Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Over the last several days, I've watched programming on the government-run American Forces Network, a series of TV channels produced by and for American servicemen serving abroad.

A distinguishing characteristic of these channels is the relative absence of commercial advertisement, in favor of military-themed "public service announcements." Many of these PSAs promote messages such as tolerance, professionalism, devotion to family, and where to access various services provided free by the military to soldiers. For the most part, I find these sorts of ads to have a positive influence, even if the production values and ads themselves are a little shoddy.

From time to time, however, I find myself watching a news story or ad that seems to somehow reek obviously of spin. That is to say, I can tell that what I'm being shown is clearly propaganda, and when these incidents occur--usually about twice a week--I can't help but be left with a bad taste in my mouth. In particular, this bad taste has been lingering over a series of announcements I've recently viewed, produced by the United States Army - Europe Corps of Chaplains.

For those who don't know what a chaplain is, I'll explain. The Armed Services view soldier morale as being a key component of mission readiness, and part of that morale, leaders understand, is spiritual. To that end, the Army commissions ordained clergymen as uniformed military officers--chaplains--to serve with Army units, providing ministry and counseling services to soldiers in time of need. As expected, most chaplains are Christian, but I myself have seen examples of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Wiccan officers of the Chaplaincy. Though chaplains themselves may be ordained in a specific denomination, they are obligated by their creed to provide ministry services to ALL soldiers, regardless of faith, and attempts to accomodate the diverse religions practiced in the military are pursued to the fullest extent. The Army, by law, is prohibited from promoting any one religion as being superior to another, and to that degree, I see the Corps of Chaplains as providing a valuable and important service to soldiers.


Over the past few days, I've seen a series of TV spots promoting the chaplaincy to soldiers as a source of support during times of stress. Harmless enough, to be sure. But the nature of the ads has given me cause for thought. These ads, viewed by soldiers only in Europe, contain messages as follow:

"I would love to help. Just ask. GOD."

"Looking for a fresh start? I can help you wipe your slate clean. GOD."

"Got a lot on your plate? I can help you carry some of the burden. GOD."

This has gotten me thinking. Now, I'm a deeply spiritual person owing to my experiences, and I'll admit, I've even paid a visit to the local Chaplain myself. But the first and only time I went to see the Chaplain was early into Basic Training. When I did, I found that mostly the Chaplain's response to my problem was to feed me a series of simple platitudes, intended more to get me back in step with the Army's program than to ease any serious long-term sense of angst. It occurs to me that, while the Army Chaplain Corps cannot promote one religion over any other, clergymen must, I think, hold a specific personal worldview in order to accept the idea of becoming a military chaplain. As many clergymen shun the use of violence, this naturally weeds out all but a specific minority.

Right now, many say that American culture is engaged in a war of political and religious ideals. This isn't to say that America is at war with radical Islam, as some would maintain. Rather, I think American culture is presently hindered by a deep divide over what American culture is supposed to represent. Some in our culture believe that government should operate independently of faith, while others believe that any government of the people should represent the faith of that people. As the majority of Americans today are still Christian, many feel that this should, by logical extension, be a Christian nation. Though I vehemently disagree with this argument, I can understand the reasoning. For people of such a faith, the laws of God must necessarily trump the laws of man, and if government operates independently of church doctrine, some could argue that government is acting in direct violation of Divine mandate. Thus any hotbed issue of the right--women's rights, gay rights, separation of Church and State, criticism of American foreign policy--becomes a de facto criticism of God. I suspect strongly that any clergyperson who enters the chaplaincy must then believe that American military policy moves in step with "God's Plan." Put another way, one must believe that our ideals and aims as Americans fall in line with what God wishes, and therefore take precedence.

I find this idea dangerous. It concerns me. DOES the Divine support a national heritage? CAN It provide endorsement of a specific human leader? Would a supposedly merciful and just God place preference upon a single group of human beings; or place Its endorsement on the agendas of ONE political party? Would such a God endorse our foreign-policy actions over the past half-century?

No. No, I don't believe so.


Blogger Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

I DO consider myself a Christian, but ask the same kinds of nationalistic questions, especially under the current US administration, where "the God Card" gets played like trump.

I've been doing some looking around, and nearly ever US president - regardless of which side of the aisle he was on - has spouted the belief that God is on the side of America, be it in hard times or good times.

Is the implication then that God really is on our side, or is it just that American leaders recognize the PR benefits of the Almighty?

My vote goes with the latter.

One more time, Milo, thanks for a great post!

3:25 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Dear God, sorry to disturb you, but...
I feel that I should be heard loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in amount of tears
and all the people that you made in your image,
see them fighting
in the street 'cause
they can't make opinions meet
about God

Book recommendation... "The Battle for God", Karen Armstrong, about the rise of fundamentalism as a reaction to modernism in the Big Three monotheist religions. Interesting fare. A little scary. But man, does it help illuminate the mind of a religious conservative.

Secularism is the only way we all get the freedom to practice, and not practice, as we choose. The right's (and any fundie's, really) version of 'tolerance' isn't much more than a grudging, ugly charity. I'm just not sure they're capable of much more than that.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Let said...

Again, great post ...

I find the blurring of the line between Church and State a bit too much for my digestive system. I admit, I am no religious enthusiast. But I will fight vehemently for anyone's right to practive their religion as they see fit. When their religion begins dictating who I can marry, where my tax dollars go to bomb foreign countries and my reproductive choices, I tend to get a bit miffed.

I'm glad you at least are seeing through the bs.

1:40 AM  
Blogger mollymcmommy said...

ummm, i find religion and politics don't mix.
its like a doctor promoting a certain faith to a patient, it just isn't done. you give patients the access/freedom of their religion not brainwash them into thinking what you believe is best.
i have a hard time with heads of state saying things like "god bless.." does that mean if you don't believe in that same god you are not blessed and are going to hell?

doesn't sit right with me, government should just be government and while i think spiritual support in military due to the nature of the job is a must, promoting one religion one way or the other is wrong.

ticky suject, you had some great insight.


1:28 PM  
Blogger Ink and Stone said...

Excellent post! It definately gets the mind thinking. Personally, I'm Agnostic - I think there's no true way of knowing what's out there (besides dying) so why worry about it? That being said - The thought of combining religion and government scares me. All you need is one die-hard zealot to grab the reigns and then suddenly it becomes illegal to follow other religions than the nationally mandated religion.
I remember reading a story a few months back about a fellow in Pakistan (at least I think it was Pakistan) who converted from Islam to Christianity. In that country, it's illegal to abandon Islam, punishable by death - and clerics of that faith were calling for that man's execution. I think he was released, but probably only because the story received global coverage.
It becomes very frightening when people want to dictate to others how to live.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Los said...

I am a Christian. I respect everyone's right to worship any God they choose. I have a really tough problem with all of these "Holy" wars - does this make any sense? Can we have Holy and War in the same sentence? Doesn't this go against everything most religions teach?

2:50 PM  
Blogger Christina_the_wench said...

Christian and a preacher's wife here, but nowhere NEAR perfect nor self-righteous, so please remember that before you attack me. Though I know next to nothing about the military's objectives, I can only give my view on this.

We believe God is the one true God, and Islam, Hinduism, Satanism, etc. is not biblically sound. False gods, basically. BUT God gave us ALL free wills to choose who we want to serve. We'll all have to answer for it in the end. I am not sure what the military is trying to promote though. I do believe that freedom is not necessarily a good thing all of the time. We baby and tolerate way too much stuff in the USA. Everyone cries discrimination for the slightest thing. It's quite sad.

This is my belief. I truly respect the others who do differ. And I thank God every day for our military men and women. You do a marvelous, selfless job with very little thanks or praise.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Softball Slut said...

I am a spiritual person, more than religious. I believe that there is a God, but other than that, I am not sure what my beliefs are. I am smart enough to recognize that. I feel that people have the right to believe what they need to believe in. I dont support murdering people in the name of Allah, God, Buddha, or whomever you worship. My best friend's husband is in Iraq, a war I do NOT believe in. But I believe in Matty and I pray all the time that he comes home to Nessie because I want to see her happy again and several other reasons. I support the troops not the war, and I am ok with that. I am going to say God Bless you when you sneeze, and you can take that how ever you want. I am prochoice and pro same sex marriage, because I believe God loves everyone, and can forgive most choices or mistakes. The older I get, I am an old 26, the more I my faith expands. The more I need and want to believe and have that faith in my daily life. I try to give thanks for everything. Now this is my belief and I dont expect anyone to agree or disagree with me. I just wish inner peace in everyone.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous uglycur said...

Interesting point about all the Chaplains being a rather small segment of the general clergy population. When I first heard of the Wiccan chaplains being included in military bases, I remember my thought process going as follows:
1 - cool! That's some great mainstream recognition, and hopefully fewer people will think that I worship the devil.
2 - who will they ever find to do it?

Strange how my wondering about Wiccans willing to work with the military never translated into wondering about officiants from other pacifist religions.

Thanks for another good post, Milo!

4:39 PM  
Blogger drc said...

First of all, Thank you and everyone in our armed services for protecting our great nation. I think you efforts are sometimes overshadowed by news media wishing to put a black eye on what is going on.
When the first settlers came over to this new land, the only thing they had were the clothes on their back and their faith in God. They just happened to be Christians and from there everything developed to a christian society. But what if the settlers were from a different religion? We would have developed into that type of society.
My main grip on this war is hearing all this talk about it being a war on oil, or a holy war. Did we forget that we were attacked by them, thousands of innocent people died from the attacks. A whole nation of people (Iraq) were being starved and killed by their leader. That is not right. Don't people in other parts of the world deserve to be in a free society, to live and prosper as we do. We are not perfect by any means, but we do have it alot better than some other nations do.
I don't care if my neighbor is white, black, or of some other religion. What I care about is how I can get along with him. If he decides to come over and hit me everyday because he doesn't like something I do, well you can be damn sure that I'm going to return the favor. If he wants to live in peace, then so shall I.
My father in law served three tours in Vietnam, the last two he volunteered for. I asked him why he went back for two more tours when he didn't have to and his reply was simple. He show me his beret and pointed to the patch on it, "De Oppresso Liber" - to free the oppressed, then he told me "My job was not finished".
My heart goes out to all of the families that have lost someone fighting in this war and I shed a tear everytime I watch the news and see one of our soldiers die. Our country was built on brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve this great nation and it really gripes me to hear our own people talk bad against this country. If you don't like it then why are you living here.
Since you said you were a Christian I will say it...God Bless You, and I pray for everyones safe return.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Spc. Freeman said...

I don't actually recall saying I was a Christian, but hey, thanks for visiting the blog.

I'm proud to serve my country and all that, but I think we've fucked up in some very serious ways since 9/11. We've forsaken diplomacy and compassion for race-baiting, paranoia and the incitement of ethnic hatred. And frankly, as I've said before on my blog, I really don't fuckin' like people using my service as a political tool. I'm not a mouthpiece.

I joined for personal reasons, so whatever you think I'm embodying, I'm here to tell you I'm probably not what you think.

"So whatever it is you puffin' that got you thinkin' that you Superman, I got tha Kryptonite."

5:57 PM  
Blogger midwesterntransport said...

hmmm. well. i won't get into the downfalls of following a religious text without taking context and time-period into account, or of following rules that were written for a very specific way of life thousands of years ago, or of picking and choosing what you'll use from that text based on bigotry. no.

what i will say is this: i think it is inevitable that there will be at least a little bleed between a person's religious ideas and their political/moral beliefs. after all, many people formed their moral compasses in churches and mosques and temples during their youth. one's sense of justice is often deeply influenced by religion.

but i think that politicians *especially* should make an effort to separate their religious beliefs from the laws that they make. bravo if you believe in god or allah or yahweh or ganesh - just don't bring it into the constitution, please. because that turns into an imposition. i'm all for supporting someone else's beliefs, but not at the expense of my rights, not at the expense of some room to breathe. and frankly, my experience has been that the folks most set on bringing religion into play in politics do so in order to oppress other individuals and pass it off as "god's word" or whatever.

6:34 PM  
Blogger midwesterntransport said...

oh yeah - and great post, milo. :)

6:35 PM  
Anonymous S. R. said...

I am highly impressed. Who would've thought I'd read a great post on crappy AFN commercials and religion in the army today. I might have to link to this from my own blog.

7:06 PM  
Blogger FreedomGirl said...

What about atheists like myself? Am I unpatriotic because I am godless? I say no to that & all the questions you posed.

Thanks for stopping by the blog and commenting...I'll be reading you from now on.

8:17 AM  
Blogger essa said...

"Church and State separate"... what a tough issue. I would never want to force my religious beliefs on another person by way of government. However, my political beliefs steam from what I know/believe to be good or just. I am who I am because I believe certain things are right or wrong, and these things carry over into every aspect of my life. How could one not let what they believe to be right or wrong help them govern their lives or a country? One might think an Army wife, such as myself, is a religious fanatic. I am definitely not, and I do agree "Chruch and State separate" is a good ideal. And, I agree wtih you, Chaplains have it weird.
Have a good day... and don't feel guilty that you have volunteered to do what most in this country refuse. She understands.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Awakened1 said...

I'm a Vet too, I got out in 99, I can only imagine what it must be like to be in NOW and realize the lies being told in the name of freedom

stay strong!

peace and light

3:01 PM  
Blogger antiprincess said...

what a weird world, the blogosphere.

this all reminds me of that book Catch-22, and the chaplain who was an Anabaptist pacifist.


3:07 PM  
Blogger drc said...

Dude, sorry to go overboard on your post. Thanks for everything you do and be safe!!

3:30 PM  

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