“There are no atheists in a foxhole.” - Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller, USMC
From the first day I was recruited into the military, I found another organization trying to recruit me: Christianity. No, not just any other religion, but Christianity in particular. I found this ironic since the First Amendment of the Constitution I swore to defend implies a separation of church and state. The last time I checked, the military was part of the state. (Read more...)
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As you say, the USA, and most other western countries have the formal separation of church and state written into their legislation. The Government just likes to pretend that the state and church are separate, while in fact they often work together towards common interests.
Many western Governments also legislate against state influence over the media. However, it does not stop those same Governments from funding their own TV and radio stations and appointing the directors along political lines nor fostering party or Government links with newspapers.
Let's face it, it does not matter what constitutional legislation or bills there are that claim to separate various institutions from the influence of the state, the Government likes to wield as much power as possible and wants to have as much influence upon it's citizens as possible. And it succeeds!
Your experience in the Marines was similar to mine in the Air Force twenty some years ago, when I was, if not an atheist, a non-theist at least. (In other words, I didn't have much need for, therefore, no thought of God.) The "forced march" to the base chapel during basic training was strongly encouraged, though in fact optional. The only difference between your experience and mine is that our training instructor left us alone in the barracks.
(Of course, Air Force basic training was not exactly, ahem, rigorous. We did not have to march when it was too hot and our physical fitness test consisted of running in place for fifteen minutes. Mind you, Byron, we normally would have had to run two miles out on the base track, but it was raining the day of our test.)
However, I must admit that it was my Air Force experience that sparked my interest in religion. I was an airborne cryptological linguist, which meant attending the Air Force's survival school at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington. (After which I was spared an assignment to Okinawa and sent to England instead.) Part of my training at Fairchild included P.O.W. resistance techniques. There I encountered veterans who had been "guests" of the Hanoi Hilton. Again and again they told stories of how their religious faith gave them the fortitude to endure captivity.
While I was confident I had the right stuff without faith to endure such a trial, their stories of faith were not easy to dismiss. Indeed, the power of the faith of P.O.W.'s should not be dismissed as mindless evil superstitions; it requires an examination more serious than knocking down cartoonish strawman as some Objectivists are wont to do.
You wrote: >>The Government just likes to pretend that the state and church are separate, while in fact they often work together towards common interests.<<
Precisely how do military chaplains breach the wall between church and state? Morale is a vital component of military success. To that end the armed forces provide our troops with leave, good food, entertainment, libraries, newspapers, and chaplains to maintain it.
Unfortunately you can't become a chaplain unless your a person with at least a degree in theology and/or clerical rites. That means There are no atheists in foxholes and No Atheists as chaplains. No objectivists can take part in your keeping morale as a chaplain. And for the most part a chaplain has about as much crisis training as anyone when they join the army, all the crisis training is offered by the military when you join. So men of the faith have no more real advantage than a charismatic man of reason. But still no atheists in Chaplain BDU's
Chaplains themselves, the notion of them, do not breach separation between church and state. For those in uniform that look to a higher power for guidance and support chaplains can be a life-line to whatever values anchor them to better times, and help them strive to get back to those better times. But it's those moments, such as mandatory-attendance ceremonies with decidedly Christian invocations, that breach the overall neutrality required by a an ideologically (political and religious) independent armed force such as the United States military.
The offense is rather slight. It's easy to simply ignore the religious parts of ceremonies. You can refuse to bow your head when the request is made, and usually no one will notice because the rest of the sheep have their eyes closed and heads bowed. And (usually) no one grabs you by the collar and screams "You better find Jesus, boy!"
But the transgression still exists. I always found it annoyingly telling that while officers and NCO's were (officially) forbidden from letting junior enlisted know who they were voting for in upcoming elections, there was no such bar against formal expressions of religion, or against platoon sergeants constantly toting around bibles and quoting psalms, or singing religious cadences during runs. Ideologies aren't supposed to enter into the chain of command--one of the most enduring and important parts of our military tradition--because there can be no political or ideological barriers or promises made between the soldier and officer. The only ideals that need be maintained in the armed forces are those that regulate oath-keeping, honesty and discipline--virtues instilled to keep up the efficiency and integrity of every branch of the military. The rest is private. And it should stay there, if only because the contradictions are so damning.
And, Doc Garcia, I'd holler out "Medic!" sooner than "Chaplain!" any day of the week.
Thank you for the kind words of appreciation. Please bear in mind it is not my intent to disparage the military in general. It is my honor, privilege, and rational self-interest to "serve" in the Armed Forces in spite of the many flaws that mar that institution.
Citizen Rat: I am pleased to learn that you are a fellow veteran. No, I do not lightly dismiss the fact my comrades-in-arms believe it is their faith that helped lead them through their trials and tribulations, however misguided I think their beliefs to be. One of the points of my article is to show why I think that occurs and to show a more rational alternative. I do agree with Eric that the military should rethink the existence of the Chaiplain Corps. Personally, I would propose that the Chaplain Corps should be phased out and replaced with civilian clergy (funded not by the government but by their respective churches) whom off-duty servicemembers can approach on their own volition. These churches can rent space on-base from the military on a contractual basis. They can tend to the morale of those personnel who would prefer a religious outlet to the more secular alternatives that the military already offers. The process would be similar to what Burger King or Taco Bell goes through to open a restaurant on-base (both of these companies have establishments on my base and I prefer patronizing them over the military dining facility).
Byron you know me to agree with you on many things but I do not care that the irrational have these misguided beliefs(it helps me identify them) however I do have a problem when these beliefs effect the choices that are made for us(ex. Bush). . rick
You wrote: >>No, I do not lightly dismiss the fact my comrades-in-arms believe it is their faith that helped lead them through their trials and tribulations, however misguided I think their beliefs to be. One of the points of my article is to show why I think that occurs and to show a more rational alternative.<<
And I did not gather that you did dismiss such lightly from your article. I agree with you that non-religious conviction can provide a soldier with the spirit he needs to endure captivity. Patriotism, for example. Apparently the armed forces agree, because the Air Force taught us the Fighting Man's Code of Conduct in survival school, which provided such a non-religious basis for resisting the enemy.
You wrote: >>I do agree with Eric that the military should rethink the existence of the Chaiplain Corps. Personally, I would propose that the Chaplain Corps should be phased out and replaced with civilian clergy (funded not by the government but by their respective churches) whom off-duty servicemembers can approach on their own volition. These churches can rent space on-base from the military on a contractual basis. They can tend to the morale of those personnel who would prefer a religious outlet to the more secular alternatives that the military already offers. The process would be similar to what Burger King or Taco Bell goes through to open a restaurant on-base (both of these companies have establishments on my base and I prefer patronizing them over the military dining facility).<<
Yes, but when it comes to the battlefield, chaplains need to be in uniform. Indeed, where else do you really need them other than there?
True enough. I should then add to my proposal that these civilian chaplains may accompany a military unit into a combat zone, at their own risk and (perhaps) their own expense. This is not too different from the civilian journalists embedded with units during Operation Iraqi Freedom I. These chaplains should be screened by the unit for suitability for deployment and certified in military operations. Just a thought. Having said that, I am opposed to the existence of a Chaplain Corps that draws pay and allowances as commissioned officers and that requires them to be ordained in particular denominations. To me, that is an infringement of the seperation of church and state.
My main question is this: is this the root of the problem (yes, it is a problem) or is this one of many symptoms of a particular disease? Would the disease be ALTRUISM? I notice that many of my colleagues are intelligent and rational up to a point. Usually, that point is in the realm of philosophy. At a certain point in the conceptual chain, they cease thinking and begin evading the facts of reality. In essence, this amounts to the proclamation "Who am I to know?", which leads to the further proposition that those in charge MUST SOMEHOW know what is right for me, my family, this nation, etc...This is precisely what those who have relinquished their means of knowlegde want others to conclude. My answer to them is "Speak for yourself, Brother"! As a member of the Armed Forces, I often ask my colleagues why they decided upon this path. I often hear responses that intimate every other reason for becoming a member of the mitiltary except for the proper one. I hear about the benefits of travel and health care and job training and other such secondaries. What about the primary? What is the primary reason for joining the armed forces? It is quite SELFISH and does not require that one SACRIFICE one's values, as Altruists urge, but to UPHOLD them. It is to defend one's life against those who do not value their own lives. All this is symptomatic of a pervasive philosophical shift in this nation during the Twentieth Century.
I very much enjoyed this, even though I just got to reading it finally!
I actually wanted to touch upon something you mentioned, which is that the military is a good place to introduce religion to people who might be looking for something to pull them through at a time when they are scared. I am continuously amazed at how many people who were former drunks, homeless, brawlers, etc. end up diving into religion later on in life. I noticed this most when attending a few born-again Christian masses (with an ex's family). I was amazed at how strong-willed they were at going after people to convert, especially those who pretty much felt they had nothing left in life. Afterall, when you have no money, no food, no family, a god who always loves you, is always with you, and can pull you through sounds pretty appealing!
I don't think what a person who feels they've lost everything, or is possibly about to lose their lives, wants to be told that they can do it themselves. Someone else guaranteed to do it for them sounds quite appealing! So I think objectivism would have to reach people before these situations arise. We can't 'compete for men's minds' at these levels, but we certainly can when children are younger by teaching confidence, rationality and that they are strong.
Hey there. I used to be a Roman Catholic and I had a similar experience to the one you had when you went to Mass with your ex. The very week after I started reading "The Fountainhead", I had signed up (to my regret) to go to a Catholic retreat where I listened to different speakers giving their testimony about how they found God and Jesus. The theme of all those testimonies was how Jesus saved them from a sinful life of drugs, alcohol, and pre-martial sex. This was a contrast to what I was reading during the breaks. I read about a man who loved his life and did not feel any guilt about it. Howard Roark did not need drugs, alcohol, or religion, and he enjoyed having pre-martial sex with Dominique. One source told me I should feel guilty about my sins here on earth and I should find redemption in some other world. The other told me I should not feel guilty about making the most of my life here on earth. It was then that I knew I could no longer be a Christian.
Having said that, I agree with you that it is difficult to persuade a theist that he or she can live independent of a deity. I follow enough of the discussion threads on SOLO to know that! I read once that religion is like a crutch. It is a tool a man uses to help him when he is about to fall. It does him no good for someone else to come along and kicks his crutch away. It is better for the man to realize for himself he never needed that crutch in the first place.
I too was Roman Catholic in a recent past life! I only went to a couple born-again masses years ago, when we happened to be with my ex's dad on a Sunday. One interesting thing was that they had separate masses for the adults & children. It was less boring for the children, they acted or drew or I don't know what they did. I was always curious what they were teaching them in there with no parental supervision... :)
And I see it very much like you do. You can tell a child their imaginary friend is not really there, but they will go on talking to them until they hopefully outgrow it! But like you said, can't just kick the crutch out. That does nothing to convince them. Ideally you get them before they reach for the crutch. It's a hard thing to do when almost everyone surrounding them is telling them to believe and have faith...