Army-Navy Game Introed to Christian Battle Hymn

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

These verses served as the introduction to the 112th playing of the Army-Navy Game.  In case you aren’t familiar, make no mistake:  This game is considered one of the greatest rivalries in college sports.  The President, Vice President, and the top generals of the Army and Navy were in attendance.  The game is billed as “America’s Game.”  This is a window into the competitive spirit and professional teamwork of our nation’s military. These football players are the cadets of West Point and the midshipmen of Annapolis, augmenting their training as military officers with football physicality, tactics, competition, and teamwork.

The introduction featured cadets and midshipmen in uniform discussing the great dedication they show to the nation through their training.  The comments from these scholar/warrior/athletes of America was cut with scenes from both the cadet and midshipmen choirs fervently singing a song that promotes Christian crusading and judgment against the unfaithful.

It’s easy to overlook this as just a game, but it was watched by over 4 million households.  These households saw the pageantry of the Army-Navy rivalry and future officers of the nation mixed up with the emotion of Christian battle.  Maybe it was just a song.  Maybe those cadets singing that song were just mouthing the words and not thinking about the meaning.  However, the bounds of logic are stretched too far to imagine that military leaders failed to think deeply about the song chosen to jointly represent the future leaders of the Army, Navy, and Marines.  Those right-wing conspiracy theorists blaming Obama for a ‘war on religion’, should not fail to give the Commander In Chief personal credit for associating the Army-Navy game with an American Christian Crusade.

The cadet choir should be able to sing what it likes, including religious songs.  The Battle Hymn of the Republic is a historically patriotic song, hearkening back to our earlier, less religiously diverse and less tolerant society.  The game is technically a private, commercial enterprise.  This was just an introductory show on TV.  These are the defenses for what amounted to a blatant use of these young leaders, some of the most revered citizens of our nation, to promote the idea of America as a Christian Nation.

About Jason Torpy

**Comments at Friendly Atheist do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.** Jason Torpy serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military. MAAF also educates military leaders about the needs of nontheists and advocates where necessary. Jason is a former Army Captain and Iraq veteran with a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point and an MBA from The Ohio State University.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1535286477 Roxane Farrell Murray

    It’s a crying shame about the lyrics.  The music always makes me want to get up and march around the dining room.

    • Carl S.

      The dining room??

    • Tom

      Same deal here.  It’s even worse with Simple Gifts – beautiful music, and even the lyrics sound just fine if you come to them cold – but then you look up the Shakers and somehow have to come to terms with the fact that though they produced many beautiful things, and were remarkably socially progressive in many ways, they were also technically a sex-phobic apocalypse cult.

  • Rod Chlebek

    Hmmm. I don’t remember simging those.

  • TychaBrahe

    The Battle Hymn of the Republic is one of my favorite songs, and I sing it unself-consciously.  It was taught to me as a child by my Jewish father.  To me the song is a call to do what is right and moral.  

    “Let the Hero born of woman crush the serpent with his heel.”  

    “As He died to make man holy, let us live to make man free.”
    The image of Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist, inspired to write the word after meeting with President Lincoln and attending a performance of patriotic music by an Army band sticks with me.  

  • http://andybreeden.com Andy Breeden

    If not for the religious right, we could all enjoy songs like this as part of our culture and history. But noooooooo. They have to point to these kinds of things and declare “Therefore Jesus.”

  • Anonymous

    FWIW, I was at the game and they had a Navy Chaplain give an invocation.  I went to get something to drink so I didn’t have to have that crap thrown right in my face.

  • JimG

    Eh, I don’t consider this particular instance a huge deal, given its history as a Civil War song. If anything, we could point out its implication that Yahweh loves Big Government, since it’s about those awful Federals crushing the churchgoin’, gun-totin’ States’ Righters of the Confederacy. That ought to infuriate the Fundiepublicans.

    • Walkamungus

      Hey, that’s Big Gub’mint to you!

  • advertising is evil

    football is definitely a major tool in the arsenal of the Status Quo. It not only reinforces God and Country (military recruitment commercials), but also women-as-commodities (cheerleaders and beer commercials) and men as macho buffoons (car commercials, beer commercials, snack commercials). Then, of course, there’s the whole men-as-gladiators angle. And the superbowl halftimes (crappy pop music serves as commercial for itself). I mean, sure, it’s mainly about selling beer and cars and snacks, but it’s also about selling the dominant paradigm.

  • William Garvey

    Did anyone else grow up in a northern state and learn to finish the song by replacing “marching on” with “f*ck the south?”

    Anyhoo, add me to the list of people who view BHOTR as a historically significant reference to struggling for what’s good and just, even though it’s cloaked in religious imagery.

    • Merlebird

      Boy, I never learned to sing it that way, but I sure will now!

      What everybody else said: this is a hugely important song in American history (Howe was asked to write new and unquestionably better lyrics to the walking song John Brown’s Body, about the martyred abolitionist), with a long-standing connection to the armed forces. The message is couched in Christian imagery, yes, but the God mentioned is more a deist abstraction – some Platonic essence of justice or moral truth; Jefferson’s God – rather than the anthropomorphic God of Christian proselytizing. It certainly assumes a Christian audience, but I personally don’t feel alienated by it; having been raised Protestant, though, I may be inured to it in a way Hemant isn’t.

  • EJC

    Meh. If a bunch of steroid addled servants of the realm want to sing this idiocy before a contrived “sports” event, let ‘em. There are bigger fish to fry

  • Rob Greis

    Since they used Battle Hymn, along with Anchors Aweigh and The Caissons (Army) Go Rolling Along in the intro I had no problem with it. All those songs have historical connections to the military and the people who serve.

    I just wondered how many of those Glee club singers were children of the south and were singing the song of the army that defeated their ancestors.

  • mkb

    The song always makes me cry because of its association with the mourning for Bobby Kennedy.


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