HERE in fact-seem to think Weinstein got treated that way because he simply was not well liked for himself. These are guys who apparently were his classmates. I wasn't there so I don't know.

All I can tell you folks is what my son tells ME goes on. Most of his professors are unbelievers, and neither condemn nor condone his beliefs, and from what he tells me, as I jokingly referred to above, most of his fellow cadets are not very serious about faith matters at all.
posted by konolia at 5:17 PM on April 26, 2008


I guess part of what I was trying to get at was that rhetorically speaking, it's incredibly easy to take potshots from positions of relative privilege (which you start to get at in your comment), but rather more effective -- and more difficult, as you point out -- to actually have a stake in enacting a remedy to the situation one might snipe at. Be the change you seek, as the cliché goes.

Absolutely, and I think this is very important. The problem comes about when people like Specialist Hall try to be the change and then get no support from their superiors. It shouldn't take a lawsuit to give SPC Hall the same chance to serve that any other soldier would have, and there shouldn't have been so many of his commanding officers who were willing to aid and abet his ostracism. There's an excuse for the religious intolerance of Private so-and-so and Sergeant blah-de-blah, assuming they haven't been ordered to behave otherwise, but not for officers who deliberately look the other way while their subordinates treat their comrades poorly. For example, his commanders in Iraq sent SPC Hall out of the unit rather than punishing the people who "disagreed" with him; it seems to me that this sends exactly the wrong message about what is and is not to be tolerated.

Truman's desegregation order would never have worked if officers had been allowed to flagrantly disregard it; neither will religious freedom. This kind of wink-wink crap really needs to stop, and though getting more people like SPC Hall to sign up helps, you can't expect them to make it happen all on their own. The chain of command doesn't run bottom-up.

(And "collateral Christianity" is wonderful and apt, BTW.)

That's really how it felt -- it wasn't as if the JROTC was deliberately trying to make me uncomfortable, though certainly there were a couple of assholes here and there. There was just a pervasive assumption that everyone was "on the same page" with regards to things like politics and religion, and if anybody wasn't, they should suck it up. Even if I wasn't OK with that, personally, I can admit that it's fair enough... if it applies to all sides of the issue, and if quietly having your own view of things doesn't lead to the sort of bullshit that's described in the article. Unfortunately, that doesn't always seem to be the case, at least not with regards to atheism.
posted by vorfeed at 5:39 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The loudmouths and the zealous do define an organization or group, and not simply in a "media sense," primarily because the less intense will either remain silent, or worse, echo their sentiments, simply so they will not be perceived as less-holy-than-thou, less committed to La Revolution, and so forth.

I have said it before, I will say it again: If you do not wish your fringe elements to define you, police your nutbags; if you fail to do so, they will first be your caricature, then your leaders upon majority, and finally the witchfinder generals when it comes time to put the unfaithful to the sword."... from adipocere

I agree with you totally, adipocere, and not just for the government or the military or the churches, but for MetaFilter as well. This post was set up by fourcheesemac to incite the masses here. If you think otherwise, check out the tags which include fascism and theocracy. Really? The news article was REALLY about that?

I am in no way downplaying what happened to Hall, because if what is reported is true, then he will be vindicated for doing what was his right to do. To take this incident and then set out to make it something MUCH bigger, (fascism or theocracy, per the tag), is nothing more than group baiting by a mefite who knew he could. Was fourcheesemac the kind of loudmouth or zealot you were talking about? While I may be wrong, he appears to me to have had a personal objective with this thread from the moment he posted it.

The good news is that we have had some people stepping forward saying that their experiences do not mimic this particular incident. That helps to give the post some balance where I fear fourcheesemac intended none to exist.

MetaFilter is an excellent place to come to learn about all kinds of things. It should be a great place to come to have reasonable give and take with an open mind to all views, but just like any place else, you will have some who want to derail the "open mind" and "learning" part for their own self interests, whatever those interests might be.

None of us live in a world where everyone shares our values, and we do quite well with working through that generally. Minority views should even be encouraged to enhance the mutual learning. If we were looking at this discussion as a continuum of views, beware of those falling off the edges...EITHER edge.
posted by LiveLurker at 6:00 PM on April 26, 2008


konolia, did you read the article? The incident that SPC Hall is suing over is clearly directly related to his atheism. He says he was preached at and threatened by a superior officer at an atheist meeting, over the content of the meeting. Also, some of his non-lawsuit claims include being told to leave the dinner table for not praying, and being told by a superior officer that religious freedom does not apply to those without religion.

Things like this do not happen to you just because you are "not well liked for yourself". They are specifically related to religion.

His "'legal' issues" (i.e. issues with religious expression) were directly, openly, and officially referenced as a reason for his being threatened, by one of the officers who sent SPC Hall home from Iraq. Do you really think you're in a position to have a better idea of the reasons behind what happened than he did?

LiveLurker: oh, come on. People put silly crap in the tags all the damn time, to the point where it's almost tradition. The post itself is well within reason for mefi. Trust me, I've seen lolxians, and this ain't it. But if you still don't agree, I think you should contact fourcheesemac privately or open a metatalk thread about it, rather than posting a huge derail in a thread that you yourself admit was going well.
posted by vorfeed at 6:11 PM on April 26, 2008


konolia, did you read the article? The incident that SPC Hall is suing over is clearly directly related to his atheism. He says he was preached at and threatened by a superior officer at an atheist meeting, over the content of the meeting. Also, some of his non-lawsuit claims include being told to leave the dinner table for not praying, and being told by a superior officer that religious freedom does not apply to those without religion.

Things like this do not happen to you just because you are "not well liked for yourself". They are specifically related to religion.


Well, then, sounds like his superiors needed to find another way of making a living. That is simply crap. That is definitely not behavior Jesus would approve of, much less behaviour acceptable under the Constitution. There are bullies that try to use the Bible as an excuse, and I have no use for that whatsoever.
posted by konolia at 6:20 PM on April 26, 2008


It really is a Crusades.

Nothing like poking a stick into the hornet's nest to really end up getting stung.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:37 PM on April 26, 2008


Whatever way you cut it we are revisiting medieval times, with a repudiation of the sciences leading the way. Only this time around its not the Black Plague, but the Bird Plague or something worse that’s coming on the heels of this crusade.

People love to indulge in the conceit of progress, but they never really change
posted by Huplescat at 6:59 PM on April 26, 2008


konolia: I know there are tons of atheists and wiccans and pagans in the service-both at the Academy and at Bragg-and I do NOT think this is regular occurrence, because if it was I would more than likely be hearing about it.

And saying things like this illuminates the limits of your knowledge. "At Bragg"? Even the wing-wipes zoomies at USAFA aren't stupid enough to conflate a single military base with an entire branch of service.

Most of his professors are unbelievers.

In exactly what context are college professors expected to express their (apparently necessarily Christian) religious faith? Your son's comment, in and of itself, shows that either you or he is lying about the supposed absence of a proselytizing atmosphere at USAFA. As vorfeed and others have pointed out, and as ericb's link indicates, and as the accounts Lord Chancellor and I and others offer show, USAFA's got some serious problems with pervasive and inappropriate evangelizing, in and out of the classroom. In fact, if neither you nor your son are wilfully misrepresenting the facts, one can only conclude that your own evangelical zeal is exactly what leads to your son's blindness to said inappropriate proselytizing.
posted by vitia at 7:01 PM on April 26, 2008


I'm pretty sure there aren't a whole lot of pagans and wiccans in the USA, let alone the US military.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:35 PM on April 26, 2008


I'm pretty sure there aren't a whole people who have a clue in the USA, let alone the US military.
posted by Huplescat at 7:53 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure there aren't a whole lot of pagans and wiccans in the USA, let alone the US military.

I'm pretty sure you're wrong. Recent, conservative estimates give a figure of about 1 million neopagans in the United States. Some have estimated up to 10 million. Even the conservative estimate means that there are more pagans than there are Seventh-Day Adventists, and about as many as there are members of the Assemblies of God or the United Church of Christ.

As for the Armed Forces, 11 percent of servicemen and women identified themselves as "other religions/unknown/refused" in 2001 (this is the catch-all under which pagan religions are classified). Interestingly, this is almost four times the national percentage over the same age group. Atheism, too, is more common in the military (21% of respondents) than it is amongst civilians (about 14%).

In fact, the military tends to be significantly less religious than the American civilian population, which is one of the reasons why this kind of discrimination is so unfortunate. It's both anti-American and anti-Army.
posted by vorfeed at 8:15 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


That is definitely not behavior Jesus would approve of, much less behaviour acceptable under the Constitution. There are bullies that try to use the Bible as an excuse, and I have no use for that whatsoever.

And what would Jesus say about the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as it applies to the U.S. military these days? Did he ever denigrate or condemn gays/lesbians in his sermons and teachings?

BTW -- I recommend watching the PBS mini-series this coming week -- Carrier || Life Aboard the USS Nimitz:
“On the way to the Gulf, we stopped in Hong Kong. I went to a gay bar there and it was like, 'Hello, shipmates!' The place was packed with sailors. So yeah, from what I observed, there were quite a few. It's kind of an open secret. It's totally apparent, but everyone pretends not to notice. Many of the gay and lesbian sailors and marines I met were out to their friends and co-workers on the ship and it seemed to not be a big deal.”
posted by ericb at 9:29 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, well, it's not up to the brass about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy; Congress wrote it, and they are the ones which must rescind it. Some of us might scream about it, but within a few years, everyone will get used to the fact that they serve with gays and lesbians (many already are). Unfortunately, it's a political issue. All the Republicans can do now is hold the line so as to attract the base, not many call for expelling gays or going on witch hunts (contrast with 16 years ago). American society has lost most of its stomach for it and actually likes gays. So, this is kinda in Congress's court. We'll work on the other stuff.

You have my personal pledge that none shall be without advocate of religious freedom (and sexual orientation, as far as the rules can be bent) under my (small) command. There are many who think the same as me.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 11:14 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just wonder in what context this occurred...because I know there are tons of atheists and wiccans and pagans in the service-both at the Academy and at Bragg-and I do NOT think this is regular occurrence, because if it was I would more than likely be hearing about it.


The context is quite well described in the article, so there is no need to wonder; specialist Hall was serving in Tikrit (Camp Speicher) and he held a group meeting for a few fellow non-believers. Support the troops much? What "context" is it that we "don't know" here? Are you saying that if he is an asshole in person, he deserves death threats? Because otherwise I have no idea what you are saying.

Also, "unbeliever," believe it or not, is an insult, it's your fundy Xtian slur for "atheists" that makes sure we're defined negatively as lacking something. *Non* believer maybe, but "unbeliever" is like "infidel," and reveals the Taliban mindset of even reasonable Christian zealots like you.

As a professor myself, I can tell you most of my students have no idea what I believe about the universe, so I doubt your son really knows what his professors "believe" or not. Even teaching in a prominent *secular* "context," I am cautious about revealing my beliefs, which are irrelevant to my teaching most of the time. I can only imagine professors at the USAFA are even more circumspect about letting it be known if they are atheist or not, so with all due respect, I'll take a NY Times story with witnesses and named sources over an anecdote about one cadet's experience from his mom.

The "context" of this story is a war zone, where a soldier should be free to believe anything that helps him or her make it through that hell and support his or her comrades, don't you think?
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:40 AM on April 27, 2008


Bravo Lord Chancellor!
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:42 AM on April 27, 2008


This post was set up by fourcheesemac to incite the masses here. If you think otherwise, check out the tags which include fascism and theocracy. Really? The news article was REALLY about that?


"Incite the masses" to what, actually? Intense, passionate discussion? God forbid. Or is there a riot going on that I missed?

Yes, "fascism" and theocracy are what the article is about from my perspective, and that is why I posted the article and that is why the discussion has developed the way it has.

What part of "if you don't like the thread, don't post in it" is so hard to understand, since you're so big on policing the principles around here that they should be handing you a volunteer moderator T-shirt? It's not like this is the only politically touchy topic on the blue this week.

You don't impress me much; you're the same one who defended Givewell's sockpuppet spamming as no big deal; but heaven forbid a long time member should post something with which you disagree, or something that expresses a point of view on a major political topic of our times. Or use tags to make a point about a post.

I regret the return to ad hominem points, but you decided to come back in and make yours after the crowd moved on, so here's some pushback: if you don't see the emergent theocratic tendencies in American politics, culture, and institutions, that's because you favor it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:49 AM on April 27, 2008


My son carries a minor in philosophy. So it's not odd that beliefs are discussed, particularly since he is a big fan of Kierkegaard. Especially since he is expected to defend philosophical points in his papers, some of which do stray into theological areas (again, Kierkegaard.)
posted by konolia at 5:15 AM on April 27, 2008


Oh, and one other thing-one anectdote, no matter how horrible and distasteful does not prove the attitude of a whole branch of service. We could probably dig up one where the victim was a Christian or a Jew, which would not mean the service was hostile environment for them either.

I wonder how many of you really know much about military culture. It isn't some uberreligious thing-it's a heavy drinking culture, at times really misogynous culture, definitely. But there really is a variety of religious beliefs or lack thereof in the service. And don't tell me there aren't pagans and wiccans at Bragg, because I know for a fact there are, and plenty of them.
posted by konolia at 5:21 AM on April 27, 2008


No one is talking about "military culture" in general here, konolia, or at least I'm not, nor is anyone denying the religious diversity of the US armed forces' membership.

We're talking about abuse of some of those diverse members by a (presumably small) group of Christian nationalists. Deny it all you want, but there it is in the New York Times, with witnesses.

Of course there are wiccans and pagans in the military; did you know they aren't allowed to have symbols of their religion on their military gravesites, unlike Christians, Muslims, and Jews?

No, there's no discrimination against non-Christians in America, of course not. Silly me, inciting the Mefi masses to riots over a non-existent issue.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:51 AM on April 27, 2008


11 percent of servicemen and women identified themselves as "other religions/unknown/refused" in 2001

Colour me surprised!

However, pagans account for about 0.33% of the American population. They certainly are not going to account for ten percent of the troops.

American Sociological Review: "Based on a telephone survey of more than 2,000 households and in-depth interviews with more than 140 people, researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, homosexuals and other groups as 'sharing their vision of American society.' Americans are also least willing to let their children marry atheists."

One would have to be stupid to think this pervasive hatred of atheists doesn't show itself in the military.

Konolia, this bears repeating: if neither you nor your son are wilfully misrepresenting the facts, one can only conclude that your own evangelical zeal is exactly what leads to your son's blindness to said inappropriate proselytizing.

Also, athiests are "unbelievers" in Christianity in the same way you are an unbeliever in Odinism. You can't unbelieve what isn't believable.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 AM on April 27, 2008


Oh, and one other thing-one anectdote, no matter how horrible and distasteful does not prove the attitude of a whole branch of service. We could probably dig up one where the victim was a Christian or a Jew, which would not mean the service was hostile environment for them either.

No way, that's not going to work. You're the one who's been going on about "the attitude of a whole branch of service", based only on your own second-hand experience. And if you'll care to actually read the thread, you'll see that there are many anecdotes, here, from many people with first-hand experience with the military, and most of them agree that this is a problem, at least to some extent.

One anecdote proves nothing, but a pattern of increasing complaints, over the space of years, certainly suggests that something is going on.

I wonder how many of you really know much about military culture. It isn't some uberreligious thing-it's a heavy drinking culture, at times really misogynous culture, definitely. But there really is a variety of religious beliefs or lack thereof in the service. And don't tell me there aren't pagans and wiccans at Bragg, because I know for a fact there are, and plenty of them.

You're right about military culture, and you're right about pagans in the military, but what you're not seeing is that there is a concerted and purposeful Evangelical effort to change military culture, and to discourage pagans, wiccans, and other non-Christians from signing up. This is no secret -- if you read the links others have provided to groups like the Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Christian Embassy, you will quickly see that their goal is a Christian military, plain and simple. They're not subtle about it in the least.

If you like the military as it is, I think you owe it to yourself to look into these matters, and to stop being so complacent about what these groups are doing. If this is not your Christianity, as you've said above, then please stop making excuses for these people.
posted by vorfeed at 10:06 AM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's also a concerted and purposeful Evangelical effort to take control of the US judicial system and government, as evidenced by the dismissal of long-term employees and appointees, who are replaced with unqualified or underqualified goons from Dominionist schools.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:30 AM on April 27, 2008


From today's CBS News Sunday Morning broadcast: Fighting For God AND Country -- "Are Service Members Discriminated Against By Evangelists Within The U.S. Military?"
"As evidence that Christianity is being forced on soldiers, there is a promotional video from a group called the Christian Embassy shot inside the Pentagon and featuring several generals.

Then there's the Web site of the Officers Christian Fellowship, which has representatives on nearly all U.S. military bases worldwide."
posted by ericb at 11:09 AM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's also a concerted and purposeful Evangelical effort to take control of the US judicial system and government, as evidenced by the dismissal of long-term employees and appointees, who are replaced with unqualified or underqualified goons from Dominionist schools.

U.S. Attorneys' Firing Scandal Puts Spotlight on Christian Law School
"Regent University School of Law, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson to provide 'Christian leadership to change the world,' has worked hard in its two-decade history to upgrade its reputation, fighting past years when a majority of its graduates couldn't pass the bar exam and leading up to recent victories over Ivy League teams in national law student competitions.

But even in its darker days, Regent has had no better friend than the Bush administration. Graduates of the law school have been among the most influential of the more than 150 Regent University alumni hired to federal government positions since President Bush took office in 2001, according to a university website."
The New Establishment -- How Evangelicals Became Part of Washington's Fabric
"To the Bush haters of America, the young Monica Goodling is a footnote of this wretched era, one of the many Washington types that they'll be happy to get rid of come January 2009: Venal Vice President, Ex-Lobbyists Turned Regulators and, in Goodling's case, Young Evangelicals in High Places.

...Goodling is part of a new generation of evangelicals ushered in by Falwell, who insisted that Christians get involved in politics. They are graduates of the exploding number of evangelical colleges, which no longer aim to create a parallel subculture but instead to train 'Christian leaders to change the world,' as the Regent mission statement reads.

It used to be that being 33 and in charge of 93 U.S. attorneys would mean you'd been top of your class at Harvard or Yale or clerked at the Supreme Court. Now, Christian schools are joining that mix. Regent has had 150 of its graduates working in the White House; the school estimates that one-sixth of its alumni are in government work. Call them the Goodlings: scrubbed young ideologues, ready to serve their nation, the right's version of the Peace Corps generation."
posted by ericb at 11:14 AM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course there are wiccans and pagans in the military; did you know they aren't allowed to have symbols of their religion on their military gravesites

Didn't they finally change that? I know it was true for awhile...seems like I heard someone won their case and was allowed to have a wiccan headstone.


I am surmising that we are probably talking about a particular subset of Christianity that thinks we are supposed to totally take over the US Government and legislate Christianity. I am not one of those. They do exist-you do find them a lot in politics. Most of them kinda get on my nerves a bit. I myself subscribe to the believe that the place to change a nation is on one's knees, praying.

Let me repeat something I know I said elsewhere on this site-I do not believe it is possible-much less Christian-to force one's faith on another. Faith is a process that starts from within. I can share what I believe-and should-but then it is perfectly fine to leave it at that. If the other person is interested they will let me know-if they are NOT then bugging them about it accomplishes nothing except to annoy them. I mean, they heard me the first time, right?

And if I treat someone differently afterwards just because they don't agree with me? Shame on me! What kind of a witness is that????

Now as to superior officers-in their place, simply acting like a Christian should-fair and upright, doing their job with excellence, that sort of thing-will speak much louder than any prosetylizing. People DO notice if you live your beliefs out in front of them. They should NEVER make those under them in the organization feel that they won't be treated fairly no matter what their spiritual views. That just ain't right.
posted by konolia at 11:20 AM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Didn't they finally change that? I know it was true for awhile...seems like I heard someone won their case and was allowed to have a wiccan headstone.


If so, I am delighted and stand corrected; it was certainly true recently enough that it affected an Iraq war casualty's family. However, the mere fact that someone had to make (literally) a federal case out of it would make my point sufficiently.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:46 AM on April 27, 2008


April 24, 2007: Use of Wiccan Symbol on Veterans’ Headstones Is Approved.
posted by ericb at 11:56 AM on April 27, 2008


Thanks for that ericb.

If you read the story you see it took 10 years and a lawsuit led by the brave folks at Americans United for Separation of Church and State to get it done, when it normally takes "months" according to the article to get a new religious symbol approved. I love that the military finally backed down to "spare the taxpayers the expense of litigation," as if the US military ever cared about taxpayer savings before (see: no bid contracts, Halliburton, toilet seats).

So it's hardly a ringing proof of the religious tolerance of the US Military, all things considered.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:44 PM on April 27, 2008


We shouldn't have chaplains in the military. Your right to freedom of religion does not extend to getting government dollars. Why are my tax dollars going to witch doctors?

Well, since the military is, in theory at least, attend to the needs of it's members, I'm not sure why religious or spiritual needs should somehow be firewalled from the rest, besides your obvious offense that people actually might have religious ideas. Please feel free to explain without additional racist language.

As to the Air Force, from anecdotal (second-hand) evidence, there certainly seems to be at least some problem with a degree of intolerance to non-Christians, at least form certain officers, but it is not monolithic, and I have seen, first hand, an officer, (specifically, a protestant evangelical chaplain,) handle it professionally and appropriately.

As to pagans, they are certainly present in the military, at least the Air Force, perhaps not in record numbers, but they are present, and some are reasonably vocal about it.

I just remembered too, Pat Tillman was a Ranger, not Special Forces. The shooting could've been accidental, inasmuch a problem of target identification and not aquisition.
posted by Snyder at 12:48 PM on April 27, 2008


I was in the military during Reagan's second term and this just wasn't happening in those days. I suspect as the religious right has grown during the last decade, then their impact in many ways grew as well, even in places such as the Air Force Academy. And, while I am alarmed as I read more and more of these types of articles, I see this influence reach into my corporate life as well...two examples:

1) My boss is a very religious Christian and his boss is a member of the church of LDS. They don't pray in the board room, but in meetings with their underlings, it does happen. I am faced with a choice, pretend to go along or hurt my career. It is sad that I have to make this choice.

2) My community, in a blue state no less, has one dominating Physician's group that provides most of the care. They are a 'Christian' organization (sigh). They refuse to perscribe birth control to single women, they proselytize to unmarried pregnant women and they spend more time asking about what church you belong to than asking about your medical problems. My doctor starts off every appointment by talking about church and asking me very pointed questions about my beliefs. I feel like I have to just 'go along' to get the medical care I need. And, before you ask, there isn't a lot of other options in this small community.

Yes, we are already living in a 'Christian' America in some ways. The war now is to beat it back, not prevent it.
posted by UseyurBrain at 12:49 PM on April 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I love that the military finally backed down to "spare the taxpayers the expense of litigation," as if the US military ever cared about taxpayer savings before (see: no bid contracts, Halliburton, toilet seats).

It's cute that you accuse the military as being behind all that, when, that is more along the lines of Congress's bailiwick, you know, people you can actually vote for and have an effect on? You're also repeating the stupid toilet seat urban legend, too.
posted by Snyder at 12:50 PM on April 27, 2008


some officers I've talked to look at the proselytizing situation at USAFA with concern, including some of those who are deeply religious: the problems they see Air Force having with religion are problems most don't want to see at West Point.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe a major difference between the Air Force Academy and West Point is that the students at USAFA are not considered as enlistees in the military while they are students at the Academy, while students at West Point most definitely are enlistees. You'd have a lot more flouting of the chain of command at USAFA than you would at West Point. My personal experience with students at both Academies is that students at West Point were a lot more polite and respectful than students at the Air Force Academy.
posted by jonp72 at 1:14 PM on April 27, 2008


OK, Snyder, the lawsuit was against the department of veteran's affairs, and I don't think congress was directly involved in setting this policy (I do recall that several congresspeople advocated for the plaintiff, actually). So technically, you're right, and the DVA is not "the military," of course, and I should have been more specific. The civilians who run the military, in principle, have been plenty infiltrated by the Christian nationalist movement as well.

And the toilet seat is a metonym, perhaps less effective than it might be if it is an "urban legend," but surely you're not saying the Pentagon has not been caught up in countless scandals where the revolving door between government and military service and contractor lobbyist firms has led to massive overpayments for goods and services, right? Toilet seats are a symbol for much more serious abuses of the public treasure.

One of the hallmarks of American democracy is supposed to be the freedom to criticize the military, or any other institution of government; I am struck at the frequent implication here and everywhere that because what soldiers do is heroic, often, it is somehow anti-military (or indicative of a lack of familiarity with the wonders of the military and its "culture" of nationalism, or drinking, or whatever) to question what the institution of the military (or individual non-heroic soldiers) are doing. The military gets wide latitude in the US, though less than in most other societies; or at least that's the lip service. Not sure the guys at Walter Reed see it that way.

Support the troops -- that includes the atheist ones! They bleed red too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:18 PM on April 27, 2008


Yeah, well, it's not up to the brass about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy; Congress wrote it, and they are the ones which must rescind it. Some of us might scream about it, but within a few years, everyone will get used to the fact that they serve with gays and lesbians (many already are)

An unfortunate unintended consequence of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is that it may have increased male-on-male sexual harassment in the military. Some enlisted men are afraid to come forward if they've been sexually harassed by another man, because they fear (quite reasonably) that they might get labeled as gay if they do.
posted by jonp72 at 1:21 PM on April 27, 2008


I just thought this was amusing, to lighten the tone, from Wikipedia; apparently the toilet seat is not exactly an urban legend, but a failure of the public to understand that sometimes you a toilet seat is more than just a toilet seat -- from Wikipedia:

The $600 dollar toilet seat was determined to be "fair and reasonable" by a Naval Contracting Officer, based on his detailed knowledge of the manufacturing processes and degree of effort known to be required from the vendor, to manufacture this item.

The United States military services are often in the position of making equipment last decades longer than originally designed. For example the B-52 bomber is more than 50 years old and expected to be useful for another 20 years. The famous toilet seat came about when about twenty Navy planes had to be rebuilt to extend their service life. The onboard toilets required a uniquely shaped fiberglass piece that had to satisfy specifications for the vibration resistance, weight, and durability. The molds had to be specially made as it had been decades since the planes original production. The price of the "seats" reflected the design work and the cost of the equipment to manufacture them.

The problem arose because the top level drawing for the toilet assembly referred to the part being purchased as a "Toilet Seat" instead of its proper nomenclature of "Shroud". The Navy had made a conscious decision at the time, not to pay the OEM of the aircraft the thousands of dollars it would take to update their top level drawing in order to fix this mistake in nomenclature.

Later some unknown Senate staffer combing lists of military purchases for the Golden Fleece Awards found "Toilet Seat - $600" and trumpeted it to the news media as an example of "government waste." The Senate then wrote into the appropriations bill that this item would not be purchased for anything more than $140.00. The shroud has never been purchased since, as no one can make the shroud at that price.

posted by fourcheesemac at 1:26 PM on April 27, 2008


Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe a major difference between the Air Force Academy and West Point is that the students at USAFA are not considered as enlistees in the military while they are students at the Academy, while students at West Point most definitely are enlistees.

For what it's worth, my son IS considered active duty military while he is at USAFA-is that what you are referring to?
posted by konolia at 1:41 PM on April 27, 2008


Yeah, all members of the service academies (with the exception of Merchant Marines) are considered Active Duty military, and as they swear an oath of office, officer class. For the first two years, you can leave an academy for any reason at any time, no harm no foul. When coming back to start your junior year, you sign your contract (known here as your 2-for-7) which means not only that by finishing your time at the Academy you incur an obligation of at least five years, but also that if you drop out for any non-medical reason, you could incur either paying for your education (lot's of money) or serving time as an enlisted in the specified service.

So, no, cadets (and midshipmen) hold rank in the military and are bound by UCMJ, can leave any time before two years, and have obligations anytime after.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:00 PM on April 27, 2008


The toilet seat information from the article is exactly what I was referring to, and I probably should have linked to it, or something like it, but, in any case, you see my point. It's not to say that the Department of Defense has some problems with overspending or foolish spending, but that sometimes it's imagined, or often with helpers in Congress or the Executive, or simply entierly the responsibility of another agency or Congress or other civilian leadership.

Like the lawsuit against the VA, which is an agency totally separate from the DoD, with its own funding and cabinet level leadership.

As to the Congressional oversight stuff I mentioned, that had more to do with the Haliburton, no-bid contract things you mentioned. Those are things that the DoD has less control over, then Congressional and, I should mention, civilian leadership in the Executive.
posted by Snyder at 2:00 PM on April 27, 2008


Fair enough snyder; I was painting with a broad brush and slopping a lot of paint on the moldings.

There is a nexus there, however, wouldn't you agree? The military is a very central institution in our society, interconnected with every other major institution, and in theory everything it does is under civilian oversight. In the end, one can aim one's critique at the militarization of American culture more generally (see Catherine Lutz's remarkable ethnography of Fort Bragg, *Homefront*), or at the policies of civilian government, or on the chain of command within the services themselves. I don't want to lose track of the point, though. There should be no need for a policy action to prohibit religious persecution in the services, because it's against the law anyway.

So the real question here is one of justice, and I am heartened to see the process worked in the case of Wiccan funerary symbols, but looking forward intently to seeing justice done in the case of specialist Hall, and other atheists in the service who have experienced persecution.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:29 PM on April 27, 2008


fourcheesemac, you bring up something interesting, and I'd like to respond when my brain isn't so foggy.
posted by Snyder at 3:05 PM on April 27, 2008


konolia: My son is about to graduate from USAFA, is a Christian himself, and from what he tells me the atheists have nada to worry about.

So a Christian is telling atheists and non-theists that everything's ok with religion and the military right now? Well, good, I feel better now (kinda like how I'm completely reassured when my straight, well-off friends tell me that homophobia and the class divide are things of the past).
posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:06 PM on April 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


My son is about to graduate from USAFA,

Congratulations to him. He must be quite a fine young man.
posted by caddis at 5:42 PM on April 27, 2008


Atheists have "nothing to worry about" because we're right, and y'all who think there's pearly gates and a life in the clouds awaitin' are out of your minds.

Actually, what we have to worry about is "believers" who think there is nothing to worry about because they are gonna be Saved or have 72 virgins or whatever lunatic fantasy motivates your particular local brand of fundamentalist true belief.

Just saying. But I am glad to see, konolia, that you've dropped the slur "unbelievers" here, though I don't doubt that's the term you and your nice Christian friends use to talk about those of us unimpressed by Jesus Talk (tm). So when we go all LOLXtian here in this nice little enclave of secular thought, don't take it personally and I won't worry about what the nice ladies at your church call people like me.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:08 AM on April 28, 2008


[The discussion of these themes continues, vigorously, in this new thread in case anyone is interested in continuing the discussion of where the line between church and state should be drawn in the US ]
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:11 AM on April 28, 2008


The "discussion" does not continue in the new thread, only the ranting by one mefite.
posted by caddis at 5:26 AM on April 28, 2008


Gee, that's funny; when I look at the new thread I see more than a dozen contributors "discussing" (as I would call it) the influence of religion on public education, but maybe we have different filters turned on, or something; now back to ranting
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:39 AM on April 28, 2008


Reading this thread I was struck by all the references to Tillman. I'd known he'd died in friendly fire but I'd forgotten how strange the incident was. So for anyone else curious I went and found this summing up of the facts, which somehow I had not seen. And now I am depressed.
posted by matthewstopheles at 8:57 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


sorry 4cm, you appear to have been the adult in that discussion. your only sin was passion and that is not necessarily bad. since you left the lunatics appear to have overtaken the asylum.
posted by caddis at 11:49 AM on April 28, 2008


Here's a great example of Christian persecution in the USA.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:13 PM on April 28, 2008


why thank you caddis, yes that thread went to hell right around "Vishnu"
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:46 AM on April 29, 2008


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