Monday, October 20, 2008

Does this leave you a little ill at ease?



I found this "Challenge Coin" today on the internet. Versions for each branch of service are available.

Are there not limits on what one can use the official seals of government agencies for? Can one use the service seals to promote obviously sectarian religious beliefs?

Is the mission of the US military "to stand against the devil's schemes"? If so, which schemes? To many who read Ephesians as part of their faith, unjust war is a scheme of the devil.

Is that a Crusader? If so, not only Muslims would be offended. Orthodox Christians still remember the sack of Constantinople.

For me, this is much more than a little bit unsettling. It's offensive.

Al

23 comments:

pluto said...

Any idea of who is selling these coins? If it is private vendor who has essentially pirated the seal of the Army without permission it is one thing but if it is anybody associated with the government then I think we've got a major problem.

To answer your question, it doesn't leave me a little at ease, it leaves me wondering just what the hell has happened to my country when I wasn't looking. Anybody who has honestly EVER read a half-way accurate history of the crusades knows very well what happens from here and it ain't pretty.

Aviator47 said...

Sadly, Pluto, the on line shopping mall at Army Times is the vendor.

Al

1138 said...

Looks like they are being made by the Northwest Territorial Mint nwtmint.com
Personally I think they are out of line.
Legal status fuzzy but from a military perspective, for active duty the "defend the faith" coins would I BET, be a violation.

It hurt to see it attached to the USAF Seal.

FDChief said...

I would comment that while I suspect that the coin itself isn't actionable - the service seals are government symbols and as such free from copyright protection - the fact that there is a market for this sort of crap a) comes as no surprise to me, but b) still makes me slightly ill.

The capacity of bible-beaters to evade the Biblical prohibitions on killing, charity, turning the other cheek, kindness and meekness never fails to impress me. Jews and Muslims get a pass - their God(s) don't pretend to be anything but what they are: savage desert deities whose benevolence is reserved only for their faithful adherants. Christians, ISTM, have always had the problem that if you take 95% of what Jesus said and apply it literally to your life you end up a poverty-stricken volunteer nurse's aide. To fit the original Christian creed of a universally loving, benevolent God and redemptive Savior into a uniform designed to hide you from other humans so you can kill or maim them takes a mental elasticity I am incapable of but clearly is not beyond an assload of people in the service. The fact that there's a market for this piece of Christian kitsch tells me that enough of my fellow soldiers have the cognitive capacity of a Shi-tzu to make it worth the while of the Northwest Territorial Mint to stike the damn things.

That's sad but not surprising. I met a lot of smart people in the service, but I met a hell of a lot of dumbasses, too.

pluto said...

Gandhi commented more than once that while he liked Christ's teaching, he couldn't stand most Christians because they ignored the parts of his teachings that they didn't like.

Ael said...

Relax folks, the guy in the picture is wearing plate armour. Therefore, he almost certainly isn't a crusader.

Second, what ever happened to freedom of speech and religion?
Clearly, neither you nor I are the target market for these coins, but if they are lawful, I don't see a problem with them. (Does the Army get trademark protection?) Nobody is forcing you to buy these coins, and I don't think taxpayer money is going into them.

Thirdly, the Christian god isn't just a loving god, he is more complicated than that. Some of his aspects are *way* more scary than anything Shiva can dish up.

Finally, not everything Jesus says is obvious in its meaning. For example his line about "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God, that which is God's"

Depending on who hears that line, it is either a call to support the roman occupation, or a call to throw the bums out!

The issue being, of course, what *exactly* is Caesar's?

Aviator47 said...

ael-

The oath of office of all service members calls upon us to "supprt and defend the Constitution". Nowhere, in that oath, the commission received by officers, the Constitution, or the laws of our country are servicemembers called upon to "stand against the devil's schemes", or "defend the faith". Thus, this coin ascribes a mission and intent to the US Armed Forces that does not exist.

To me, the coin represents a perversion of the role and mission of the military to support a sectarian religious cause. What is the real relationship between the US Army, for example, who's official seal is on the obverse of this coin, and the ideological message on the reverse? Absolutely none. The Epistle to the Ephesians is neither Army doctrine, nor Army policy.

The Army is the Army of the people of the United States, many of whom do not read nor grant any credence to this particular citation or the message it conveys, especially in this context. I, personally, do read and grant credence to Ephesians, but in no way see it as having anything to do with the roles and missions of the US Armed Forces.

Whether or not the official seals of the us military are in the public domain, this usage is distasteful to this old soldier and life long observant Christian. Indeed, the "faith" to which this type of pandering is addressed is not the "faith" that I have held, and is most likely equally foreign to millions and millions of other "faiths" that are seen as Christian. It is a narrow, sectarian interpretation that has no business being represented in a manner that identifies it as being an Army value. It is indicative of those who would subvert the military to achieve sectarian ends, and do so daily.

Al

FDChief said...

Second, what ever happened to freedom of speech and religion?

Freedom of speech and religion essentially stop at the barracks door.

If you are a troop in my platoon you are free to worship as you please (or not). And, off duty, you can say what you want when you want. The moment you enter my platoon area, though, you lose that right. You cannot speak treason, or mutiny, or sedition. You cannot proselytize, you cannot anathematize, you cannot preach. The military services have kept these rules since the decline of the recognized Christian favoritism in government some time in the middle 20th Century. These coins aren't acceptable as part of a military unit; they're a sectarian thing and as such violate the U.S. Army's legal seperation of church and state.

Thirdly, the Christian god isn't just a loving god, he is more complicated than that. Some of his aspects are *way* more scary than anything Shiva can dish up. Agreed. But that's not how most Christians would describe him; most 20th Century Christianity tries to have Him both ways - Old Testament avenger and New Testament lover.

Finally, not everything Jesus says is obvious in its meaning. For example his line about "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God, that which is God's." Depending on who hears that line, it is either a call to support the roman occupation, or a call to throw the bums out!

ISTM rather that it is a call for believers to leave the mundane to the mundane, let worries about governments and rulers sort themselves out, and focus on giving God what God wants - faith, sacrifice, etc...

I agree that there's some oddball stuff in the Gospels - bringing not peace but a sword, that sort of thing - but when you think about the history of the written documents and the MANY transcriptions, oral transmissions, etc...it'd be surprising if there weren't more. But ISTM that the real fundamental basis of Jesus' teaching is the Golden Rule and minor variations of the same. Love and serve God. Walk humbly with Him. Love your neighbor as yourself. Obey the Commandments. Help those in need. Live in peace.

Those are great ideals. Would that we all lived up to them!

But in the world we live in, many people don't. And sometimes we have to fight when those people force a fight upon us. Turning the other cheek may be a good rule for saints, but many of us would rather be live sinners.

But it IS sinning. War is the devil's work and no mistake. To couple the symbols of faith and the symbols of war is Evil and wrong. It's the evil of the Crusades, the evil of pogroms, the evil of jihadi war. THAT's why this little coin strikes me as so wrong...

pluto said...

Well stated, as usual, Chief

Aviator47 said...

FDChief

At the risk of being called a punster:

AMEM, AMEN, AMEM!

Ael said...

I look at these coins as something that a person could put in their pockets to remind themselves to in effect "be the best soldier you can and be the best christian you can".
I do not perceive this to be a dishonorable intention.

Furthermore, it is clear that most churches don't regard joining the army to be fundamentally incompatible with their doctrine.

It is also not entirely clear that Jesus would have thought so. E.g. when they came to take him away at the end, one of his disciples whacks off an ear with a sword. The question is: if a sword was fundamentally incompatible, why did Jesus let the disciple pack it around for 3 years!

Ael said...

FD Chief said:
Freedom of speech and religion essentially stop at the barracks door.

If you are a troop in my platoon you are free to worship as you please (or not). And, off duty, you can say what you want when you want. The moment you enter my platoon area, though, you lose that right. You cannot speak treason, or mutiny, or sedition. You cannot proselytize, you cannot anathematize, you cannot preach. The military services have kept these rules since the decline of the recognized Christian favoritism in government some time in the middle 20th Century. These coins aren't acceptable as part of a military unit; they're a sectarian thing and as such violate the U.S. Army's legal seperation of church and state.

I respond:
I see no evidence that the makers and sellers of these coins are subject to the UCMJ.

Presumably, the only one at risk would be someone who purchased it. If one of your troopers had that coin fall out of his pocket, would you reprimand him? Throw him in jail? pick up the coin, hand it back to him and say "you dropped this."?

Aviator47 said...

ael-

The basic fact is that the US Army is not based upon any scriptural reference, and no scriptural reference legitimizes the US Army.

As to your offering that the coin is possibly two separate and distinct reminders for a soldier, it might hunt if it weren't for the numerous cases of religious misconduct by military leaders, some made public (USAFA, Boykin) and some not. As far as the latter, while at CGSC, more than one 4 star, to include the CSA, spoke to us citing New Testament references in comments such as "We all know that we are called upon in xx 1:20 (a NT reference) to do such and so". Of course, amongst numerous others in the class, the Nepalese officer seated next to me was under no such mandate. Sorry, generals, but the New Testament is not a TM, FM or AR.

There is a trend in the US to transform what has been for millenia seen as "sin" into virtue. "Suppy side" economics glorifies the trickle down benefits of greed and gluttony into virtuous benefits for the least amongst us. "Taking a stand against the devil's schemes" transforms war into a pure and virtuous endeavor. And, most recently, the decision to carry an illegitimate teen age pregnancy to birth versus abortion transforms teenage sex outside of marriage into virtue. And these trends all come from the same sectarian groups as they work to impose their will on society in general.

There is a growing segment of conservative Christian denominations that glorify war. They see the US Military as their god's instrument. It is very difficult to view these coins in any other, more innocent light.

Constitutionally, the US Military cannot adopt the image and message on the reverse of these coins. Morally, the disciples of the message on the reverse of these coins have no business attributing their beliefs to the US Military. Yes, the maker and vendor of the coin is not subject to the UCMJ. Whether or not the coins are legal, they are, in my view, obscene.

FDChief said...

"If one of your troopers had that coin fall out of his pocket, would you reprimand him? Throw him in jail? pick up the coin, hand it back to him and say "you dropped this."?"

Depends on the troop.

If he was a quiet sort of guy whose faith was private and, as you suggest, was using this little coin to "remind themselves to, in effect, be the best soldier you can and be the best christian you can" then I'd probably just toss the thing back to him.

If it was someone I knew as a mouthy, pushy sort of Christian; one of the sorts that gets you into a political argument so you will state your liberal, humanist beliefs and then says "I'll pray for you" in the faintly ominous way that implies that, since he can't change my mind maybe he can convince God to, i.e. the sort of Christian I'd suspect of using these to prosletyze in my platoon...well, we'd go back to my office for a little counseling session.

"Furthermore, it is clear that most churches don't regard joining the army to be fundamentally incompatible with their doctrine."

The churches are wrong.

It's that simple. And that's because churches are more about power and submission to organization than faith in God. It was no concidence that there were money-changers in the Temple. Churches, power, corruption and force have been associated since the mud-pyramid gods of the Tigris and Euphrates valley.

"It is also not entirely clear that Jesus would have thought so. E.g. when they came to take him away at the end, one of his disciples whacks off an ear with a sword."

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

Q.E.D.

Both the Devil and I can quote Scripture at need.
Matthew 26: 51-52

Publius said...

I don't know, Al, I've just revised my oath to include those catchy "stand against the devil's schemes" and "defend the faith" phrases. Kind of jazzes that boring old oath up a bit, don't you think? And who likes the devil, after all?

I'm not a church goer. I've always been mindful of what some guys named Washington, Jefferson and Franklin said about organized religion. And, true to them, I've always believed one's beliefs about a deity should be private. But, hey, they're a bunch of dead white men. They're no fun. I've decided to sign up for the land of mysticism and awe, where a man like Jesus, who preached some genuinely righteous stuff, no matter whether you're religious or not, can be interpreted any way you like. You want to help the poor, sick and suffering? Jesus is with you. You want to kill some Arabs in his name? He's right there. You'd rather invent some neat leveraged financial instruments involving sub-prime home loans to po' folk? Big J is on your side.

An equal opportunity Messiah, who's also given the seal of approval to Israel as a bunch of honorary Christians or something. Christianity is cool. And we've always got to watch out for that devil. What's not to like?

Aviator47 said...

I personally don't care who's religious mantras are out there. None of them belong on a coin such as this. This particular coin comes into focus, because it is the coin that is being sold. It is a coin indicative of those who calim that we have a "Christian military" or a "Christian country". If the Wiccans were to pick up this approach and produce Wiccan coins and display banners in a service academy athletic center proclaiming "Team Wiccan", I would find it equally offensive and equally inappropriate.

But it is not Wiccans, Jews, Budhists, or Muslims that seem so hell bent on tying the military to their religious beliefs.

Argue scriptural interpretation and the like all you want, the Founding Fathers knew better and prohibited such sectarian endorsements in the First Amendment.

A coin bearing the US military seals should contain no philosophical or doctrinal material that is not US military philosophy or doctrine. That this specific category of religious zealots tends to be the major violator of this principle, in not the issue. It is a totally separate issue.

Anonymous said...

So who is writing in protest to Army Times?? Or are we just blowing off steam here?

FDChief said...

"So who is writing in protest to Army Times?? Or are we just blowing off steam here?"

That'd be an interesting discussion - not sure what'd happen if anyone opened this can of religious worms in the editorial page of Army Slimes.

Or if it would even draw much of any fire: I used to read the damn thing for the cut-off scores and anything with the name of someone I knew...

My personal take is that this is something best left to the individual unit leaders. If it gets to be a widespread problem/issue, maybe then it's worth taking to the public press.

Publius said...

Sure, it's offensive, but let's not get wrapped around the axle here. We swore our oath specifically to protect the right of these guys to make a buck. Remember how it works. We don't get to pick and choose the freedoms we defend. Anybody here like defending the right of guys to show a lot of the sexual crap on this very Internet we all love? Didn't think so.

I personally find Rush Limbaugh more offensive than this. Along with a lot of high elected officials.

The military can legitimately outlaw the display of this crap on military installations. I hope they do, but I'll bet they don't, for reasons of which we're all aware. So ISTM our indignation and outrage would be more productively expended on the proliferation of God squads in the active military ranks. That's a clear and present danger to the Constitution. This isn't.

Rick98c said...

Hey fellas,

Remember MSR's constant ranting that nothing of this sort was really going on in the Army? Oh, well.

Hey, if most of us find this offensive what do you suppose the average Muslim is going to think? Not being particularly well-versed in US Government copyright law they will be quite justified in seeing this as an official article.

Also, so the knight is in plate armor...any of these Christian fanatics that I've spoken to seem to have the knowledge of history of an 8-year old... but they did get the Crusader Cross right, even if the shield is the wrong shape.

Andy said...

People sell all kinds of military related stuff. It's not an official military coin. There are companies that will turn your designs into a coin to your specifications. I was in charge of making a new official unit coin and hiring such a company to produce them. Some of us, on the side and with our own money, ordered a few with a somewhat different and not-so-family-friendly design. So pretty much you can get anything you want made into a coin.

So I don't see that this fundie coin is all that big of a deal except for the fact that someone out thinks there is enough of a market for one.

sheerahkahn said...

"Relax folks, the guy in the picture is wearing plate armour. Therefore, he almost certainly isn't a crusader."

Ugh...hold on...let me find that link...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_Templar

13th century, transitional armor, with plate and chain...not the full field plate, that won't come till later on...15th, 16th century, but the crusades against the infidel went from the middle east to defending the faith against the heretics.

also....um...I'm one of those christians btw...sorry, if I disappoint, but I too have a problem with the current militancy of my brethren.
And to be honest...I've been squirming ever since Reagan and Falwell shook hands and smiled at the cameras like lovers.
I still shudder at the image...nothing good ever comes from government and religion...ever, and that is with 5000 years of military history to draw on for examples of why we should keep the two apart.
so...I should be honest with you guys...I have a blog...which some of you may find...tedious.
So if you are curious about my thinking of the subject of religion, and can stand my freeform thinking process...

J.D. said...

The seal, like the entire Army, belongs to the people of the United States. Most would not be offended by an organization using the US Flag - even if they were offended by the organization itself. Thus I have no problem with any group of any kind using the Army seal.

As for "Christian Warriors," I am of two minds on this:

1) I don't mind. It is traditional for a majority-Christian nation to support Christian values in their soldiers. If it sounds hypocritical for Christians to be warriors in the first place, as a Christian and an American I respect your right to disagree, but I am a Christian and was proud to be a soldier, and I don't see a conflict between my faith and my service. And it really is traditional - check out the Battle Hymn of the Republic, for instance. This is simply not a new idea. As long as those values do not conflict with their duties and obligations of a soldier, I don't care what faith a soldier has, or lacks. And after over a decade of service in the infantry as an enlisted man, a non-commissioned officer (sergeant for you civilians), and an officer, I never found such a conflict, ever.

2) I do mind. It is NOT traditional for American soldiers to "defend the faith." That is not the mission of the US Army. That line bugs me more than anything else there. The US Army does not and should never "defend the faith." It defends ALL faiths - Christians, Muslims, Jews, Scientologists, those who lack faith, and evangelical atheists. If "Congress shall pass no law" establishing or opposing religion, as the Constitution dictates, then those sworn to uphold that Constitution can not "defend" just one faith, they must defend all PLUS defend those who have none. As a Christian I think it is also my religious obligation to do the same, to obey the Golden Rule and love and protect those who have a different or no faith. Thus while I am not bothered by such things as the Battle Hymn or chaplains or the use of the Army seal, any establishment of a "Christian" US Army would not only be blasphemy to me on religious grounds, it would violate that oath to the Constitution that so many soldiers swore a religious oath before God to obey. The Army motto is "This We'll Defend." What is defended is made very clear in the oath, and Jesus Christ is not among those things we swore to defend - and it is silly to think that the US Army could defeat an all-powerful deity anyway, so if you truly believe in Christ, you should be fully aware He can certainly take care of Himself, as His power exceeds that of any military. If you think the US Army should serve Jesus, both Jesus and the Constitution beg to differ.

The "victimized" Christians on the far-right that are so political are really scary to me. In a majority Christian nation that has never had a president who did not publicly profess to be a Christian, with Christian churches on every corner, with 50 out of 50 governors Christian, with almost the entire Congress Christian (with one Muslim, a few Jews, and one atheist in a group of 435), why are so many Christians convinced they are a repressed minority? Iran has more Jews in its legislature than we do. Did you know that? Before we invaded Iraq, Iraqi Christians were free to worship openly, and Baghdad was decorated with Christmas decorations every December - and the Sunnis and Shia wished them Merry Christmas. Seen any Ramadan decorations in your neck of the woods? And if so, how did your local Christians view that? Most likely with disdain - ignoring the Golden Rule, of course.

Defend the faith? I think Jesus and Christianity can and will, somehow, manage to last through all of the "oppression" and "persecution" of Christians in these United States. Geez.

Christianity overwhelmed the Roman Empire, and yet the Romans crucified Jesus and fed Christians to the lions. Apparently Christianity is fairly hardy. Yet somebody wishes somebody else "Happy Holidays" and Bill O'Reilly and his "War on Christmas" are off and running.

I think it unlikely that the extreme emotions many right-wing evangelicals seem to feel, especially their anger and self-righteousness, is derived from the Holy Spirit. Those xenophobic and hate-filled Christians are full of something, but it is not the Holy Spirit.

Ask yourself what does more damage to the reputation of an organization: outsiders criticizing that organization, or the organization itself doing things to offend others? Clearly "insiders" are likelier to do greater harm.
If I wanted to dissuade somebody who was interested in learning more of Christianity from converting, I can't think of a better way than the likes of Rev. Haggard, Jerry Falwell, or (yes I am saying it) Sarah Palin. I can't think of any better way to convince somebody that Christianity is false than to organize hate-filled groups of judgmental ideologues to march in the streets and walk around with chips on their shoulders.

But, as I must, I forgive them too. Christianity doesn't make you a better person or remove your sin, it makes you "forgiven." And Christians should be very humble about that because they didn't do anything to deserve it, in fact they (and me) don't deserve it - it was gift bought at great price. It doesn't make me better, but it should make me feel I owe the world something more than hatred and disdain, even toward - especially toward - those who do not share my faith.

And as a soldier I was there to defend freedom for all, not just for some, Americans. Freedom for any American to believe anything they want. I did not serve to defend Christianity. You don't defend Jesus with bullets and hand grenades. And if you think you do, you might be serving the opposite side without realizing it. And you might think about how Italian and Spanish and German fascists treated Christianity as they rose to power and performed staggering acts of evil.

Gott Mit Uns.