Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: Onward Christian Soldiers

The more things change the more they get weirder. In my day, the only way you could be a Conscientious Objector was to claim that status on religious grounds. If you were an atheist, tough shit. Now if you are an atheist, they don't want you to fight. This is something for all you young folks to keep in mind when President McSame or President Hilary get us involved in a war with Iran and they have to re-institute conscription:

When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.

But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. "People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!" Major Welborn said, according to the statement. (New York Times)

Hall went to Iraq a Christian, but apparently got in the wrong foxhole and emerged an atheist:

Specialist Hall said he did not advertise his atheism. But his views became apparent during his second deployment in 2006. At a Thanksgiving meal, someone at his table asked everyone to pray. Specialist Hall did not join in, explaining to a sergeant that he did not believe in God. The sergeant got angry, he said, and told him to go to another table.


Though with a different unit now at Fort Riley, Specialist Hall said the backlash had continued. He has a no-contact order with a sergeant who, without provocation, threatened to "bust him in the mouth." Another sergeant allegedly told Specialist Hall that as an atheist, he was not entitled to religious freedom because he had no religion.

Religious freedom activists in the military contend discrimination and violation of the regulations is much more common than official complaints to the Pentagon suggest. Hall is suing the military on behalf of those in uniform who want to have freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. The Christian Crusaders in the US military have had a problem before, more recently over overtly coercive and discriminatory evangelical activities at the Air Force Academy. The Pentagon's response then was to issue regulations protecting the rights of soldiers of all beliefs, including those with no religious beliefs. But it is obvious there are those in the officer corps who could care less about regulations. Sergeant Wellborn has denied Hall's version, but another soldier who witnessed the meeting said Hall was telling the truth. Apparently Sergeant Wellborn believes lying for God is OK. Why not? He thinks killing for God is OK. There are higher Truths, after all, then the ones provided by mere facts.

Why don't we isolate these guys in the desert with all the Islamic Jihadists and let them fight it out over who has the best God without involving the rest of us? I'm sure that would be just fine with most Iraqi civilians and most US soldiers who just want the shooting to stop and to get the hell out of there.

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Just the other day I was listening to Aaron Neville sing the Bob Dylan song "With God On Our Side". It would make an achingly beautiful soundtrack for the above Sunday Sermonette, Revere. It brought tears to my eyes.

It's crap like this that makes you realize how fucking fucked this country is. We are infected at all levels of our polity by people who literally believe in delusional wackaloon bronze-age fairy tales, and expect the entire world of physical, biological, and social reality to operate consistently with those fairy tales.

Can you imagine any better recipe for total disaster?

That's such lazy thinking (and writing... you were going for the easy jab, I assume) to lump Clinton and McCain together in assuming either would reinstitute the draft, or that Clinton would launch a military campaign against Iran.

Coming from an Obama supporter, it's crap like this from the left that disappoints me.


In your next-to-last paragraph, Freddy Wellborn gets stripped of his officer's commission and demoted all the way from Major to Sergeant. No doubt an excellent suggestion, but, alas, it hasn't happened in reality.

"People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!" Major Welborn said,

Somebody should tell Major Welborn, and the rest of the right wingnuts who continuously contend that this is a Christian Nation because the Founding Fathers were all Christians that they should check their history. Most of the FF's were Deists. Thomas Paine was shunned later in life for writing on the Deist point of view. Other important founding fathers who espoused Deism were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, James Madison, and James Monroe. For more, I refer you to There were some Christians in the rabble who founded this Nation. Notably the Adams boys, John & Sam. John was a Unitarian, but it was during his administration that the 1797 Treaty of Peace & Friendship with Tripoli, which states in part, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." Sam was, indeed, a Christian who wrote in his last will & testament "Principally, and first of all, I resign my soul to the Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying on the merits of Jesus Christ for the pardon of my sins."James Watkins has an objective view of the subject, with other links on his website here:

ryan: You are unhappy with what I said about Clinton. Fair enough. I am prepared to say why I said it. Let's discuss.

Unfortunately, the evidence about Hillary seems to belie your fondest hopes about her. She voted to authorize (she wasn't forced to do that; 22 of her party colleagues did not); she voted for the recent Iran resolution, again (in effect) authorizing Bush to strike against Iran; she made the astounding, and as far as I know unprecedented, statement that as President she would obliterate Iran, not if they attacked us, but if they attacked an ally. Obliterate is an incredibly strong word. It means destroy every man, woman and child in Iran for our political ends, not even our own survival. Those are not the words of someone I would trust to drive the military train. She has no compunctions about using force if she decides to use it, and she has also shown herself a consummate opportunist.

This was not a pro-Obama statement. I find his policies less than reassuring, but of the three, he now appears the least dangerous. I'm sure both McSame and Clinton would deny they would reinstitute conscription, but it is a simple fact that the volunteer army is so stretched that a military action against Iran, unless it was simply an air war of obliteration (which would require nuclear weapons) would involve ground troops, which could not be prosecuted under current conditions. Only conscription would suffice. So I think it is not implausible (you may disagree on how likely it is that we would become engaged with Iran, but nothing Hillary or McSame have said suggests it is at all implausible), but if it happens then conscription would have to be on the table.

So that's a short form of my argument. Now, what part of it bothers you particularly regarding Hillary?

sounds like Hall was/is advertising his atheism and his atheism is his religion..meeting in July 2006 of atheists, then at Thanksgiving dinner (which begs the question, who the heck was Hall thanking?)..and his views became apparent? Hell he TOLD the people at his table - looks suspiciously like proclaiming to me. and revere why is it that Wellborn is lying and not the atheists at the meeting?

By pauls lane (not verified) on 27 Apr 2008 #permalink

Revere, I can only apologize for the behavior of some Christians who behave badly--including myself, all too frequently--while reminding you to look not at the people who present themselves as following Jesus, but at Jesus himself. This was one who did not grab a stone to kill a woman in adultery, when it was the societal norm to do so, and who told people to live in an upside-down kingdom ("Rather than gathering up riches for yourself, take care of the poor"), etc. If you would seriously risk taking a look at what I'm saying, try reading the book, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict." Not half-witted, as you might expect, but well thought out. Becoming a Christian doesn't by necessity mean that a person loses the majority of his gray matter. (i.e. you don't have to "talk real slow so I'll get it", and I do have all my teeth.) Some of the most intellectual Christians I know and respect include sensitive and thoughtful cardiologists and other physicians, philanthropists, etc. Consider the trees planted in Israel for just a few of the many, many Christians who willingly risked--and frequently lost--their own lives for the thousands of Jews they hid during the Holocaust, when they could have turned their backs on them. Even if you don't like it, they did it because of their love for Jesus.
Before you throw Christianity away, read the Bible, do the research, and give Jesus the same scientific consideration that you give other issues. I certainly wouldn't judge the validity of your scientific work by what other people say about your writings. I'd go directly to your writings myself and read, then ask questions. Please give us the same respect. AnnieRN

Annie: Despite what some think here, I don't denigrate spiritual beliefs or irrational beliefs. In truth, I don't care about them very much. They are personal to those who hold them and have nothing to do with me. Until they do have something to do with me. As you observe, people have done many selfless and admirable things for religious reasons -- not just Christianity but all religions -- as well as for non-religious reasons. When you ask me to look into the virtues of "Christianity" you are asking me to look into the virtues of Christianity as you understand it and you ask me to forgive the transgressions of Christianity as others understand it. Can not Jews or Muslims or Buddhists also act as selflessly as Christians (as you understand it)? Or are only Christians (as you understand the word) capable of this? And if once asked, the question has the expected answer, no, of course others can be as "Christian" as Christians, then what is the point of choosing one over another -- or over nothing?

The Sunday Sermonette is meant to be subversive of the kind of religion it depicts, which, unfortunately, is the dominant kind of religion (whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim) we see in the US. To the extent there is another, gentler private kind of religious view I'm glad. I think I have a gentler view of how to treat others, too, although it is not religious. Does that mean everyone should be an atheist? No, not if it doesn't suit them.

Thanks for elaborating. I'll respond to why I think it's more hyperbole than fact.

1) I disagree that the Iran resolution in effect was an authorization of force. It was a non-binding resolution labeling the Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization... which it is. I don't much like the thought of living in a country so political that we criticize leaders for voting the truth because it might lead to unintended actions by other leaders. And I say that in full view of the dangerous, rash incompetence of our current president. I can't emphasize enough how different the Iran resolution was from the Iraq resolution. Clinton made a speech months before, making it clear that there was no authorization for the President to go to war with Iran.

2) The 'obliteration' of Iran was predicated on an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel. While I don't particularly care for that kind of language (and she realized this herself, moderating the tone while maintaining the message), do you disagree that a nuclear attack in the middle east by any country would require a massive response? And the comment about destroying every "man, woman and child" for political ends? That is such an extreme statement, I hope you already regret saying that. You believe Total War will ever again be an option we pursue? A government, a military, a terrorist organization can be obliterated without murdering innocents.

3) I agree completely with your assessment of our military. A ground invasion of Iran would require conscription. But that possibility is so far removed that it's misleading to discuss it. I take issue, because in your original post you jumped right to the possibility of the draft without addressing the numerous unlikely events that would have to occur. Smells like fear-mongering. While you ably made your point in your reply, off-the-cuff remarks poison the discussion.

ryan: We disagree on the practical meaning of the Iran resolution. It's meaning is political, not literal, and it was widely interpreted -- politically -- as giving Bush a congressional permission slip to attack Iran if he thought he could get away with it. The RG is a terrorist organization but not any more so than any group that uses force to achieve political ends -- think of who else does that.

Regarding "obliteration." That was not retracted. On the contrary, it was used again the following day on MSNBC when asked about her statement at the debate. That is not a word I used or advocate anyone using. It was a word she used, even after an interval of 12 hours. It was calculated to show how tough she was and to pander to the worst instincts of the public, something she has had history of doing (and which I consider despicable; I once felt OK about voting for her -- once). As to its meaning, it is just as I described it. If she didn't mean that she shouldn't have used it. She used it for effect. I have no regrets characterizing her meaning in the only way it could be construed. Do I think she would do that? No, I would hope no one would. But words have consequences. Anyway, everyone knows that Iran isn't going to attack Israel. The reverse is highly likely, however. Each regime has pledged to destroy the other. Neither can carry out that pledge.

Not that anyone seems to care, but that kind of response is also unconstitutional. We have no mutual defense treaty with Israel or "other nations in the area" (they were included you may remember) and until we do this would be an act of war without benefit of congressional assent. Again, no one seems to care, since Bush, Johnson and Truman all did it. I care, however.

You seem to be very optimistic neither Clinton nor McSame would get us involved in a war with Iran. As my mother would have said (I'm an atheist so I wouldn't put it this way): from your lips to God's ear.

As a fellow atheist, I wouldn't either. Along that note, I'm all aboard everything else in your original post.

One of the reasons I also will no longer vote for Clinton is because of the calculating nature you mentioned. And yes, her comments do fall into that category. She wanted to look tough. But it's a far leap from there to assuming she'll do anything about it and end up reinstituting the draft.

I'm not sure where you get the information to argue that it's "highly likely" that Israel will attack Iran. I really think this is another extreme, unfounded, off-the-cuff remark that isn't helpful, and skips the reasoning to ignite the emotions (along with your veiled reference to the 'others' who use force for political ends... that's not even the definition of terrorism).

ryan: I'll unveil the reference. The US military and shock and awe (among other things). Israel and its atacks on the Gaza strip and the West Bank. The fact that they are responding to other terrorists (who were in turn responding to previous terrorist attacks, etc., etc.,) is not relevant to whether it is terrorism, by any reasonable definition, except the one that says that inciting terror in innocent people by our side isn't terrorism, only when they do it. If that's the defniition, we have no more to argue. Find me a definition of terrorism that doesn't include terrifying the civilian population for a political goal. Maybe you would like to say that some terrorism is acceptable and other kinds isn't, but if that's your position, then say it that way.

Regarding the draft, I don't think either McSame or Clinton will discuss it now. They would prefer not to. My point was different (and you will see this by reading the post carefully). If we get involved in a war with Iran -- something you and I differ about as to its likelihood -- then conscription will be necessary, whether McSame or Clinton like it or not.

As for Israel attacking Iran, I suggest you read the papers. The possibility, even probability of such an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities has been talked about by many observers for over a year. There is nothing extreme, unfounded or off the cuff about it. They just did it to Syria and did it previously to Iraq. Not exactly unusual behaviour.

Shock and Awe can't be considered terrorism by any standard. Targetted, precision attacks on military installations preceding a legal invasion (yes, legal, according to both the US congress and the UN) are on par with giving I.E.D.'s to civilian groups in Iraq? I'm a bit shocked and awed that you're willing to conflate US military behavior, which is acting in a humanitarian nature never before seen in human warfare, with Hamas, with Al Qaeda, with the planting of roadside bombs in front of the United Nations embassy...

I don't much care for the disproportionate nature of Israel's response in the West Bank and Gaza. But I refer you to an article in the Atlantic this month, so that you both understand the existential threat they live under, and the growing consensus to withdraw from the settlements and reach a two-state solution.

ryan; Look, I'm a Jew and I understand threats. Not existential ones. Real ones. That's why I understand that being a victim doesn't mean you can't be a violent and cruel bully, too, in fact it may make it more likely. I'm not arguing the Palestinians face an existential threat, although by your lights I suppose they do. I'm arguing innocent people there (as in Israel) face a threat of violent death for political reasons. That's terrorism, pure and simple, although apparently too pure and too simple by some views. God/morality apparently has taken sides, although which side depends upon which side you are on.

Whether the war in Iraq was legal in US law is something others will have to decide. It has never been tested although on its face it was illegal as it took place without a declaration of war and through deception of congress (who should not have been deceived). That it was a colossal blunder we all know now. It was never humanitarian in nature. It was about oil and geopolitics. If you want to know the humanitarian toll just look at the estimates. Even the most low ball ones are appalling, and the ones that use the best methods are beyond words.

*By existential I meant real threats to Israel's existence.

I can't disagree with anything in your last reply. Good discussion.

ryan, Shock and Awe was not "targeted" or precise. The JDAM's and other "precision" munitions are only more precise to a slighter degree than the regular munitions. Plenty of civilians were killed in the bombing.

Annie, dont mean to be rude, but...there was no Jesus. All the books in the bible are written decades after he was supposed to exist and there is no archaeological evidence. Stories written by people years later dont count as evidence. I will grant you that some of the writings have nice and commendable sentiments but some one writing a story doesnt necessarily make it real.

First, re. atheism and conscientious objection: Revere, you made a mistake there.

According to a Supreme Court decision during the Vietnam war, belief in a philosophical principle that is as binding upon one as the belief in God is binding upon mainstream monotheists, is sufficient grounds for granting CO status. This I know well from the days when I was a fairly absolute pacifist.

Thus, an atheist who can articulate a non-theistic philosophical basis for opposition to killing other humans in war, can obtain CO status according to the case law. Whether or not a local draft board would grant that status, in an age of religious extremism, remains to be determined. And once we go down that merry trail, there is always the potential for the present SC to reverse the previous ruling. We shall see, won't we?

Re. Clinton:

The best case that can be made for criticizing her Iraq vote is based on Darwinian fitness as seen in retrospect.

Think of two squirrels choosing which overhead wire to scamper across in order to cross a busy street. One uses the lower wire, which turns out to be telephone, and gets across safely. The other prefers to have a higher vantage point and uses the higher wire, which turns out to be high voltage. When the latter squirrel reaches the other side, he touches a grounding point and gets turned into Squirrel McNuggets.

Nature doesn't care what their reasons were for their choices. One made it, the other didn't, and thus goes Darwinian fitness, forward to the next generation.

At the time of the vote, many of us, myself included, were convinced that Saddam had WMDs of some type, probably bugs, and was a realistic threat to the US (possibly including the Anthrax attack). However, that turned out to be incorrect.

Clinton voted for it. Obama voted against it. History shows she made a mistake and he did not. Nature doesn't care what their reasons were. He demonstrated greater fitness than she did. End of story.

Re. Jesus and history:

The view that Jesus didn't exist as a historical person is also an extremist position.

To my mind the minimal and sufficient conditions to consider oneself Christian are simply a) belief that the man existed, and b) to strive to live by his example and his teachings, starting with love of God and of one's neighbor. And if one doesn't believe in God, then love of the natural world as the superordinate causal element for our lives on Earth should suffice. The key point here is not belief as such, but one's actions in the world, particularly toward others.

By that test, many an athiest passes, and many a self-proclaimed devout believer fails utterly.