August 3rd, 2011
07:50 PM ET

Air Force: Bible and nukes don't mix

By, Barbara Starr and Jennifer Rizzo, CNN

Washington (CNN)–The Air Force has suspended an ethics briefing for new missile launch officers after concerns were raised about the briefing's heavy focus on religion.

The briefing, taught for nearly 20 years by military chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, is intended to train Air Force personnel to consider the ethics and morality of launching nuclear weapons - the ultimate doomsday machine.

Many of the slides in the 43 page presentation use a Christian justification for war, displaying pictures of saints like Saint Augustine and using biblical references.

"Abraham organized an Army to rescue Lot," one slide read, referring to the story of the Hebrew patriarch and his nephew found in the book of Genesis.

"Revelation 19:11 Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior," another slide read.

The Air Force halted the class last week after 31 missile launch officers reported the religious nature of the briefing to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group which tries to ensure religious freedom among the troops.

"There were several things that they found disgusting," Mikey Weinstein founder of the foundation said. "The first was the fact that there is actually a slide that makes it clear that they're trying to teach that, under fundamentalist Christian doctrine, war is a good thing."

Weinstein said his group had to act.

"We were literally blown away by what we saw on the slide presentation. And one of the first things I did was to contact some of the most senior leadership for the Air Force in the Pentagon and made it very clear that this has to stop immediately," Weinstein said.

The Air Force said headquarters officials were not aware of the religious component of the ethics course, despite it being taught for nearly two decades by chaplains.  The matter came to their attention they said when they received an inquiry by Truthout.org, an online publication which initially reported the story.

Here is a link to the story and associated slides CNN obtained from Truthout.org.

"That is when we became aware of concerns about the course and our commander here reviewed the course and decided immediately that it was not appropriate for what we want to do and suspended using that briefing," David Smith, an Air Education Training Command spokesman said.

The briefing was meant to mimic an academic setting where concerns could be voiced, according to Smith who claims chaplains were used to oversee the briefing for that reason.

"A chaplain is not required to take action if concerns are voiced," Smith said.

A review is underway at the base to see if an ethics briefing is needed at all.

"Ethics discussions are an important part of professional military development and it is especially important for our airmen who are training to work with nuclear weapons because they have to make hard decisions," Smith said.  "We are looking to see if we need a briefing like this... but it will not be a religion based briefing."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Military • United States

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soundoff (1,189 Responses)
  1. harold

    A person is very different from a juridical entity which is what the US Air Force is. A juridical entity is created by law and the reason for its creation is to perform its purpose. It is composed of individuals who have to follow a set of rules in order for the juridical entity to be able to perform its purpose. We must not confuse the individual person for the juridical entity. If the individual finds it against his morals or ethics or religion to obey the rules of the juridical entity then another should be found who will do so, and thereby enable the juridical entity to perform its purpose. An individual's religion, morals, sense of ethics and the like are his own and not that of the juridical entity. The juridical entity has its own rules of conduct which is consistent with its purpose, but which may be against an individual's beliefs.

    August 4, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • Nonimus

      My understanding is that juridical means related to Judicial offices or Judges. The Air Force is part of the Executive branch of the US government, not the Judicial branch, and is charged with executing the laws enacted by the Legislature.

      August 4, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • harold

      Definition of juridical entity:

      Entity (such as a firm) other than a natural person (human being) created by law and recognized as a legal entity having distinct identity, legal personality, and duties and rights. Also called artificial person, juridical person, juristic person, or legal person. See also body corporate.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • saaaly

      anderson cooper & straight people don't mix

      August 4, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  2. asher

    I'm really sick and tired of watching CNN–and Barbara Starr especially–steal stories from other reporters and fail time and again to give credit. Truthout.org broke this story last week. They were the first ones to publish about this. And it was their superior reporting that led the Air Force to change a policy that had been in place for more than 20 years. CNN has sunk so low and do not follow journalistic standards. I'd encourage everyone to read the Truhout story that other commenters linked to and not watch this video. Truthout's reporting is much better and it wasn't stolen.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:07 am |
  3. Bonita

    Don't use nukes, but you must keep them to maintain the power balance in the world. Even USA gives up, the villain nations will never give them up. USA needs to stay as the mightiest so countries won't bully weaker ones.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  4. Summary

    The Christian Western Civilization did all the thinking, studying, struggling, revolutions and reformations for the rest of the world, so that all we need is to receive their wisdom and orderliness. Now the West is going down with immoral secularism, the outlook of the game is drastically changing. God punishes godless nations/civilizations.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Judas

      ...Organised religion is POISON!

      August 4, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Cyrus

      Greeks invented "democracy" and no, they were not Christians.
      Romans founded the modern military-state and engineering concepts. No, they were not Christians.
      Hindus/Buddhists founded the Indus Valley and Ganges Valley civilizations, invented math, science, architecture, etc. and No, they were not Christians either.
      The "Western Civilization" as we know it gets is rich and glory from thousands of years of colonization and oppression of everyone else. It is the European renaissance that liberated the hearts and minds of the Christians in Europe, and before our so-called Western "civilizations" were civilized, rest of the world was excelling in math, science, engineering, literature.

      So, please, do get over your pompous and ignorant self.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Greg

      I do believe you just got Pwned, Summary.....

      August 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Nathan

      This is a false controversy. We are today the inheritors of many traditions. Christian thinkers have made many contributions. Augustine developed his ideas out of a Greek and Roman context in connection with Christianity. The point is to inherit all the different traditions our own historical context makes available and use what resources they provide for the challenges we face. It would be absurd to purge Augustine from our considerations about war. Just war theory may develop out of a religious context, but it can be evaluated in many ways, not all of them religious. In a pluralistic society, we should take all the help available. None of it as dogma, all of it as providing potential resources for naming things, reasoning about them, taking different perspectives, and then finally making reasonable judgments.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Jesus

      We will not grow as a species until we jettison all religions and their idiotic dogma.

      August 4, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  5. Summary

    Certain villains get lessons only by forced halting by external forces. Unarmed police gets no respect by criminals. USA and Israel must maintain the superior military capacity to protect the world from collapse. The evil mankind of Planet Earth never gives you break to be duh. Stop being naive.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • Kevin

      Yeah, right. Only something as deranged and demented as religion can say, " We have to kill people to save the world." Anyone that is so weak morally to believe such things, is a danger to the rest of us. Morons.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Summary

      @Kevin, Christianity mostly saved, healed, rescued and liberated – billions of humans at that. It's nothing like your atheism.

      August 5, 2011 at 4:41 am |
  6. Colin

    This is every thinking person's nightmare. People who believe in sky-fairies, based on some Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology that was cobled together into a book during the Dark Ages, having their finger on the trigger.

    All atheists and other freethinkers should be outraged at the security lapses that let nutjobs like this anywhere near the big red button.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • UncleM

      The US military needs to root out all evangelicals. They are a threat to our security.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  7. Summary

    The Bible makes any readers and appliers the best kind of warriors on earth. It gives the reasons why we fight, whom we should deal with and how, when to take up arms and when not to. It enables one to fight against any injustice and bullies. Naive Americans became so immoral they lost sane judgment. Please give up your real estate to your creditors.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • QS

      In other words, it conveniently does all your thinking for you!

      August 4, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Leo

      Funny, that's what the extremist Muslims say about their own doctrine, too.

      Seriously, having been an Army officer and having seen the Christian extremist mentality poisoning our troops, this is a sick, sad state of affairs.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Greg

      I agree with Summary: the Bible is the best tool to use when you need justification for an atrocity. Sheep will buy into anything if you can quote scripture from a book.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Summary

      You secular Americans are pathetic. No wonder you cannot win wars anymore.

      August 5, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  8. harry

    Lo and behold, the Christians also teach "war and killing" based on the Bible. Bible also contains VIOLENCE? You mean Christianity is not a peaceful religion?

    And I thought only Islam did that. I have not done my homework and have believed the media so far. Holy S**T

    August 4, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  9. John Richardson

    Evangelical Christianity is a blight on this nation. Hooray for the military people who finally successfully ratted this out.

    August 4, 2011 at 1:55 am |
  10. Jacob

    I wish that the People in the military would decided if they wanted the Christian teaching or not instead of the people who aren't even in the military. Same with the Don't ask don't tell. Let the military decide because it effects them not the people who aren't serving.

    August 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Spiffy

      The people in the military did say they didn't want the Christian teachings and that they didn't want Don't Ask Don't Tell. Anyway it shouldn't even be their decision. Our government is a secular one and government funds shouldn't go to support any religion.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • QS

      If my tax dollars pay their salaries, you better believe I get to have a say in it!

      August 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  11. Jennifer Cuneo

    Can you explain why this story is not properly sourced and as a result was stolen from an established reporter such as Jason Leopold and an organization known as one of the top trusted news websites as TruthOut.org! This does not help with my quickly deteriorating respect or need to watch CNN. In case your reporter did not source the story I am providing the link. Jason Leopold/TrughOut link to ORIGINAL reporting that led to change in training http://t.co/vSKHQW5

    August 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  12. kiki

    Augustine was a despicable cockroach.

    August 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark

      Tee hee! There's NOTHING worse than a reformed "sinner," except perhaps an evangelical/Dominionist closet case!

      August 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  13. gupsphoo

    It's way too dangerous for the USAF to be run by Christian nutjobs.

    August 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Ron

      The Air Force has had many similar problems with Evangelicals trying to teach their conservative version of Christianity to cadets. I think they should provide those men and women, chaplains to meet their religious needs but take religion out of the military as far as teach "religious" ethics.
      Honestly, i can see evangel Christians creating their "end times" so they can have their apocalypse. I simply DO NOT trust these people. I still expect the same type of problems here in the U.S. that Norway has experienced. I see them, essentially the flip side of the Taliban.

      August 3, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Or, any OTHER nutjobs, for that matter.

      August 3, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  14. hippypoet

    i don't get the issue, everyone knows that is smart that there is no such thing as god... it was just a story mommys told their wee ones to make them behave, like santa.... so lets all get over it, let them take it out if it offends anyone, and move on! done!!!

    August 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  15. Peace2All

    From the Article on 'Truthout.org:

    " The course was led by 'Air Force chaplains" and took place during a missile officer's first week in training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Officers who train to be missileers were required to attend the ethics course, which included a PowerPoint presentation on St. Augustine's "Christian Just War Theory" as well as numerous examples of characters from the "New and Old Testament" the training materials asserted engaged in warfighting in a "righteous way."

    St. Augustine's "Qualifications for Just War," according to the way the Air Force characterized it in slides used in the ethics training, are: "to avenge or to avert evil; to protect the innocent and restore moral social order (just cause)" and "to restore moral order; not expand power, not for pride or revenge (just intent)."

    One of the PowerPoint slides also contained a passage from the (Book of Revelation that claims Jesus Christ, as the "mighty warrior,") believed some wars to be just.

    At the conclusion of the ethics training session, missile officers were asked to sign a legal docu-ment stating they will not hesitate to launch the nuclear-armed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) "if lawfully ordered to do so by the President of the United States or his lawful successor."

    The docu-ments' blatant use of religious imagery and its numerous references to the New and Old Testament would appear to consti-tute a violation of the First Amendment establishing a wall of separation between church and state and Clause 3, Article 6 of the Consti-tution, which specifically prohibits a "religious test."


    What the f-uck are they thinking ?!?!? Christian ethics training about 'warrior Jesus,' from the Book of Revelation no less, for nuclear button pushers.

    This is obscene.


    August 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Frogist

      Thanks for that Peace! I was trying to get to the TruthOut article but I can't access it where I am. It does clearly seem to be a breach of the separation of church and state. And furthermore it seems to encourage war as a means of maintaining "moral social order" which is a very disturbing idea considering we all have different ideas of what is moral. Just when I thought war couldn't get more scary...

      August 4, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  16. fred

    Nuclear button pushers need to be taught ethics? I would hope they have a gut full of ethics before they sit down at the big red button. Notice that the first problem pointed out by CNN in this 20 year old training book is that it has Judeo Christian overtones. OMG burn the book our ethics are now based on no God. So with God out of the picture only a panel of agnostics and atheists can develop our new national ethics book. Christians and Muslims etc must lie about their beliefs in order to be put on the panel and lying Neanderthals are hardly fitting anyway for an ethics panel. Now what exactly would this book on ethics look like. Is it simply math? Such as only the red button that results in the least amount of casualties shall be pushed at any one time. All ethics are not the same thus all people of the world that do not conform to those ethics we like must be eradicated otherwise unnecessary conflict will arise. All button pushers can do anything they want with any other button pusher because the supreme ethics panel of the secular world decrees it unlawful to look into dark bedrooms. All those who believe in God or any other myth are hereby declared insane for talking with invisible images.

    August 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hey -fred...

      Invoking 'warrior Jesus' and the Book of Revelations as a teaching tool is just a bit disturbing to say the least to some people. Hence, the Air Force taking a look at their ethics training program.

      There is no need to involve religion to teach ethics.



      August 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • bulger

      "All those who believe in God or any other myth are hereby declared insane for talking with invisible images." -you got that part right. More succinctly,

      All those who believe in God or any other myth are insane. Or just stupid and/or ignorant.

      August 4, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Laughing

      Hey freddie,

      Would you rather we still take our cues from a 2000 year old book that doesn't even get close to understand the scope of a nuclear weapon? Furthermore, you mention muslims as being incredibly reliable, and yet we've seen muslim fundementalists have no issue strapping a bomb to themselves and blowing people up for the glory of god.....so yeah......I think we might want to update this ethics book afterall, I'm thinking with something other than math though, I've found a lot of believers have trouble getting past simple equations.

      August 4, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  17. Kay Goldenberg

    CNN is the most unethical news network next to Fox News. This story was broken by TRUTHOUT.org and you make it seem like you were the one who first reported it! Truthout's story is what made the Air Force stop the ethics course! Why didn't you credit them Wolf Blitzer?

    To people watching this, you should immediately go to Truthout and read their stories. Everyone else credited Truthout except for CNN and Fox News! UNETHICAL NEWS NETWORK:



    August 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Thanks for the links!
      Much appreciated.

      August 4, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  18. zymotic_heart

    Um . . . . Jason Leopold of Truthout.org broke this last week. Where is the credit due to him?? Are you seriously trying to take credit for a real journalist's work?? #plagiarism

    August 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Kay Goldenberg

      Glad that other people are seeing that Jason Leopold and Truthout reported this first! Good on you zymotic_heart for letting them know too!

      August 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  19. frank

    Nuke them!!

    August 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  20. maggie diaz

    Cnn stole this story from truthout! You didn't even provide a link!

    August 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.