James Carroll, author of the best-selling book Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, says Christian fundamentalism is making inroads in the U.S. military in a way that could threaten America’s ability to fight Islamist extremism.
Carroll, in a recent interview with Tom Engelhardt of The Nation Institute, talked about his experiences working on a documentary version of his book. Part of that project involved delving into allegations that an evangelical Christian subculture had taken root at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and, by larger extension, across the U.S. military.
Carroll was appalled by what he found.
“In the Pentagon today,” he says, “there is active proselytizing by Christian groups that is allowed by the chain of command. When your superior expects you to show up at his prayer breakfast, you may not feel free to say no. It’s not at all clear what will happen to your career. He writes your efficiency report. And the next thing you know, you have, in the culture of the Pentagon, more and more active religious outreach.”
Continues Carroll, “Imagine, then, a military motivated by an explicit Christian, missionizing impulse at the worst possible moment in our history, because we’re confronting an enemy and yes, we do have an enemy: fringe, fascist, nihilist extremists coming out of the Islamic world who define the conflict entirely in religious terms. They, too, want to see this as a new ‘crusade.’ That’s the language that Osama bin Laden uses. For the United States of America at this moment to allow its military to begin to wear the badges of a religious movement is a disaster!”
A former Roman Catholic priest, Carroll also warns about a rising tide of Christian fundamentalism around the world.
“My own conviction is that a crucial 21st Century problem is going to be Christian fundamentalism,” he says. “Its global growth is an unnoticed story in the United States. Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are now absolutely on fire with zealous belief in the saving power of Jesus, in the most intolerant of ways. A religious ideology that affirms the salvific power of violence is taking hold. It denigrates people who are not part of the saved community, permitting discrimination, and ultimately violence. Hundreds of millions of people are embracing this kind of Christianity.”
Carroll said the way to combat this trend is to remember the values of our Constitution.
He observed, “America is also a secular nation, of course. The separation of church and state was a critical innovation, giving us this special standing as a people. The separation’s purpose was to protect the conscientious freedom of every individual by making the state neutral on questions of religious conscience. An absolutely ingenious insight.”
In related news, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a soldier serving in Iraq who says he was intimidated by a superior officer when he tried to hold a meeting for non-believers.
The legal complaint alleges that Jeremy Hall, an Army specialist at Base Speicher in Tikrit, was threatened by a major after Hall met with fellow non-believers. Hall said he sought and received permission from the base chaplain before posting fliers around the facility announcing the meeting.
The gathering took place on Aug. 7. It was disrupted by Major Freddy J. Welborn who, according to the complaint, blasted the attendees and threatened to bring an action against Hall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice “and further threatened to prevent plaintiff Hall’s reenlistment in the United States Army.” (Hall v. United States Department of Defense)