Soldiers, apple pie and God

March 17, 2011 | By | 12 Replies More

CFI reports that the U.S. military encourages overtly religious gatherings, but pulls the rug out from under non-theist activity.


Category: Military, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (12)

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  1. Jim Razinha says:

    Saw the headlines for this on a feed I have from Pharygula. Unfortunately, this is the norm, not the exception. I intervened in Korea when a Commanding Officer wanted the chaplain to say an invocation over a ground-breaking. I (respectfully) submitted that it would be inappropriate given the large number of Korean attendees. He acquiesced, but not without a parting comment (I'm not exaggerating, this is the exact quote…it sort of stuck with me): "Well then we'll do it at the ribbon cutting. We're going to have a goddamn prayer!"

    But $52K? Hard time explaining that one. (But not to this Congress.)

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Jim: Hence the need for MRFF, which holds that "No religion or religious philosophy may be advanced by the United States Armed Forces over any other religion or religious philosophy."

      I've read more than a few stories over the past 10 years that made it clear that many people in the military consider it entirely appropriate to use military money and military employees to promote the belief in God to other members of the military. Here's many dozens of these stories.

      Here's one example of many: "An ABC News report earlier this week revealed that the Michigan-based company, which has a contract to provide up to 800,000 scopes to the U.S. military, prints references to New Testament chapters and verses in code next to the model numbers of its scopes. The scopes are used by the U.S. Marine Corps and Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by U.S. allies in those countries, and for the training of Afghan and Iraqi troops."…

  2. Mike M. says:

    The US military's bias in favor of the evangelical christian agenda makes perfect sense to me. I completely understand why the military strongly supports, both financially and philosophically, the perpetuation of bible based beliefs. Isn't it clear? Soldiers who submit without question to the authority of an invisible god are much more likely to submit without question to the authority of a commanding officer. Soldiers who are atheist, agnostic, pagan or logical skeptics would be more likely to question authority and think for themselves which would destabilize the military's chain of command. The military needs the unthinking, the religious, the hopeless poor, the emotionally damaged, the submissive masochist (for the rank and file), and the authoritarian sadist (commanders, generals) to operate. This is the meat that's required to be continually fed through the sausage grinder of the armed forces. These are the people who make it all possible.

    Also, let's not forget that the god of the bible is one who demands frequent blood sacrifices, and encourages genocide, slavery and torture. Of course the military would want it’s soldiers to pledge allegiance to this god – it's a perfect fit.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Mike M. I certainly agree. I don't know what comes first, the obedience or a high level of group cohesiveness. It's a chicken and egg to me. Ultimately, you get both. With high group cohesiveness you get that other element so very important to the military: the willingness to see outsiders, and especially outside GROUPS, as inferiors. In times of war this is critical to dehumanize outsiders in order to kill them. If those outsiders are so inferior that they are condemned to hell (which many religions teach), then there isn't much at stake for them here in this life, and a bullet to the head isn't such a big deal.

  3. Mike M.

    Agree completely—the conflation of religion with patriotism is timeless precisely because it binds god and country. I recall seeing a documentary about the Vietnam era in which an officer is lecturing a roomful of ROTC candidates. He said "The American soldier is different from every other soldier anywhere, anytime. The American soldier can and will do anything—but the American soldier wants to know why."

    This is a flat out contradiction of policy in the field—the military can't stand it when soldiers question. In general, atheists question more—more readily, more thoroughly, and more often. Of course the military support religion, if for no other reason than to get the troops to just shut up and take orders.

  4. Jim Razinha says:

    Having served 20 years, I have experience in this. I don't want to lose a lot of time arguing, so I'll just say these: following orders is essential to the nature of the business (if you don't understand that on its own merits, I guess I can try to explain), and questions ARE encouraged by leadership in order to make informed decisions – it's just that the general mindset of those leaders is such that questions on these particular matters rarely come up. And regardless of whether questions are raised or not, the expected end product is to follow the decisions made by the seniors. I have disagreed with courses of action so many times, raised objections, swung a decision in some of those and marched on smartly in many others. As with positions of power in all walks of life, many military leaders might feel exempt from the need to consider ramifications of their actions and immune from the consequences, but by and large those are becoming the exception rather than the rule. Yet considering ramifications still doesn't mean a change in policy. Goes back to the demographic of people that rise to power in the military.

  5. Jim,

    I shall demure to experience. I was never in the military, but have had numerous "discussions" with those who were that suggested strongly to me an authority-over-information posture—and most of these folks liked it that way.

  6. Jim Razinha says:

    Mark, agreed – most like it that way. I was atypical, but you probably figured that out.

  7. Mike M. says:

    Thanks for the insight, Jim. Direct experience always trumps philosophical conjecture. By stating "I have disagreed with courses of action so many times, raised objections, swung a decision in some of those.." you do add credibility to one of my theories…that a skeptic and atheist would be more likely to do as you did, question authority and "push back", than the southern baptist soldier to your left or the evangelical protestant to your right.

  8. Jim Razinha says:

    Hmmm, Mike M., I never thought much about who was doing the questioning. Type A personalities will always question, but the subject matter experts were expected to offer opinions/suggestions while still toeing the line. I did see a lot of jumping just because the Admiral or General was coming (and before anybody gets the wrong idea, I was never not appropriately respectful of the rank), but I didn't associate one side or the other with religion.

    Now, I feel I should clarify – questioning authority and pushing back are not what I was doing. I did not question authority. I might have questioned the decisions of authority. I might have questioned in private the reasons for someone deciding someone else should be put in a position of authority (who of us hasn't thought that at times?). But a military organization cannot have authority questioned. It could very well come down to a person's life. If a decision was wrong, the person in the position of authority is held accountable, and the people in the organization have to work as a team to recover.

    Arguing a decision or course of action might be considered pushing back, but I saw it as part of the reason I was in a leadership position, because one person cannot know everything and my job was to make sure the folks in my chain of command had as much information as they needed to make the hard decisions. If I swung a decision, it was one that the senior either hadn't considered or had dismissed until I presented sufficient reasoning to support it. There are times when force of will comes into play, but I prefer to use that option sparingly as you lose credibility when you do that (or so I feel.)

    Effective leaders use all available resources. But even if one person can't know everything, in the military one person is accountable for everything under him/her. That's why we remove Generals and Admirals for things that happen on their watch, even if they were not personally responsible.

  9. Mike M. says:

    Jim, First I'd like to circle back to the original topic of the post: the US Armed Forces bias against secular soldiers and its active support in favor of Christian soldiers. If we can agree that all of these documented incidents of bias cannot be dismissed as meaningless coincidences or isolated anomalies, then we have to ask some questions. Why is this treatment so pervasive and why does it persist? What is gained by the officers and commanders who accept and/or promote this discrimination? How does the US military machine benefit from this bias?

    I submit that it achieves the following goals:

    1. Fosters obedience and group cohesiveness (as pointed out by Erich).

    2. Promotes uniformity in the ranks, and discourages rebellious (non-hive) thinking.

    3. Reinforces the concepts of hierarchy and top down authority. God and his Angels and Saints (i.e. The President and his Generals and Officers) directing the thoughts and actions of the sheep flock (i.e. General Infantry, etc). Infantry…an interesting word, isn't it?

    4. Eases manipulation and control of soldiers operating from the same moral rule book (Bible).

    5. Encourages a "Don't think – Just Do" mentality.

    Second, I liked your point regarding questioning authority (as a concept) vs. questioning the decisions of an authority figure. At first glance I thought it was splitting hairs, but now I do see it as a valid and thoughtful distinction. I also appreciate your experience in this arena, and your remarks about getting as much good information pushed up the chain of command as possible. That seems to be critically important, especially considering the life and death matters that arise and have to be dealt with in the military.

  10. Jim Razinha says:

    If we can agree that all of these documented incidents of bias cannot be dismissed as meaningless coincidences or isolated anomalies…

    We can agree.

    Many military leaders are of the same "founded on Christian principles" mindset, either ignorant of the truth of the contrary or willfully dismissing it.

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