A call for a different kind of don’t ask don’t tell

In “pointing out”:http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/11/guess_who_the_first_leader_of.php that it was Lenin, _not_ Darwin, who was the first leader of the Soviet Union, PZ Myers links to a piece on proselytizing evangelicals stirring up trouble in the US military. This time an “evangelical chaplain argues”:http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/11/30/105157/02/379/667800 that creationism is the solution to suicide in a PowerPoint presentation that was _mandatory_ for about a thousand Air Force personnel. The presentation is titled “A New Approach To Suicide Prevention: Developing Purpose-Driven Airmen”:http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/powerpoint/Lakenheath.ppt.htm and is based on the work of that odious ranch boss of Saddleback Church Rick Warren (who _The Economist_ has called “the next Billy Graham”:http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11920933 which is another shuddering thought).

The problem can be boiled down to this: _Ex vi termini_ evangelicals must spread their faith. This is in direct opposition of the “pastoral care” approach used in the military which abides by both the diverse religious environment and the separation of church and state. The population of evangelical chaplains has been increasing in recent years and the problem with it. In 2005 “NPR reported”:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4772331 that “more than 60 percent of military chaplains are evangelicals.” _The New York Times_ “reported on”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/12/national/12chaplains.html?_r=1 the growing numbers of evangelical chaplains and the associated problems for military leadership. A recent paper published by The Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College has called the issue a “a growing ethical dilemma”:http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/Pubs/display-papers.cfm?q=351.

Though I would love to see a military (and a society in general) based entirely on reason, I know that is not realistic. I appreciate every soldier’s sacrifice to his country, regardless of his religiosity. I agree with Colonel James L. Cook, Professor and Head of the “Department of Philosophy at USAFA”:http://www.usafa.edu/df/dfpy/?catname=dean%20of%20faculty that “issue is not the _right of self-expression of the leader_ – the issue is the proper subordination of anything personal to the requirements for effective leadership.” The role of the chaplain is to console the soldier who maintains a personal religious belief system. It is a strictly a peripheral role in terms of the organizational goal of the military. For organizational and constitutional reasons the line labelled “proselytization” should be iron-clad and unbending. The military is for protecting the nation, not for increasing the god squad (by the way, isn’t that what “the other guy”:http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/12/23/10251/691/341/425784 does?)

The aforementioned Col. Cook “related the following incident”:http://www.usafa.edu/isme/ISME07/Cook07.html which expresses my thoughts exactly:

bq. I had a cadet in class who once said to me, “I’m a Christian, and I believe witnessing to Christ is the most important thing I need to do in my life.” My response to her is the response I’d give to any officer who held similar views. I said, “I certainly respect your convictions. But if you sincerely mean that, I wonder whether you’re wearing the right kind of clothes. Why don’t you lose the uniform and pursue your vocation as an evangelist?”

To close I leave you with a general breakdown of religion in the US military. “In general, the armed forces show lower religious affiliation than the civilian population…” The table also shows there are more “atheists in foxholes”:http://www.atheistfoxholes.org than on the American street.

Religious Preferences of the U.S. Population and Military Personnel, 2001
From America’s Military Population, Dec 2004.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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11 Responses to A call for a different kind of don’t ask don’t tell

  1. Ralph Hitchens says:

    This is astounding, and thanks for posting it. I can’t imagine how any senior officer in my old service would approve such a presentation under the auspices of anything official.

    That said, I think it’s over the line to characterize Rick Warren as “odious.” While he is certainly an icon to Protestants of the more evangelical persuasion, his flagship book has found broad acceptance within the diverse Protestant community in the US. I don’t think anyone would consider him to be morally deceitful or a slave to money, as all too many evangelists have proven to be.

  2. kurt9 says:

    It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. That it takes a certain measure of faith to go forth into a battlefield risking death or dismemberment to do battle. It is therefor expected that our fighting men will have a bit more faith than the average civilian.

    It is well-known that the Air Force academy in Colorado Springs has been a hot-bed of christian evangelicalism. Think of it as the christian equivalent of the Islamic-driven ISI of Pakistan.

  3. jim says:

    Although it’s probably a function of income, I find it a bit disturbing how few non-Christians serve in the military. America has been the primary protector of the Jewish people for 50 years now. Buddhist and Hindu immigrants are perhaps more recent, but seems to show a similar unwillingness to defend America.

  4. jim says:

    Also, what counts as “other Christian”? Mormons? Non-denominational churches? (I always interpreted the non-denominational churches as sort of generic Protestant. But then I grew up Catholic.)

  5. Younghusband says:

    Jim, I tried to find some better numbers of religion in the US military but this chart was all I could get. Also, rather than income, I think it is a function of location. Take a look at “this demographic report”:http://www.heritage.org/research/nationalsecurity/cda08-05.cfm that shows that most military members come from the heavily from the “South and Midwest”:http://www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/images/CDA08-05_map1.gif, not a big area for Jews, Buddhists or Hindus. The report also shows the following:

    * U.S. military service disproportionately attracts enlisted personnel and officers who do not come from disadvantaged background
    * Members … more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods than from low-income neighborhoods
    * American soldiers are more educated than their peers
    * minorities are not overrepresented in military service

  6. jim says:

    Good point. Jews are concentrated in the Northeast. Other immigrants are arriving in the traditional big city gateways. Which are dominated by Democrats.

    Still, a fair question is why are those regions so hostile to the military?

    I do think this is a problem that our coastal elites do not participate in the military. The people who do the best in our society are the least likely to join, or have their children join, or know anybody who joined the military.

    I say this as someone from a midwestern Democratic Irish-Catholic family. The older generations were union Dems and many spent some time in the military. Some did well and went to college and did even better after.

    The richest of my relatives have adult kids who are “Progressives”. They went to great colleges, studied overseas, and have great careers. They also totally look down upon the military. At best they have pity for military members — for not having any better options — at worst they have contempt.

    My Progressive cousins are now starting families and picking out Montessori schools — they would be just horrified if any of their kids ever joined the military.

    It just seems unhealthy that the upper class thinks the military is beneath them.

  7. Younghusband says:

    According to that Heritage Foundation report US soldiers are more educated and come from better backgrounds than most people think. I think this reflects the shift of all western militaries towards a more educated base. You have to be smart to operate all that high tech equipment _and_ be educated enough to make teh moral decisions of a strategic corporal. Of course, there will always be the economically disadvantage in the ranks, but that was the same reason I entered university.

  8. McKellar says:

    With the statistics, I think 18-39 is too broad of an age group to mean anything. Religious attendance/affiliation tends to drop in the gap between young adult leaving their natal homes and then starting families (and marrying religious spouses), so 18-25 might be a better group for comparison.

    Military service requires the diversity of our nation to live and work in close proximity with one another, not as a collection of individuals but as a bonded, cohesive unit, so being a minority becomes a lot tougher. Look at the spike in that last row, the “don’t know/refused.” That’s the don’t ask/don’t tell column, the people who are different but have to put those differences aside, hiding them, in order to be good soldiers. So the question is, should we be asking the Evangelicals to make the same sacrifice, and be secular soldiers, or do we let our military become dominated by Evangelical voices? Didn’t the Romans try that once?

  9. Lirelou says:

    There are plenty of Buddhists in the military, but nowhere near their numbers in the population at large. For serious Buddhists, military service in anything but the medical or some other non-combat specialty poses a potential crisis of faith. This may keep many of the more committed Buddhists out. The majority I’ve known are lay Buddhists, but occasionally a truly committed Buddhist will show up. Here, you have to look at the ethnic composition of the American Buddhist community, which is mostly Asian, and look at the values of the cultural communities that comprise “Asians”. Korean-Americans appear to be the majority of Asians in service, but a great many of those are Christian. Chinese and Japanese Americans do produce some fine professional soldiers, but their communities are largely composed of people oriented to other professions. The military likewise has Hindus and Sikhs, but again the numbers are small, reflecting the recent nature of Indian immigration, and cultural class values that impact upon how members view military service. Thus, though I don’t know the figures, I would be willing to bet that the majority of Indians serving in the military are either Sikhs, or belong to one of the suncontinent’s other “martial races”. Those I have known in service all came from Sikh, Punjabi, and Goan families.

  10. ejw says:

    US armed forces chaplains are responsible for more than leading divine services; they play an important role in counseling and have a lead role in the US military’s suicide prevention programs. I read the slides, and, while it would have been painful to sit through, I didn’t perceive them to be as overtly evangelical as some of the stuff I’ve seen US Army chaplains come up with. This chaplain merely re-worked a philosophy (i.e., a purpose-driven life) into a hypothesis that servicemembers who have a purpose won’t kill themselves. Now, I would dispute this hypothesis, but I’ll give the chaplain the benefit of the doubt. (By way of background, I’m a US Army officer and a Buddhist.)

  11. Lirelou says:

    I should have mentioned that the U.S. military might be better served of all Chaplains were enlisted/warrant ranks, as in the French Army. And to EJW: Yes, and the Army actually has a Buddhist chaplain (as well as Muslim chaplains). That position existed for quite some time before it was filled. It is my understanding that certification was the initial problem. And I have attended Buddhist services in a U.S. military chapel, conducted by a Hungarian Monk from a Korean order brought on base by the Catholic and Protestant chaplains.