Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Onward Christian Soldiers?

I recently saw a story on CNN.com about a specialist (what used to be called "privates") who has been shunned and harassed by his fellow soldiers in Iraq and passed over for promotion because he is an atheist. The reason for his lack of promotion is particularly disturbing. His CO told him that he could not be a good leader because he would not pray with his subordinate soldiers (one wonders if that guy who was using the Koran for target practice got promoted). This being the American army, the soldier is suing.

This story is reminiscent of the flap at the US Air Force academy about aggressive proselytizing by conservative Evangelical officers and chaplains at the academy. That case also resulted in a law suit but it was thrown out of court. The plaintiffs in these two cases have now joined their efforts.

One of the disturbing side effects of an all volunteer military is it has evolved into a politically, economically and theologically/ideologically distinct part of our society. And what's most disturbing that difference is always in a rightward direction. I'm not going to cry out that there is a danger of a coup, that seems a little far fetched to me. But this is something we should address as a society. For starters, we should use the chain of command to enforce some semblance of tolerance and inclusivity on the military - like we did with race back in the 1950's.

Atheists make up anywhere from 7% to 20% of the population depending on who conducts the poll and whether you include agnostics and self described "secular" people. The complexity of the issue seems well dealt with at about.com and wikipedia - well at least for blogging purposes. There are probably at least as many atheists as there are hard core fundamentalists. Yet the fundamentalists have taken over the military.

The wiki article suggests that religiosity is strongly and negatively correlated with education and income. That's probably why fundamentalist Christianity is so dominant in the all volunteer US military.

26 comments:

Average Joe American said...

The first sentence of your post clearly displays that you didn't do your research before writing. Maybe you should research the rank structure of the U.S. Army, as both Private and Specialist are currently valid ranks, then maybe research the rest of your story, as well. Maybe, as you fail to consider, the reason for an influx of Christians in the U.S. military is because they (we) actually have the capacity to have the kind of passionate faith that it takes to risk our lives for what we believe in. Anybody can stand back and watch someone else fight the battle for them. If there are so many Christians in the military, maybe you should be thankful that they're willing to lay down their lives for yours. That is the greatest gift, and we give it freely, just as it was once given freely for everyone.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

"For starters, we should use the chain of command to enforce some semblance of tolerance and inclusivity..."

Hear, hear! Though the head of that chain is going to have to be changed before we can have any hope of such enforcement.

Anonymous said...

As a non-fundamentalist Christian, I actually have a great deal of respect for atheists. If there is nobody here but us chickens, as it were, then how we treat others may be our only legacy.

It's terribly disappointing that people are being harmed and harassed for failing to toe a particular theological line. I have trouble understanding how this sort of attitude will swell the ranks of any denomination.

As someone who attends a church that is generally sneered at by fundamentalists as a "dead" church and regarded as going to hell in a handbasket over gay marriage, a funny thing has happened on the way to Armageddon. Our pews are full, and not just full of little old ladies. There are families, plenty of men, and little kids. Lots and lot of kids. Perhaps tolerance and community do actually appeal to some people.

-Seventh Sister

Dr. Strangelove said...

"the reason for an influx of Christians in the U.S. military is because they (we) actually have the capacity to have the kind of passionate faith that it takes to risk our lives for what we believe in."

Atheists have that very same capacity my friend, as do Jews, Muslims, and everyone else. To deny someone a promotion because they don't share your religious beliefs goes against everything America stands for. If that's the kind of society you want, go join the Taliban.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

average joe american... I'm sure Jesus would be very proud of your passionate faith and what it has led to. You know, since he was such a proponant of war, violence and intolerence.

What passes for christian these days... jesus.

Raised By Republicans said...

"the reason for an influx of Christians in the U.S. military is because they (we) actually have the capacity to have the kind of passionate faith that it takes to risk our lives for what we believe in"

I may not know the differences between the E1 through E9 ranks in the military but it was hardly germain to my point. What was germain to my point - and something Average Joe American clearly did NOT understand was that the plantiffs in these two cases were both athiests who had sought out careers in the military and felt they were being pushed out by fundamentalist Christians.

Gays too have struggled to stay in the military. Before them the issue was gender, then race.

If we are to have an all volunteer military and if we really are in some kind of existential struggle in the "Global War on Terror" why should we say that these groups should not be allowed to join and embark on military careers?

turbosloth said...

Aja, the post clearly was not a critique of Christians being in the military. Rather, Rbr is opposed to them mobbing non-Christians. And rightfully so; I hope those plaintiffs win.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Whoever chose not to promote a soldier because he was an atheist should be given six months of serious training in the constitution, American history, and our democratic values, then be summarily dismissed. That is shameful beyond measure.

Average Joe American (who isn't particularly average, thankfully) has it all wrong. Christians should be leery of military service, not delighted by it. Jesus sacrficed his life - he didn't train to kill others. Also, as a Christian, I have considerable respect for atheists who are willing to give their lives for a cause. Atheists do not believe that there is a next life. They do not believe that their sacrifices will ultimately be justified, no matter what, because truth and love will ultimately win out. Their sacrifice is total, far more complete than that of the fundamentalist Christian who thinks that, by taking pot-shots at the Koran and waterboarding Muslims, he will go to heaven.

USWest said...

Here here , LTG!

This is slightly off topic, but it is a bit of a different dimension. I was having a discussion with a friend about tenure track at my insitution. I am against it- for lower and higher education. I think it makes it difficult to let non-preformers go and it cheapens the efforts of those who work very hard and don't have tenure. In fact, I think tenure can demotivate preformance, especially in the setting where I work. This isn't a typical institution of higher learning where I work and tenure is not automatic. In fact, it has been so long since they granted it, no one thinks about it much here. We are more of a trade school, so trying to run us like an acadmeic institution is impractical and has caused us great grief over the last 10 years.

My friend, to my surprise, opposed me saying that there are too many crooked managers who would fire people for all the wrong reasons- their gender, sexual preference, religion, etc. and the lawsuits would be huge.

I had never heard that defense of tenure before. Coming from the private sector and the Gen X generation, I just accept hiring and firing at will, although firing anyone under any circumtance is difficult to say the least.

My retort was that one manager would pull a stunt like that once and it would never happen again because they would be sure to hire good managers instead of live bodies that do stupid things.
That is what the legal system, in all of its occasional absurity is there to prevent.

But, maybe my friend is partially correct. I wonder, though, that if the solider had been a civilan if the case would have been thrown out of court? I somehow doubt this. It is harder to sue the Army than a private company or a specific agency within the Army.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The military gets enormous deference in court. All they have to do is waive their arms around and say "miltary expertise," "national security", and "honor those who serve."

It doesn't help that every Republican appointee on the bench believes that the military must never be questioned, no matter what it does.

Increasingly, the all-volunteer military is out of step with the country. It is the last place where discrimination against women and gays is not just tolerated, but considered honorable. It is the last place where people are ordered (as at the naval academy) to stand at attention to public (usually fundamentalist) prayer.

I wonder if the real reason McCain voted against a better GI bill was the sense that college education somehow spoils the troops.

USwest said...

The military in this country has become very divorced from the general public. It is a country within a country, and a socialist one at that. They have their own schools, own stores, legal system,etc. They get paid little, but the subsidy they get for housing, groceries, etc. is notable. That is why they get paid less.

Raised By Republicans said...

A group of heavily armed people with a strong sense of nationalism living in a highly structured, tradition bound and socialist...I wonder if there is a word for that...something like Socialist Nationalsim or National Socialism...oh, wait...

Average Joe American said...

"Atheists have that very same capacity my friend, as do Jews, Muslims, and everyone else. To deny someone a promotion because they don't share your religious beliefs goes against everything America stands for. If that's the kind of society you want, go join the Taliban."

DR. STRANGELOVE: Interesting that you would think my comments indicate that I believe ONLY Christians have the capacity to risk their lives for our country. That wasn't my point. Interesting, though, that you would get that from my comments.

"average joe american... I'm sure Jesus would be very proud of your passionate faith and what it has led to. You know, since he was such a proponant of war, violence and intolerence. What passes for christian these days... jesus."

SLUSHBROW: True that Jesus (thus, God, as well) IS (not was) a proponent of peace, not war. However, when war was necessary, did God not help Moses in battle? Throughout history (as recorded in the Bible), God has had His hand in war when necessary. Unfortunately, religion has frequently engaged in war and falsely invoked the name of God to justify their acts, but it cannot be denied that the Creator understands and even condones war when the cause is Just.

"What was germain to my point - and something Average Joe American clearly did NOT understand was that the plantiffs in these two cases were both athiests who had sought out careers in the military and felt they were being pushed out by fundamentalist Christians."

RAISED BY REPUBLICANS: My argument was NOT that the atheists should not be promoted because of their faith, or lack thereof. My arguement is twofold: (1) to arbitrarily attack all Chrisitans in the military because one or two SUPPOSEDLY deny promotion based on faith, is the same mentality that extremists Muslims used to justify the attacks of 9/11; (2) do you truly know the whole story? Or do you just ASSUME that the ONLY reason these atheists were passed up for promotion was based on faith. My experience in Management has taught me that a large portion of the working public that thinks they deserve promotion are just not qualified, and that they then fabricate a reason for why they were passed up. I, of course, don't know the whole story here, either. Just positing another possiblity.

"Jesus sacrficed his life - he didn't train to kill others."

LAW TALKING GUY: Again, as a triune God, (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), Jesus was just as involved in Old Testament battle (David and Goliath is another example) as was His Father. David didn't slay Goliath with a sling and a stone without the intervention of God.

"Also, as a Christian .... Atheists do not believe that there is a next life. ... Their sacrifice is total, far more complete than that of the fundamentalist Christian who thinks that, by taking pot-shots at the Koran and waterboarding Muslims, he will go to heaven."

LAW TALKING GUY: Wow! I don't remember ever reading in the Bible that taking pot-shots at ANYTHING will get me to Heaven. I think you have things a little backwards. Are you sure your worship service doesn't take place in a Mosque?

<<< Bottom line is, America is America because of our diversity. No matter where you come from or what you believe, as a person, you have value. And hopefully you have the patriotism to defend your country. And no one should be denied (or granted) the right to advance in their chosen field based upon their beliefs alone. Similarly, though, no one should be attacked based upon their beliefs -- whether physically or verbally.

Raised By Republicans said...

"Bottom line is, America is America because of our diversity. No matter where you come from or what you believe, as a person, you have value. And hopefully you have the patriotism to defend your country. And no one should be denied (or granted) the right to advance in their chosen field based upon their beliefs alone. Similarly, though, no one should be attacked based upon their beliefs -- whether physically or verbally."

So anyone who wants to defend the country by joining the military should be encouraged to do so and the military should not single out any set of beliefs or non-beliefs for extra benefit or sanction, right? And if it turns out following due process in court etc, that this guy in Iraq was held to a different standard than his peers because he is an athiest then we would agree that his commanders were out of line, right?

And if it turned out that the Air Force and Naval Accademies were giving preference to particular religious sects over others and forcing cadets to participate in religious observances then that would be out of line as well, right?

Dr. Strangelove said...

I have to admit I'm impressed, Average Joe American. After the tongue-lashing you received regarding your comments (my own response included) I had not expected any reply at all... I certainly had not expected such a thorough and measured response. Thank you for your moderation and your continued interest in this blog. (Or at least, in this thread.)

I am glad you agree that willingness to risk one's life for one's country is independent of one's religious beliefs or lack thereof. I reacted because you appeared to be saying the reason for the high concentration of fundamentalist Christians in the military was that others, "stand back and watch someone else fight the battle for them." But I suppose I also reacted because, as an atheist, I have heard such claims before and have become overly sensitized to them. (And please forgive me for the uncalled-for "Taliban" remark.)

On a more personal note, a once-close friend of mine was raped while a cadet at the USAF Academy. Without going into details, let us say she was badly mistreated by the self-righteous fundamentalist authorities there when she dared to speak out. (And yes, their fundamentalist disdain for women was a key issue.) So I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to those who report abuse from such authorities.

The Law Talking Guy said...

AJA - Fundamentalists and other Christians take very different views of the veracity of the details of the Hebrew scriptures and their relevance to Christian doctrine. That the ancient Israelites thought that God loved them (above all others) and that God would happily punish others to raise up Israel in earthly glory - of that there is no doubt. As a Christian, I need not accept the nationalism and barbarism.

To use a famous example, God says to Samuel, supposedly, "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." (1 Samuel 15) I do not believe that Jesus ordered the massacre of infants. I don't really see how anyone who actually believes in Jesus can believe that he wanted to kill hundreds of innocent infants because the leader of their tribe attacked the Israelites for some reason (although this kind of thinking explains a LOT of what we see in the Middle East).

Average Joe American said...

"So anyone who wants to defend the country by joining the military should be encouraged to do so and the military should not single out any set of beliefs or non-beliefs for extra benefit or sanction, right? ..."

RBR: Yes, I would agree with you on all counts. I am thoroughly a Patriot, and believe that every American (and even those who are legal immigrants here who want to serve) should be given the right to serve EQUALLY within our Armed Forces. In fact, I believe that a legal immigrant who serves defending our country in the Armed Forces should be given consideration for his/her service if he/she desires to apply for citizenship. It's one thing to study for a test to become naturalized. The real test, however, is in serving. If ANY individual in the services is either promoted or held back for reasons that are not fair and equitable, I would consider that a travesty. It has never been my contention that the Atheist should have been held back, or that he was lying. I do, however, believe that before we chastise any religion for the acts of a few supposed members of that religion, we should know more. We speak too often of "islamic extremists" and lump them all into the same category, as if being a Muslim makes you an extremist. At the time of 9/11, one of my closest friends was a Muslim. As a fierce Patriot, I was outraged at the attacks of 9/11, but I was also outraged (and vocal about my outrage) at those who assumed that all Muslims were the enemy after 9/11. I'm far from perfect myself, but I am quite tired of seeing religious labels used to (a) justify our actions or (b) label us as fundamentalists or extremists. If you're wrong, you're wrong, no matter what god you worship.

"After the tongue-lashing you received regarding your comments (my own response included) I had not expected any reply at all..."

STRANGELOVE: Actually, I have been a reader of the site for quite some time, and only now decided to jump in. I find the commentary and conversation to be quite thought provoking and enjoyable. And let me say, I am truly and deeply saddened by what your friend endured at the AF Academy. As I said above, if you're wrong, you're wrong, and no amount of throwing around the name of God, or Allah, or any other god can justify such actions. An orderly society MUST give the benefit of the doubt to those who report such abuse. However, we must be cautious in meting out our punishment without thoroughly establishing guilt. To falsely punish someone for something they haven't done only creates another victim.

"I do not believe that Jesus ordered the massacre of infants. ..."

LTL: I subscribe to the notion that you cannot selectively believe the Bible. It's either all true, or all false. If the Bible says that God ordered such a massacre, and the Bible is all true, then it must be true. If it is not true, then the Bible must be all false. It is either the inspired Word of God, or it is not, but you cannot have it both ways. We are all mere mortals here, and none of us qualified to understand His ways. But just because we don't understand does not make it untrue. I doubt that any of us truly understand women, but we all know they exist.

Dr. Strangelove said...

If I read him correctly, I believe AJA asserts that all statements in the Bible are true, even when we do not (yet?) understand their meaning. The Tao Te Ching evoked in me a feeling that may be similar, in that quite a number of its verses seemed to promise a great wisdom that always remained just a little out of my reach. (Although perhaps that sensation was merely the poetic equivalent of Mona Lisa's smile--masterful, artistic, yet ultimately just a illusion.) I only underscore this because it took me a second reading to realize that AJA does not subscribe to a "literal" interpretation of the Bible: his position is gratifyingly more subtle.

Of course, from the non-believer's point of view, there are far too many textual, archeological, and even moral objections to AJA's approach, but I doubt any such arguments would be of interest to him. Instead, having already witnessed LTG's excellent theological dissection of this subject in other contexts, I will content myself to await eagerly LTL's response.

The Law Talking Guy said...

AJA- I would caution you about the man who built his house on sand. To base one's faith on the inerrancy of a book is folly - the urging that we do so is, I think, among the subtler works of evil. Because if you base your faith on the inerrancy of the bible, then actually bother to read its manifest inconsistencies and obvious problems, you will be forced to lose your faith or (as some fundamentalists do) adopt such bizarre acts of cognitive dissonance as to believe, for example, that God created dinosaurs and glaciers to fool us.

What does it mean that God stopped the sun for Joshua? Did the omniscient author not know that it was the Earth, not the sun, that was moving? If it was merely poetic, or merely a metaphor, why is such interpretation not allowed to understand the six days of creation? Why are there two conflicting geneaologies of Jesus? Why did the Church fathers place these side by side? To test faith or to say something about it? What does it mean that Noah took two of every creature on board the ark? How did he, in Mesopotamia, corral the kangaroo, the Gila monster, or the famous Galapagos turtles? If there were only six couples who procreated after the flood (Noah's three sons and their wives), where did Chinese people come from? Or the aborigines in Australia? Eskimos? Bushmen? The story of Babel says that God confounded their languages, not their skin colors and genetics. If Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, why does one of the geneaologies of Jesus trace his lineage through Joseph, a man to whom he bore no biological relation? Do I need to dig up old chestnuts? Where did Abel and Cain get their wives? The gospel of Mark ends by saying that the two women fled the tomb of Jesus and saw nobody what they had seen. If literally true, how did Mark learn of it?

Faith in God comes by the grace of the holy spirit. Our knowledge about who God is comes from the tradition and history of the church, the writings in scripture, and the experience of the love of God in ourselves and through our neighbors. The bible is no more or less than what it appears to be: the OT is a collection of myths, legends, histories, and poetry of the ancient Israelites; the NT is a scrapbook of letters and accounts of Jesus' life and teachings. These point the way to God, but they do not contain Him and were most certainly not written by Him. The gospels do not have to be 100% true in every respect to be reflect the collected stories - about a generation or so later - about a man who was well known and loved. The miracles may be true, or not - what matters is that the miracles tell us important things about who the gospel writers believed Jesus to be. In Mark's gospel, John the Baptist sends a messenger to Jesus to ask if he is the Messiah. Rather than answering directly, he says, "Go tell him what you have seen and heard. The lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the poor have good news preached to them." In other words, what do you think God would do if he were here? Perhaps the people who knew Jesus found no other way to express who he was than to speak of him feeding thousands from almost nothing, raising friends from the dead, healing the sick and the blind, and meeting Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop. My family tells a story that my grandfather so adored my grandmother that he once rented Carnegie hall for my grandmother to perform a musical she wrote. True or not, that tells you a lot about who both of them were. Peace be upon you.

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG, you outdo yourself. Very nice. And you bring up some interesting ideas I had not thought of before. Thank you.

Average Joe American said...

"To base one's faith on the inerrancy of a book is folly - the urging that we do so is, I think, among the subtler works of evil."

LTG: I'm no theologian. I do not claim to know the answers or where to find the proof for my belief. Faith is defined as belief that is not based on proof. I don't understand your claim that it is folly to base my faith on the inerrancy of one book. I don't base my faith on the book, but on the God who created us all. The book is His inspired Word. I believe that, without proof. And why do I believe it? Why is it NOT folly for me to believe it? I can only explain it to you this way:

I believe that God is the only God, that he created the world, and that Jesus Christ is His Son who died for my sins, giving me eternal life. And if I'm wrong, what have I lost? Really?

But if I didn't believe such things, and I lived a life of what God (thru the Bible) defines as sin, rejecting God's divinity and the stories of Salvation through his Son -- if my faith was not in God, and I was wrong, then what have I lost? Everything, including eternity.

I fully expect that you'll serve me another tongue lashing, and try to discredit my God and my faith. But the harshest and most thought out tongue lashing you can deliver will not change the facts as I know them to be true. Facts that I know by faith not by proof. After all, if I held out for proof, then by the very definition, I have no faith any way.

May God Bless You!

Dr. Strangelove said...

"And if I'm wrong, what have I lost? Really?"

AJA, the argument you refer to is known as Pascal's Wager.

Just in case it was not clear, LTG is a devout Christian, heavily involved with his church. He would never try to discredit your god, since it is his god as well.

The Law Talking Guy said...

AJA, please explain why the beliefs you have about Jesus, which I also believe, require you to believe in the inerrancy of the bible.

Raised By Republicans said...

Wow, I feel like I'm wathing Inherit the Wind. With LTG taking the role of the Dick Tracy character here is a sample of what H.L. Mencken had to say about religion (he was a reporter covering the actual Monkey Trial).

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." -- H.L. Mencken

Average Joe American said...

RBR: I'm no Brady, but here goes.

"please explain why the beliefs you have about Jesus, which I also believe, require you to believe in the inerrancy of the bible."

LTG: First, I apologize for implying that you would try to discredit God. I obviously didn't know in which direction your spiritual compass points. I'll do my best to answer your latest, then a comment.

I wouldn't say that my faith requires me to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. It would be more accurate to say that because of my faith, I choose to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. I believe that God is without flaw. I believe that the Bible is His inspired Word -- that he breathed the text into the men who put it to paper. I believe that because He is without flaw and omnipotent, He would not err in his method of delivery, to include selecting those who would accurately present His Word. Because I believe these things, for me, I have to accept that the Bible is all true.

That is not to say that I believe it is all literal. I have heard many well-studied theologians argue that it is literal. Personally, I am not so sure. I belive that, for the most part, those writings that are historical in nature are written literally, and those writings that are prophetic in nature are in large part symbolic. Meaning that what is prophesied will come true, but that the prophecy is delivered using symbolism that we may not accurately interpret 100% of the time. Not, at least, until we can look upon fulfilled prophecy through the eyes of history and see how the symbolism was used.

For example, you mentioned the six days of creation. The Bible teaches that, to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. Do I believe that God could have formed the entire universe in just six twenty-four hour periods? Yes, I do. Do I believe that, for God, those six "days" could all have been of unique and different lengths? Yes, I believe that as well. Six days might be symbolism, it might be literal. Frankly, it doesn't matter. God created the world in six units of time that we cannot accurately measure, but that doesn't nullify the facts of Creation.

Now, a final comment. As a brother in Christ, I trust you will understand. I feel that the Great Commission is the most important directive we recieve in the Bible. I have greatly enjoyed our discourse over the past several days and have learned a great deal about (and developed a greater respect for) The Citizens. However, by openly exchanging our differing thoughts and opinions on the topics of faith, the Bible, etc., I don't feel that we are doing anything to further the cause of the Great Commission. On the contrary, I am concerned of the possibility that we might cause confusion to individual(s) who might have yet to come to a faith in God.

While I respect all persons of faith, regardless of their religious leanings, I know in my heart that there is only one God, that it is the God of Genesis who created the world, that Jesus Christ is His Son, and that by His death and resurrection we are saved. In those beliefs, I am unswaying, as I imagine you are just as solid in your beliefs, however they might differ.

It is for these reasons that I respectfully must withdraw myself from further discussion on this topic in this forum. I will, however, continue to follow the commentary on The Citizens and may, from time to time, chime in.

Thanks to you all for including me in the conversation, and for giving your readers content that requires them to exercise their gray matter.

Average Joe American

Raised By Republicans said...

"While I respect all persons of faith"

And here we come back to the original point. When religious people try to claim how tolerant they are by saying things like "I respect all persons of faith" they are pointedly leaving out the large numbers of people who chose to follow no faith at all.

The seperation of church and state is not satisfied by ecumenicalism.