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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. midnitejax

    I don't know why this would suprise anyone really. it was reported on 60 minutes several years ago after the GW Bush inauguration, that the Christian Coalition had influenced the USAF Academy indoctrination by carefully screening cadets prior to acceptance. Those cadets would now have tenure and rank to be in strategic positions, with their agendas. The Taliban exists here in the US.

    August 4, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • AK

      Please. Bush again. What you discuss had been going long before Bush 43.

      Don't worry. Obama will be alike responsible for droughts, hail, Communist uprisings, and psoriasis long after he steps down.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  2. AK

    I served as an ICBM launch officer; my training was over 30 years ago and nothing like this stands out in my memory. However....

    Sitting alert as the final human cog between the decisionmakers and 'missile away' I believe does necessitate some ethical discussion – you are potentially turning a key that remotely will kill millions and change the nature of civilization forever. Heady stuff, a bit more than faced by, say, an individual infantryman. In that context, a presentation of the ideological and cultural background behind the concepts of just was as conceived in our Western civilization is entirely appropriate. If some students, over 30 of them, felt it crossed the line in to proselytizing, then a review was also appropriate. I feel comfy that no one of the commenters here who expressed strong opinions has seen the briefing, and while Weinsteins' MRFF has done some good work highlighting, say, forced evangelizing at the Air Force Academy, Mikey has an axe to grind and his own brand of proselytizing needs to be looked with the same degree of skepticism.

    August 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Al

      I played Missile Command about 30 years ago and this is all news to me too.

      August 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  3. adam

    ".......it is especially important for our airmen who are training to work with nuclear weapons because they have to make hard decisions."

    Um, no.....they just have to follow orders!

    August 4, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • AK

      No one is in that control center with you but your crew partner, and turning that key, in the end, is going to be a decision, orders or not.

      I am glad I never was faced with the final situation.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  4. AF Flyer

    After some time in the AF I have recieved many ethics briefs from chaplains and they have been extremely professional in making it clear that they are talking from the standpoint of basic morality. Whether that can be found in the bible, I don't know (I'm one of those atheists everyone this is so crazy), but religion has it's place in the hearts and minds of people who believe it, not in military briefings. Great call on removing it, however I find it embarrassing that a military officer (Chaplains are commissioned officers) would give such a briefing knowing that it is not the correct way of talking about ethics to what is supposed to be a religiously neutral military. I would even go as far as to say that that carries some un-officer like qualities, doing something you know is wrong because you can get away with it is an integrity violation. My 2c.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  5. David Branch

    Only religion could convince people that it is possible to belief in an almighty God, but that he would somehow be ok with us destroying the world with science and knowledge... because obviously he would be on our side.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • BlueTexas

      I can see Jesus as a gun toting, self centered right winger. And lo did our lord JC pusheth the red button...
      Wait, wait Jesus was a democrat. A far left liberal democrat. Ok you got me on abortion but otherwise he was a hippie.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • blessedgeek

      Holy cow! Jesus was a far right wing Republican. Didn't you know that? He/she was against unions. That was why his/her carpentry biz did not hire anyone. Jesus said not to pay your taxes – something about Caesar. Jesus said when you find a pearl into field, throw it away – forget about the field because there is a tea party to attend.

      Jesus said that every follower should do their best to destroy the planet's ecology because they should not love the world. Because Jesus is coming again to pick up the mess. Paul said that Jesus over-rides all the laws of Moses and therefore, the responsibility of stewardship of the earth outlined in Genesis is no longer valid. In fact, Jesus wants you to make as much money as possible because you will always have the poor with you. Love not the world but love the money. Love lots of it.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  6. Steven

    Wow, as an ex-missile launch officer (1989-82), I remember getting briefings to make sure you understood what you were asked to do and try to weed out those that may not accomplish their duty as luanch officers. I do not remember anything like the briefings these later officers may be getting. Maybe the old way was better. Completing your duty as an officer has nothing to do with religion.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Walt

      Current missile launch officer here. This wasn't taught when I went through Vandy some 2 years ago. Someone's embellishing....

      August 4, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • AK

      Gee, Walt, you're reading CNN about an accusation by Mikey Weinstein's MRFF. Is the possibility of embellishment any surprise.?

      August 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Katie

      Steven – wow you worked backwards in time!

      Walt – Fox News ran this story a couple of days ago, and they made it seem like a big deal that went on everywhere! That doesn't mean that it does, since you never had this briefing (on FN they called it a class, not a briefing).

      August 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  7. David Branch

    "Men never commit evil so fully and joyfuly as when they do it for religious convictions"
    - Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

    August 4, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • stormsun

      As we see demonstrated daily around the world. Yet try to talk reason or logic with the followers and see what it gets you. (sigh) At least it doesn't get you burned at the stake any more – usually, anyway. Guess we should chalk that up as a small token of progress after 20 or 30 centuries of religon dominating the thoughts of Humankind.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  8. Peter Q Wolfe

    Okay, ethics are influencing factors ilregardless of anything that war is unecessary not manditory like most military officials think. Do we ever persuade anybody? Nope the rich exploit the poor to think in justified wars cause they beneffit the most from torturing people. Fundamentals of economics follow the money like the Iraq War. Simple right?

    August 4, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  9. blessedgeek

    I want to have Buddhist, Hindu, native American content in those Air Force ethics briefing. I want rabbinic dispensation too. And Islamic shariah too. Mormon and JW and seantology and taoist and kung foo and shaolin and yoga and flying spaghetti TOO.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • stormsun

      Do not take the Flying Spaghetti Monster's name in vain, nor in vein either. Pastafarians deserve respect as much as any other religious group. Precisely as much.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  10. AAA

    The only thing the bible and any holy book can mix up with is the fire they should burn in.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Gotta love you book burners.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • AAA

      If I remember correctly, it was just a little while ago that one of your pastors in Florida was about to burn Koran. Muslims burn bibbles, Christians burn Korans. Mel Gibson, the guy that talks directly to God fights with the jews. Where else can you find this much hate and discrimination? The founding fathers didn't build this nation to become a Chrstian nation, yet we have politicians in office that given the chance, they would mix their religion with all aspects of people's lives from their taxes, to what they eat and listen to. Sorta like the muslim countries in the middle east.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • BADGUY-

      As an ex-B52 pilot, WE never got religious justification for nuclear war. It was our duty to perform. Also, when your home base is incinerated along with your family, dropping the "Big One" becomes "no problem". Keep religion OUT of the military. Right wing retligions and right wing Republicans are now "one in the same". We don't allow politics in the military. Why should we allow religion?

      August 4, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"Christians burn Korans. "

      Umm ok, and blacks belong to gangs, whites belong to the klan. Males ra'pe women. All Hispanics are day laborers.....

      Now, do you hold the entire group to the actions of the few?

      August 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  11. Donald

    CNN would rather them read from the Koran.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Peter

      The opposite of the bible is not the koran, d*****s.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • JF

      So CNN was behind this? Those B@$tards.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Katie

      Fox News actually had a big story on this a couple of days ago. They made a far bigger deal out of it than CNN has been doing.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  12. The Lionly Lamb of God Does Roar

    Atheists and all manner of religiously devout people who serve in the USA's armed forces need to have a firm foothold in the reality of their duties especially if one is handling nukes. My being aware of the implications of any service man/woman being in charge of nuclear missles/bombs should be in the hands of level headed Atheists whose devotion to duty is recognized beyond any doubt by one's commanders. No offense to you of religion serving in any of the USA's Armed Forces.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • pugs

      A comment without any empirical backing whatsoever and making a logical gap in the idea that belief in religion will conflict with professional duties here. In other words another devout follower of the almighty opinion. If you truly believe in science use it to back up your claims =)

      August 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Peter

      Reply to pugs: Science does not require "belief."

      August 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      That's total BS. If we did not have competing labs and university think tanks all bleeding money off the national budget to prove or disprove things that we already know. There is tons of belief in Science, just a higher level of arrogance.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • blessedgeek

      The lamb of Gd is the human race, the chosen race.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • The Lionly Lamb of God Does Roar

      "My empirical backing" is based upon my Life of being around heavily emotionalized christians that have their Danged heads so full of idiodic pleasurabilities that I would feel more secure in a down to earth Atheist in their adolesent years serving in the armed forces holding the keys to nuclear genocide. It takes no rocket scientist to see how such religious devotees he-llbent for wanting the apocolyptic nightmare to come to fruition by their own want! We all know of Christendom's revelations for "His" returning to take His' up to the clouds to be reunited with their redeemer! What thought-out and seeing Christians do see is that this world may not End until the sun goes super nova or a galactic release of gamma rays strike this world laying waste to but half of the world!

      John Hagee has just now on Tv, spoke about the "atom" and said to his flock, 'Has science ever seen an atom?" He answered himself saying "No". I have photographic proof of science seeing what an atom looks like thanks to a Robert Oldershaw and his website regarding "Fractal Cosmology". All things are made of Atomic nebulas and our universe is only mimicking the atomic nebulas by establishing "stellar nebulas".

      August 4, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "John Hagee"

      You gotta be kidding. Tell me, do many of you Athiest just find one and then not search for other pastors and other churches?

      It is hilarious, it is the black guy that hates all white people and you ask him why..... "A life around racist teachers and the white guy that owned the store in the street and always thought that I was stealing"

      I mean of all the Christians. I mean you could have tried Olsteen, TD Jakes or Joyce Meyers....but you went with a guy that wakes up every morning as if the 4 Horsemen lived across the street from him.

      August 4, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  13. E.t.

    Wouldn't religion be the perfect teacher about nuclear war? Like nuclear war, religious war always hopes that the result will be nothing but M.A.D (Mutually Assured Destruction). In both events, both sides will do whatever they can to eliminate as many people on the other side as possible.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Peter

      Exactly. Look what religion did for 9/11. You need to believe in a magical sky spirit in order to be willing to destroy everything including yourself for a higher purpose.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      You might as well say that about many opposing groups. Red Sox vs Yankees, Ford vs Chevy, and we can even go into European Soccer where fans have been known to not to only beat up the other teams fans , they have even charged the field.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep, and folks have wiped out entire villages for grazing lands and access to water supply. DO we even need to open up examples of Blood Diamonds and Oil?

      That the terrorist used their interpretation of the Koranic text is nothing more than the evils of human kind. Folks will find and use any reason.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  14. hahahah

    Religion has absolutely nothing to say in rational discourse.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • The Lionly Lamb of God Does Roar

      @ hahahah,

      During adolesence 18 thru say 25, many Christianized devotees who are devoted without a true understanding in religious diversities around the world are yet without malice but just might have an out of mind experience due their devotions to God to inexplicably push the button or turn the key which just might end up starting WWW-3.

      My current rationalization and/or senses are keenly aware of what a religious "nut-case" could irrationally do all for the sakes of his/her God or Goddess that feeds their mind waves and/or mental Aberrations which they become acutely aware of.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  15. The Lionly Lamb of God Does Roar

    Atheists and all manner of religiously devout people who serve in the USA's armed forces need to have a firm foothold in the reality of their duties especially if one is handling nukes. My being aware of the implications of any service man/woman being in charge of nuclear missles/bombs should be in the hands of level headed Atheists whose devotion to duty is recognized beyond any doubt by one's commanders. No offense to you of religion serving in any of the USA's Armed Forces, but as a religiously devoted individual myself, I am sometimes going overboard in my Beliefs to where I tend to condemn and persecute those who belittle and put down others, be they Atheists or religious for I do not takes sides with such.

    @ ALL

    All I know about the Gospels gives me prudence to declare thusly that; "Our LORD and Redeemer of lost souls is Christ Jesus; the 1st Son of GOD who is the King of all the Gods and Goddesses within all the heavens of Heaven here upon and within this Earthly called world and even within our temples that are called bodies deep within the cellular structures of all things we call Life".

    August 4, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Tom

      So, when did you become a nutbar?

      August 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Edwardo

      Yes, your beliefs of invisible magical beings in the sky, is finally being dubbed as not just ridiculous, but ridiculously dangerous!

      August 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Peter

      Here we go.

      August 4, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • The Lionly Lamb of God Does Roar

      @ Edwardo & Tom,

      I admit I may come across as being one screw short but I am being medicated for my mind's sake. I do not believe in "magical" beings for I believe in Godly Beings of supreme powers and abilities living so very deeply within the bonds of all matter that we so dubiously call as Atoms. These atoms bear an uncanny resemblance to stellar nebulas in our night sky. The problem many people have (scientists) is which came first atomic mebulas or stellar nebulas? Our bodies are made up of these atomic nebulas and all matter is. Who's to say differently on my perceptions? I shall be but a lowly humane omnivore living out my Life doing what I do for the sake of just doing. It makes no difference to me how you see my perceptions. I am right and ya'll are delusional by default of not seeing what generates in one's inner vision that all people have. We use to call it "daydreaming" but we were told in school to quit it!

      August 4, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  16. cbr

    It is interesting that the AF chose to teach ethics through the Bible which the Christian religions use. Those who are not Christian are still expected to root their ethical decisions in the Christian Bible. That is not quite fair. Non-Christian religions do talk about ethics and behavior but based on their own perspective. That does not make it wrong nor does it meant that the Clergy should be teaching an ethics course just based on Christianity.

    Somehow we all need to respect all religions. The more we know the easier it is to make ethical decisions which can apply to all people/

    August 4, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  17. NoPunIntended

    God does not exist. It is a myth invented by some men for the purpose of controlling and subjugating other men. It's a myth designed to cause money to flow from the poor to the rich, from the weak to the strong, from the oppressed to the oppressors.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • jack

      money is the granddaddy of all myths used to control mankind. Money is an idea it can't feed or cloth you but you believe in money and it is so ..

      August 4, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  18. M. Carter

    The bible and politics and the bible and education don't mix either.
    Enough of the systemic, generational brain-washing.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  19. 21k

    by the way, which bible are they using. there are several, depending on the particular xtian business that you are a customer of.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  20. Au Jus Is Lord

    Served 10 years active duty Army, 5 years as a government contractor, and in my 5th year as a DoD civilian... I gotta say that, for the most part, people keep their religious beliefs and opinions (or the lack thereof, in my case) to themselves. No one really has any problem with religious items or material (or the lack thereof) in their personal areas. I'm very happy to say that in the entire time I've served in the federal government, there has NEVER been any training or doctrine that included anything religious at all. That's a good thing. It has no place in training or doctrine. That's what private meetings with chaplains are for. I'm all for anyone's freedom to practice the religion of their choice, but it has absolutely no place in combat training or military occupational specialty training. Great job, USAF. Excellent call!!!

    August 4, 2011 at 8:07 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.