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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. William Demuth

    Judge the religion and not the people. Anyone who looks at the tragedies committed by people who claim to be "Christian" and then accuses the religion of evil is an ignorant troll.

    I'm a perfect example because I do exactly that while claiming to be intellectually superior to every believer.

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

      That's all I ever try to do...judge the religion for being the scam it is and do my best to rescue as many people from that corporation that I can.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • come on man

      @ QS
      What corporation are you talking about? How do you define what a religion is? If you really think about it there is no such thing as having no religion! There will never be the eradication of religion just the introduction of another one!

      August 4, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • john

      this article is about the forces using religion to justify war. not religion in general

      August 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • William Demuth

      come on man

      One example of the corporation the is God is the RCC.

      Budgeted 68 million in payouts to buggery victims this year alone!.

      Keep puting money in the plate, they are gonna need more Altar boys!

      August 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  2. bg in oregon

    How did imaginary friends become so important.....sigh.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  3. martinipaul

    They probably tried to get an atheist to teach this course but they found that atheists don't have any ethics.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Euripides

      Ethics is a branch of philosophy. Ethics does not require religion to be understood.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Buck Turgidson (Ret)

      Warren Jeffs had religion, therefore he had ethics. Is that what you're suggesting?

      August 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Mark

      As an atheist, I believe the ethical values inside the bible were written by man. Which means ethics are derived from societal values rather than a divine source. Which makes sense, when you consider the old testament is a lot more "fire and brimstone" than the message of love in the new testament.

      What I really don't get is the blanket judgement that since we don't believe in a man in the sky, that means we have no ethics. Did we not have parents either, to teach us right from wrong? Do we not have teachers who correct us when we misbehave in school? Do we not learn from experience, that treating people nicely has better results than treating them poorly?

      August 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Mark

      The "christian" viewpoint is that dropping nukes are justified. And you're accusing ATHEISTS of not having ethics???

      August 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Roger in Florida

      Yeah since they are constantly in the news for child molestation. here is your sign. People like you is what is wrong with America anymore. Take your god and shove him sideways.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • lauradet

      Sure we do!

      August 4, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Danny

      Oh yeah! It's a good thing the religious have the bible telling them what to do! Otherwise they wouldn't know right from wrong!

      August 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Magic

      Mark,

      Yes. We have natural consequences to work with. There is not one shred of evidence for supernatural consequences.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • SB

      Atheists don't lack ethics any more than Bible thumpers have a corner on the ethics market. Thanks for sharing your ignorance with everyone here.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  4. MrBo

    And they say religious fanatics are only Muslim...

    August 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  5. Bugs

    Men and women charged with launching nuclear weapons against civilian populations must have some sort of buffer between that reality and their social instincts. You definitely don't want someone in that job who can't "push the button" when required because they feel guilty. On the other hand, you don't want sociopaths who feel nothing. I'm not sure using chaplains and the Bible to help these people work out their moral issues is the right approach, though. I would think that veterans – men and women who have stood that watch and survived with their sanity and morality intact – would make better teachers. Someone who's been there can say "this is how I got through it and this is how I justified it to myself." Outsiders – chaplains, psychologists, politicians, etc. – can't really provide any useful advice.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Actually Bugs if EVERYONE refused to do immoral stuff regardless of orders the world would be a better place.

      Remember Nuremberg? Orders are no excuse, and you WILL be hung if you commit crimes against humanity (unless your last name is Bush)

      August 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  6. Al

    As Seneca noted, "Religion is considered by the commoner as true, by the wise as false, and to the rulers useful.
    The Military has a long history of using religion as a tool; what better motivator is there than fighting on the side of everything good and Godly against evil and Satan? Funny thing is that the solders on both sides always think they are on the side of God and the other side is evil.
    The thing that bothered me most in the article is about airmen dealing with nuclear weapons having to make hard decisions. Wouldn't any decisions about using nuclear weapons be above their pay grade?

    August 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Chris R

      The goal of a course like this is to make sure that missile officers feel that launching a nuke to kill thousands of people is ethically justifiable. Since humans are still in the launch process it's important that they can be relied on to carry out the launch orders if they are given. The fact that they were using Christianity to justify killing is repulsive to me as it is contrary to the most fundamental teachings of Jesus.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  7. Mark

    I thought Jesus's message was one of love and non-violence. He calls on us to "turn the other cheek".

    Seeing people twist the bible's message to justify their own viewpoints was the reason I became atheist in the first place.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Bilbo

      You're correct..that was his message....but why base your decision on other fallible men like yourself. It's a bad excuse. People will always fail...using bad examples is not a reason to ignore what is in plain sight. There exists no plausible reason for our existance by human science. All we can do is build with what's here. We have no explanation for how it got here. All a person can do is tell you something came from something else. No one can tell you how something came from nothing.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • DC from NJ

      I guess you forgot about the parts in the Bible that encourage "God's people" to stone to death those who use the Lord's name in vain, commit adultery, etc., etc. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. With all due respect, I think that you are also selectively picking parts of the Bible to justify your own opinions. The answer, of course, is to use your own brain and your own common sense and forget about mythical gods and holy books.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So you stopped being a Christian because you didn't like how some fake people twisted it's message? That means you can't believe in anything then because there's always people twisting a message to fit their own agenda. All human are inherently selfish which is precisely why Christianity says we need God.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Ryan

      I'm a devout Christian, but I agree with you Mark. He did teach on wars and that he "came to bring a sword" but it's not in the literal sense that most people understand it. It hurts those of us who are Christians to see the scripture we hold so dearly taken and used for war, marketing, and selfish ambitions that it was never intended for. It truly does dishonor the Gospel.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • William Demuth

      William Demuth

      No me, he stopped being Christian because he didn't want to be buggered by a priest

      Why are you still one?

      August 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  8. GSA

    @luvgeneralizations – it may be a few individuals today but these types of ppl are becoming more prevalent in North America and it's good to be pro-active instead of having these incidents increase and these groups grow in size and power.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  9. God

    Great. Nukes in the hands of religious zealots. Send in the SEALS

    August 4, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  10. Religion_Causes_Wars

    Sadly religion is a major cause of war. One only troll through churches in some states to understand why. There are enough fire & brimstone preachers linking religious beliefs to notions of war.

    Ordinary, moderate, rational people are the protectors of this planet. If you find an extremist of any political stripe call them out in public and put them on the wall of shame until they change their ways.

    Be vigilant!

    August 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • rAUL

      Obama is an extremist. Do you call him and his terrorist buddy friends out for their beliefs?

      August 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • SB

      Bush and his religious fanatic buddies have caused far more problems.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  11. Tony

    Dub asked God's blessing before he gave the go on Iraq. He prayed in the Rose Garden. Couldn't make it to Gethsemane.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  12. mojbates01

    This problem seems endemic in the Air Force. A mere glance at all of the Christian fundamentalist pressure against the Air Force Academy's non-Christian fundamentalist cadets is appalling. It's demeaning to think that our military members can only understand a complex moral issue through one lens.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • William Demuth

      General Goering at the helm I am sure

      August 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • SB

      I don't think it's any coincidence that the Air Force Academy and Focus on the Family are both located in Colorado Springs.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  13. luvGeneralizations...

    Wow, can some of these comments overgeneralize a little more? This is not some overwhelming conspiracy by the Air Force or by "Christians" en masse, it is one individual who did a crappy job putting together a powerpoint because he apparently didn't get the point of a seminar, and some lazy or misguided supervisors who either didn't QA his powerpoint or somehow in this day and age didn't see an issue with it (and believe me, chaplains who are doing their job per their training in the AF would see and understand the issue with a briefing like this). And kudos to you, CNN, for another wonder of generalization – yes, the seminar has been conducted for 20 years, that doesn't mean this briefing was the content of that seminar for 20 years. Ethics conversations happen in the AF all the time, and this is the first time I've seen one this insanely burdened with Christian ideology and Biblical reference.

    And for those who don't "get" why the chaplains were leading this discussion...a) Chaplain does not imply Christian – imams and rabbis in the AF are also chaplains and b) communications with chaplains are the ONLY protected communications we have in the AF, so if they want these guys to honestly express themselves and discuss the ethics of their chosen field, you can't really have everything you think reportable back to the boss now, can you?

    August 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • AC

      Wouldn't it make more sense then to have an ethicist or a philosopher in there?

      August 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  14. Tony

    Oh no! Our Armed Forces are no longer going to seek God's advice? What about the weekly prayer breakfasts in the Pentagon for the heavy hitters? A paradigm shift? Probably not.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  15. nate

    Ultimate doomsday machine? I mean, its a hell of a doomsday machine... but ULTIMATE?

    I'm sure I can come up with much nastier doomsday machines. Like the tanks that use babies for fuel and shoot nuclear weapons. THATS the ultimate doomsday machine.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  16. Blake

    A missile launch officer is being told that war is a good thing? What idiot thought that up?

    The most important thing a missile launch officer would need, especially when ordered to push the button, is to have a very clear understanding of the chain of command required for missile launch operations, and to have been trained on how the President and the military commanders involved would have come to such a decision so they could have faith that the action they are being ordered to take was the very last resort. It is unreasonable to be expected to explain the specific justification for a nuclear missile launch, especially since the time frame for such a decision is going to be very short. What is not unreasonable is that officers who must push the button know and trust what they are doing.

    And that doesn't require a leap of faith...it requires education and training.

    As my son would say – this was an Epic Fail!!!

    August 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  17. League of Kevin

    I. Love. The. IQ's. On. This. Board!

    August 4, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  18. Pete Beck

    As I understand, some of those complaining were mainstream Christians like Catholics, Presbyterians and Methodists. They are not and never have been the problem. Non-denominational Christian fundamentalists, sometimes referred to as Christian Zionists are the very real problem. Unlike mainstream Christianity, these folks who think the earth is 6,000 years old do not accept a separation of church and state. Because of that, these sects should have their tax-exempt status revoked.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • William Demuth

      We know we are toast if the Catholics are the most reasonable zealots in the room.

      August 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Henry

      @Pete Beck

      I completely agree with you. I find that the mainstream Christians which would also include the Lutherans and Episcopalians, and the ones you mention, are the sane ones. I have lost all trust in the other, fundamentalist, Christians. As far as I am concerned they are not Christians at all. They are people driven by fear of what God is going to do to them if they don't toe the line. You never hear them talking about what they can do for their neighbor; their only hope is that they stay in good with God and Jesus. If this means throwing their fellow man under the bus, so be it. Disgusting bunch.

      August 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  19. Fred

    All religion is dumb

    August 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • yuppers

      as are you

      August 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  20. JackTRipper

    We must be vigilant to protect...our precious fluids!

    August 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Tony

      Precious body fluids.

      August 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • hecep

      POE, don't you know.

      August 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Buck Turgidson (Ret)

      Mr. President, we must not allow a religious insanity gap!

      August 4, 2011 at 3:03 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.