On a Wing, But Not On a Prayer

Air Force Academy makes homage to God optional

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Carol Lawrence / U.S. Air Force / Reuters

A cloud of smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire rises from the south behind the Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel evacuation procedures in Colorado Springs, on June 27, 2012 photograph released on July 1, 2012.

While there may be no atheists in foxholes, the Air Force Academy has decided there will be no mandatory God in the heavens.

The academy — at 7,258 feet above sea level, the closest of all the nation’s military schools to God’s realm — has long had a reputation as the most Christian of the nation’s military learning institutions.

But the Colorado Springs, Colo., academy has decided to make the “so help me God” coda to its cadet oath optional after a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

The academy’s original honor code dates to 1959 and reads:

We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.

But it was modified following a 1984 cheating scandal to read:

We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.

The phrase “so help me God” was tacked on “to add more seriousness to the oath,” according to a former faculty member. Apparently, there was a subset of Air Force cadets who would cheat absent God as a wingman.

(The formal American embrace of religion in civic government is a fairly recent phenomenon: “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. “In God We Trust” became the nation’s official motto in 1956, replacing the de facto motto E pluribus unum, Latin for “Out of many, one.” In 1957, “In God We Trust” was added to U.S. paper currency. If one were to surmise that this spike in federal reverence were due to the nation’s Cold War with the godless Soviet Union, one would be, literally, right on the money.)

“Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, airmen and civilian airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference – or not,” academy superintendent Lieut. General Michelle D. Johnson, said in a statement. “So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.'”

Cadets take the oath at the end of their basic training, and annually thereafter before graduating as Air Force 2nd lieutenants after four years. Similar oaths at the Army’s West Point and Navy’s academy at Annapolis have no such religious component.

Opinions were mixed among posters over at the independent Air Force Times newspaper.

“About time,” poster Eric Taylor noted. “Pledging to some mythological being is so 2000 years ago.”

Not so fast, countered Paul Hartnagel. “I guarantee that when they flame out and start going to ground at mach 1,” he said, “they WILL be calling on God.”

54 comments
mikediamond
mikediamond

WHAT A SHAME,WHAT A DISGRACE WITHOUT GOD WE ARE A HOPELESS CASE,LOST IN TIME AND SPACE!!!!!!!!

Disadulation
Disadulation

Butthurt. Butthurt everywhere. Stfu everyone

Irony
Irony

Starting and ending this article with prejudice pretty much kills its respectability. I can excuse the later for being a quote, even if it is in very poor taste to put it at the end and leave it uncontested. The former however has no such excuse. It's a statement of flat-out bigotry and you should be ashamed to have written it.

TianChang
TianChang

There seems to be multiple issues being debated here. On the issue of the existence of God, perhaps we could do with listening to people who have spent more time pondering about such issues? 

John Lennox vs Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion Debate >> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t97VkSnDjg

On the issue of choice, however we venture forth in this debate, it would be boring to debate any worldview/philosophy by its abuse; Can we not find 1 example of practitioner failure in the every worldview, big and small today?

Fact of the matter is, some of Christianity's ugliest history occurred when Christ's teaching were institutionalized, and abused via state organs. If making the "God" part of an oath optional is about telling people you have a choice, you don't have to be a hypocrite if you don't believe: then let it be so. At least the people in charge took the complaint seriously.

But I wonder, what would have happened if America was founded by atheists on atheistic principles. Would they have recognized that humans have freedom of speech, rights, intrinsic value and most importantly, freedom to choose?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/world/asia/chinese-lawyers-chafe-at-new-oath-to-communist-party.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 

StephenDedalus
StephenDedalus

Not so fast, countered Paul Hartnagel. “I guarantee that when they flame out and start going to ground at mach 1,” he said, “they WILL be calling on God.”


Yes, well, the real test is if this mythical being actually DOES anything.

Nunyadambuziness
Nunyadambuziness

If adding "so help me god" was intended to make the oath more serious, then how about adding "so help me Spiderman"? That would make it serious beyond reproach.  Both are fictional characters.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

Atheist laid out in an open coffin at funeral -- all dressed up and no place to go.

alansky
alansky

The notion that one must be religious in order to be moral and ethical is insufferably ignorant. The Air Force Academy did the right thing! Now every court in the land should stop insisting that witnesses swear on the Bible before giving testimony.

AcidRed
AcidRed

Speaking from a purely logical viewpoint, if one was to believe in God and there was none, does it hurt to believe? Now, lets say you don't believe in God and there IS one, does it hurt NOT to believe? I wouldn't want to find out after it's too late that I was WRONG. It's an individual decision though so good luck with yours, I've made mine.

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

I never met an atheist who actually was an atheist ... just people who hate God and symbolically stick their middle fingers in His face by ignoring His existence.

ScottLong
ScottLong

The Oath of Enlistment (for enlisted):

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."  

this is the oath i took it should be no other way

TerryDilmore
TerryDilmore

I am Catholic, but I always felt the word God was universal to all religious people.  I was never aware that there was a religious sect that did not believe in a supreme being.  So, are we making the option only for atheists?  I guess I would be careful using the option because I served with military from other countries, (Aussies, Brits, French, Israelites and Turks) and I can say we all believed someone "up there" was watching over our six in a fire fight. 

MrObvious
MrObvious

I really don't care if there are religious people in the military or if we even have chaplains. 

But I do care when you have commanders that consider it a must for a soldier as suppose to something optional.

brenro12
brenro12

The chair force trying to pretend their military? Somebody's going to get a time out.

TheNaturalist
TheNaturalist

"While there may be no atheists in foxholes ..." 

What an insult to the service that non-christians in the armed forces have given to our country. As if only those who believe in "God" are true Americans. 

jmac
jmac

@Don_Bacon Say's who?   When did you decide that you were a God?

sangsue
sangsue

@alansky and let's be real, the Air Force doesn't mean G-d, they mean Jesus Christ. Jews have been left to die in situations by Christian Air Force members for a long time.

adminuser
adminuser

@alansky "death from above" 

WWJD? 

doubt he'd be flying a fighter jet or piloting a drone attack...

teviet
teviet

@AcidRed This is called Pascal's Wager, and it is flawed because it makes a number of unwarranted assumptions.

It assumes that God would reward such self-serving belief over sincere disbelief.  You don't know that; it could well be the opposite.

It assumes that God rewards His followers in the afterlife rather than punishing them.  You don't know that either; God could well be perverse or malevolent.

It assumes that choosing the wrong religion or sect is no worse than choosing none.  You don't know that.  In fact, in many religions (including, historically, Christianity) heresy is a greater crime than simple non-belief.

It assumes that the potential rewards of belief are infinite while the costs of belief are negligible.  Once again, you have no way of knowing this.  (This is a common error among lottery players: they consider only the potential outcome with no knowledge of its likelihood.)

And many more, but I don't want to be tl;dnr.

StephenDedalus
StephenDedalus

@AcidRed Let's also hope that you make the right choice. It would be a shame to find out that the Greeks were right all along and Zeus is waiting for you. Or Wotan. Or Osiris. Or Allah.


I, on the other hand, will face this deity without fear and claim that I made my choice, not out of fear (as you seem to have) but out of conviction. Moreover, I will place the blame firmly on him/her/them and demand to know, if belief is so important, why hide?

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@AcidRed Acid, I would love to agree with you, but you pose a question that may sound innocent, and isn't.  There is  a very real consequence to having such belief on the individual in the real world.  The thing that suffers in them the most is their rationality.

There is no objective difference between belief in a deity of any kind and a child's invisible friend.  If the belief is in an omnipotent deity or that the belief is the "only truth", the irrationality is compounded.  Just the belief in things that requires faith alone to exist impacts an individual's ability to discern what is real and what isn't.  Once they begin to believe in such things, their ties with reality begin to erode, and that impacts both their behavior and their judgement.

Case in point, scam artists target places of worship because if one simply ACTS like they believe in the same flavor of invisible friend, they are MORE trusted by the congregation just because of that alone - which is patently irrational.  You don't trust someone based on their professed beliefs.  Trust is earned over time - something a scam artists is unlikely to earn had they approached their targets without that commonality.  A scam artist emulating common interests (other than beliefs) is much harder because that requires real knowledge or competence that others can more easily evaluate.  It takes more work to fake out someone if there is only one minor interest in common.  Beliefs in religion have a life-wide, world-altering impact on a person as opposed to most hobbies.  And it's easy to fake if one just knows the "rules", which they can learn by simply watching and listening.

There are thousands of subtle ways in which "faith" impacts one's ability to reason - and that's even if it's kept to one's self, which it virtually never is.  Once you introduce others to reenforce the belief, their realities are further altered, thus negatively impacting their ability to appropriately interact with it or evaluate it in terms that others can better relate to.  Such as faith healing, snake dancing, promoting their beliefs politically as civil law, etc.  The worst impact (IMHO) is how proven facts are rejected when they don't fit the belief, and how that belief invents "facts" to support it that aren't facts or have no actual relationship with the conclusion.

Another example is in the argument, "The world exists".  That's a fact.  Another observation made by the faithful, "It had to have been made", but that's not necessarily true.  It did come into existence, obviously, but how isn't immediately apparent and takes knowledge and study to understand how (and why that how is what the evidence says happened).  The supposition "Someone must have made it" is made, but that's an erroneous implication and is not a fact because it's not provable.  The conclusion "God made it because it says so in the Bible" isn't supported by any of the chain of logic that led to that conclusion, and it rejects other, more likely explanations for the existence of the Earth.  The reason that happens is because there is no suggestion anywhere that other possibilities exist.  The "evidence" and "logic" are manipulated to support the conclusion rather than having the conclusion be based entirely on the evidence.  This was done with "intelligent design", stopping at a point to make a predefined, desired conclusion rather than continuing to explore possibilities and facts - which is what other biochemists did to disprove the idea of ID.

That's irrational because manipulating the facts or stopping and not entertaining other possibilities is something anyone can do to "prove" anything, and none of it will necessarily be factual and/or real.

Yes, belief is a "right", but it's also a choice.  Given it's impact, it's a choice between being rational and being irrational, irrespective of which one you choose.  This isn't a new observation, either.  Ben Franklin said, "To see by faith, one must shut the eye of reason."

So, yes, belief that impossible or mythological things are real without any substantiating proof ALONE is bad for ya.   In the end, it does do harm, not only to the believer, but to everyone around them.   It's only a matter of degrees as to how bad that harm is.

alansky
alansky

@AcidRed I say believe anything you want, just keep it to yourself.

theskepticplatano
theskepticplatano

Which god? (there are nearly three thousands)...and they are all jealows. It would hurt to believe in the wrong god. Statisticly speaking, chances are you and I will meet in the hell of at least one of the other thousands of religions.

1979mlsb
1979mlsb

@AcidRed When your believing in good is personal, good. But, being this an institution, then nope.

And it doesn't hurt to believe, it hurts when such beliefs are taken by organizations that end doing more harm than good.

JeanLudvigsenBinder
JeanLudvigsenBinder

@mary.waterton  Dear contrary mary, can you not conceive of individuals who simply do not have the capacity or desire to deal with a god of any sort?   I know some athiest too and they are not bad people beyond our common flaw, nor do they imagine a god they hate, nor feel like they are willfully ignoring his/her/its existence.  I believe in the triune-in-One God of the Christian Bible and feel in communication with the Holy Spirit aspect all the time.  I consider and live as if this were a gift, and cannot know when, or if my atheist friends may have a similar experience. Who knows? They may. God is good.

theskepticplatano
theskepticplatano

Nice to meet you mary. I do not hate God anymore than you hate Cruela de Ville.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@ScottLong I took the same oath.  I didn't say the last four words.  God isn't going to make me a better serviceman.  He isn't going to help me.  He isn't going to hurt me.  Things that don't exist won't help or hurt, unless you think they're real.  That's when the problems start.

Case in point: while some of my buddies where praying and asking God to save them, cowering behind a log that was getting chewed to pieces by two machine gunners at about 200-300 yards, I told them they were idiots, took one of their M-16's and shot the machine gunners who had us pinned down. I then decked the religious buddy who said "I was God's instrument" and went to change my pants and throw up.

I was a medic.  Killing people wasn't my job.

Now, supposing your God is real, I could just blame him for making me violate the sixth commandment (And why is that the SIXTH one?  Seems to me it should be the first one.).  After all, everything is according to God's plan, right?  That means God made me do something that will make me have to go to hell for killing four men.  In effect, he used me, who supposedly has a choice to be "saved", and took that choice away by "making me" do something that would send me to hell because it was all part of the plan from the beginning.  So much for choice.

The really delusional part is how I could have my "sins" washed away and enter into the "kingdom of God" just by asking.  I mean, wow...  Talk about a total lack of consistency. He says that you can't do any of those ten commandment things or you suffer for it, then he goes around saying, "Well, if you ask nicely for forgiveness, it's okay to slaughter your fellow man."  The sixth commandment should have come with footnotes and exceptions because stories are all over the place in the same book of myths about how righteous and godly men slaughtered "God's enemies".

Good thing I don't believe in that nonsense.

Instead, I sucked it up, accepted the fact I'd rather not have seen my squad-mates killed and killed the ones who were trying to kill us.  I have no fear of death, myself.  It's going to happen, and because I still have a lot I want to do, I'd rather it be after I get my stuff done than before, and I'm not exactly eager for it - yet.  But why fear what we can't stop?

So their belief in your god gave those allegedly trained soldiers an excuse to cower under heavy fire instead of DOING SOMETHING to save their lives.  He didn't help them.  He didn't hurt them.  it was their belief in the nonexistent that did that to them.  And if the one non-believer in the group hadn't gotten fed up with them, they'd be dead today.

Watch  "The Longest Day" sometime and see how godly and righteous men in the Axis and Allied sides both said the exact same thing: "Sometimes, I wonder just which side God is on".  The simplest explanation is he doesn't exist to be on either side - but for you , if you killed in your service to the country, you're going to hell.

Them's the rules your God made.  Caveats and exceptions only invite anarchy and hypocrisy - both of which are rampant in the religious world.

So, take it out.  A vow is a vow whether it's ended with promises to nonexistent powers or not.  

And you can read my other posts about how religion makes you clinically delusional.

teviet
teviet

@TerryDilmore Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and (by some interpretations) Hinduism are monotheistic.  Many other religions, such as Taoism, Shinto, Animism, Neopaganism, and so on, are polytheistic.  Buddhism is nominally non-theistic but gets merged into local polytheistic religions, so it is often polytheistic in practice.  The small sampling that you gave of Australians, British, French, (predominantly Christian,) Isrealites, (predominantly Jewish,) and Turks (predominantly Muslim) are hardly a broad sampling of world religions, and even within those nations there will be many who do not practice the dominant religion.

So no, the option is not only for atheists.  And even if it were, it's beside the point.  Religion is not necessary to function as an airman; therefore it should not be imposed as a requirement.

Channah
Channah

@TerryDilmore I see nothing wrong with taking it out.  It seems that in America, most people think of God and put Jesus in there as who they are referring to.  There are many religions besides Christianity-------Jewish, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, Mormon, etc., and yet it is Jesus that stands out because of the number of Christians in this country.  If you can really include ALL religions, I see no problem.  But, that is not the way it stands.

Channah
Channah

@TheNaturalist There is a God, or something that is bigger than us all--------------it does not have to always refer to the Christian God.  And, that is what it always seems to refer to.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@TheNaturalist 

The phrase is not the writer's; it has been common for a long time, implying that in times of stress such as war, all turn to god for support.  Just so you know what the author meant, not that you are wrong.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@jmac @Don_Bacon It's not a thing you decide, jmac, it's not a lifestyle choice, it's just something you are.

AcidRed
AcidRed

@1979mlsb @AcidRed I concur, hence "cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God." is appropriate.

Hypocrites of an individual or organizational basis will be judged in this world and if you believe, the next as such. 

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@JeanLudvigsenBinder @mary.waterton This is why religion is bad for you.  "... can you not conceive of individuals who simply do not have the CAPACITY or desire to deal with a god of any sort?"

That utterly unfounded sense of superiority sets you apart from everyone else who doesn't, in your eyes believe, in your flavor of myth.  That "apartness"  creates completely made up "differences" between you.  Despite what your religion teaches, they are "different" from you, despite the objective fact they are the same.

Human nature then takes over.

Anything that is "different" is automatically suspected.  That suspicion leads to fear and at the risk of sounding like Yoda, fear leads to hate.  Hate makes people do bad things to other people - all because of a superstitious belief that has no foundation, proof or need in the universe.

Not to mention the personal impact it has on you.  You don't see the world as it is.  You see it as you believe it to be.  That minor-seeming difference is what puts myth into science and causes people to strap bombs to themselves and kill other people.  Once one's reality is so distorted that irrational beliefs are the only things accepted and all other things are rejected, that delusional state makes people think things that are not only patently untrue, but make them refuse to accept things that are demonstrably true.

Just by saying what you said, you're not keeping it to yourself, and that spreading of the delusion is only half the problem.

You certainly have the right to believe as you want, but it's a choice between reality and irrationality.  And while you say "can you not conceive of individuals who simply do not have the capacity or desire to deal with a god of any sort", I say that there are too many people who can't deal with life as it IS and have to pretend otherwise to get through it.  It takes a lot more "capacity" to live life free of delusion than to wrap a comforting illusion of condescending self-righteousness around one's self, and set off confidently on a path that does not exist and usually does more to hurt people than help them along the way.

Reason and reality is right here whether you accept it or not.  It doesn't care.  It's indifferent to you and me.  But if you can't see it, can't accept it as it is, you're less likely to get through it in a way that's beneficial to you and others.  The question is often asked of the faithful, "Why do the good die young?"  It's because they're so busy inventing false dangers and following pointless rules, they don't see the real dangers and ignore the things that could otherwise have alerted them to the problem.

It's your decision.  Choose wisely.

rickstarr11
rickstarr11

@TanmayLololAnaisPradhan @mary.waterton Shove my beliefs down everyone's throats? There's a church on every street corner. Religionists want to force everyone to pray in school. They take over football games with an opening prayer, and get mad if I don't bow my head and mouth their magic words. They put bibles in my hotel rooms and crosses along the roadways. What is it that atheists do to "shove it down your throat" except ask you to stop shoving your religion everywhere at me?

TanmayLololAnaisPradhan
TanmayLololAnaisPradhan

@ScottLong Its not like an atheist who says that, would suddenly start believing in God, because you forced him to take your stupid oath.

teviet
teviet

@Channah @TheNaturalist Sure there are bigger things, doesn't mean that it's appropriate to swear by them.  Crustal plates are awfully big; would it be meaningful to say "I will live honorably, so help me crustal plate!"

Irony
Irony

@formerlyjames @TheNaturalist Just because the phrase is common does not make it any less bigoted. If "There are no Jews working soup kitchens" was a common phrase and this article had used it, would you similarly jump to it's defense?

theskepticplatano
theskepticplatano

To open the article using that frase puts an undertone to it, which becomes even more apparent at the end - "Not so fast, countered Paul Hartnagel. “I guarantee that when they flame out and start going to ground at mach 1,” he said, “they WILL be calling on God.”

The frase is untrue that has been disproven by the very testimony of many service men/women who have admited they were atheists and remain atheists during tense moments in battle. Others went to war believers and returned atheists.

http://i.imgur.com/qZQDWZ0.jpg

TheNaturalist
TheNaturalist

@formerlyjames @TheNaturalist Yes, I understand this phrase is still in common usage. The point I'm making is that it needs to be recognized for the bigotry it is. There have been plenty of phrases in the past in involving blacks, women gays etc. that have fallen into disuse for good reason. This phrase is one that needs to go the same way.

jmac
jmac

@Don_Bacon @jmac You clearly sound like your deciding that the dead that are atheist have no place to go. 

Perhaps they will have the chosen seat at whatever table you think you're going to.    Maybe.   Just maybe.   You don't know.  You're not a God. 

JeanLudvigsenBinder
JeanLudvigsenBinder

@TanmayLololAnaisPradhan @ScottLong   Agree, nor should we think atheists cannot serve as ethically or morally as any other soldier.  There was a time when being a soldier was considered not a fit occupation for a Christian. Nor would it have seemed to make sense,in a hierarchical way, to ask God to help one serve acccording to a political or military code.  Not saying the faithful cannot be good soldiers, of course they can, it is just that the vocation is not / necessarily / a faithful life-style.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@Irony @formerlyjames @TheNaturalist 

I wasn't defending the phrase, as I believe like you that it is mindless.  I was just clarifying that the author didn't invent the phrase, however he may have disingenuously inserted it.  Most of all, I think the prevalence of religious zealots at the AFA is alarming, unconstitutional, treasonous,  and should be routed out.

teviet
teviet

@theskepticplatano Yeah, by bookending the article with a pair of bigoted statements, the whole tone of the article is smugly chauvinistic.

I mean, the USAF is predominantly White (73%).  Suppose the oath were to finish with "... so help me by the power of the White Race."  Once somebody pointed out how offensive that is to other races, they might, as a concession, make that part of the oath optional: Whites could continue to use it while others could omit it.

Then everyone would be satisfied, right?