A curious mix of vigilant atheists and devout Christians are celebrating the Air Force's decision to suspend a Christian-themed course taught to nuclear missile launch officers at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. For almost 20 years, military chaplains presented these officers with slides filled with biblical references such as "Revelation 19:11 Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior" and Christian literature, such as St. Augustine's Just War Theory, in an attempt to dismantle the moral and ethical qualms of annihilating human beings with nuclear weapons. Surprise! Not everyone liked it. Last week, the Air Force suspended the course after 32 missile launch officers reported the religious bent of the briefings to the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Cue a Bill O'Reilly Culture Warrior™ moment? Not so fast. It seems both believers and non-believers are pleasantly amenable to the policy change.
The secularists News of the course's suspension was met with jubilation over at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (their founder shown above) which found it violated their idea of church-state separation. "I feel safer already," cheered a reader. "The bible is not exactly a good guideline for a launch officer." Another added "I guess being a faith-head helps when it comes to killing millions of people." Getting into the details, Jason Leopold at Truthout writes "The document's blatant use of religious imagery and its numerous references to the New and Old Testament would appear to constitute a violation of the First Amendment establishing a wall of separation between church and state and Clause 3, Article 6 of the Constitution, which specifically prohibits a 'religious test.'"
The Christians Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic was elated by the news. "We can be grateful today that the U.S. Air Force will no longer include biblical or Christian justifications for the use of nuclear weapons in its ethics training for officers," he writes today. "It's hard to imagine the ethics training that could accompany the U.S. nuclear weapons program. I am not aware of any Catholic moral argument that could justify their use in any situation on just war principles (nor any weapons of mass destruction for that matter)." Going a bit further, he adds that even the common justification for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that it would have prevented the deaths an invasion would have incurred, is not tenable to Catholic tradition. "No approach to proportionality in war could countenance the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents no matter what the good outcome." Over at the Baptist Joint Committee, a group dedicated to promoting Religious freedom, Don Byrd is also a fan of the policy change. "If anything, this presentation - which some apparently dubbed the 'Jesus loves nukes' speech - sounds like an effort to debunk religious beliefs about war, to counter religious objections in a way that is wholly inappropriate," he writes. "The training of military personnel should not include any form of religious indoctrination, or any overt effort to undermine religious beliefs, even if those beliefs call into question the conduct of war."