A friend of mine pointed out Col. Holden’s commentary on the Air Force Academy’s struggle with religious freedom and tolerance. I really wasn’t surprised to read this opinion as it also happens to be the prevailing view in our society at large–or at least is the prevailing view among those who shape the opinions and the norms of our society. It really is more surprising that this view hasn’t infected a larger portion of the Air Force and its values and policies than it has already. My purpose in drawing your attention to this commentary is two-fold.

First, the view that all religions are valid paths to knowing God touts itself as the most tolerant, most accepting, and most respectful view to have. I couldn’t disagree more. The idea of religious tolerance places itself above the religions themselves, and, without heeding the actual claims of the religions, forces them all to mean the same thing. Traditional (orthodox?) Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all claim that there is one way to God and all other ways lead to eternal death or eternal punishment. Religious Tolerance intolerantly denies the possible valildity of any of these religions as the means to truth, neutering them by attempting to make them equal. The supposedly religious-neutrality of Tolerance actually brings a huge bag of assumptions, ideals, and convictions to the table. Among these assumptions are the ideas that: God doesn’t care how He is worshipped, religions are essentially human inventions with no intrinsic value, religious truths are relative (if true at all), religion is essentially about how I feel rather than about the demands of God. These ideas may or may not be true, however, to force them on the religions of the world as the minimum standard that must be met is to imperialistically impose one ideal upon many others–tyrannically claiming that all religions are equal and thereby denying the validity or truth of any one of them.

Second, in a previous post I argued that the Air Force is becoming increasingly secular and is making pragmatism its rule for morality. Commentary like that of Col. Holden only serves to reinforce that argument. However, in pointing out the problem with the Air Force, I did not mean to lay the burden of the responsibility for fixing it on the Air Force. The military is an arm of the government, and thus is an extension of the will of the people. Military members are American citizens first, and are equally affected by the ideas of this age. Thus, in order to get at the problem, the reigning ideals and philosophies of American culture must be addressed. The responsibility rests upon all of us as American citizens to change the current idea that morality is determined by pragmatism if we are to keep our military from either overstepping its bounds or from deteriorating from the inside out.

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Posted by Tex

14 Comments

  1. Yeah… the assumtions that come from religious pluralism are maddening, especially when they give atheists a good straw man.

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  2. I agree with you, Austin. Nancy Pearcey has written at length about the fact/value distinction so prevalent in our world today. The “fact” is that all religious are equal. Each person’s individual “value” is the particular religion they choose.

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  3. “The military is an arm of the government, and thus is an extension of the will of the people.”

    Importantly, the will of the people, as expressed in the Constitution, is that organs of government remain religiously neutral. This doesn’t require dogmatic Tolerance, but it does require prosyletizing chaplains to remember that the mission of the Air Force is not missions.

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  4. 1. I fail to see a clear distinction between official religions and other ideologies that make claims about God, man, nature, morality, and the order of the cosmos. In what way can our government remain religiously neutral without also being ideologically neutral (musn’t there be some founding Idea(s) on which the edifice of government will be built)?

    2. The mission of many chaplains IS to prosyletize because this is the mission/directive of their denomination. Military chaplains are supposed to follow all the directives of their denomination/religion/source of ordination. This means that chaplains from an Independent Baptist denomination, for example, are required to follow their denomination’s directives which, in this case, includes proactive evangelization. However, on a practical level, those chaplains who are vocal about those denominational distinctives that don’t conveniently align with Tolerance (oh, damnation of sinners for example), are often marginalized and passed over when it comes to promotion due to the dogmatic enforcement of Tolerance in the military and American culture today.

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  5. Time is short, so let’s look at #1.

    First, the “founding Idea” is government by the consent of the governed. This does not require a grand metaphysical commitment of any sort; it can be based equally on theism, deism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, or what have you.

    Your inability to distinguish religion and ideology is your own problem–take it up with the Supreme Court, which has ruled on the issue time and again. Religions call for faith-commitments, adherence to creeds and dogmas, specific practices and rituals. “Say this prayer.” “Live this way.” “Join this church.” Official religions have established churches. That should be obvious.

    In fact, it is ironic that you would wish to collapse the distinction between religion and ideology while simultaneously upholding the differences between religions. Your position echoes the language of “all religions are fundamentally equal.”

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  6. 1. Government by the consent of the governed didn’t just arise out of nothing. It arose and became successful because it made sense to people who did hold certain other commitments. Perhaps it can be equally based on theism, deism, Protestantism, etc…but does this mean it could also be equally based on Islam, Buddhism, nihilism, atheism, existentialism, etc.? I don’t think so. I think certain ‘grand metaphysical commitments’ preclude the acceptance and flourishing of government by the consent of the governed.

    2. My difficulty seeing the difference between religion and ideology is my own problem. Maybe you can help me, though. Religions call for faith commitments, so does every other ideology that makes claims about origins, the past, and the unobserved. Religions call for adherence to creeds, so does every other ideology once it is defined and refined (e.g., you can’t be a Marxist without adhering to the creed that capitalism is evil). Religions call for specific practices and ways of living, so does every other ideology as soon as it moves from the realm of theory to that of practical living. Official religions have established [gathering places], so does every other ideology once it crystallizes and gains adherents who like to meet together around the common denominator of shared beliefs, more so once those ideologies become active in influencing society.

    2. All religions (and ideologies) are similar in many of their outward appearances, just like you listed; however, these similarities in no way argue for the fundamental equality, or validity, of religions as means to truth. All books have bindings, pages and words, yet the distinction and unequality is immediately apparent once you begin to study the content.

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  7. 1. “Government by the consent of the governed didn’t just arise out of nothing. It arose and became successful because it made sense to people who did hold certain other commitments.” Remarkably, some of these commitments are exactly opposite: Rousseau’s belief in the basic goodness of humanity; Hobbes’s pessmistic view of the Warre of All against All.

    2. There is a creed for atheists, for libertarians, for Marxists? This is hard to take seriously. By your broad definitions, the McDonalds corporation is a cult. After all, it is based on larger ideas (laissez faire capitalism, etc.), it has a creed (the belief that McDonalds is the greatest fast-food restaurant, “I’m lovin’ it!”), it makes its employees follow specific practices, even on their own time (it’s a drug-free workplace), its members meet in established places to daily perform their sacred rituals–washings, greetings, fry-dippings, burger-flippings.

    Let’s turn 3:

    3. Religion and ideology are similar in many of their outward appearances, just like you listed; however, these similarities in no way argue for their fundamental equality, or validity, as modes of thought or discourse. All books have bindings, pages and words, yet the distinction and inequality is immediately apparent once you begin to study the content.

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  8. Perhaps my definitions are too broad, but I’m painting with a big brush to try to answer this question: What is the salient difference between official religions and ideologies like atheism, Marxism, or libertarianism that precludes the former from having any connection with the State while allowing the latter free reign to determine the course of government policies, plans, and institutions? What is it about religion (any type mind you) that requires it to be totally separate from the State?

    Your point is taken with the McDonalds example, however, it is a bit over the top. In my comparison of religions to ideologies I found the relevant touchpoints to be located in those religions and ideologies that had something to say about God, man, nature, morality and the nature of the cosmos. Insofar as an ideology makes claims in these areas, it seems largely indistinguishible from a religion. Why? Because it is making claims in all those areas that generally motivate one to argue for a strict separation of Religion and State.

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  9. “What is the salient difference between official religions and ideologies like atheism, Marxism, or libertarianism that precludes the former from having any connection with the State while allowing the latter free reign to determine the course of government policies, plans, and institutions? What is it about religion (any type mind you) that requires it to be totally separate from the State?”

    Look, you’re arguing for a straw man. No one here is calling for “total separation” of the government and religion–if I were, I’d say we shouldn’t even have chaplains. It’s about preferring one religion to another–wielding the power of the state to advance the agenda of a particular church–and always has been.

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  11. It’s this preferring that interests me, though, because we do prefer some religion or ideology over others and allow our decisions to arise out of that preference. If there is no salient difference between official religions and other ideologies, then who decides which religion/ideology gets to make the decisions and wield the power?

    And I think that people are calling for a “total separation” of government and religion; at least a practical separation. Chaplains are relegated to the nebulous “spiritual life” corner of the military and aren’t allowed to weigh in on the important matters. When it comes to making decisions about morality, about strategy, about core values, religion is not allowed a voice on the grounds of maintaing separation between Religion and State. It is this posture that I question because it clears the path for “non-religious” ideologies that make what amount to religious claims, to run rampant and wield the power of state to advance their own agenda.

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  12. Are we talking about the position government takes or the position one’s Church takes? Obviously, I can understand some Churches denying that “all religions are equal,” because they believe *they* and not *the other* possess the religious Truth. For instance, the Catholic Church honestly believes it is the Body of Christ, while the Protestants beg to differ. For the Catholic Church, all religions are not equal. The Catholic Church (as the Priest at my grandmother’s funeral told me) teaches the Truth, while the Protestants don’t (he asked me, at age 18, why I didn’t attend the Catholic Church. And my answer was, “maybe I want to attend a Protestant Church.”)

    As far as government and philosophical foundations, instead of reciting tired platitudes, let me cite Allan Bloom, from The Closing of the American Mind, on the Founding and Religion:

    “Hobbes and Locke, and the American Founders following them, intended to palliate extreme beliefs, particularly religious beliefs, which lead to civil strife….In order to make this arrangement work, there was a conscious, if covert, effort to weaken religious beliefs, partly by assigning — as a result of a great epistemological effort — religion to the realm of opinion as opposed to knowledge.” p. 28

    Religion, or to be more specific sectarian and Revealed religion, is simply a matter of “opinion” over which government has no right to involve itself.

    Now, there is a vague “natural religion” that does undergird the Founding (that is a matter of “knowledge” and not opinion). For instance, there is a “nature’s God”; He grants men unalienable natural rights; He will intervene if we don’t respect such rights.

    Now, perhaps government does have the right to endorse these tenets, which no doubt, conflict with some ideologies — atheism, polytheism, etc. The problem, I would imagine for some on this thread, is that this teaching is not necessarily consistent with what I’d imagine your Church teaches.

    For one, this Nature’s God is the source of our unalienable right to conscience — which is the right that men have to worship not only the God of the Bible, but also false Gods.

    Someone here wrote:

    “The supposedly religious-neutrality of Tolerance actually brings a huge bag of assumptions, ideals, and convictions to the table. Among these assumptions are the ideas that: God doesn’t care how He is worshipped….”

    Exactly. While the God of the Bible appears to be a Jealous God forbidding the worship of any God but He, Nature’s God, on the other hand, grants men an unalienable righ to worship no God or Twenty Gods.

    “The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” in the Declaration holds that men have Free and Equal unalienable rights of conscience. And not just Christians, but “Jews, Pagans, Hindoos, Turks, Infidels as well.”

    Therefore government must grant free exercise rights to all religions and otherwise treat all religions equally. This to me seems pretty close to an ideal of religious neutrality in government matters. Now, perhaps, in practice, this is impossible to have. But that doesn’t negate that, in theory, religious neutrality is a founding ideal.

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