Last week, a cadet publicly quit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, citing forced prayer and churchgoing. Republican strategist Shirley Husar, in a debate on HuffPost Live, asserted that West Point is “a religious institute.”
Merry Christmas, Shirley, but West Point is not a religious institute—though that’s not for want of trying on the Christian right’s part.
The cadet in question is 24-year-old Blake Page, who described being “severely punished” for not going to church while in basic training. “You scrubbed floors for four hours or went on rock flipping detail so the rocks could get an even tan or you mowed the dirt,” he said in an interview published on the website Alternet. “Basically whatever they could find to keep you busy.”
Mr. Page said prayer is routine at mandatory cadet events, and that students who participate in religious retreats are awarded with off-campus passes. He said evangelical professors would challenge him on how morality could exist without God.
Up until Mr. Page’s resignation, nobody had ever described the pervasive religiosity inside the nation’s premier military academy. There has been much coverage of evangelists infiltrating the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but that could be written off as a case of Rocky Mountain religious fever. The notion that cadets less than 100 miles from New York City who don’t go to church are punished for their personal beliefs while the believers are in the pews—as Mr. Page described—is shocking.
But why should it be? Creepy, crazy guns-and-prayer fanatics were colonizing the U.S. armed forces even before 9/11.
Back in 2004, thousands of airmen at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs were urged to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ when it came out.
For two decades, chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base had taught something called “Christian Just War Theory” to provide a theological basis for nuclear warfare to young airmen concerned about the morality of dropping such devastating weapons on human beings.
And until last year, Christian Bible verses were engraved on rifle sights in use in Afghanistan. The Michigan company Trijicon has a $660 million contract, and a spokesman said the coded verses had “always” been on them, since the company’s South African founder is a devout Christian.
The only reason we know about these affronts is that atheists like Mr. Page, along with a group called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), have the guts to stand up to what the latter’s founder calls a “fundamentalist Christian, para-church, military, corporate, congressional proselytizing complex of literally Jovian proportions.”
MRFF was founded in 2006 by lawyer and retired officer Mike “Mikey” Weinstein, a Jewish graduate of the Air Force Academy who claims he has since heard from 30,000 active-duty servicemen and women complaining about forced churchgoing and prayer. “I’m sorry to have to report that fundamentalist Christianity or ‘Dominionism’ is inextricably intertwined into the very DNA of our United States armed forces today,” Mr. Weinstein told the website Truthout earlier this year.
Dominionists believe that Christianity should be the law of the nation and the world. They also believe that the messiah will not return until nonbelievers are subdued or converted.
Chris Hedges, writing in Theocracy Watch some years ago, explicitly equated Christian Dominionism with fascism: “The cult of masculinity pervades the ideology. Feminism and homosexuality are social forces, believers are told, that have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus is portrayed as a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Anti-Christ, attacking hypocrites and castigating the corrupt.”
The Warrior Jesus of Dominionism kills and helps men who kill. He would not our recognize Sunday school Jesus, the one who preached brotherly love and turning the other cheek and envisioned lambs lying down with lions.
“Christ as warrior” is especially appealing to a people in decline, to men who have lost jobs, who can’t get health care or are poorly educated, Mr. Hedges wrote. “This ideology is attractive because it offers them the hope of power and revenge. It sanctifies their rage.”
In one of the organs of the movement, a magazine called Command, Lt. Jonathan Carl penned an article explaining how Christians might get around the commandment most problematic for a soldier, the one about not killing. He found spiritual succor in the fire and brimstone pages of the Old Testament, particularly the genocidal Book of Joshua, in which God supposedly ordered his chosen people to eradicate the indigenous inhabitants of Canaan in a manner that the Rwandan mass killers would understand.
“So what is it like to kill the enemy?” Lt. Carl writes in the magazine, published by the Dominionist-affiliated Officers Christian Fellowship. “Killing is not hard but is a very sobering experience, happening very quickly and when done, you’re just happy you and your soldiers are still alive. Killing causes you to question why the enemy is so ready and willing to die for their cause. Are they brainwashed by religious or fanatical propaganda … ?”
What’s even scarier is the number of American politicians who think the country needs an army of Christian soldiers. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are linked with the Dominionist movement, as are numerous lesser lights, like the 22 House members who recently fought the Department of Defense’s decision to stop an evangelical publishing company in Tennessee from embossing the insignias of the five branches of the U.S. military on bibles.
Dominionists can be found at all levels of the military, from the academies to Washington prayer breakfasts.
What they need to be reminded of is that separation of the church and the state’s military is the main difference between us and our enemies. If we fight, that is what we fight for. As a culturally Christian American, who grew up hearing about Christ’s message of peace and nonviolence, I am horrified by the braiding together of spirit and sword. This holiday season, I am donating a little something to the MRFF, a voice of reason howling into the wind.