Theocracy Watch XII: The Army of God

The topic of today’s installment of Theocracy Watch is a lengthy one, and I don’t know if I can do full justice to it, but I will try. I’ve written in the past about how Christian fundamentalists disturbingly portray themselves and their mission in the language of war and violence, but this is a far worse and more ominous story: Christian fundamentalists who have infiltrated the U.S. military itself and are openly using its power and command structure to advance their noxious goals.

This evolving story has been most closely tracked by Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who was interviewed on Freethought Radio just last week. Weinstein, a retired Air Force attorney and former federal prosecutor, has been tireless and fearless in investigating just how deeply a virulent strain of militant, apocalyptic Christianity has insinuated itself into the highest levels of the military’s chain of command.

There have been outbreaks of this fanaticism in the past, such as last year when Lt. Gen. William Boykin said that the war against Islamic extremism was a war against Satan (and received only a slap on the wrist); but the pace of events has been accelerating. Some of the more shocking violations of the First Amendment cited by Weinstein and the MRFF include:

  • High-level Pentagon officers appearing, in uniform, in a promotional video for an evangelical group called “Christian Embassy“, and giving that group extensive free access to the Pentagon itself to film propaganda videos on-site.
  • The Pentagon chaplain’s office cooperating with a fundamentalist ministry, “Operation Straight Up“, which planned on sending a package of Christian evangelism material to U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. This package would have included Christian tracts printed in both English and Arabic, as well as a copy of the Christian fundamentalist Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game, the goal of which is to kill any nonbeliever who will not be converted. This same group, with Defense Department permission, was booked on USO tours not as a religious group, but as “entertainment”. (Both these plans were shelved after public exposure and criticism.)
  • An evangelical group, “Hope Ministries”, being invited by commanders to proselytize in the very center of the Pentagon itself, holding an open-air revival meeting in the building’s central courtyard during daylight hours for two straight days. Needless to say, this is not a public forum and no other group has ever been granted such unprecedented access for such a purpose. Other Christian groups have staged explicitly religious events in the Pentagon’s auditorium and executive dining room. Hope Ministries was later invited back to the Pentagon, and the U.S. Army itself produced a DVD of the event which the group distributed as an advertising tool.
  • Allegations that members of the Air Force, Navy and Special Forces have been given survival training that includes lessons on the “correct type of faith” to have if captured by the enemy.
  • The Air Force distributing (and later withdrawing, after being found out) a code of ethics to military chaplains that endorse proselytizing directed at servicemembers who do not belong to a religion. As cited in a lawsuit by Weinstein, this policy was supported by the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, Cecil R. Richardson, who said that military chaplains “reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched“.
  • Extensive, vicious prejudice and bigotry directed against non-Christian cadets and enlisted men. Some of the most egregious incidents have targeted Jewish and atheist servicemembers, but they are not the only targets; as many as three-quarters of the MRFF’s 6,000 members are Christian believers themselves, members of mainstream churches who have experienced pervasive retaliation and discrimination for holding the “wrong kind” of Christianity.
  • Allegations that commanders in Iraq have deliberately sent soldiers to patrol areas of the country that are known to be more dangerous because they were not the “right kind” of evangelical Christians. According to Weinstein, commanders have said they cannot be held responsible for “any grievous deaths or injuries that might occur” to soldiers who did not believe in Jesus.

This “weaponized gospel of Jesus Christ”, as Weinstein describes it, is one of the most frightening and malignant examples of the dangers of faith. Although the religious right is in disarray on a national level, they still seem to have an enclave within the military and have been aggressively exploiting that access to push their sectarian agenda. Unlike other forums where religious evangelists can speak their minds and no more, high-ranking officers in the military wield an enormous amount of power over the lives of lower-ranking servicemembers, and can all too easily force them to take part in religious activities or retaliate against those who speak out against such abuses.

This cancerous fundamentalism needs to be excised from the military, and it needs to be done swiftly. The only role of a member of the military is to defend the United States against all enemies, and that means defending all citizens equally, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. Any servicemember who treats his job as a platform for proselytizing has violated that trust and should be demoted or, better, expelled. Unless our republic awakens to the scale of the problem and takes steps to confront it, I fear the results when increasingly fanatical and embittered Christian extremists think to use our armed forces as a tool in service to their beliefs. At a time when the United States is threatened by religious terrorists worldwide, we need to confront that problem guided by cool reason. The last thing we need is an equally feverish and apocalyptic set of religious beliefs guiding our own reaction.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.armyofgod.com Rev Spitz

    No matter what you think or believe, The Word of God will remain true and you will be judged for your hatred of Jesus Christ and His people. Jesus predicted there would be people like you.

    Matthew.10[22] And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.

    Matthew 24 [9] Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.

    Mark.13[13] And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

    Luke.21[17] And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.

  • Jack

    No matter what you think or believe, The Word of God will remain true and you will be judged for your hatred of Jesus Christ and His people. Jesus predicted there would be people like you.

    Rev Spitz,

    Ebonmuse did not in anyway express hatred towards any Christians in that post. Please reread it. Most of all, he certainly expressed no hatred towards Christ as depicted in the New Testament. One cannot hate what one believes to be nonexistent. He was merely suggesting that the military should be required to honor and uphold the Constitution of the United States.

  • KShep

    Rev Spitz:

    No matter what you think or believe, The Word of God will remain true and you will be judged for your hatred of Jesus Christ and His people. Jesus predicted there would be people like you.

    You’re really stretching here. I’ve found no hatred anywhere on this website except from the occasional preaching commenter like you. You’re using the same old tired fear mongering in an attempt to “save” those who don’t conform to your silly beliefs. We’ve heard it all before and we’re no longer willing to conform out of fear of fictional eternal damnation.

    If you want to live your life that way, fine, as long as you don’t use your beliefs to hurt others. But you’re not going to get me to.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    While I’d ordinarily delete trolling comments like the first one in this thread, I’m leaving this one and I’ll explain why. The URL with which “Rev Spitz” signed his post is a link to a genuine Christian terrorist group, the “Army of God”, which exalts violent, murdering fanatics like Eric Rudolph and Paul Hill as its heroes. This group also claims that violence against doctors who provide abortion is legitimate (see their statement in which they say this, and note how many clergy members have signed it).

    I’m guessing this commenter is the Rev. Donald Spitz, whose name and mailing address appear at the bottom of that linked page. According to the BBC, Spitz has praised the criminals who sent anthrax hoax letters to family planning clinics. Here’s some more information on him, courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    Needless to say, the violence-endorsing, terrorist-supporting Mr. Spitz will not be allowed to post anything further on Daylight Atheism. But I think it’s worth leaving his comment here as an object lesson of the kind of opposition we still face in our effort to build a rational and peaceful society.

  • javaman

    oooh! I am really scare of your god! Is the big bad god really going to hurt me! I better get down on my knees and ask for forgiveness LOL! This isn’t your church where people dont talk back . Why do you think we hate Jesus? Sounds like you are projecting your state of mind on us. You sound like a spoiled child who can’t get his own way and is now acting like the schoolyard bully. We don’t fear you or your god. Your attitude proves ebon’s point.However, I forgive you and still love you just because you are a human like me who has feelings. I am happy that you check this site please stick around there may be hope you yet.

  • Pi Guy

    I guess that’s why you often see churches with names like “Victorious Faith Temple”.

    The OT is largely a chronicling of how the god of Abraham sided with the Jews in battles in the ancient Middle East in Jericho, Egypt, Jerusalem, and Hebron among other places – but curiously abandoned them at Aphek – and there’s plenty of smiting “with the edge of a sword” and “do not leave anything that breathes” commentary to boot.

  • valhar2000

    The funny about these fundy kooks is that they swore, like all service people, to uphold the constitution of the United States, and yet, they are wantonly violating it. That means that they broke their oath, and thus, they are the ones going to hell.

    So, Rev Spitz, if you are right, say hi to your kooky friends when you meet them down there.

  • SteveC

    > Allegations that members of the Air Force, Navy and Special
    > Forces have been given survival training that includes lessons
    > on the “correct type of faith” to have if captured by the enemy.

    As written, I’m not so sure this is a bad thing. For instance,
    if soldiers were taught something along the lines of this:

    “If you’re captured by Islamic fundamentalists, letting them know you’re an atheist is only going to get you killed. If you tell them you’re a Christian (you’re not likely to be able to convince them your a Muslim), and you beleive a, b, and c, your chances of survival are much better.”

    Well, that would meet your description of “the correct type of faith to have if captured by the enemy,” but I don’t think that, as I’ve described it, that would be such a terrible thing. It seems to be about right. Letting the atheists go inwittingly to slaughter, unwarned, seems worse.

    But, the whole story isn’t here, so, who the hell knows.

  • Dr John Nahay

    We atheists need to go on the offensive out outlaw Christian and Muslim churches once and for all. [edited —Ebonmuse]

  • http://elfstoned.blogspot.com Elfstone

    “Dr John Nahay”, you are not fooling anyone. You’re not an atheist, just a crazy fundie who thinks anything is allowed to “win”. In this case, you want to make atheists look bad by projecting your own desires of censorship and violence on them. You people are scum and you should be grateful that atheists are nothing like you.

  • Alex Weaver

    You people are scum and you should be grateful that atheists are nothing like you.

    I agree that people like that are scum (though I’d prefer to phrase it in a way that emphasizes that fact that they’ve chosen to be scum, rejecting and spitting on their birthright as human beings with the physical capacity for moral awareness and intellectual maturity. However, it may be premature to claim that “atheists are nothing like you.”

    After all, there might be two, or even as many as three, people who identify as “atheists” and think like his comment alleges.

  • MJJP

    Needless to say, the violence-endorsing, terrorist-supporting Mr. Spitz will not be allowed to post anything further on Daylight Atheism. But I think it’s worth leaving his comment here as an object lesson of the kind of opposition we still face in our effort to build a rational and peaceful society.

    Comment by: Ebonmuse
    ==================================
    I think he should have been given more time to debate. Surly Mr Spitz believes he is correct and doesn’t want to believe in a lie. Who has the facts? Who has the evidence? Why do believers readily drop their belief when they debate an atheist? The bible is not a textbook and the bible is not a reference book. How can we put a hole in the wall when the door is locked? Getting Spitz to fall would be like sinking the Bismark.

  • MJJP

    Here is more on how religion has permeated the military regarding the death of Pat Tillman. Here is what Lt Col. Kauzlarich had to say regarding the familys frustration at getting to the bottom of Pat Tilmans death.
    Kauzlarich said he’d learned Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother’s body was returned to the United States.
    Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family’s unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.
    Lt. Col. Kauzlarich’s discomfort with atheism is interesting:

    In an interview with ESPN.com, Kauzlarich said: “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don’t know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough.”

    http://www.futureofthebook.org/mitchellstephens/archives/2006/07/pat_tillman_non.html

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    Excellent post. I’ve wanted to do one like this for awhile and just haven’t had the time. Now I can just link to yours. Sometimes I wonder what I’d do without this blog – don’t ever make me have to find out!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I second Elfstone’s comment – “Dr John Nahay” is a religious troll trying to make atheists look bad. Quite possibly he’s also trying to impersonate someone, since he signed his comment with an AOL e-mail address, but his ISP isn’t AOL.

    SteveC: I’m not sure that claiming to be a Christian if captured would be likely to save a servicemember’s life, considering who we’re dealing with here. In any case, I think the intent was not to tell soldiers what faith they should claim to have, but what faith they should actually have, presumably because that way they could look forward to salvation even if they were killed by their captors. I’d have to listen to the interview again to be sure, though.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I second Elfstone’s comment – “Dr John Nahay” is a religious troll trying to make atheists look bad. Quite possibly he’s also trying to impersonate someone, since he signed his comment with an AOL e-mail address, but his ISP isn’t AOL.

    SteveC: I’m not sure that claiming to be a Christian if captured would be likely to save a servicemember’s life, considering who we’re dealing with here. In any case, I think the intent was not to tell soldiers what faith they should claim to have, but what faith they should actually have, presumably because that way they could look forward to salvation even if they were killed by their captors. I’d have to listen to the interview again to be sure, though.

  • Obbop

    My invisible unprovable god can whip your invisible unprovable god any day of the week….. except Sunday, of course, when the fighting stops for 24 hours.

    Gotta’ have rules for the omnipotent unprovable invisible entities that so many are so sure they know how those omnipotent one’s think.

    I guess.

  • Alex Weaver

    I think he should have been given more time to debate. Surly Mr Spitz believes he is correct and doesn’t want to believe in a lie. Who has the facts? Who has the evidence? Why do believers readily drop their belief when they debate an atheist? The bible is not a textbook and the bible is not a reference book. How can we put a hole in the wall when the door is locked? Getting Spitz to fall would be like sinking the Bismark.

    We are talking about a person who is convinced he has the absolute truth, who has immunized himself to reason, ethics, and decent human feelings. He has already made up his mind and is unwilling to be swayed by arguments grounded in observable evidence or real grown-up morality.

    (Whoa, serious deja vu…

  • Alex Weaver

    I think he should have been given more time to debate. Surly Mr Spitz believes he is correct and doesn’t want to believe in a lie. Who has the facts? Who has the evidence? Why do believers readily drop their belief when they debate an atheist? The bible is not a textbook and the bible is not a reference book. How can we put a hole in the wall when the door is locked? Getting Spitz to fall would be like sinking the Bismark.

    We are talking about a person who is convinced he has the absolute truth, who has immunized himself to reason, ethics, and decent human feelings. He has already made up his mind and is unwilling to be swayed by arguments grounded in observable evidence or real grown-up morality.

    (Whoa, serious deja vu…

  • SteveC

    > SteveC: I’m not sure that claiming to be a Christian if captured would be likely
    > to save a servicemember’s life, considering who we’re dealing with here.

    Maybe, maybe not. But in general, from what I understand, and I may be wrong, Muslims consider Christians to be “people of the book”,
    see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_of_the_Book
    while it is common for atheism to be punishable by death — this in peacetime. Hence my conjecture
    about, in a course about how to survive when captured, what might be taught
    which would be labeled the “correct faith.” Seems not unreasonable that in a
    survival course, the “correct faith” to claim would be that likely to allow
    you to survive.

    > In
    > any case, I think the intent was not to tell soldiers what faith they should
    > claim to have, but what faith they should actually have, presumably because
    > that way they could look forward to salvation even if they were killed by
    > their captors. I’d have to listen to the interview again to be sure, though

    Perhaps so. My point wasn’t that I disagreed with you (not sure I do)
    so much as that I could see a way, given what was written, that the
    implication might be wrong. If what you think is this: “the intent was
    not to tell soldiers what faith they should claim to have, but what faith
    they should actually have”, what you wrote doesn’t on the face of it
    support that, or at least, is plausibly deniable, given only what’s written
    here. If there was more to the interview, be it only a tone of voice which
    implied a certain interpretation of ambiguous words to be the intended interpritation, which you didn’ write about, well, perhaps you should have
    written about it. Better to take the more charitable interpretation of these words and be wrong than to assume bad intentions and be wrong.

    Anyway, consider this _friendly_ criticism. It’s a pretty rare event that I can find anything to complain about in what you write.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “No matter what you think or believe, The Word of God will remain true and you will be judged for your hatred of Jesus Christ and His people. Jesus predicted there would be people like you.” — Rev Spitz

    “We atheists need to go on the offensive out outlaw Christian and Muslim churches once and for all.” — Dr John Nahay

    Personally, I hope you leave knuckleheads like this on your blog. It allows me to come here not only get in touch with my fellow freethinkers, but to satisfy my humor jones as well. :D

  • Polly

    In Iraq, the only “correct” faith to not get killed would be one, and only one, of the two branches of Islam; shia’ or Sunni. I could see how knowing which one your captors belong to plus some key doctrinal phrases, would be helpful.

    Speaking of conversion at the point of a gun, I’ll say right now, if I were ever caught in another country the future of which I wasn’t invested in, and asked my religion on pain of death…
    “Praise allah, JC, Buddha, Vishnu, XENU, Hank (and his blessed ass), or whoever the heck you want!”

    Yeah, I’m kinda chicken.

  • James Bradbury

    Yeah, I’m kinda chicken.

    Well if you’ve only got one life it makes sense that you’d want to preserve it!

  • http://passionateatheist.blogspot.com NoAstronomer

    “If you’re captured by Islamic fundamentalists, letting them know you’re an atheist is only going to get you killed”

    I don’t know about that… How about “I’m an atheist, but tell me about this Quran book”

  • john

    The Air Force distributing (and later withdrawing, after being found out) a code of ethics to military chaplains that endorse proselytizing directed at servicemembers who do not belong to a religion. As cited in a lawsuit by Weinstein, this policy was supported by the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, Cecil R. Richardson, who said that military chaplains “reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched”.

    i remember going through the same kind of thing when i was in the AF. i had superiors that would come barging in sometimes when we met to talk and get to know each other. spouting orders and what not is not the way to make an atheist into a ‘christian’. i could care less what religion you are, what you believe in, or what you do for a living; but to try to force something down my throat because i’m not like you is not right. so i jumped up in this captains face and told him how i felt, and then was recycled into another flight, but at least i stood up for what i believe in.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Thank sweet Zombie Jesus for the fact that Atheists are slightly overrepresented in the military. To hell with those fundies with guns. Why do I get the feeling that most of those fundies are white guys? I bet that women, people of color and gays in the military are more likely to be the atheists, because fundies consider those to be a no-no. Support the (non-prostelytizing) troops! Especially the women, atheists, Muslims, Hindi, and others, because they need it!

  • Kennypo65

    I was in the army, and my dog tags read “NO REL PREF” meaning no religious preference. I wondered if I was KIA would somebody still say some sort of prayer. After all NO REL PREF could be interpreted as anything goes. I only get down on my knees when I’m holding a pair of dice.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I never suffered any religious discrimination in the USAF, but I separated in 1993. My atheism was plain to anyone who spoke to me about religion. My dogtags read “atheist”.

    I was never evangelized, but myself, my best friend in the fire station, my occasional supervisor Smitty, and a few others would sit out in front of the station after duty hours and talk religion, amongst other topics, deep into the night. I wouldn’t trade those conversations for anything.


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