Despite famously, spectacularly and cravenly throwing his long-time pastor under the bus during the 2008 Democratic primary, Barack Obama has failed to steer our country back to its founding principle of the strict separation between church and state. Because George W. Bush relied heavily on radical Christian fundamentalists to be elected, it was not surprising when he followed through on a campaign promise and established an office of faith-based initiatives.
Obama, however, has continued the office, with only minor changes to the window dressing. Furthermore, despite public attention on The Family and its nefarious activities, Obama defied calls to stay away and still spoke last year to the National Prayer Breakfast, which is organized by the same group.
Although the US is not yet to the point that politicians will be killed because they are viewed as likely to weaken a blasphemy law or there are mass killings based on religious differences, how far away are those days now that the military sees the need for extra “counseling” for soldiers who are atheists, when a House Committee Chair plans hearings on the “radicalization” of a faith he differs with, and some cadets at the Air Force Academy replied in a survey that they “felt in fear” since they were not Christian fundamentalists? Integration of radical Christian fundamentalist (or any other religion’s) views into the US government and military is a huge danger to our country and to the world, and yet Obama seems just as fearful of attacking this problem as he is in the other political battles in which he has capitulated.
Here is how Jason Leopold broke the story this week on the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) test which refers soldiers for counseling if they fail to meet the standard of “spiritual fitness”:
An experimental, Army mental-health, fitness initiative designed by the same psychologist whose work heavily influenced the psychological aspects of the Bush administration’s torture program is under fire by civil rights groups and hundreds of active-duty soldiers. They say it unconstitutionally requires enlistees to believe in God or a “higher power” in order to be deemed “spiritually fit” to serve in the Army.
CSF is comprised of the Soldier Fitness Tracker and Global Assessment Tool, which measures soldiers’ “resilience” in five core areas: emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual. Soldiers fill out an online survey made up of more than 100 questions, and if the results fall into a red area, they are required to participate in remedial courses in a classroom or online setting to strengthen their resilience in the disciplines in which they received low scores. The test is administered every two years. More than 800,000 Army soldiers have taken it thus far.
Despite the claims that the “spiritual fitness” measured is not religious, Leopold even found the illustration above for the program, showing a group of soldiers joining hands in a circle to pray beneath a heading of “spiritual”.
That disturbing level of pressure on religious conformism begins early in the training for some military personnel. In a report that the Air Force Academy tried to hide, it was found that many cadets are subjected to severe pressures if they do not conform to the majority Christian fundamentalism that is rampant at the Academy:
The results showed that 141 cadets have been subjected to unwanted proselytizing more than once; 212 had been approached once or twice; and 23 cadets “felt in fear” because of their religious beliefs.
Sadly, Representative Peter King chose merely to attack the messenger when the folly of his planned hearings on the “radicalization” of US Muslims was exposed in the New York Times:
“I’m certainly not going to take any political advice or direction from The New York Times,” King told The Hill. “I have more contempt for The New York Times than anything or anyone I can think of.”
How can King not see the absurdity of his position? He has been one of the leading critics of those who would hold actual judicial trials for Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo who have been subjected to torture or arrested based on false information obtained under torture. Yet, he is holding the hearings on Muslim radicalization because he is upset that an imam would advise his congregants not to talk to a government that has jailed and tortured Muslims based on false information. King is emblematic of how US policy that is increasingly fueled by Christian fundamentalism radicalizes Muslims. His hearings will only add to the problem and provide additional fuel for further radicalization.
It is not yet too late for Obama to end this dangerous movement toward the establishment of Christian fundamentalism as the US religion. He could start by ending the “spiritual fitness” evaluation requirement for deployment and by removing administrators at the Air Force Academy who have nurtured an environment where those who are not Christian fundamentalists fear persecution. He could stay away from this year’s National Prayer breakfast, which appears to be scheduled for February 3. He would score bonus points in this regard by citing Matthew 6:6-7 back to the organizers:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
If Obama continues to avoid confrontation with this trend, it won’t be long before radicalized Republican fundamentalists, who already campaign on claims that the US is a “(Judeo-)Christian nation”, amend the Constitution to allow establishment of a US religion. How long after such an establishment would it take to get our first blasphemy law? Or is the Oklahoma initiative banning Sharia law a type of blasphemy law already established in the US?