As Religion Tightens Grip on the
Military, Americans Grow Agnostic
Religious fundamentalism is on the rise within the U.S. armed forces, a recent paper argues, with support of high-ranked officers. The issue has concerned defenders of the constitutional separation of church and state, given the military’s sway over the government.
It also goes against the trend observed in the American society at large, which indicates that a greater than ever percentage of the population now considers themselves non-religiously affiliated. At least, 46 million Americans told that much to a Pew research study.
The discrepancy can be added to the overall disconnect between the military community, which in over a decade has been thrown into two unpopular, and vicious, conflicts, and the rest of the American society, which seems oblivious to it. It’s unclear, though, whether this tug of war benefits either side.
The truth is, as the Pentagon reinforces its grab of a huge percentage of the U.S. budget, and resists attempts at accountability and change, it also grows apart from the mainstream of U.S. society, more concerned about income disparity, unemployment, hunger, and social inequality.
On the other hand, the rise of religious fanaticism and so-called messianic faiths has been linked around the world to deterioration of social conditions, impoverishment and its consequent gearing off education-based knowledge to ‘magical’ thinking, and the literal teachings of the bible.
No wonder during the campaign to the U.S. Presidency, Republican candidates have tried to outdo each other in blaming higher education for the lack of ‘fundamental values,’ which may be roughly translated into repeating dogmas about the natural world first formulated over 2,000 years ago.
That an institution that has been waging an expensive set of wars with such a low approval and understanding from the general public has also been accused of discriminating against sex minorities, and turning a blind eye to its widespread culture of rape and violence against women, is only another expected component of such a toxic mix.
But the fact that that same public, not quite cognitive to the interplay between military spending and depletion of social programs, has been increasingly turned off by the church’s policies towards those so-called sex minorities, should be actually considered a sign of evolution. And the implications of using such a word here shouldn’t be underestimated.
EITHER WITH GOD OR AGAINST US
The James E. Parco‘s paper on Religious Fundamentalism in the U.S. Military was commissioned by the Center for Inquiry, a not-for-profit organization founded to support a secular view of society based on humanistic values, with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The main assertion of Parco’s research, supported by hundreds of interviews with active and former members of the U.S. armed forces, is that a culture of exacerbated religious fervor with a Christian tinge has taken over from top down the organization, oppressing and often squeezing out those who disagree with it.
He sees the all-encompassing ‘war on terror,’ ignited after President Bush called for a ‘crusade’ in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, as the starting point of this latest high-pressured wave on the military rank-and-file to sport some kind of Christian affiliation, or else.
Public reaction to Bush’s use of such a loaded word was immediate, reflecting its historical baggage of racism and fundamentalist assumptions about the supposed superiority of the god of Christians in relation to everybody else’s. The target for such a rhetoric was obvious: since the attackers were Muslims, then Islam must be evil.
We all saw what that kind of inflamed rhetoric led us to: a catastrophic occupation of a nation not the least involved in the attacks, the killing of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, an astronomical bill, that was never part of Bush’s budget, and, most tragic, the devaluing of the U.S.’s moral standard in the world.
Despite the fact that such an invasion hasn’t increased the security of Americans in any way – more likely, it worsen it – the U.S. invaded yet another country, Afghanistan, where it’s been waging the longest war of its history. It should be noted too that the official target of both conflicts, Osama bin Laden, has been dead for almost three years now.
ONE MUST REMEMBER THIS
Even though the stated purpose of Parco’s research was to show that Christian fundamentalists are engaged in a hegemonic battle for the hearts and minds of the military, and have all but won, he quickly gets to the core of why the issue matters: the U.S. Constitution and its explicit tenet of separation of church and state.
In other words, it’s really too bad that Christians of the most fanatical kind deem so important to crush all other faiths. But what’s at stake, as far as the general population is concerned or care about, is why everyone will even have to respond to faith-based policies, if the U.S. is a secular country, guided by laws, not by the bible.
It’s important to know how ‘effectively the fundamentalist Christian movement has been integrated into the culture and structure of the U.S. military in recent years,’ no doubt. But much more relevant is what kind of mechanisms would prevent that from happening at all, regardless of what institutional religion is at the driver’s seat of such retrograde movement.
For the majority of Americans, it’s way more important that such an evangelizing or proselytizing, which are well-documented and rampant within the ranks of contemporary U.S. armed forces, doesn’t spill, or rather, doesn’t add to what’s already happening outside that institution.
For at the end of the day, the problem it’s not just the Christian fundamentalists dominating the educational curriculum of the Texas school system, for instance, however seriously wrong that can be. But also any religious or faith-based cult controlling our children’s education, for that matter.
THE RISE OF THE NONES
The U.S. has been changing fast, however, perhaps at least in part because of immigrants and ‘non-whites’ are now majority. Few are ready to admit, though, that the country is also growing secular, and due to a set of entirely different factors. Thus, one-fifth of American adults say they’re not affiliated with any religion today.
The data comes from a Pew Research Center survey, conducted last October, which identified a ‘gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones,’ or ‘generational replacement,’ for those of you in the back of the room, as one of the biggest factors for such a high percentage.
But what seems to jump off the cold stats is the fact that a full ‘one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation,’ according to senior Pew researcher Greg Smith. That is also the most than any previous younger generations in the U.S., men and women, college graduates and lesser educated young adults included.
Nones comprise atheists, agnostics, and even some who say ‘they are spiritual or religious in some way and pray every day.’ Go to Sunday mass, though? nope. Them, and your usual fare of people who support same-sex marriage and abortion. One important exception: Hispanics and blacks don’t seem to follow the general trend.
Earlier this year and using a different methodology, the Gallup Institute published a study showing that ‘the percentage of American adults who have no explicit religious identification averaged 17.8% in 2012, up from 14.6% in 2008 – but only slightly higher than the 17.5% in 2011.’ Gallup has been tracking religion in America for five years.
Tucked almost out of sight inside both researches is another fact, that may be of notice only to those personally affected by institutionalized faith: the fact that the Catholic church has been steadily losing ground to more radical religions, known as messianic, which seem to be attracting more followers in the U.S. and worldwide.
YOUR GOD IS KILLING US
Curiously, the trend seems to baffle those living in the reality-averted bubble of faith. To everyone else, it’s hard to miss the massive amount of evidence exposing the moral vulnerabilities, and even crass materialism, of institutions supposedly geared toward spirituality and all things moral.
While poll after poll piles on, showing the dismay specially younger generations feel about the state of affairs of the template for all religions, Catholicism, the church itself pretends that it’s all about business as usual, and proceeds with the enforcement of its doctrine at all costs.
Just ask the worldwide thousands of victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests who have been, for years now, seeking at the very least an acknowledgement for their plight from the institution that was supposed to protect them from evil, but betrayed their trust in the worst possible way.
As there’s speculation that the next pope, for instance, will come from Africa, all hope that such a new precedent will help the church make amendments with the victims, and redirect it away from its current drive towards fundamentalism, should be kept in check. The African branch and brand of religion has been more bent into obscurantism than even the Vatican of yore.
It’s no wonder that in Latin America, Pentecostals, Baptists, Jehovah Witnesses, and other even more radical brands of over-the-top religiosity are shaving off the perennial Catholic dominance. Even in Brazil, long considered the biggest Catholic country in the world, ‘Evangelicals’ are now on equal footing with the church of Rome.
What that all means, we frankly couldn’t care much. For, superseding such internal and minor rivalries, all institutionalized religions, including those coming from the Middle East and Asia, seem to share a big, glaring, shining and all too powerful center of gravity in a superior being, who supposedly looks after mankind.
SEEING THE INCOMING LIGHT
Considering what we now know about the brain, and its specific set of attributions that trigger what used to be called a ‘religious experience,’ or ‘spiritual enlightenment,’ or a ‘rapture,’ but it’s better described as a hallucination, to rest one’s prospects in the hands of such an invisible – and always male – power, is downright unscientific.
With all respect to the genuine feeling of spirituality all human beings have in varied degrees, religion has contributed to war and carnage more than any other human institution throughout the centuries, including armies. Thus the rise of atheism in the U.S. and practically all advanced societies in the world.
At this point, respect should be redirected to those who dare thinking independently, and to challenge the terror-inducing tenet of any religion, the fear of the almighty and its random strikes of destruction and petty misery. There can be hardly any freedom, in the philosophical and moral assertion of the word, if all we do is because we’re afraid of being caught.
There must be something to the fact that it’s within the institution that society assigns to exact revenge and go after its enemies where religious fundamentalism is currently finding the most fertile ground. After all, the association of god and war predates written history, and as if to prove that, when it comes to hate, there’s nothing more human than to call it in the name of god.