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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. Sao

    People don't want God, So God let them persue whatever their hearts desire. Then God shows them why they don't want what they got. Example::You've married folks aught to say Amen! THINK!

    August 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      So, these fine gentlemen chaplains, ordained ministers and priests, claimed:
      What would Jesus do? NUKE THEM!
      First, religiously, that is as wrong as possible!
      Second, per the first amendment, such a class is ILLEGAL. They should immediately lose their commission and any pensions accrued. For EVERY ONE THAT ADMINISTERED THAT CLASS. They KNOW better.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  2. No No No

    You would not let a soldier who believed in Leprechauns or Big Foots or Chupacabras or Sea Monsters or Genies or Vampires or Shapeshifters or the Monkey Bone theory have his/her finger on the button would you?

    August 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      So, you reject the first amendment, yet use it to disparage the rights of others in utter violation of the ninth amendment?
      How un-American of you!

      August 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Halkes

      @Wzrd1: This post isn't about a breach of the 1st. We need to remember that in the end these men are employees, and their employers are us. We have the right to decide who works for us; you wouldn't have a Nazi with his finger on the button, or would that be a violation of the 1st too?

      August 4, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Halkes

      To be clear, I'm not against having people who have their personal beliefs working these posts, but definitely no zealots who revolve their word around Jesus or the bible, that's about the scariest thing I can imagine. That book is very violent.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  3. martinipaul

    Tim C: Going to have to read up on game theory. Sounds interesting. Thank you for the post. Same for you, Bob. Interesting points. Wish I had more time to see what you two have to say. Nothing stimulates thought like intelligent opposition. I used to be an existential atheist myself. On top of that, I'm irish and I love a good argument. I think you two could definitely give me a run for my money! Thanks.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      (think of the fundamental tele-evangelist way of speaking for this)
      Gawd lovves, nucleer faar!
      In the heart of stars.
      That is whyyy he made sooo many of them!

      I guess MY briefing wouldn't work so well. But then, I would use a SECULAR ethics argument, rather than the nukes of God argument.

      As for religious, military strategic doctrine or political arguments, I LOVE having a good, honest discussion on them. I've even discussed our mutual similarities and differences with Arab Muslims with knowledge of my own faith in Christianity and their Quran and Hadith.
      I can even be nasty enough to tie quantum dynamics into religion, to the chagrin of the atheist and be theoretically correct.

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

    Yet another proof that religion is a cancer to humanity.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Too bad. We have a first amendment and it is staying. It is a fundamental RIGHT.
      That said, religion MUST be kept separate from government, also per that amendment.

      I'm STILL trying to wrap my head around the concept that a Chaplain, an ordained minister or priest, actually SAID that God would want someone to launch thermonuclear fire upon hundreds of millions of people!
      That Gawd wannnnts youuuu to nuke! (done to the fundie television minister's mode of speech)
      BEYOND absurd.
      WWJD, NUKE! Nope.
      Pity I can't get a picture of these guys. I want to stand WELL away on judgment day.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Wzrd1

      Hey 'Wiz...

      " I want to stand WELL away on judgement day "

      Meaning...?

      Peace...

      August 4, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  5. Kelcy

    Sad. Not surprising, just very, very sad. You could see the indoctrination of religiousness starting at the top when I came into the Air Force in the early 80's and it just got worse over the years. I was so tired of it when I finally retired.

    From an ethical perspective that these general officers can claim to not have known during 20 years of this briefing being used. I`m sorry. They are just lying. And I would be looking at not just Vandenburg but at the flight training bases since they can carry/launch nukes just like the missileers. I would also look at all their annual training programs that speak of ethics, honor or even religious tolerance. It is not like the chaplains don`t talk to each other and set up the same or similar programs everywhere.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Kelcy

      Thank you for your unique 'real-world' perspective from having been in the Air Force.

      I agree with you whole-heartedly.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      August 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Darkguardian1314

      I agree. Granted they would have to be training as Missile Officers to be exposed to the course. Further, they would have been in the Force longer than than 20 years not to have the training. Someone knew. You can't have a training course in the academy and not have it reviewed and approved. For cadets to make a stand like that is rare.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  6. jayman419

    So the Air Force had no idea what lessons the chaplains were teaching to young men about to embark on a mission to carry a nuclear payload. What else have they been taught, and by who, on their way to their new careers?

    August 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @jayman419

      Yeah... I found that pretty odd myself that they are now claiming that "they didn't know" baloney.

      What 'else' don't they know about.

      Peace...

      August 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  7. john316

    We need freedom from" religion....there's too much "of" religion....most people are afraid to say what they really think on the subject and so they let the zealots and extremists have their way.....and we give them tax exempt status to boot......what a great con game.....right Mr. Barnum? ....... I mean P T.....

    August 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  8. joe camel

    religious leaders are oportunists, they have no proof except to scare the caveman in us all. I ignor them. It is much better to live by logic than in unprovable facts. Living in logic or trying to makes for a better person. Society will not fall of it has no GODs but it will fall if it keeps beleiving in the ones it does they way they do beleive in them right now. American needs to put restraint on any religious beleif that supports, encourages or practices any form of disrimination, status level, selfish asignment or other form of stating that they are better or the choosen or judgemental. However they should allow any religion that calls for love, care, comopasion, enjoinment and incluision with no political involvement at all. That means church monitoring, and recordings to keep then honest. Lastly for 2 decades this went on and no one checked, the US Airfoce has a lot of religious problems (especialy christian orintated).

    August 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      You are absolutely right. REPEAL THE ENTIRE FIRST AMENDMENT.
      It fosters EVIL!
      That IS what would be required for the government to regulate religion. And there would be an armed resistance to such a thing, quite rightfully so, as it would go against every principle this nation was founded upon.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  9. Alex

    Thank you Mr. Weinstein, as a Christian, I fully agree that Christianity has no place in the military. It's a personal choice and should not be pushed like this on anyone. Those in the armed forces need mental clarity, so religious pressure is only adding to their stress.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Alex

      Thank you -Alex for your reasonable and sound posting.

      Peace...

      August 4, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Seriously?

      Christianity has no place in the military? I guess only when our military prays to God for protection, safety, security . . . . . . . . .

      August 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      What astounds me is, a Chaplain, in good conscience and claiming faith, supports the use of thermonuclear missiles and even made slides to support it!
      In short, stating that God wants his Christians to incinerate hundreds of millions of people!

      August 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Alex

      I guess what I should say is violence has no place in Christianity. The commandment of Christ was to love one another, not to nuke one another for oil. Don't get me wrong, the US Military is necessary and I don't understand the purpose for much of what they do, but it's not my job to understand since I'm not part of the military.

      I really wish people will understand that the message of Christ is not one of violence and that this is clearly the military twisting His message to convince good old Christian boys that it's OK to inflict violence. The military clearly recognizes that there is a conflict in reason when it comes to this issue.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  10. martinipaul

    Is there any atheist here that would deny me the right to believe in God?

    August 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • DT

      No, why would we? You have your right to believe, just keep it out of the government that we all share, thanks.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Doubt that there any. People are free to believe whatever they want, but actions are a different matter.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • kendc

      How can believe anything imaginary that you want, just don't let your views effect me.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      In your own home, no.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • secularbear

      Of course not, you can believe any nonsense you want. And I can believe you're mentally challenged for doing so.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Appletini

      Believe whatever you want. That isn't the issue.

      Religion does not belong in any government run or funded setting. Separation of church and state was implemented specifically to keep religion out of government affairs.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • STLDan

      You are free to believe just as I am free not to. Then again I dont try to push my beliefs into goverment and law while the Christians constantly do and that sir I have a HUGE problem with!!!

      August 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      There are SOME that would. SOME, thankfully a small minority, would even wish to remove all churches and religious texts from this land.
      The majority agree with THIS Christian though, keep religion out of our government, as the founding fathers intended and took great pains to do.
      Religion belongs with the individual and their faith group, such as a church, synagogue or Mosque (or other structure, depending on the faith). NOT in a workplace, voting booth, government building or court of law.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • martinipaul

      I am a conservative Republican. I did not elect Obama. I am not responsible for religion in government. That is water you guys are going to have to carry for yourselves.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @martinipaul
      "That is water you guys are going to have to carry for yourselves."
      What are you saying?

      August 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • martinipaul

      If you want religion out of government I'm not the one who can do anything about that. You are the one who is going to have to act on that.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  11. pete

    There is absolutely no way in which god, religion, or any religious symbol should be present or even mentioned by a military member. God has no place in something so important – those with the most minute speck of common sense should see the danger and hypocrisy of inserting religion into military practice, especially when many of our main "opponents" want to destroy us for for such a cause. The word 'god' should long have been reduced to a uniting-factor, as in "one nation, under god" essentially meaning "one nation of people united initially in Christian virtues, but now accepting of all who pledge allegiance to the flag". For something as important as nuclear warfare, god should never enter the brain of those responsible. What should be entering their brain are memorized procedures, sound ethical reasoning, coordinates, contingency plans, etc. – not some mythical being who's existence has yet to be proven after thousands of years. People of America - do something about the asinine Christians trying to use god as an excuse for descrimination, self-advancement, and megalomaniacal warfarw. Say no to religious-based conservatives unless you want the Nazi Revival Party (the Republican party will change their name any day now) in the 2028 election.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • raptor57

      God has no place in something so important .......Say no to religious-based conservatives unless you want the Nazi Revival Party ......wow

      August 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  12. Bo

    ___________________________________________________________________________ @wes: Sorry if you are having having a bad day. Who is treating you so badley? If there is somebody "shoving religion" down your throat they should not be doing that. But, on the other hand if you are allowing people to shove religion down your throat, that,s your fault. Tell me, how are people shoving religion down your throat? ___________________________________________________________________________

    August 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  13. WhatWhatWhat?

    And those darn, religious delusionsists keep saying how their faith shouldn't be questioned because "it's not hurting you". When they launch WWIII to fulfill christinsanity's prophesies, then we'll see who's hurting. There's video of Ronald Raygun saying the same cr@p about the end times and his finger on the button. This is the scariest part of the whole religious delusion and it really has to go.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  14. Halkes

    A study was recently conducted in which there was a positive correlation between religious readings and aggression. Two groups of participants read violent passages and were told they were from the Bible. 99% of the participants of the first group believed in god and the bible, and only 50% of the second group believed in god, and 27% believed in the bible. After reading the passages, the first group displayed much more aggression than the first, which was measured by the participants' willingness to blast a loud noise at others through headphones. Look it up yourself if you don't believe me. "When god sanctions killing: effect of scriptural violence on aggression." – Bushman BJ, Ridge RD, Das E, Key CW, Busath GL.

    Ironic isn't it? These briefings were supposed to help these men make proper, even-headed decisions in which millions of lives are at risk.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  15. svann

    Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb!

    August 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • dan

      yeah why can't people realize that we have parodied this before? The zelots will destroy us all

      August 4, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  16. DT

    It's amazing to me that we live in the 21st century and people are still falling head over heels for the barbaric mythology of bronze age goat herders.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      "It's amazing to me that we live in the 21st century"

      Yep

      August 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  17. Johnny

    "Christian Morality" ..... hahahahha. That's a good one.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  18. redog61

    Dallas: don't confuse communist with atheist. Communism was a belief system the same as religion only there god was Stalin. We atheist don't believe in anyone that tries to tell us how to live.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  19. dainks

    Fools are they who believe ethics, which are patently based in morality, can be taught–or even grasped–apart from moral foundations of right and wrong which are objectively based. If not a Judeo-Christian objective standard, then what? The standard of the protesting clownheads? And what is the objective standard for them? One presumes it is only what their consciences "vote" to seem right to them at any point in time. This is PRECISELY what wisdom teaches us to avoid, and why ethics are required and taught: The kind of subjective folly that is owned by the "freedom from religion" tyrants will certainly end in destruction.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • science

      You might enjoy "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • DT

      You don't seem familiar with the philosophical difficulties in attempting to anchor morality in theism. You assert that Judeo-Christianity is an objective foundation for morality; but that's actually impossible. This is thanks to Euthyphro's Dilemma: if objective morality is based in theism then it's because you're basing it on what God tells us about morality. But why does God command this or that about morality?

      Either some action X is good because God commands it (in which case morality is subjective after all - subjective to God's whim) or God commands some action X because it is good (in which case God is really ultimately conforming to some transcendental morality, meaning morality isn't founded in theism at all in the first place). So, I don't see how you claim morality can both be objective and founded in theism at the same time: it appears that it must be one or the other, but not both.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Halkes

      Well that's just it, the standard can't be anything absolute, it's always something made up by somebody, whether it was a bunch of guys 1500 years ago or Immanuel Kant. So in reality, there are no objective morals, although some people believe so whole-heartedly in a set of ethics that they may seem to them to be quite objective indeed.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • rachel

      He might also enjoy THE END OF FAITH by Sam Harris and LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION........

      August 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • STLDan

      If you need a set of religious rules that say to live a certain way or burn in eternal fire just to live your life in a moral way than I surely do pity you and your like. I treat others as i would like myself treated. I have respect for all races and creeds. I do not kill, steal or rob. I DO NOT believe in god, by your standards i should be out rapng and killing but low and behold I am a just person who lives his life correctly...

      August 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Hypercat

      Morallity is not borne of religion, it is borne of humanity. This artcle serves as evidence that Christianity is not a foundation for morality since it describes how Christianity and the Bible were being used as a justification for starting wars and using nuclear weapons. Killing people with any weapon is not moral. These chaplains certainly were not acting in the best interest of humanity by indoctrinating soldiers (trained killers) with beliefs that they were acting morally in delivering death, especially the indiscriminate type of death that comes from the use of nuclear weapons.

      August 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  20. Nathan

    Ethical arguments about just wars and just actions in wars are part of the Christian tradition, which is part of the Western tradition of philosophical ethical reasoning. "Religious" considerations about justice are not neatly distinguishable from philosophical and ethical ones. These matters overlap completely for large parts of our history. The point is to try to make available all the parts of our traditions as resources for getting perspective on and reasoning about difficult issues related to war. The idea of somehow eradicating the religious parts of our tradition is a radical kind of anti-intellectualism. One need not be religious at all to find some merit in, some things worth considering, in just war theory as it develops out of Augustine. In fact, as Hannah Arendt showed, one need not be a Christian at all to find merit in, important matters to be considered in, Augustine's writings. The idea of purging our tradition of its religious thinkers is something that would come from Stalin, not something we need in a pluralistic and tolerant society.

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

      Well said.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • blueangel0313

      This is the most intelligent post I have seen all day! Kudos to you!!

      August 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • UncleM

      What you are ignoring is that evangelicals hold irrational beliefs – the rapture, for example – that are positively dangerous in the context of nuclear weapons and the military. Ethical reasoning should be rational, not driven by make believe.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:19 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.