Air Force Colonel: There are Many Roads to God

Critics of religious freedom in the US military have sometimes claimed that speaking one’s faith while being associated with the military is forbidden.  For example, Michael Weinstein’s MRFF used to have a stockpile of chaplains’ articles from local base papers they would re-publish, often with little comment except shock and the implication that what the military member (a chaplain) was doing was wrong (an implication their acolytes were quick to assume was fact).

MRFF volunteer Rick Baker has gone further, saying uniformed officers can’t even put a religious bumper sticker on their private car.  Chris Rodda, Weinstein’s research assistant, has gone so far as to explicitly state it is wrong for officers to “publicly espouse” their religious beliefs on the internet, even when they do so as private citizens.  (She’s wrong, of course, but that hasn’t stopped her in the past…)

It is worth noting that these criticisms have been aimed either at chaplains — whose official public commentaries naturally cover religion — or unofficial, biographical, and personal statements by members of the military.

By contrast, during the height of the Air Force Academy “scandal” over religion in 2005, the US Air Force published an article on its official website by then-Colonel Lela Holden (now retired).  Col Holden wasn’t a chaplain, and her chosen topic of religion didn’t seem related to her by-line role in the Air Force Surgeon General Office of Congressional & Public Affairs.

Why didn’t Weinstein and his followers criticize Col Holden for her public statements about religion, as they have other members of the military?  Probably because Col Holden didn’t present a Christian worldview; in fact, her official Air Force article subtly criticizes Christianity, Judaism, Islam — and pretty much every religion, actually.

After noting her vacation planning revealed “many roads to Texas,” Col Holden said

If there are many roads to Texas…how is it possible there are not truly many roads to God…? How is it possible that any human can limit that Creator to only one road to understanding, loving, and worshipping Him…?

Does it make sense to say that only one religion offers the definitive road to God? I think not.

Col Holden subsequently presented a slanted, though common in the modern era, paradigm for “respect” and “tolerance:”

Religious tolerance…is critical for teamwork in the Air Force. But a deeper level is that of genuine respect — respect that others’ roads to God are valid…

Religious tolerance and religious liberty allow men and women to believe and act as their conscience dictates, free from the interference of the government.  Particularly within the military, tolerance and liberty do require a respect of a person’s right to believe something different.  However, they do not require that a person attribute validity to another person’s belief system or otherwise grant the “truth” in another belief system’s claims.  Religious liberty and tolerance grant people the right to be wrong, not a blanket “truth” to every belief system or a guarantee that everyone is to be considered “right.”

Col Holden later doubled down on her criticism of religion by saying that those who belong to exclusive faiths (like Christianity or Islam, which state they alone are the true path to God) have beliefs that are incompatible with service in the Air Force:

I would also suggest that a thin layer of tolerance that barely conceals the underlying belief that one’s own religion is superior is not sufficient to truly build the teamwork our Air Force and country need.

The need for teamwork within the US military does not require US troops to neuter their religious beliefs.  Contrary to Col Holden’s implication, servicemembers are free to believe — and express their beliefs — that their pizza parlour, favorite football team, or chosen religion is “superior.”

Believe it or not, the American military is a cross-section of the culture from which it is drawn.  Men and women from all perspectives and paradigms are in the military, and — as senior leaders like to say — that diversity contributes to the mission, it doesn’t detract from it.  The mission requires a unity of effort, not a uniformity of belief.

Col Holden’s article is many years old, though the topic is still a sensitive one thanks largely to the continued promised “agitation” of Michael Weinstein.  In fact, a commenter only recently responded to Col Holden’s article with an astute observation:

it is true that there are many roads to Texas it is also true that there are many more roads that do not lead to Texas at all.
Will Bearden, San Antonio Texas, 6/5/2012

Others will note that there are things called “maps” which can help people discern which road will take you to Texas and which ones won’t.

It seems Col Holden thinks those who have read their “map” — and see others poorly planning their trip to “Texas” — should be required  to keep that information to themselves.

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