Just Words

You may have read a story in the last week about an airman who may be forced to sue the United States government to regain his right to re-enlist in the U.S. Air Force.  The gentleman in question, a technical sergeant based at the Creech Air Force base near Las Vegas, Nevada, has been barred from continuing his service because, as an Atheist, he refuses to recite the final words of the required oath.

Those words being: “So help me God.”

When he entered the Air Force, the rules allowed for the omission of those words, but that rule was changed only last year, and now the unfortunate airman, and many more like him, are stuck with the difficult choice between duty and deception.

This is a choice no one should be forced into, and thankfully, it seems that he has chosen the third option — fight for change!

Christian Air Force

The thing about this situation that horrifies me, I mean beyond the pure religious coercion which seems to have become a staple within the Air Force, is that so much public opinion on this matter seems inclined to have this fellow simply mouth the words that are placed before him.

I don’t understand what people are thinking.

How can anyone with even the slightest sense of honor or integrity suggest that anyone of any belief, should perjure themselves rather than stand up against an injustice?

Bit of a rhetorical question, I suppose.

The reality is that this proposed lawsuit will very likely not go far enough.  I’m sure the complaint will request that the airman, and many like him, once again have the freedom to skip that particular line in the oath of service.  For justice to be truly done, however, there should be no religious language in the oath whatsoever.

The expectation among a certain majority, that Christianity is going to be the religious standard, and that an ‘opt out’ provision should be made available for some unspecified minority, does one thing very clearly – it establishes that Christianity is the national religion.  And that is an action that the U.S. Constitution very specifically prohibits.

All of which brings me back to public opinion, at least some of that which I have seen expressed within the comments sections of the various news stories which detail this case.  The more troubling of these responses fall into one of a few categories:

The Un-Specified God

“God,” so many like to claim, “is an entirely generic term that could mean any deity, from the God of the Bible to Allah or even Zeus, and is therefore not prohibited by the Constitution’s non-establishment clause.  Sadly, over the years we have been at the mercy of a few Supreme Court justices who share in this misguided notion.

Who else, but certain Monotheistic sects, are so strangely squeamish about addressing their deity by name?  Who else, but the Christians and Jews, are so particular about using that word in the singular form, and capitalized, as if it were a proper name and not a title, which is carried by multitudes of other beings.

This ‘generic’ God is a farce.  Everyone knows which God is being spoken of.  To pretend otherwise reflects poorly on those making the claim, and the silent majority who would benefit from this fiction.

Still, there are those who will claim that because a singular sect of Christendom is not thusly enshrined as the state religion, that there is no ‘establishment’.  And how, I might ask them, does such a philosophy look from the outside, from the eyes of a Buddhist, a Pagan, or an Atheist?

The Christian Nation

“This nation was founded on christian principals and if you don’t agree with that, you don’t belong.”

This is just another instance of the ‘If you don’t like it, get out’ defense, which I have already dealt with recently here.

There are no Atheists in the Foxholes

The thinking here, is that anyone who does not believe in the Christian God, will, when under the threat of death, feel compelled to hedge their bets, just in case there IS a lake of fire awaiting them in the here-after.

The basic assumption being made by those who use this argument is that everyone is a coward at heart and that the Atheists (and others) are really just lying to themselves.

And this, in turn, brings us to the final category of arguments against changing the Oath of Service…,

They’re Just Words

“If you don’t believe, then the words have no meaning, so it’s no harm to say them.”

“It’s just words to them, they could say ‘so help me Scooby Doo’ and it would mean as much.”

It never ceases to amaze me how so called ‘people of faith’ can have so little understanding of what an oath really is.  How do you center your life around the writing in a book, and still have such low regard for the true power of the spoken word.

To swear an oath is to place the whole of ourselves, our reputation and standing, our very name and worth, behind the words which we utter.  It is not a thing to be done on a whim or by rote, and cannot be accompanied by falsehood.  If you cannot stand behind every word pronounced, they are, every one of them, worthless.

This is why I have always spoken out against having the words “Under God” within the Pledge of Allegiance.  To those who say I should just skip that section, I respond that I cannot, in good faith, just pretend that the offending words are not there.  How can I pledge my allegiance, when to do so would mean bowing to religious coercion?

I do not believe in your god and I will swear no oath to him.

And meanwhile, how many millions of school children begin their day with ‘the Pledge’.  They recite it by rote, most of them mumbling through words they don’t even understand, while themselves under the authority of a specific deity whom they were never given a voice in choosing.

Oh but they are “just words” I am told, again and again.

Is THAT what we want to teach our children, that words are only important if you mean them, that the promises we make are ‘just’ words and have no real power in and of themselves?

What if, instead, we taught them that their promises should be composed of ‘just words’, as in justifiable – words that we believe in our very hearts to be true, words that form the utmost foundation of ourselves, words with no hint of deceit or evasion?

They will learn that lesson best if they see that the words of their elders are those of truth and honor rather than equivocation and conformity.

Let our words be just and our oaths be true.


Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Proselytizing, Religion

2 responses to “Just Words

  1. This is a REALLY good post.

    I made waves at my high school when I refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with everyone else. I would stand quietly and respectfully, but I refused to say “Under God” for the exact same reasons you cite here. Yes, some of my friends and family argued that “God” could mean anyone and that I was just making a fuss to get attention. But this was a very serious point I was making: Nobody else refers to their God as “God” but the big three Abrahamic monotheisms, so it’s therefore implicit that “Under God” means “Under Yahweh.” (It certainly isn’t referring to a FEMALE Deity or the ABSENCE of a Deity.)

    And while I do indeed believe that Yahweh exists (though not as the omnipotent and omnipresent Creator His worshipers believe Him to be), I STILL won’t swear any oaths to Him. I only swear to MY God, and I’ll only do so when I know for certain that I can live up to such an oath. Oaths should never be taken lightly, and yet people say “I swear this” and “I swear that” an awful lot these days, seemingly with no concept of what they’re actually saying. As you said, this idea that “It’s just words” does nothing to solve the problem. It only robs a pledge of its gravity.

    I hope this airman wins his case, but even more so, I hope the Air Force is eventually forced to strike down this stupid rule. They’re only hurting our country by doing this.

  2. thelettuceman

    Basically sums my feelings up on the subject.

    It is an unfortunate reality that the Air Force has been infiltrated the most heavily from the ultra-conservative Christian Right, and this is just one result of that infiltration. THAT is what needs to be addressed, I think, as much as this incident, and nobody wants to particularly look at that elephant.

    We still have a culture of implied Christianity in the United States. Even people who are nominally (or not even) Christian/religious get defensive when someone assaults the edifice of Christian privilege an understanding. I had an incident with my mother who, years ago, had fallen prey to the idea that Obama wasn’t wholly a Christian. Rather than argue about about that annoying little belief, I instead asked, “What does it matter?”

    “It just does.”


    “It just does!”.

    It just matters. It just does. That’s the mentality that people have. They don’t even know WHY it matters to them. The idea of Christian privilege is so ingrained in the popular conscience of the majority of this country that they’ll offer excuses, even when they’re only very nominally Christian themselves, that people should just “say the words”, because “it matters”.

    It’s a reason why I speak out the most about Christian privilege, among the only individual instances of the “privilege” buzzwords that float around these days. Because I fight against the mentality of “it just is”.

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