‘Who Teacheth My Hands To War’ – Christian Fundamentalism in the American Military
By W.D. Noble
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
That has driven a culture mad.
What huge Imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn:
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
— W.H. Auden
Blessed be the Lord, my strength,
Who teacheth my hands to war,
And my fingers to fight.
— Psalm 144:1
When I was first acquainted with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I was tempted to dismiss it as one of several fringe-groups, placing blame on the Right, just as Rightist fringe-groups routinely do the same to the Left. However, fifteen minutes of research gave me pause.
That pause was wrapped up in the efforts of one man; the president of the Foundation, Michael (Mikey) Weinstein.
He entered the U.S. Air Force Academy – and graduated (no mean feat). He’s an attorney – who worked in the White House as assistant general counsel to Ronald Reagan. He knows the Constitution. These are credentials which only come to a select few, and only by hard work. This is the reason his current calling is so compelling. Mikey isn’t a man who takes pot-shots at the government from the safety of a computer screen – he’s earned both the respect of the nation, as well as the street-cred to turn around and challenge its government and its military.
Mikey Weinstein is an engaging man. In his presence, you’re aware of an energy that’s at once focused and committed; a practical idealist whose passion is tempered by a goal, and balanced by a good-natured humor (as evidenced by his Air Force Academy nickname, which stuck with him through the years).
While Mikey had his first encounter with Fundamentalist Christianity when he was in the Air Force Academy himself, it was the experience of his son, Curtis, at that same institution which galvanized his effort. Curtis had been called a ‘fucking Jew’ and a ‘Christ killer’. While the emotions were several, and on several levels, Weinstein was mainly angry and embarrassed – angry at what had been done, and embarrassed at what his beloved Academy had become.
He began by doing what he’d always done before a big case or a big project – lots of hard-nosed research.
What he determined through this process was that the Academies at West Point and Annapolis were also full of Fundamentalist Evangelicals who didn’t see it as a violation of their oath to proselytize their version of Christianity on anyone who wasn’t a ‘believer’. Hundreds of interviews later, he determined that the problem of ‘God’-over-country is pervasive to the very highest ranks in all branches of America’s military, and that the majority of these officers and senior enlisted personnel are not just Fundamentalist, but subscribe to both Dominionism and Reconstructionism.
At first blush, this all sounds like loony-bin talk. Mikey’s continued research – which brought him face to face with the highest levels of America’s military leadership – provides incontrovertible proof that America is as close as it’s ever been to an outright coup, sponsored by the military and supported by a large and growing subset of American Fundamentalist Christians, who believe that it’s not only their right, but their duty, to ‘take America back’ for their God.
The problem is so pervasive in America’s military that today, 50% of the chaplaincy appointments in America’s military are held by Dominionist/Reconstructionist Christians. The group Christian Embassy has embedded itself deep in the Pentagon – so deep that Mikey calls it the “Pentecostalgon.”
Dominionism and Reconstructionism
This subset of Christianity holds its roots in the belief that the United States is a ‘Christian nation’, founded by and for Christians, and that it is the duty of every ‘good’ American Christian to create a new America which subordinates civil/secular law and the Constitution to the ‘laws of God’ – particularly, conservative Christian understanding of Biblical law.
In their worldview, the Dominionists and Reconstructionists seek a ‘reconstruction’ of American law and society in keeping with their views of conservatively-interpreted Christianity –and it’s a simple process:
– Control the education of America’s youth, and you have the future.
– Control America’s courts, and you control not only its legal processes, but its government.
– Control the military, and you control the country.
In other words – a theocracy.
“We have a fanatical ‘religiosity’; in this case it’s known as ‘fundamentalist/dominionist Christianity’, mixed in with totally misguided patriotism. Throw in a dash of actual weapons of mass destruction; throw in completely unfettered access due to the draconian specter of military command influence, and then add another swatch of total abrogation of the sacred oath to defend, protect, support and serve the Constitution of the United States – and what you have is a national security threat which is so serious in magnitude that almost no one can believe that it’s there, unless they’re complicit.”
The First Amendment
In my conversation this week with Mikey Weinstein, he was very clear and direct about the conflict. “There are sixteen ‘golden words’”, he said. “’Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ So, you know, we have what is clearly in our bedrock, foundational aspect of case-law which is that we separate physical and temporal, spiritual and terra-firma, or church and state in this country. That is something that is undeniable. The Constitution itself doesn’t say the words ‘separation of church and state’, the same way it doesn’t say ‘you have Miranda rights’, or that ‘women have the right to vote’ (although specifically, we have an amendment to that effect).
We have just a few words in our Constitution and even fewer words in the Bill of Rights (which, by the way, were not passed for the convenience of the majority, but they were passed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority).”
This is what has separated church and state; religion and law, for over two hundred years. It’s a fragile separation; if America wants to ignore that freedom and surrender it to Whatever Comes Next, we’re free as a people to do so.
Mikey made it even clearer: “In our country, Christianity – in this case, specifically, Fundamentalist Christianity – has no special legal ‘place of honor’ or favoritism over any other religious faith or lack of faith, whether it’s Satanism, or Wiccanism, or Islam or Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism – Christianity is just another religion that receives Constitutional protection. Even though we’re mostly a Christian nation just by sheer numbers, let’s remember what Sandra Day O’Connor said (and boy, do we miss her on the U.S. Supreme Court); she made the statement that ‘In America, we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.’ So we’ve determined that everybody’s particular religious rights – and in particular, fundamentalist Christian religious rights – will always be subordinated to the rest of American’s civil-rights – and that’s just the way it is.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as an ‘us against them’ argument, if it weren’t for the statistics. Mikey’s Foundation represents 96% Christians. In his own words: “Now, our Foundation represents in excess of 16,000 active-duty United States Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, cadets and midshipmen in the three major service academies; ROTC cadets, reserve and guard units, Coast Guardsmen, and veterans. Ninety-six percent of our clients are Christians – practicing Christians.
The ninety-six percent breaks down into two broad categories – Protestants represent about three-fourths of that number (there’s a complete ‘rainbow’ of denominations; we have over 21 varieties of Baptists alone.) The remaining one-fourth of the ninety-six percent of Christians are Roman Catholic.
Most of our staff are Christians; our largest donor-base are Christians. Our largest universal organizational endorser is the California Council of Churches’ impact group, which comprises five-thousand, five-hundred Protestant congregations and twenty-one different denominations, with over six and a half million Protestants both directly and indirectly. So, being attacked as an ‘anti-Christian group’ is, of course, absurd. Being attacked as an ‘anti-God group’ is absurd. Our fight is not ‘Christian vs. Jewish’, or ‘Christian and Jewish vs. Islam’; it’s not a political-spectrum/right-or-left issue; it’s a Constitutional right-and-wrong issue. So, it’s absurd to argue the opposite side – I always like to throw in the Voltaire quote at this point; remember that ‘a person who can lead you to believe in absurdity can also lead you to commit an atrocity.’”
Seven Days in May
Mikey’s fond of a saying – “we’re no more than a Tiger Woods two-inch putt from a military coup.” Connecting those dots is a frightening experience. Again, the film “Seven Days In May” raises its head both as a cautionary tale and a prescient warning.
As the 1970’s waned, liberal chaplains left the military right along with liberal officers and enlisted personnel. In their place, due to the all-volunteer military, came people from increasingly conservative – and increasingly religious – backgrounds.
This led in turn to an insular military – one more concerned with itself than with its oath to defend the nation. Handmaiden to this effort was the broad support of an ever-increasing conservative ‘base’; more concerned with the fact that the nation had ‘strayed from God’ than with the notion of a Constitution which protected the rights of even the smallest minority.
Again, the process is simple – control the schools; own the future. Control the courts; own the legal system.
Control the military, and you control the country.
Fundamentalist Civilian Support
“The Christian community has a golden opportunity to train an army of dedicated teachers who can invade the public school classrooms and use them to influence the nation for Christ. This is our land, this is our world, this is our heritage, and with God’s help, we shall reclaim this nation for Jesus Christ. And no power on earth can stop us,” said D. James Kennedy, the driving force behind megachurch Coral Ridge Ministries.
“It took several years to realize that what we’re fighting is essentially a Fundamentalist Christian Parachurch Military Corporate Proselytizing Complex,” Mikey Weinstein stated during our interview. “It is enormous. It is also inextricably intertwined into the very particulate of what we used to the Pentagon; what we here now call the “Pentecostalgon”. It is everywhere. It is huge; it is powerful, and it’s something that we’re actually going to have to stand up and fight. The problem is, of course, that you’ve got most of America, which is docile and supine; they’ll watch ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Simpsons’, but they don’t do much any more. And so, it’s very difficult to ‘speak truth to power.’”
The Peace Prize Nomination and International Advocacy
Mikey’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. His Foundation was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price for 2010. For all that, Mikey remains focused – “The Peace Prize is supposed to focus on what is done to increase fraternity between nations,” Mikey continued.
Recent video, aired by AlJazeera and replicated on YouTube, showing chaplains discussing the finer points of ‘spreading the gospel’ to the Iraqis in direct contravention of both the Constitution and military law is only part of the Foundations’ efforts. “In addition to trying to protect our members of the military from being mercilessly proselytized, we’re also trying to help stop the proselytizing of the Pakistanis, the Afghans and the Iraqis,” Mikey said.
Discussing the Coup
“I’m getting back (and I know that people who listen to this show and read our magazine) are going to want to know, ‘What about this coup? How could this actually happen in America?’”, I asked.
I went further, stating “I read a book recently by a fellow who has a degree – a ‘doctorate in divinity’ – and he literally made the statement that “the First Commandment criminalizes idolatry. The First Amendment legalizes idolatry.” And, these people actually believe this stuff – this is something that I’ve written about in the past; with the support of a civilian populace, sixty percent of which believe Jesus is going to return in their lifetime, and the vast majority of these people believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old. The majority of these people ‘unswervingly’ (as you said; ‘misguided patriotism’) support the military. If the military is in this position, it’s not too hard to connect the dots and determine that very, very quickly we could be in a situation where we are living in the ‘Fundamentalist Christian States of America.’ How could this happen?”
“It’s easy to happen,” Mikey continued. “We could talk about that for days; Edmund Burke had it right; we’ve all heard it a million times – “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men (of course, he’s not being ‘PC’ there) to do nothing.” And look, the ancient Jewish book of law is called the Talmud, right? And one of its major credos is ‘silence is consent’. This was actually articulated far better by Martin Luther King Jr., who said “In the end we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends, and there comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.” You talked about the First Amendment and the First Commandment; I like to tell people, “Look – the First Commandment says ‘you cannot have any other Gods but me’; the First Amendment says, ‘oh, yes, you can!’ – and there is the difference.”
America as a Christian Nation
He put to bed the notion of ‘America as a Christian nation’: “Now, I tell people all the time, because you’re asking, ‘how can this happen in America?’ – the people we fight believe, of course, that America was founded as a Christian nation. And, you know what? We don’t fight that any more. They’re right. America was, in fact, founded as a Christian nation – (pause; pregnant-pause) – but not the United States of America.”
Mikey continued, saying “You can look at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where they had religious freedom – if you didn’t believe their view of Jesus, you were free to leave. Then, you have Rodger Williams of Rhode Island, who tried to form something which was similar to what Thomas Jefferson did in Virginia and elsewhere with regard to religious equanimity, making it clear that we’re not going to judge your value as a human being based on your religious views – because, let’s face it, particularly in the U.S. military, if someone believes you lack honor, credibility, courage, integrity, character, honorability and trustworthiness because of your chosen religious faith or the lack thereof, there’s no difference between that and telling someone that they’re stupid because of the color of their skin.
Now, as I said, this is a national security threat. We defeated the major fascists in the world in 44 months – Tojo; Hitler and Mussolini – and we did it without becoming fascists ourselves. We apparently have become the American military Christian Taliban and AlQaeda to defeat the Wahabbist Fundamentalist Islamic versions of same. Now, people don’t like hearing me say that. And that’s too frickin’ bad. Because this is the truth.”
Speaking the Truth
“As Orwell said, ‘When you are faced with universal deceit, speaking the truth itself is a revolutionary act.’ Well, this is very hard. We don’t train our young sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen, cadets and midshipmen to be revolutionaries. They’re supposed to salute smartly and follow lawful orders. If you’re being even gently evangelized by a military superior, ‘Get the frickin’ damn out of my face sir-or-ma’am’ isn’t an option for you. So, they come to us, and we do it. We’re militants. We’re not Americans United, the ADL, or the ACLU, or anything else like that. And, many of those organizations are fine – we have a very close relationship with AU; we love Reverend Barry Lynn and others. We are militant. This militancy is in support of the Constitution.”
Mikey continued, “We live in an America that has been severely dumbed-down; it makes me think of H.G. Wells’ wonderful definition of civilization – ‘It is a race between education and catastrophe.’ And, this is the problem when we have young members of the military that are like three-year-olds babbling at the dinner table when they raise their right hand and swear an oath to the United States Constitution. They have no clue what they’re talking about. At my alma-mater, the Air Force Academy, there is one optional hour – an optional hour – of instruction on the First Amendment in the four years that they’re there. Now, it costs the American taxpayer between three-hundred and fifty and four hundred thousand bucks to put a cadet through West Point or the Air Force Academy or a midshipman through Annapolis.”
Pissing Off The Islamic World
Mikey was adamant about the our reputation in the rest of the world. “There’s little more we could possibly be doing to act as an accelerant and a lubricant for already pissed-off and angry young Islamic men and women in Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Egypt to want to come and join the cause against us – because we look exactly like the tenth version of the nine prior Crusades which began in the year 1096.
To wit, our Foundation stopped the 523rd Attack F16 Squadron three years ago; the Air Force suddenly mothballed it – they were called, by the way, “The Crusaders” – their official Air Force logo emblazoned on the fuselages of their attack F16’s, (equipped to carry laser-guided nuclear and conventional weapons) – this logo was on their flight-suits as well as the aircraft – I can’t make this up; it was a giant Crusader’s helmet from the year 1096 (the year of the First Crusade), surrounded by three yellow stars in the shape of a cross (to represent the Trinity); to the left of the giant logo was a Crusader’s broadsword; to the right was a giant crucifix.
The level of stupidity here is unbelievable. It’s willful ignorance.”
Summing it Up
Our time was brief, and Mikey was determined to sum up what we’d discussed. “The difference between an Evangelical Christian and what’s called a Fundamentalist/Dominionist Evangelical Christian is that while they both have this great zeal pursuant to the Great Commission to turn everybody into a Christian like them (they want to proselytize; that’s pursuant to Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19; some of the last things Jesus is supposed to have said to his disciples, which is ‘go ye and make disciples of all nations.’) The difference is an Evangelical Christian will say, “Look; I really want to do this; this is my goal; this is my religious faith – but in my country, because of the separation of church and state, I have to comport my zeal in accordance with time, place and manner as well as directed by the Constitution.” A Fundamentalist/Dominionist Christian will say “screw that; I will do whatever I want to do. Nothing can constrain me in time, place and manner anywhere from proselytizing my version of Christianity.”
These people have a malodorous stench about them; it’s like walking into a ditch or an arroyo in my native state of New Mexico on a hot August afternoon and having your nostrils assailed by the stench of ten thousand rotting swine, it’s so bad. The first stench is virulent misogyny; the fact that women should be consigned to selecting food; preparing food; cleaning up after meals; spreading their legs, getting pregnant and raising children; the next one is virulent anti-Semitism; the next is virulent Islamophobia; the next is virulent homophobia – because these are people who are making ‘bad’ selections; becoming gay; because in America, if you take a nice, white, clean sheet of paper and a pencil with a nice, sharp point and draw a line down the middle of the paper, and on the left side of the line you list all the advantages of being gay in America today, and on the right side, you list all of the disadvantages, why, the advantages so outweigh the disadvantages that you’re going to choose to be gay!
Lastly, of course, is the virulent desire – the ‘fifth stench’ – to subordinate the view of what they view as ‘flawed man’s law’. This is the Constitution, which needs to be subordinated to their pristine gospel; this ‘weaponized gospel’ of Jesus Christ – which is what it is; it’s very ‘digital’; you’re either dead to God until you’re born again ‘our way’, or you’re with ‘us’. It’s ones or zeroes.
The problem is, as human creatures, if we devalue or place no value on somebody because of their chosen religious views then we don’t believe in and we devalue their Constitutional right to have protections and freedoms to practice whatever they’re doing.
We’ve seen this again and again; we’ve seen this ‘bus’ leave the station over and over and over again; and we always end up not with little creeks, streams or rivers, or even lakes or ponds – we end up with oceans and oceans of blood whenever this happens – and it happens a lot. And that’s why what we’re talking about is so frickin’ serious.
I don’t care if people laugh at me – I’m not running for office. I’m a lawyer and a businessman and now I’ve turned to this thing called the civil-rights fight, and let me tell you, it is not a picnic. It’s lonely; it’s dangerous; it’s expensive. You lose a lot of family and friends. You gain a whole bunch of others.
It is not like riding a unicorn through a cotton-candy forest handing out lollipops to little forest-animals who are singing in unison. It’s blood-sport.”
America is sick. Everywhere, the evidence abounds – from people like Randall Terry, who advocate the wholesale execution of ‘abortionists and atheists’, to Ann Coulter, who voiced the philosophy of Christian extremists everywhere: “We should invade their countries; kill their leaders; and convert them to Christianity.”
The nation is as polarized as it’s been since 1859. The end of the military draft in 1973 resulted not in a safer nation, but in the recruitment of personnel from increasingly conservative (and extreme) backgrounds. Extreme Fundamentalist, Dominionist/Reconstructionist Christianity, combined with the largest military on earth has resulted in an insular military organization, more committed to themselves and their Biblical worldview – with the ‘conversion’ of the rest of America and the world as a priority – than to the nation they purport to serve.
“With God On Our Side – One Man’s War Against An Evangelical Coup In America’s Military” – (Michael “Mikey” Weinstein and Davin Seay – St. Martin’s Press; 2006)
“The Family – The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart of American Power” – (Jeff Sharlet – Harper Perennial; 2009)
“Military Religious Freedom Foundation” – (Website)
W.D. Noble – Sixteen words have separated church and state, religion and law, for two hundred years.