Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Is the Air Force Academy proselytizing?

The NY Times has a long column about the allegations of religious proseltyzing at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It's written from the point of view of the Lutheran Chaplain who seems somewhat upset that 40 minutes were cut from her educational video. I've not seen either the original nor the edited video, so can't and won't comment on them. What I found interesting in the article was this language:

A report sent to the Air Force in late April by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group based in Washington, said that academy officers and staff members opened mandatory events at the academy with prayer, sent e-mail academy-wide with religious taglines, and published advertisements in the academy newspaper asking cadets to contact them to 'discuss Jesus.' The report is based on interviews with current and former academy staff and faculty members and cadets.
I think this paragraph illustrates the vast gulf between the religious and the secular in America. To someone who daily walks with religion, to whom it's not a Sunday thing or a never thing, prayer and religious allusions are an integral part of the mental landscape. I'd be willing to bet, and I say this without at all meaning to be disrespectful, that a deeply religious person would as easily say "God be with you," as a secular person would say "Have a nice day." This pervasive religion may make people uncomfortable. Indeed, it would probably make me uncomfortable -- but I don't think it's proselytizing, which is actively selling religion. The newspaper ad referenced in the last sentence of the quoted column is the only real "sell" for religion, but there's no indication that the advertisers used coercion, such as threatening people's standing in the academy. I'm willing to accept that there is a strong religious atmosphere at the Academy and that this is disturbing for non-believers. However, short of telling the religious not to be religious anymore, I don't see how you can make it go away. This is especially true since I suspect that religious people are going to be more drawn to military service, so there is going to be a critical mass of such people finding and wishing to share a community. Lastly, I would hope that our future officers, who could be facing capture and brain-washing by the enemy, are not so weak in their beliefs that their colleagues' openly expressed Christianity can harm them. Ultimately, we have to ask whether we are raising fighters or potential guests for Oprah. If the latter -- if our soldiers are groomed to be people whose sensibilities are constantly wounded -- we may as well surrender to Al Qaeda now, since we're done for.