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Is the Bible a Threat to National Security? June 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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 Roger’s note: click on the link to watch this scary video: “MRFF just posted a video montage, which could easily be called the military evangelicals’ greatest hits, here.

Antiwar.com / ByKelley B. Vlahos
 

A military Bible paints war as religious devotion. What could go wrong?

June 26, 2012 |
 
 
 
Can a Bible be a “threat to national security”?

For years, the government has employed the risk of “national security” excuse to infringe on a wide range of freedoms — like the right to pass through an airport security checkpoint unmolested, or read library books without Big Brother peeking over your shoulder.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein is trying to prove that there is more than one way to put the country at risk, and he’s found it in a heretofore unlikely place: the Bible.

Well, the Holman Bible. To be more exact, a version of the Bible that, for reasons still undetermined, was authorized with the trademarked official insignia of the U.S. Armed Forces emblazoned on the front cover. There is The Soldier’s Bible with the Army’s seal, The Marine’s Bible with the Marine Corps seal, The Sailor’s Bible and The Airman’s Bible, both with their respective insignia. The books have been sold for nearly six years throughout Christian bookstores, commissaries and PXs on U.S. military installations — and are still available on Christianbook.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

 It’s not the King James Version that the Gideons leave behind in hotel rooms drawers. The Holman Bible was commissioned and published by LifeWay Christian Resources, a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist denomination in the world, in 2003.

 

In a 1999 press release announcing the edition’s progress, Broadman & Holman Publishers called the new version “a fresh, precise translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek of the Old and New Testaments.” LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. weighed in, saying there was a “serious need for a 21st-century Bible translation in American English that combines accuracy and readability,” adding, “the Holman Christian Standard Bible is an accurate, literal rendering with a smoothness and readability that invites memorization, reading aloud and dedicated study.”

The Holman Bible, or HCSB, has been popular with evangelicals for its references and study tools. Someone convinced each branch of the service they’d be perfect for the military, too. So the HCSB became the “official” Bible of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines in 2004, complete with reader-friendly text and custom “designed to meet the specific needs of those who serve in the most difficult of situations,” according to the publishers.

In other words, aside from the text, the books are filled with “devotionals” and “inspirational essays” tailored to each branch of service. I was unable to get my hands on a copy by press time, but Amazon’s “peek” inside the book and several positive reader reviews confirm some of the contents, revealing what could only be described as a guileless conflation of both Christian and American military iconography. War and service as religious devotion.

In addition to the Pledge of Allegiance and the first and fourth verses of the Star Spangled Banner, there are excerpts from one of George W. Bush inaugural addresses and the Republican president’s remarks at a National Prayer Breakfast. Gen. George S. Patton’s famous Christmas prayer card from the field of battle 1944 is also included, as is “George Washington’s Prayer,” which has been widely circulated (and debunked) as proof of America’s Christian paternity.

These Bibles also feature “testimonials and encouragement from the Officers’ Christian Fellowship,” which has approximately 15,000 members across the military and whose primary purpose is “to glorify God by uniting Christian officers for biblical fellowship and outreach, equipping and encouraging them to minister effectively in the military society.” In other words they proselytize within the officer corps as part of an evangelical “parachurch” within the military.

A largely unfettered one, apparently, as one watches Pentagon officers commenting freely on camera — and in uniform — for this Bush-era promotional video for Christian Embassy, another federal government-wide “fellowship” with similar missionary goals.

One officer, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, who said he worked on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, described himself as “an old fashioned American and my first priority is my faith in God.” Pointing to his meeting with other officers under the auspices of Christian Embassy, he said, “I think it’s a huge impact because you have many men and women who are seeking God’s counsel and wisdom as we advise the Secretary of Defense.”

Then U.S. Brigadier Gen. Bob Caslan (currently promoted to lieutenant general as the commanding general at the U.S. Army’s prestigious Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.) went so far as to say he sees the “flag officer fellowship groups … hold me accountable.”

“We are the aroma of Jesus Christ,” he added.

Something smells, all right, said Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The roles of the officers in the video were later deemed improperafter MRFF demanded an investigation in 2007. As for the Bibles, Weinstein said he received some 2,000 complaints about them from service members over the last year. Weinstein, a former Air Force Judge Advocate (JAG) whose 2005 charges against the Air Force Academy in Colorado led to an investigation that officially found religious “insensitivity” against non- fundamentalists there, has gone on to expose a much wider climate of “top-down, invasive evangelicalism” at the institution and throughout the military as a whole.

“We’re fighting a Fundamentalist-Christian-Parachurch-Military-Corporate-Proselytizing-Complex,” Weinstein said told Antiwar.com last week, “and we have been fighting this for some time.” MRFF just posted a video montage, which could easily be called the military evangelicals’ greatest hits, here.

He said aside from “prostituting” the military insignia, the military’s endorsement of the Bibles violated federal separation of church and state, and continue to sanction an insidious culture of radical evangelicalism and discrimination throughout the services (as a Jew, Weinstein said he felt the sting of prejudice when he attended the Air Force academy in the late 1970s; his sons had it even worse, he claims, prompting his first formal complaint seven years ago).

Since then, “(MRFF) has had 28,000 clients and a hundred more each month,” said Weinstein, rejecting claims by his critics that they are all atheist. He insists that 96 percent of his clients are Christians (Catholic and Mainline Protestant) and that his is not a religious crusade. On the other hand, some 33 percent of chaplains are now evangelical Christians (Weinstein’s MRFF places that number at 84 percent), while only 3 percent of service members describe themselves as such.

“They are spiritually raping the U.S. Constitution, the American people and the men and women who are fighting for us,” said Weinstein, who never, ever minces words.

MRFF’s lawyers sent a formal letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s office in January. In it, MRFF charged that authorizing LifeWay to print its Bibles with the service insignia “is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution … and several regulations,” and that the authority should be withdrawn immediately or face legal action from MRFF.

Interestingly, according to the documents now available online, the Army, Navy and Air Force responded to the letter in February, insisting that the summer before Weinstein’s lawyers at Jones Day contacted the Pentagon, they had already pulled their trademark authorizations to LifeWay, for “unrelated reasons.” So, in effect, according to the military, the Southern Baptist Convention subsidiary no longer had use of the trademarks and the question was moot.

Weinstein responded with one word: “lies.” He told Antiwar.com that they were just informed of the letters in June, not in February. Furthermore, according to MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda, MRFF has obtained documents through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests that indicated the “AAFES (the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which runs the BXs, PXs, and other stores on military bases) was clearly concerned about the complaints about the Holman Bibles, with emails as early as June 6, 2011 from AAFES to LifeWay saying that these Bibles had ‘become a hot issue,’ and referencing and linking to a June 2, 2011 article on MRFF’s website as the reason they were becoming a hot issue.”

Nevertheless, according to a Fox News Radio story, LifeWay insists it’s “sold” all existing copies of the military Bible in question, and instead is printing the same Bibles with “generic insignias, which continue to sell well and provide spiritual guidance and comfort to those who serve.”

The AAFES told Fox News Radio it has 961 copies of the Bible left on shelves at 83 facilities. Weinstein doesn’t know how many are out there but contends that until each and every one is gone, “they’re still aiding and abetting the cause of al- Qaeda.”

Why? Because it is a national security issue if America is perceived as waging a religious war against the Muslim world. One can’t help but get that impression reading the added material in these Holman Bibles, suggesting that that God has blessed the American warrior for his existential struggle of good versus evil.

A crusade — and one playing right into the religious extremism on the other side, putting Americans overseas, and at home, at risk, said Weinstein.

His approach — which is as fiery and combative as the preachers he rebukes (he’s taken to calling the Pentagon, “Pentacostal-gon,”) — has drawn fire from a number of conservative Christian organizations and websites, which have labeled MRFF a bunch of zealous atheist agitators.

“Why should these Bibles be removed because of the demands of a small activist group?” Ron Crews, head of The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, asked last week, adding in an interview with Fox News Radio that the Department of Defense was acting “cowardly” by backing down to MRFF.

“MRFF must cease and desist their reckless assault on religious liberty. The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty calls on Congress to investigate this frivolous threat and apparent discrimination against religious views by the DoD.”

But this “reckless assault” has offered the public a window into how much evangelicalism threads through the military ethos today — from the Pentagon buying guns with sights outfitted with biblical references, to born-again chaplains directing soldiers to hand out Bibles and proselytize among the Muslim locals in Afghanistan.

MRFF has accused Army chaplains of using religion in lieu of mental health counseling to aid battlefield stress, and drew attention to provocative displays of religious murals and crosses sprawled on walls at U.S. bases and on vehicles driven through the urban battlefront. MRFF has protested the taxpayer-funded “Spiritual Fitness Concert Series” performed on bases here in the states, and followed up on complaints by service members at Fort Eustis in Virginia who said they were punished by a superior officer for not attending. MRFF also helped put the brakes on an Air Force training program in 2011 that used the New Testament and the insights of an ex-Nazi to teach missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons.

More recently, MRFF criticized a fighter squadron’s decision to switch back to its old “Crusader” moniker, complete with a Knights Templar red cross emblazoned on its planes. Under pressure, the Marines have since reversed that decision, returning to its old World War II-era “werewolves” nickname, earlier this month.

Weinstein said “predatory” evangelicals in the military “believe the Separation of Church and State is a myth, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster,” and he doesn’t mind putting his own reputation and safety on the line to smash that myth to pieces.

“If we’re catching them on things like this Bible, what the hell else is going on? Well, we know,” he said. “The Bible situation is not innocent, it is not innocuous, it is another raging example of this cancer.”

New Hampshire’s New Scopes Trial January 7, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
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Saturday 7 January 2012
by: Staff, Diatribe Media                 | Report

New Hampshire took an early lead this year in the effort to dumb down school students and erode the separation of church and state in the education system by introducing two anti-evolution bills to its state legislature (h/t Mother Jones). The two laws are the first of their kind in the state since the late 90’s. According to the National Center for Science Education, House Bill 1149 would:

“[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

House Bill 1457 would:

“[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”

State Representative Jerry Bergevin, who introduced HB 1149, believes such legislation is necessary because he thinks evolution is tied to Nazis, communists, and the shooters in the 1999 Columbine massacre. According to Bergevin, the political and ideological views of Darwin and other believers and evolutionary scientists, along with their positions on atheism, must be taught to students as well. The New Hampshire Republican told the Concord Monitor:

“I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don’t respect human rights.”

He added “As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. . . . Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That’s evidence right there.”

Rep Gary Hopper, who introduced HB1457 said that “science is a creative process, not an absolute thing” and he wants creationism taught in classes “so that kids understand that science doesn’t really have all the answers. They are just guessing.”

The most troubling and ridiculous part of the comments from the legislators introducing these bills is not only the anti science nature of them, but the idea that atheism is on par with murder, totalitarianism, and other “criminal ideas.” The idea that the lack of faith in God by an individual is somehow a violation of human rights shows just how little these Representatives understand of both atheism and human rights. (Full disclosure – I am not an atheist. I have my own faith and religious beliefs and hold them closely and don’t evangelize or prosthelytize)

In a country which touts itself as being the freeist in the world in respect to practicing religion, a representative has no ground to call another person’s spiritual beliefs “criminal.” Furthermore, if anything in the United States violates human rights, it’s the fact that our prison system is out of control, or that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed thousands of innocent civilians, or that our President signed legislation making indefinite detention for Americans a real possibility. It’s simply incredible that these elected representatives can turn a blind eye to real human rights violations while inventing others.

To boot, both Hooper and Bergevin seem to completely misunderstand what teaching evolution involves. The belief that species evolve and change over time does not necessarily invalidate the idea that God exists. Charles Darwin once said that man “can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.” Even the Catholic Church accepts evolution, with the caveat that God played a role. Bergevin’s idea that a belief in evolution makes murderers implies that plenty of his own faithful friends in Christendom should be treated as criminals.

Seven other states saw similar proposals in 2011, and thankfully, all of them were defeated. The bills in New Hampshire should be pretty quickly and easily defeated, according to the National Center for Science Education. Executive Director Eugenie Scott told the Monitor:

“Evolutionary scientists are Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Greens and everything. Similarly, their religious views are all over the map, too. . . . If you replace atheism in the bill with Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Judaism or any other view, it’s clear to see it’s not going to pass legal muster.”

While that’s good news, it’s still troubling to even see this debate on the floors of legislative houses in this day and age. If America is to get out of the mess it’s currently in, its legislators need to start tackling present problems, rather than rehash debates settled long ago.

Allowable Discrimination? February 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Religion.
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Jonathan L. Walton, www.religiousdispatches.org, February 6, 2009 

On the campaign trail this past summer in Zanesville, Ohio, President Obama committed his administration to extending the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships while maintaining the appropriate boundaries between church and state. Part of this boundary, he then asserted, involved undoing President Bush’s policy that allowed religious organizations funded by the federal government to discriminate in hiring. President Obama was adamant that the federal government could not subsidize discrimination.

But yesterday when the president announced the revamped office and introduced his ideologically diverse advisory council, he failed to repeal his predecessor’s unjust executive order. There are reports that President Obama will order the Justice Department and the new advisory board to wrestle with the constitutional implications of this policy of allowable discrimination. To many this is somewhat surprising and disheartening. There are few with the “constitutional law bona-fides” of the president, a former law professor at the University of Chicago. And he has made it clear in the past that if you get a federal grant, it is unconstitutional to discriminate against the folks you serve or the people you employ.

Let’s hope this is just a political ploy insofar as the president would rather do away with this discriminatory allowance behind closed doors rather than announcing it at yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast. Because appropriating tax dollars to bigoted faith groups is hardly, “Change We Can Believe In.”

Welcome to Gilead, Governor Palin September 30, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Sarah Palin.
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by: Cynthia Boaz, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

photo
In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” women are confined to a few, limited, gender-based tasks. They are kept in submission by the “Aunts,” who reassure them that their subjugation is right. The “Aunts,” according to Cynthia Boaz, have a whole lot in common with Sarah Palin. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

    If you’ve ever read Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” you will recall the key role that was played by the women assigned to be the “Aunts.” The story revolves around a futuristic American society in which fundamentalist Christians install a gender-based caste system where each woman is assigned a specific societal function. It is a commentary on the dangerous erasing of the line between church and state in the contemporary United States. The merging of religion and government is carried out by a group of older, white male “commanders” whose propaganda demands that citizens be constantly terrorized into submission and obedience. The resulting regime is Atwood’s vision of the worst-case scenario: an American police-state theocracy where every woman’s identity is reduced to her sexual attributes, and each is assigned to a category based on her physical qualifications. Subtle references to racist philosophy are mixed into the literalist religious rhetoric.

    The attractive young women of reproductive age are the “handmaids”; the attractive but infertile middle-age women are the “wives”; the dark-skinned women of any age are domestic servants, and so on. All women are forbidden from reading or writing. The country is renamed the Republic of Gilead, a reference to the biblical homeland of the patriarchs. And the Aunts – who are middle-aged white women of some previous prestige and education – are especially sinister characters. The primary job of the Aunts is to keep the handmaids (the childbearers) subservient. They go about this by convincing the handmaids that they are powerless and can only contribute to society when they fulfill their God-given responsibility to serve the commanders. The Aunts’ job, put simply, is to exploit other women by keeping them submissive and telling them that it’s for the good of all (and even more insidiously, that in obeying, the handmaids “empower” themselves.) What makes the Aunts so remarkable is their collective failure to realize that they are simply being used by the commanders to keep other women in line, and their willingness – glee, even – at doing so is simultaneously sad and terrifying. So what compels the Aunts to become traitors to both their sex and their country? First, they believe that their contribution to the repressive social order is righteous, and second, they’ve found that under this rigid system of social control, they have the illusion of a tiny bit of power.

    Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Governor and Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin is the Gileadian “Aunt” manifested. Her sudden emergence onto the American political scene, accompanied by a burst of enthusiasm on the part of many American women, is a surreal example of life imitating art. Much of Palin’s rhetoric, tactics and personal philosophy seem to be taken directly from the Auntie training manual. By accepting the position on the GOP ticket despite her astonishing lack of qualifications, Palin signaled that she was prepared to be used – on the basis of her sex alone – in exchange for the promise of status and power. Refer to Palin’s RNC convention speech, which was mostly a fawning homage to McCain’s patriotism and leadership, sprinkled with condescending references to Obama as “our opponent.” Although the lines were delivered with Palin’s own folksy vernacular and over-enunciation, it was not Palin, but McCain – or more accurately, the GOP elders at whose feet he finds himself on election eve – who wrote the speech and whose voice echoed through the hall that night in St. Paul. Women who find themselves drawn to Palin because they think she epitomizes the classic “woman who has it all” might want to take a closer look. Sarah Palin was picked for the ticket solely because of – not despite – the fact that she is female. By keeping her sequestered from the media, McCain has confirmed he does not have faith in an unscripted Palin’s ability to represent the campaign to the world. By going along with it, Palin is telling us that she’s perfectly fine with being controlled by her male superiors. And by portraying herself as the candidate of the empowered woman (while simultaneously promoting policy that is openly hostile to the interests of working and middle-class American women), she reveals the sad truth about how little progress we’ve actually made.

    Lest we think that Senator McCain is hesitant to keep pushing this stereotype in the face of abysmal performances by Palin in news interviews, the most recent reports reveal that his campaign intends to hype the expected wedding between Palin’s pregnant daughter and her boyfriend, the date of which is apparently being set just prior to the November election – with McCain and Palin sitting in the front row. Is it possible that Sarah Palin is just blissfully un-self-aware, or is it that she so eager for any illusion of power that she’ll allow herself to be marketed no matter what the cost to the dignity of all women? If Palin were truly an empowered woman, she would have refused to allow herself and her daughter to be used in this manner – to assist a party whose rhetoric and imagery promote the ideal woman as deferential to established norms rather than acting as an independent – or critical – thinker. If her selection was intended to signal to American women that empowerment is possible, why is Palin being kept under lock and key? Clearly, this is not an individual whose intelligence or perspective McCain respects, or else he would permit her to speak for herself. To continue pretending that Palin’s selection was anything other than an attempt to manipulate the voting public on the basis of a straitjacketed view of sexual roles is a dangerous lie that no American of any gender can afford to abide.

    ——–

    Cynthia Boaz is assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University.

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