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. RoboGnome

    Kudos to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation for exposing this outrage. This, together with the abuses exposed at the Air Force Academy, should drive a serious investigation by the DoD into Christian Fundamentalist indoctrination practices in the Air Force. All we need is yet another set of young people being taught that God is on their side and war is a good thing.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  2. blueangel0313

    Rick, I actually feel compassion for athiest. I believe before their end, they will find their way. This nation was found under God, so if they really don't agree, then there are many other nations that could use them.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • hahahah

      You sound like you'd be more at home in Iran or Afghanistan under the Taliban.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  3. s

    2 decades and they catch it now......way to pay attention to detail

    August 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  4. Agnotheist

    Stop the killing.
    Legalize drugs; outlaw religion.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  5. Priest

    The way these fundamentalists twist the Scripture is nothing short of blasphemy. Jesus Christ, whom they claim to follow, never taught things. He taught that his followers are to love unconditionally those who persecute them. He taught that his followers, without condition, are to care for the poor, the hungry, the sick - all of whom are oppressed by the fundamentalists and the right wing nutters who claim to be Christian. While Jesus did not address war as such for some reason I can not see him being one to launch a nuclear attack.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • TC

      He also taught us to turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor, don't kill. You are right Priest, totally. Don't hide behind Jesus Christ when you have your finger on the trigger, he can see you. If you have the nerve to push the button and incinerate a million people then call it for what it is,...just don't call it Christianity.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  6. Aboutjab

    There is no difference between the christian nut and a muslim one. NO one with a strong religious bent should ever have access to the "bomb".

    August 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Bob

      Amen Brother!

      August 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  7. callinmclaughlin

    "Thou shalt not kill"

    August 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  8. Kevin Logan

    There's not much difference between the United States Armed Forces teaching their recruits that Jesus wants them to kill Arabs and Al-Qaeda teaching their recruits that Allah wants them to kill Americans if you ask me. They are all a strange group of animal. They seem to be lacking some essential chromosome or perhaps posses one that the rest of us seemed to have lost during our evolutionary travels. We as a society need to find a humane way to eradicate the breeding of these particular creatures to end their existence, thus saving our own.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Not Convinced

      First, you claim to be more evolved than those who kill the people they disagree with. Next, you propose we find a way to "end their existence", apparently because you disagree with them. Maybe you're not as evolved as you think...

      August 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Kevin Logan

      @ Not Convinced I stated I'm more evolved because I don't' feel the need to kill anybody that I disagree with. I also stated we as a society need to find a HUMANE way to eradicate the BREEDING of such people, not blow them up with bombs and gas them with toxic chemicals like the United States does. And yes, I do feel the world would be better off without these types of humans living on it. All I'm saying is feed the armies of the world food that would simply make them sterile thus ending the existence of a breed of humans that feel differences are settled with who's got the bigger guns.

      First, you claim to be more evolved than those who kill the people they disagree with. Next, you propose we find a way to "end their existence", apparently because you disagree with them. Maybe you're not as evolved as you think...

      August 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Still Not Convinced

      @Kevin Logan – So in your world, the armies that settle their differences with big guns will be replaced with people who settle their differences with tainted food (or some other "humane" means of elimination). I appreciate your desire to be humane in the process, but elimianting those we disagree with is NOT the answer. In the end, any attempt to eliminate others is just another form of war, regardless of the methods/weapons that are used. I don't have a perfect solution to the problem, but I'm confident that eradication isn't it.

      August 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  9. Goddess Priest

    Serving as and A1C right now in the Air Force. Haven't heard anything on this. But It doesn't surprise me any. There always trying to create war in one way or another. Why can't we all just live in Peace!?

    August 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  10. blueangel0313

    I have an idea. Why don't we send all the athiest over to Afganistan. That way, we can continue to protect the US from attacks and to protect weaker nations from power hungry nuts and humanitarian crimes.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Bob

      I have an idea: why don't we send all the evangelicals to Uganda where the will be happy persecuting gays?

      August 4, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Rick

      blueangel: whats the matter, little fella, don't care for atheists?

      August 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Pope Scott

      Every single power hungry nut subscribes to religion and uses it as a basis for their "good works." You are a fool. I will allow you to believe in your religion, only because you are too weak to think on your own. If the Bible is the only thing keeping you from destroying everything, I guess you can keep reading the redacted, added to, misquoted and mistranslated book you hold so dear.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • MIke

      Blueangle the only difference in you and those RW fanatics you hate in Afghanistan is you're from a different cult.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Kevin Logan

      I'm not understanding your logic here. You say "we send all the atheist over to Afghanistan" to do what exactly, fight this obvious christian crusaded war you seem to be all for. I'll bet you if the world was filled with atheists, there wouldn't even be any wars. So just keep on keeping on with sending more of those right-wing christian crusaders over there to do what jesus wants them to do, which is to bomb, kill and destroy the lives of those that are most likely to be a direct descendant of his own family.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  11. Bob

    Sky pilot – how high can you fly?

    August 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  12. Bo

    ______________________________________ @Will: I agree with you, if these men have any compunctions about the consequenses of puhing the button they should have thought of that before enlisting, but the glory of the uniform is very attractive. Then these men must be conditioned to face the facts of the reality of war. War is a very nasty thing, and the warrior has the dirtiest job in the world. There is no pleasure in killing people even when it is necessaty. There have been soldiers who have committed suicide because they can no longer live with their conscience of killing people. There is nobody in this world that does not have somebody that loves them, so when a person is killed other lives are affected. _____________________________________________________________________

    August 4, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Be careful dude, you are actually making sense!

      Killing SHOULD affect anyone who does it deeply, otherwise the path to slaughter is too attractive to the young.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  13. Brian

    Hitler also used religion as a military tactic. He had 300 priests at the battle of Stalingrad. Their job was to tell the German troops that God was on their side. It didn't work. Evidently God favored Stalin.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • William Demuth

      The irony is it worked.

      Those idiots threw themselves against a Russian Army made of steel, all for the greater glory of Christ and Hitler.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Cteach

      If only god gave them a decent sweater...:-P

      August 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Pope Scott

      @William, God is in favor of all sides apparently. There is no god picking and choosing which side to be on. It's as crazy as being human and trying to figure out what god to follow. They're all fake. Just be a good person. Too hard for some, I guess.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  14. VT_Citizen

    Gee...and they say its only the Islamic Fundamentalists that used religion as a justification for violence..hmm. Perhaps all the Abrahamic faiths should be on the watch list.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Same God, same methodology

      August 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • VT_Citizen

      Yes my point exactly.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Dallas

      Yeah, because atheists like Stalin have such a good track record on human rights. And, for the record, you can't name a belief system (religious or not) that hasn't been used to justify war.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Zoten

      @ Dallas
      Stalin did not do ANY of his action in the name of Atheism, but in the "name" if you will of communism, his political ideology. You can not kill in the name of a LACK of a thing, you can only kill in the name of SOMETHING.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Come on, we all KNOW that the Bible is NEVER used to justify violence and war... ONLY the Quran is...

    August 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  16. stormsun

    Using religion to justify war; what a novel concept.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • David Wozniak

      Ha! I laughed at that one, we've only been doing it for 6,000 years! Some would argue though, that religion is often used as a cloak for covetousness, and the real problem is the love of money! (See I Timothy 6:10).

      August 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  17. martinipaul

    I agrue that an atheist makes his valuations based upon his experiencial existence. Therefore any 'ethics' he espouses are personal and peculiar to him. The only thing an atheist can teach is the process of valuation, he can not dictate the results of that process or even know what they might be. If the atheist Sartre is correct in saying that ethics are situational then an atheist can have no 'core' dogma or doctrine. His ethics must be fluid and relative. For him, what is ethical today, may not be ethical tomorrow. I can picture a soldier with his finger on the button saying: Am I acting in 'good' faith or 'bad' faith? For the atheist ethical valuations are simply the actions of the ego. They acknowledge nothing superior to that.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I pray when the time comes it is an Athiest.

      If it is a Christian, they will light up the world with their hand in their pants waiteing for the arrival of their imaginary savior.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • VT_Citizen

      His experiential existence can very well include testimonial evidence from others. And yes what was considered ethical in the past may very well not be considered so today. What is so odd about that? There are too many examples to list. Maybe...um...stoning children that talk back to their fathers as long as its done outside the city gates.

      Therefore, it stands to reason (you should try it), that some things considered ethical today may not be so tomorrow and visa versa.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • KK Denver

      We're all atheists........ I just believe in 1 fewer Gods than you do. Or do you still worship Zeus?

      August 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • klaus

      Stuff it!

      August 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Bob

      If an atheist sticks to his beliefs and logically considers how behavior originates in the brain then the only solution to ethics is that everything we do should be based on obtaining a positive goal in the future. Then if one looks at anthropology and biology one comes to the conclusion that the probability of maximizing the well being of anyone and everyone only happens when the goal is something that benefits all life. This turns out to be the best ethical position for any action. Christianity always focuses on punishing the offender. This never maximizes the well being of all. It creates wars and hate. From this short example we see that the atheist position is more ethical than the christian position.

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

      kk; if that's true then why condemn me so? Pretty ridiculous argument, actually. Read the Gervais thing in the WSJ. Guy is not as intelligent as he would have you think he is.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • @KK Denver

      Really atheists and agnostics should be referred as non believers. Atheist is Greek for godless belief and an agnostic coined by an English professor means you don't know if their is a god. For me both these terms can reference me and all non believers I know personally.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Magic

      martinipaul: "His ethics must be fluid and relative....what is ethical today, may not be ethical tomorrow."

      Sort of like slavery, marrying one's rapist, and females not being allowed to speak in church (just to name a few of many evolved religious ethics)?

      August 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Bob: You are implying that every atheist will reach your personal conclusion. If all valuations are individual then you have no way to control or predict what what an atheist is going to conclude. Why should he necessarily decide he is going to act for the good of all? You mention anthropology. If God, or gods, do not exist how then do you explain the endemic presence of religion in human societies? Evolution? Also, present some sort of empirical evidence that man would be better without religion? Is it not possible that a society based on the good of ALL would allow the free practice of religion?

      August 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Timothy C

      Not necessarily true. Consider game theory: in one way, it's a mathematical model of cooperative behavior that shows how certain altruistic actions can ultimately benefit the individual by strengthening the group. Thus, mathematical observations that can be validated anywhere can generate a reason to behave 'ethically' without recourse to religion.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Magic

      martinipaul, "Is it not possible that a society based on the good of ALL would allow the free practice of religion?"

      Of course all are free to practice religion... as long as they don't impose it on anyone else. We are also free to point out the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of sticking pins in voodoo dolls.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  18. Jims Save

    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. Mhmmmm... Chaplains... religious... teaching... How could you not be aware? ITS COMMON SENSE...

    August 4, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  19. Peter E

    If I join the military as a conscientious objector, and then get fired for objecting to fire missiles because of my religion, can I sue the military for religious discrimination?

    August 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • s

      if you were to join as a conscientous objector you would not have to ever fire a missle.....and you would have to work in a field most likely that has to do with religion

      August 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  20. Smilin' Jack

    God's on our side, right? I mean my particular sect's side, right? I mean, God takes sides, right?

    August 4, 2011 at 4:29 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.