This is Lee Carter speaking for Atheists United. On May 18, 1985, The Los Angeles
Times
published a letter from Admiral James D. Watkins, Chief of U.S. Naval
Operations. The admiral was quoting from a speech he recently delivered at a
military prayer breakfast in San Antonio, Texas. And the text of his speech, and
subsequent letter to The Times, was another article which had appeared in The
Times, questioning whether it was appropriate for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be
conducting prayer meetings as part of their official duties. The admiral was incensed
that anyone should question the propriety of spending taxpayer money on private
religious services.

The question we would like to raise at this point is what the head of the U.S. Navy is
doing delivering a sermon at a sectarian religious service in the first place? As a
private citizen, of course, he has the right to believe anything he wants, but when he
speaks to a group of military subordinates, as head of the Navy, then the implication
is that he is speaking for the U.S. Government. And that is a clear violation of the
constitution. He rationalizes his actions by quoting some of the founding fathers’ use
of the terms "Creator" and "Nature's God." But then he proceeds to change the
meaning of these words from their original deistic implications to his narrower
Christian interpretation. I think we can pretty safely assume that when the admiral
talks about the importance of "religion" he is not referring to Buddhists, Hindus or
Moslems.

The admiral says that the founding fathers "knew that without a strong belief in God
there could be no virtue, and no dreams. They knew that without God there was no
hope, and democracy could not long endure."

This is one of the favorite tricks of right-wingers. They attempt to scrap The
Constitution by re-writing its history, thus implying that it doesn't really mean what it
says. In fact, there was even more pressure to make this a "Christian nation" at the
time of its founding than there is now. But, fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and the
insertion of the meaningless term "Creator" was a compromise for the more specific
"God of the Bible." Having lived under various theocracies all their lives, the majority
realized that government in the hands of religion is the basic cause of evil, not virtue.
And it's in the hands of religion that democracy cannot survive. The Christian religion
is based on monarchy, not democracy; and in a theocracy, open debate is called
"heresy." So the only specific references to religion in The Constitution are in Article
Six and the First Amendment, both of which
prohibit the entanglement of government
and religion.

The reverend admiral continues, "In the 1960s and 70s, however, we as a nation
attempted to exile God from our lives. Questions asked during that time were more
like, 'What's in it for me?' rather than, 'How will this help my family, or my community
or my nation?' Materialism replaced basic values of care and concern for our
national, moral and spiritual welfare."

It's true that the "god" concept was widely rejected. But to call that era materialistic is
double-speak. The hippie generation was
excoriated precisely because they
rejected the materialistic values of the establishment, preferring to live in poverty
rather than participate in what they considered to be an immoral system. Many of
them sacrificed their lives and careers to advance the civil rights of minorities and to
stop what they considered to be an immoral war. Most college graduates of that time
were majoring in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. And the majority declared
that their ambition was to devote their lives to helping others. Today, on the other
hand, during a revival of fundamentalist religion, the majority are majoring in
business administration, and their stated goals are only to make as much money as
possible. So I'm afraid the admiral is perceiving history only as he would
like for it to
have been.

But he continues, "What we paid for this period of hedonism was a loss of moral
spirit and strength, and loss of Free World leadership."

Now, whether the United States has lost its leadership of the free world is highly
debatable, and whether any alleged loss of strength has anything to do with the
liberalism of the sixties is even more so.

Again, he continues, "Authority figures, like church, nation, and even family were
rejected, and people subscribed to the "me-first" philosophy of life. It was a time of
"pick-and-choose" morality where people took a "one from column A, one from
column B" approach to what they wanted to believe or not to believe; what to live by
and what not to live by."

What the admiral apparently doesn't realize is that there are only two possible ways
to live. One can either "pick and choose" among alternative life styles; or one can be
forced to live according to the dictates of authority. Only forty years ago we called
this kind of coercion "fascism" and fought a war against it. But the admiral implies
that this kind of government is what he would prefer.

Then he continues, "In our courts there was an avalanche of legal suits; suits to
abolish the words ‘Under God’ from our Pledge of Allegiance, and suits to remove
‘In God We Trust’ from our national currency. This was a time when we were
disallowing those who wanted non-compulsory prayer the same access to our public
buildings and classrooms, which were already enjoyed by those who wanted to exert
their freedom of speech in discussions about Marxism. What I feel is amazing about
this is that all of these cases were brought forth in the name of religious freedom and
open-mindedness."

Here the admiral is engaging in more double-speak, in which his concept of
"religious freedom" means that everyone should be compelled to submit to those
metaphysical concepts of which he, and other government officials, happen to
approve. The whole purpose of putting religious slogans on our currency and pledge
of allegiance is to force everyone into paying obeisance to an anthropomorphic
religious doctrine whether they agree with it or not. And of course, when right-wingers
talk about "voluntary school prayers," what they really mean is
compulsory prayer.
When a child is forced to either engage in religious services planned by a local
school board or be subjected to the contempt and harassment of his teachers and
classmates, this is hardly "voluntary." Apparently the admiral is thinking of "voluntary"
in the same sense it's used in the military, in which anyone who refuses to "volunteer"
for a mission suffers some kind of punishment. The admiral also doesn't see the
difference between holding a debate about Marxism, or any other subject, and
conducting a worship service in which no disagreement or discussion is allowed.

The admiral then makes a lame attempt to prove the existence of God by dwelling on
the funeral of Konstantin Chernenko, which apparently was not to his taste. He felt it
was lacking in color and emotionalism. This, he says, is because the soviets are
atheists, who must necessarily live in a state of chronic depression.

His holiness concludes, "But I feel we need not worry, because today in this country
there is strong evidence of a renewed religious commitment – and what's wrong with
that? What is wrong with a sincere request for God's help in facing today's
problems? What is wrong with giving sincere thanks for God's blessings? What is
wrong with putting service to others before service to self? Absolutely nothing, I say. If
these are the kinds of people we have in positions of national and military leadership
today, thank God!"

Well admiral, what's wrong with it is that everything you said is based on false
assumptions. First of all, religious people like you always lump together several
contradictory concepts. In one breath theists equate worship of God with serving
mankind; then in the next breath they condemn Humanism for putting all its emphasis
on serving mankind. One thing that fundamentalists are right about is the fact that
Humanism and theism are incompatible, not synonymous. But what they don't realize
is that morality is inconsistent with religion – because no policy can be moral unless
it is based on truth and reason – not someone's delusions. You cannot have "faith" in
some ancient prophet's hallucinations and also believe in the scientific method.
Science demands proof, whereas religion demands unquestioning obedience
without proof.

Secondly, when theists talk about "believing in God" or "worshiping God" or "serving
God" they sound as though they were still living under King George the Third, in
which it was assumed that orders from "God" came from Buckingham Palace. What
they always seem to forget is that "God" does not issue memoranda from the Oval
Office or make speeches on television. Only politicians do that; but of course they do
use every propaganda trick in the book to make voters
think that their opinions are
not merely their opinions, but "God's Will." And the gullible masses always seem to
fall for it.

What concerns me most about the admiral's entire speech is that it shows some very
confused thinking on the part of those military leaders who control the fate of this
planet. If the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually spend time holding a prayer service at the
beginning of each meeting, then it implies that they all believe in a childishly
anthropomorphic god, shaped in their own image, who can be persuaded by human
rhetoric to interfere in the affairs of state, and who supports the policies of the current
American administration. This is the same kind of primitive thinking that has
prevailed since ancient Egypt. The concomitant implication is that anyone who
disagrees with the administration's policies is an enemy of "God," and disciple of
"Satan." So this kind of childishness automatically escalates every minor dispute into
a fanatical holy war. Now, since our leaders openly proclaim their belief in the
supernatural, it also follows that they will try to obey "God's Will." But how do you do
that? By following somebody's "interpretation" of something they dreamed, or found
in the Bible, or just "deeply feel." That means the strategic deployment of American
weapons and personnel are being seriously influenced by soothsayers! Perhaps
most Americans don't find that particularly threatening, because they're accustomed
to thinking the same way themselves. But what if the Joint Chiefs opened their
meetings by offering prayers to Zeus and made their strategic decisions based on
an examination of the intestines of a sacrificial sheep? This is the way it used to be
done in the ancient world. And there is no evidence that present theological
doctrines are any different from those ancient ones. Finally, if it is assumed that God
is guiding the decisions of our leaders, that means we have the moral right to do
anything we please in the international arena because we are only following "God's
Will." It also follows that since "God is on our side," we may engage in any kind of
military adventurism with impunity because "God will protect us." Many
fundamentalists preach that even if the planet is destroyed, that doesn't matter
because death is only an illusion anyway. Besides, all True Christians will be swept
up to heaven before the bombs go off – in something they call the "Rapture."

Well, I don't know about you. But somehow the admiral's sermon, assuring us of the
sincere piety of all our military leaders doesn't contribute to my peace of mind – at
all! It's this kind of confused, smug, self-righteous, militaristic attitude that has always
led to war.

If you'd like a transcript of today's commentary, or any of our other programs, write to
Atheists United at... Or you can phone us on our Dial an Atheist hotline at... You are
also invited to our general membership meetings, which are held on the last Sunday
of each month in... Until next week this is Lee Carter speaking for Atheists United,
the Rational Minority.
The Admiral vs. the Constitution
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