In August 1942 United States Marines landed on Guadalcanal Island to evict Japanese forces, which had invaded a few weeks previous to set up the island as an air base and military strong point. Combat operations lasted six months and eventually involved additional Army troops before Japanese forces withdrew. It was the Marines’ first major test of arms in World War 2, and the battle has become incorporated into the Marines’ proud history.
I have learned recently that the Marine Corps now faces an even greater danger, the nature of which is surprising in view of their past valor. That danger is lack of faith.
The U.S. military has a problem with atheists
By Dana Liebelson | The Week
Apparently, the Marine Corps thinks a “lack or loss of spiritual faith” could be dangerous
When an active-duty Marine was given a Marine Corps training document describing “potential risk indicators” commanders should look for to prevent loss of life among service members, he found one checkbox that didn’t seem to fit. Among warning signs like substance abuse and prior suicide attempts was “lack or loss of spiritual faith.”
I think I have that right. A sign of weakness in a Marine is not believing in the supernatural. That’s enough to give me pause. I hope the next box does not read “does not believe in UFOs.” God help us.
The Marine in question contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which I think is rather odd. I thought that if anything would be a military religious freedom foundation it would be the United States Marine Corps. After all, wasn’t that one of the freedoms Marines landed on Guadalcanal to protect?
The military has defended its faith-based policy:
Advocates for the policy say the military is simply doing everything it can to promote emotional well-being among troops, especially in the face of its growing suicide epidemic. (Last year, the U.S. military saw more active duty soldiers commit suicide than die in combat — 48 of them Marines.)
I served, not in the Marines, but in the Navy Reserve, and I fondly recall religious indoctrination in boot training:
This is hardly the first time the military has tried to govern the religion of its service members. Until 1972, each U.S. service academy required soldiers to attend weekly religious services — and only Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish worship services were available, according to Blake Page, special assistant to the president of MRFF. Until 2011, the Army required soldiers to take a survey that measured “spiritual fitness,” and soldiers who failed were told “improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.”
We were marched to chapel every Sunday morning and sometimes discussed spiritual concepts with the Navy chaplain. He was a nice enough person, but there were a few of us uneasy with his overt religiosity. For some reason, one of my fellow trainees was embolden to raise serious questions about religion and was threatened with military discipline if he persisted. And that was the point at which all enthusiasm for government sponsored religion evaporated.
Leibelson’s account includes the tale of Marine Paul Loebe, an atheist, who went to a chaplain for counseling. Right away that thought sets off alarm bells. You’re an atheist, and you expect to get counseling from a chaplain? Anyhow, the chaplain wanted to end every counseling session with a prayer. Loebe recounts, “It made the whole situation very uncomfortable, especially when I had a very serious problem to deal with.” Hopefully Mr. Loebe has learned something from this encounter.
This issue became political, as expected:
Last month, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) tried and failed to amend the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act so that non-theist chaplains can be part of the military — a proposal that drew fierce opposition from some Republicans. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) told The Huffington Post, “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.'”
Worm food? Where do these people get this stuff? Regarding having a chaplain accompany a notification team, how can the military ever get this right? When I signed up more than half a century ago I went through an induction process and finished up at a place with an Addressograph machine. They were going to make me a set of dog tags, those ID tags that military types wear constantly for identification in case something untoward happens to them. The tags are made of stainless steel so the body can be identified even after an intense fire or submersion in salt water for a period of several decades. They gave me a number, which I have memorized and carried with me ever since. They also noted my blood type, you know, just in case. They also wanted an additional piece of information. I chose PROT, for Protestant. What else?
Now, just supposing, if the day came that I slipped and hit my noggin while swabbing the captain’s stateroom deck, then a sad procession would appear at my parent’s door in far off Granbury, Texas. Along would be a Navy chaplain, of the appropriate denomination (see the tag). Does anybody see a problem with this besides me?
I told them PROT, and that’s what’s on the tag. But what if my parents were not PROT, but CATH. Or even JEW. Or maybe BUDD or MUSL? Imagine the embarrassment. Yes, I am so glad I never slipped and hit my noggin, for this and other reasons.
And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.