Monday, December 24, 2007

God's Basic Training

The Christianization of the U.S. military has been written about before, but there is growing evidence that the problem goes far beyond individuals being harassed to convert, as serious as that is. Fundamentalist groups like Campus Crusade for Christ are actually engaged in creating an identification between militarism and radical right-wing Christian theology:

For US Army soldiers entering basic training at Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, South Carolina, accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior appears to be as much a part of the nine-week regimen as the vigorous physical and mental exercises the troops must endure.

That's the message directed at Fort Jackson soldiers, some of whom appear in photographs in government issued fatigues, holding rifles in one hand, and Bibles in their other hand

Frank Bussey, director of Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, has been telling soldiers at Fort Jackson that "government authorities, police and the military = God's Ministers," Bussey's teachings from the "God's Basic Training" Bible study guide he authored says US troops have "two primary responsibilities": "to praise those who do right" and "to punish those who do evil - "God's servant, an angel of wrath." Bussey's teachings directed at Fort Jackson soldiers were housed on the Military Ministry at Fort Jackson web site. Late Wednesday, the web site was taken down without explanation. Bussey did not return calls for comment. The web site text, however, can still be viewed in an archived format.

The Christian right has been successful in spreading its fundamentalist agenda at US military installations around the world for decades. But the movement's meteoric rise in the US military came in large part after 9/11 and immediately after the US invaded Iraq in March of 2003. At a time when the United States is encouraging greater religious freedom in Muslim nations, soldiers on the battlefield have told disturbing stories of being force-fed fundamentalist Christianity by highly controversial, apocalyptic "End Times" evangelists, who have infiltrated US military installations throughout the world with the blessing of high-level officials at the Pentagon. Proselytizing among military personnel has been conducted openly, in violation of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution.

Perhaps no other fundamentalist Christian group is more influential than Military Ministry, a national organization and a subsidiary of the controversial fundamentalist Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ. Military Ministry's national web site boasts it has successfully "targeted" basic training installations, or "gateways," and has successfully converted thousands of soldiers to evangelical Christianity.

Military Ministry says its staffers are responsible for "working with Chaplains and Military personnel to bring lost soldiers closer to Christ, build them in their faith and send them out into the world as Government paid missionaries" - which appears to be a clear-cut violation of federal law governing the separation of church and state.

"Young recruits are under great pressure as they enter the military at their initial training gateways," the group has stated on its web site. "The demands of drill instructors push recruits and new cadets to the edge. This is why they are most open to the 'good news.' We target specific locations, like Lackland AFB [Air Force base] and Fort Jackson, where large numbers of military members transition early in their career. These sites are excellent locations to pursue our strategic goals."

Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the government watchdog organization the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, whose group has been closely tracking Military Ministry's activities at Fort Jackson and other military bases around the country, said in an interview that using "the machinery of the state" to promote any form of religion is "not only unconstitutional and un-American but it also creates a national security threat of the first order."

A six-month investigation by MRFF has found Military Ministry's staff has successfully targeted US soldiers entering basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, with the approval of the Army base's top commanders.

"I've said it before and I will say it again," Weinstein said. "We are in the process of creating a fundamentalist Christian Taliban and somebody has to do something to stop it now."

The above article was published on Friday. Yesterday, a Daily Kos diarist, Troutfishing, seriously ruffled some right-wing feathers when he posted, side by side, two photographs from the above-quoted article: the first photo showed a Hamas suicide bomber holding an automatic weapon in one hand and the Koran in the other; the second photo showed two U.S. Army recruits in basic training at Fort Jackson, SC, holding rifles and, in the same hand, held against the rifles, copies of the Bible. [After being viciously assailed for "attacking U.S. troops," Troutfishing chose to separate the photographs, keeping the one of U.S. soldiers at the top and moving the photograph of the Hamas suicide bomber farther down the page. He says, right at the top of the page, that the other photograph is further down -- and it's clear from the context that he separated the photos to defuse the situation -- but despite that, Charles Johnson chose to see it as "a cowardly move to disguise the Kos mindset."]

The right-wing commentary was predictably one-note, framing the issue entirely as one of implied equivalence between Islamic terrorists and Christians in the U.S. military. The DK post that accompanies the photographs is impressive: lengthy, thoughtful, and nuanced. But Charles Johnson and his pals dismiss the article as "a long exercise in crackpot moral equivalence that compares US troops holding Bibles with a Palestinian female suicide bomber holding a Koran."

In truth, the issues raised in Troutfishing's post are considerably more complex and serious than a simple comparison between Islamic suicide bombers and U.S. troops. One sentence from the opening of the post says it all: "You might call the image, to the right [of the two Army recruits holding rifles and the Bible] the ghost of Christmas future."

Indeed. The message here is not that Hamas terrorists and American soldiers are the same. In a way, it's the opposite: Troutfishing is telling us that a narrow, fundamentalist Christian agenda, being injected into our military from outside it, is forcing our soldiers into a role they were never meant to assume -- that of religious warriors in a modern-day Crusade between Christianity and Islam. Here is the entire passage in which that opening sentence appears [emphasis mine]:
You might call the image, to the right, the ghost of Christmas future. Let me suggest a productive frame for the picture which depicts a parallel that is both real but which has not yet fully emerged as a dominant dynamic.

The dynamic is that of religious war, a phenomenon that has an old and evil history especially in the Middle East.

But, that future - religious war - does not have to prevail. It is a danger as long as there are US troops in Iraq, because US troops in basic training, as detailed in a new Military Religious Freedom Foundation report, are being indoctrinated in the ideology of religious war[,] and the cultivation of the mentality of religious war, between Christianity and Islam, is exactly what many leaders on the American Christian right and Islamic religious extremists including those of Al Qaeda want more than anything - to provoke a full blown religious war between Islam and Christianity.

If you think this is crazy, Troutfishing lets us hear it from the horse's mouth.

I doubt the lgf crowd read this far, and even if they did, the last thing they are prepared to do is formulate an intelligent response:
... [M]y point wasn't to stigmatize American soldiers but, rather , to underline the fact that they are being taught a theology of war and that there is ugly precedent for the teaching of the theology of war, within the Christian tradition, that goes back all the way to the First Crusade.
Indeed, Gary Bussey's course, taught at Fort Jackson [see Truthout article], was advertised with a flyer using imagery that's evocative of the Crusades especially given that the parent organization behind Bussey's ministry is named Campus Crusade For Christ.

The use of the word "crusade", to describe evangelical campaigns aimed at religious conversion, is endemic to contemporary Christianity and especially on the American Christan right. But that invocation of the historical Crusades is deeply anti-Semitic in light of what the Crusaders did ; in the first Crusade, as described below, the Crusaders, upon breaking through the defenses of the city of Jerusalem, slaughtered the Jews and Muslims living in that city. They hacked those defenseless civilians apart with swords, and burned them alive as well, so that the streets of Jerusalem were filled with blood.

Evangelical campaigns might not, some would argue, be inherently anti-Semitic but use of the word "crusade" as a term for evangelical conversionary campaigns is deeply, inherently anti-Semitic in the most accurate, comprehensive sense : it is both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim.
Soldiers in basic training at Fort Jackson are being taught theological justification for killing. ...
The soldiers shown in the photo, who are being indoctrinated in the ideology of religious war, are no more at fault than the young female Hamas member in the photo. Those truly at fault for any resulting strife and violence are the people who are doing the indoctrination.
The American soldiers-in-training in the image were photographed as the graduating class of a course, taught by a "military ministry" of Campus Crusade For Christ, entitled "God's Basic Training." ...

So they were not just soldiers who happened to be Christians -- they were graduates of a class in fundamental Christian theology. They had been actively recruited and indoctrinated with a very specific, extreme, apocalyptic, fanatical form of fundamentalist Christian belief by an outside organization that has as its goal the transformation of the U.S. military into a religious army against anyone who is not Christian.

And that brings us back to those two photographs. The caption below the photos at Truthout says that the photos "show how the infiltration of fundamentalist Christianity in the US military is starting to mirror Islamic fundamentalism." And that's why the photographs were placed side by side. Not to diss American soldiers or compare them to terrorists; not to attack Christians or soldiers' or anyone's personal religious beliefs. That photograph is not about Christian religious belief. If it were, you would not be seeing new Army recruits holding up rifles and bibles together. Is that a normal association for Christians? Rifles and bibles? Do Christians routinely carry around a rifle with their bible? Is that a standard symbol of Christianity, a rifle? You know, like when you see a cross, you think, Christian. When you see a rifle, do you think, Christian? Obviously, there is a message intended in creating an association between the rifle and the bible. Obviously, those Army recruits are holding their rifles and their bibles together for a reason. How can anyone look at a photograph like that and not get the point: that these American soldiers are meant to be part of a Christian religious war against Islam? You'd have to be either blind or willfully malicious to see it as anything else.

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