Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 9, 2009

THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is an ongoing source of concern for those interested in religious liberty: the intersection of evangelism and the U.S. military.

A U.S. church raised money to send Bibles, printed in the Pashtu and Dari languages, to American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, a report on Al Jazeera documented Sunday night.

It is against military rules to proselytize -- a regulation one of the soldiers filmed by the network readily acknowledged. "You cannot proselytize, but you can give gifts," says the soldier. It is a crime in Afghanistan to attempt to convert anyone from Islam to any other religion. "I also want to praise God because my church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out." The footage is said to be roughly a year old.

The Al Jazeera report also shows a military preacher urging army parishioners to "hunt people for Jesus."

"The Special Forces guys, they hunt men. Basically, we do the same things as Christians. We hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the Kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business," he says.

The Al Jazeera report is part of the larger phenomenon of blurring the proselytizing line in the military, as Jeff Sharlet's subscription-only cover story from the May issue of Harper's documented very well. The piece was filled with jarring examples, but I was especially struck with this: "In a lecture for [Officers' Christian Fellowship] titled 'Fighting the War on Spiritual Terrorism,' Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg E. Metzgar explained that Christian soldiers must always consider themselves behind enemy lines, even within the ranks, because every unsaved member of the military is a potential agent of 'spiritual terrorism.' Even secularists with the best intentions may be part of this fifth column, Air Force Brigadier General Donald C. Wurster told a 2007 assembly of chaplains, noting that 'the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil.'"

Military officials have said there have been some isolated problems that have been properly addressed, but "the leadership of the U.S. military has a problem, whether they acknowledge it or not. An influx of aggressive fundamentalists has entered the military chaplaincy and is creating havoc."

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The younger generation is increasingly following a more secular path: "New research shows young Americans are dramatically less likely to go to church -- or to participate in any form of organized religion -- than their parents and grandparents. 'It's a huge change,' says Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, who conducted the research."

* TV preacher Pat Robertson responded to Maine's new law on marriage equality by telling a national television audience that gay marriage will lead to legalization of polygamy, bestiality, child molestation, and pedophilia. "You mark my words, this is just the beginning in a long downward slide in relation to all the things that we consider to be abhorrent," said Robertson.

* And in Findlay, Ohio, 17-year-old Tyler Frost is facing suspension from high school if he takes his girlfriend to her school prom. What's the problem? Frost attends a fundamentalist Baptist school that forbids dancing, hand-holding, and other forms of affection. It's not enough that his school doesn't host dances, school officials say students can't attend other schools' dances, either. Sounds a bit like Footloose, doesn't it?

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

It's always a good time to tell this dumb old joke!

Q: Why won't Baptists have sex standing up?
A: It could be mistaken for dancing.

Posted by: shortstop on May 9, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

"You mark my words, this is just the beginning in a long downward slide in relation to all the things that we consider to be abhorrent," said Robertson.

Well, I consider Robertson abhorrent, and he's been on a downward slide for decades;>

Posted by: martin on May 9, 2009 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

There's a really good chance that the proselytizing, er, gift-giving, soldiers will get other American soldiers killed by pulling this stunt. They don't seem to care what happens to their fellow soldiers, as long as they can celebrate that they broke a law that discriminates against Christians.

The Taliban love fools like this. They cannot find better recruiting-poster material.

Court martial is the only proper response.

Posted by: freelunch on May 9, 2009 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK
Even secularists with the best intentions may be part of this fifth column, Air Force Brigadier General Donald C. Wurster told a 2007 assembly of chaplains, noting that 'the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil.'"

Isn't it time that we force the Air Force Academy to shut down if it continues to refuse to follow the law? It's become a Racketeer-Influenced Criminal Organization when it comes to illegally forcing religiosity on others.

Posted by: freelunch on May 9, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

"The younger generation is increasingly following a more secular path: New research shows young Americans are dramatically less likely to go to church -- or to participate in any form of organized religion -- than their parents and grandparents."

Thank God.
Sadly, a decrease in irrationality isn't necessarily accompanied by an increase in rationality. But it's a start.
That said, it would be an interesting project to try to assess the net value of organized religion in Western culture. Abolition of slavery, reform of capitol's exploitation of the poor, Bach's B-minor Mass, very positive; the Crusades, genocide of Native Americans, not so much.

Posted by: smartalek on May 9, 2009 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Now, was that the Missionary Position Mambo or MP Line Dance?

Posted by: berttheclock on May 9, 2009 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Let's calm down a bit.

There shouldn't be anything wrong with soldiers passing on gifts given by Americans in good conscience out of good will. Many of these Afghans may never have had the chance to read the Bible in their own language, and many might appreciate the gesture, even if they have no intention of changing their beliefs.

To comment on an earlier comment, it is, ironically enough, arguably more dangerous to our soldiers for us to build this into a proselytizing conspiracy than to simply overlook it. The Taliban's overreaction to it may actually be the best possible recruiting-poster material for our side.

Good day to all.

Posted by: citizen on May 9, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil.'

Non-believers are evil, and they don't know it?

Right, I'm going to remember this the next time a religious believer tells me how insulting atheists are.

Posted by: Daniel Midgley on May 9, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, which I refused to attend once I was 14 years old because of the terrible hypocrisy demonstrated by the minister and many of the congregation. We weren't supposed to do a myriad of things, including play cards, go to movies, and certainly dancing. I had a Sunday School teacher once tell me, when I asked her what was wrong with dancing, that "dancing is a vertical position for a horizontal desire." She was absolutely serious, and I thought she was absolutely crazy.

Posted by: winddancer on May 9, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, citizen, but the United States is already stomping all over the national feelings of the citizens of Afghanistan with our long, but poorly executed occupation of the country. Adding proselytizing, and don't believe the religionists who are claiming that they are only giving gifts, they are knowingly proselytizing and lying about it, makes the appeal of the highly anti-Western Taliban and Qaeda stronger.

Posted by: freelunch on May 9, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

An influx of aggressive fundamentalists has entered the military chaplaincy and is creating havoc.

Actually, this has been going on for a long time. I remember back in the late Jurassic, when I was in Navy boot camp, all the chaplains were from a church this Westerner had never heard of before - the Southern Baptist church. And they all seemed crazy as they spent half their sermons (or at least half of the only one I ever listened to) telling us non-Southerners about how their Christian religion was "different" and therefore much "better." After that, all the non-Southerners took the mandatory Sunday Chapel time as an extra hour of sleep - something that's really important in boot camp.

Posted by: TCinLA on May 9, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Don't ever go fishing with a Southern Baptist, because he'll drink all your beer. But if you take two of them along, they won't drink any.

Posted by: TCinLA on May 9, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, I have to disagree with you on this one. Frost signed a contract with the school that clearly spelled out the prohibition against attending proms with rock music and dancing. I'm completely unimpressed with people who think rock music and dancing are the devil's tools--I love both--but if Frost is going to attend a school that thinks so, and sign a contract with that school not to attend dances, he should keep his word. I mean, if he's attending a school like that day after day, he's going to know their attitudes. This can't be a surprise to him. Far from being a courageous dissenter against theocracy, he's actually someone who promises something he can't or won't deliver. And if he didn't read the fine print...well, I'm completely unimpressed with that, too.

Posted by: ThomasC. on May 9, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

"We weren't supposed to do a myriad of things, including play cards, go to movies, and certainly dancing. I had a Sunday School teacher once tell me, when I asked her what was wrong with dancing, that "dancing is a vertical position for a horizontal desire." She was absolutely serious, and I thought she was absolutely crazy."

Actually, your sunday school teacher is closer to right. Dancing is an innately sensual activity, whether it be a young woman strutting her stuff or an elderly couple creaking through their paces. It is no accident that nearly every singles scene in the country revolves around dancing in one form or another (usually mixed with liberal amounts of alcohol).

The real issue is that she, and most other southern baptist fundamentalists, object to sensuality in any form. Playing cards? Watching Movies? Dancing? O, the horror. It's almost as if they spend hours praising god and thanking him for nothing, and will having nothing to do with his creation. It also makes me wonder what the suicide rate is among the youth of fundamentalist communities.

Posted by: Talphon on May 9, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

I cannot think of a book less safe or appropriate to "give as a gift" in a war zone than the Christian Bible, of which roughly the first two-thirds is the Old Testament, a text that suggests among other things that the faithful "shall eat the flesh of mighty men & drink the blood of the princes of the earth...until you are glutted...and drunk...you mighty men of war." [Ezekiel 39:18-20]

The military needs to get some control of its own war mongers who are spreading xenophobia & violence to naifs who may be enemies or potential enemies.

The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com

Posted by: Marie Burns on May 9, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

I never thought playing cards was a form of sensuality.

Posted by: inkadu on May 9, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg E. Metzgar explained that Christian soldiers must always consider themselves behind enemy lines, even within the ranks, because every unsaved member of the military is a potential agent of 'spiritual terrorism.' Even secularists with the best intentions may be part of this fifth column, Air Force Brigadier General Donald C. Wurster told a 2007 assembly of chaplains, noting that 'the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil.'"

But they kick gays and lesbians out of the military because they have a negative effect on unit cohesion???!!!

Posted by: majun on May 9, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

I never thought playing cards was a form of sensuality.

Posted by: inkadu at 11:12 AM

Strip Poker.

Posted by: burro on May 9, 2009 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Citizen....calm down?! Are you eff'n brain dead? W painted the WOT in religious terms from the beginning. These are not "Americans" passing out bibles...these are American soldiers. Obviously the distinction is lost on you, but not to Muslims. It is a colossal mistake for our military personnel to do ANYTHING that could be interpreted as actions promoting Christianity. The reason is of course that any such action risks perception of our troops as religious warriors rather than as sponsors of "freedom" and "democracy" as we so often claim. You just can't have it both ways.

"Simply overlooking" the issue is the worst thing we could do - right after letting it happen in the first place! You can be sure that there are many groups, friendly and unfriendly, that are watching our behavior and actions very closely. If we as a nation say one thing and do another, they will publicize the fact to their advantage.

Posted by: Separatist on May 9, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

While I agree that our soldiers should not be passing out Bibles and proselytizing, it is true that Islam and Christianity trace their roots to the Old Testament prophet Abraham (which is where they diverge), worship the same God, and Muslims do consider Jesus a prophet.

That said, the military is no place for religious nuts to be trying to convert our soldiers, Afghans, or anyone else.

Besides the Christian right, Mormons should keep their money and influence away from denying gays their rights, and stop posthumously baptizing non Mormons.

I'll keep my religion and respect yours (or your "non religion") and please treat me the same, thank you very much.

Posted by: Faithful on May 9, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

ThomasC, minors can't legally sign contracts. For a school to go through the exercise of having them sign a contract shows how poorly educated the administrators are, or how dismissive of the law they are.

If it is the latter, then why should any of their students respect any kind of rules or laws when they themselves dismiss the boundaries set by law?

If there are rules, then fine. Hold the kids to rules. Requiring them to sign contracts is stupid and probably not enforceable if that is the sole basis for their argument.

Posted by: jcricket on May 9, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we could convert "don't ask, don't tell" to cover religious beliefs. Religious soldiers would be tolerated and allowed to stay in the military so long as they don't reveal their religious orientation or conspire with others by openly practicing religious words or behavior. Obviously they constitute a security threat by but at least this way it would be minimized.

Posted by: James Baker on May 9, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Three stray thoughts, now that jcricket, @13:30 beat me to shooting down Thomas' piece on nonsense.

1)Who translated those Bibles into Pashtu and Dari? Some fancy pants gays?

2)Wonder how easy it is to refuse a "gift" that's delivered at the end of a gun.

And, corollary to 2,

3)If one were to accept such a "gift" and then, say, spit, piss or stomp on it (as we were told happened to some copies of Koran)... wonder how the giver would react.

If a church wants to send out Pashtu Bibles to Afghanistan, let them send missionaries with the books as well. The soldiers are not paid -- by me, among others - to push their weird beliefs on helpless populace.

Posted by: exlibra on May 9, 2009 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Sounds a bit like Footloose, doesn't it?"

I was thinking more like a madrassa, my self.

Posted by: Alan on May 9, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil.'

so they kill ya and THEN baptize ya...

The Talibs believe they are within their 'spiritual' rights to murder any apostate Muslim, who 'betrays' Allah...A bible in the house would be prima facie evidence of such apostasy, and would therefore be the equivalent of a death sentence for the bible's owner.

Of course, from the pov of the prolelytizers, this is much an app as a bug, cuz according to Xian dogma, martyrs go directly to the feet of the lord...

and it's one fewer rag-haid they gotta worry about...

Posted by: Woody on May 9, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I'm okay with giving out Bibles, so long as it stops there. A lot of these people don't have books and can't read. If giving them a Bible helps them to read, fine. How do you think the Maori in New Zealand learned how to read? And we should look at the example of the Maori, they learned how to fake being a Christian so that Christians would give them books. Let's face it, attempts at conversion rarely work and usually backfire. I've seen it in Southeast Asia. The Christians give out ice cream on Sunday to get hill tribe children to convert. The parents are happy to cooperate because they look like a hero when they bring their kids to the free ice cream place. The kids never convert, but they do get free ice cream. And everyone is happy but the missionaries. History has shown that if a single missionary can convert a single person in his entire lifetime, he's a successful one. And history has also shown the the expected lifetime of a missionary is considerably shorter than average. Missionaries are accepted when they provide good things for people. But if they actually convert someone, they are quickly killed.

Posted by: fostert on May 9, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

I too saw the story about Bibles going to Afghanistan. One thing you don't mention is that those Bibles were eventually destroyed -- by military chaplains -- in order to avoid offending the Afghanis. I can understand that, of course, but I think it's an awfully short-sighted reaction to the problem. There are other uses for foreign language Bibles than to evangelize people who speak those languages. I read the Bible in Spanish, German and Esperanto, because I want to learn those languages. Because I have already read each passage in English, and know the passage fairly well, it's easy to pick up the meaning of new foreign language words that I come across in the text. So it makes a great way to learn a language. From my own military experience, I know that many U.S. military personnel stationed in foreign countries want to learn at least the rudiments of the local language. So it would not be a stretch to think that these Bibles could have been used by GIs whose only desire is to learn a language. Yet the Bibles had to be destroyed. Sad.

Posted by: Paul Harder on May 9, 2009 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Citizen's point about culturally-sensitive gifts is quite reasonable. After having heard all the stories about GI goons pissing on copies of the Koran and flushing them in toilets, devout Moslems will probably appreciate the opportunity to stomp sputum and dogshit into a bible before blowing it up with an anti-tank missile.

Posted by: howling void on May 9, 2009 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm okay with giving out Bibles, so long as it stops there."

Hey, I'm all for it too. Presumably even the Afghans need something to hold their doors open on windy days.

Posted by: jprichva on May 9, 2009 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Dancing is a vertical position for a horizontal desire."

Well ... yeah ... isn't that the point?

Posted by: KTinOhio on May 9, 2009 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

I can understand that, of course, but I think it's an awfully short-sighted reaction to the problem. There are other uses for foreign language Bibles than to evangelize people who speak those languages . . . these Bibles could have been used by GIs whose only desire is to learn a language. Yet the Bibles had to be destroyed. Sad.

And the blame lies entirely with the people who endangered our soldiers' lives by associating our military effort with what the locals would percieve as an invasion by a hostile religious faction.

It's hard to find the right metaphor . . . how about if our soldiers were assigned to protect a nunnery and some free-thinker were urging the soldiers, for the good of the locals, to pass around pornography, condoms, and aphrodisiacs?

Dumb as that might sound, having our soldiers handing out bibles in a country full of xenophobic Islamic fundamentalists is a lot dumber . . . and much more likely to get people hurt or killed.


Posted by: Midland on May 9, 2009 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

"he doesn't believe "God would allow humans to destroy the earth He created."

I guess he doesn't believe in free will, then.

BTW, global warming wouldn't DESTROY the Earth. It wouldn't even destroy "man." I would wreck a vast change to human culture and human life, would probably cause massive death in places like Bangladesh and perhaps India. But it would not blow the Earth apart or anything.

And also BTW, what does this yahoo think God did when he created the Great Flood that apparently killed everyone on earth except Noah and his family. Does this idiot, who obviously believes God DID this to the world once, think He can't or won't do it again? After all, he could just create a NEW Adam and Eve 2.0 and start all over again.

Sheesh some of these religious folks are stupid. They can't even learn the lessons of their own Holy Book!

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on May 10, 2009 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

Oops. posted in the wrong thread, tho it works here, too.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on May 10, 2009 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly