Frank Bruni touts secularism in the New York Times

Frank Bruni (who, by the way, was the first openly gay op-ed columnist at the New York Times), has a wonderfully refreshing op-ed piece in yesterday’s paper called “The God glut.

The topic is the relentless incursion of religion into American politics and secular institutions. One of these institutions is the Army’s military academy, West Point. I knew that the Air Force Academy in Colorado has had problems with forcible Christian proselytizing, but Bruni tells a similar tale about West Point, and about a cadet who left because he couldn’t take the preaching:

The cadet, Blake Page, detailed his complaint in an article for The Huffington Post, accusing officers at the academy of “unconstitutional proselytism,” specifically of an evangelical Christian variety.

On the phone on Sunday, he explained to me that a few of them urged attendance at religious events in ways that could make a cadet worry about the social and professional consequences of not going. One such event was a prayer breakfast this year at which a retired lieutenant general, William G. Boykin, was slated to speak. Boykin is a born-again Christian, and his past remarks portraying the war on terror in holy and biblical terms were so extreme that he was rebuked in 2003 by President Bush. In fact his scheduled speech at West Point was so vigorously protested that it ultimately had to be canceled.

Page said that on other occasions, religious events were promoted by superiors with the kind of mass e-mails seldom used for secular gatherings. “It was always Christian, Christian, Christian,” said Page, who is an atheist.

Where’s the FFRF on this?

Bruni goes on (I have to repress the urge to echo the congregation’s refrain in black churches, “Tell it, brother!”):

Every year around this time, many conservatives rail against the “war on Christmas,” using a few dismantled nativities to suggest that America muffles worship.

Hardly. We have God on our dollars, God in our pledge of allegiance, God in our Congress. Last year, the House took the time to vote, 396 to 9, in favor of a resolution affirming “In God We Trust” as our national motto. How utterly needless, unless I missed some insurrectionist initiative to have that motto changed to “Buck Up, Beelzebub” or “Surrender Dorothy.”

We have God in our public schools, a few of which cling to creationism, and we have major presidential candidates — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum — who use God in general and Christianity in particular as cornerstones of their campaigns. God’s initial absence from the Democratic Party platform last summer stirred more outrage among Americans than the slaughter in Syria will ever provoke.

God’s wishes are cited in efforts to deny abortions to raped women and civil marriages to same-sex couples. In our country God doesn’t merely have a place at the table. He or She is the host of the prayer-heavy dinner party.

And how often do you see this admission?

And there’s too little acknowledgment that God isn’t just a potent engine of altruism, mercy and solace, but also, in instances, a divisive, repressive instrument; that godliness isn’t any prerequisite for patriotism; and that someone like Page deserves as much respect as any true believer.

There’s more, but go read it.  Bravo for Bruni, a refreshing palliative for the likes of Ross Douthat.


  1. Kevin Alexander
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    What movie is it where an older polititian says to a younger one:

    ‘Religion in politics is like ketchup, you have to spread it all over everything.’

  2. Brian
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Changing the nation’s motto to “Surrender Dorothy” is something I can get behind.

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      Maybe not in Kansas any more…


      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink


  3. gbjames
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink


  4. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Where’s the FFRF on this?

    This would be a great opportunity to give a shout-out to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which was founded to pursue such circumstances when they occur in the U.S. military.

  5. Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I have been having a persistent dream that I am the principal of a school, explaining to a father who was a Creationist just why we would teach Evolution and never teach “Intelligent Design” or whatever he was insisting be included in the curriculum. Dreams seem to be the only way to get a word in edgewise on this topic.Keep on doing it in public, thank you!

    • Posted December 12, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      I teach at a private, entirely secular university. Several years ago two students came to me asking for alternative assignments rather than be exposed to the evidence for evolution. Their reason was that they were Christians. Before responding to them I felt obliged to check with the Provost, and he felt obliged to check with the President, before I felt I had the backup to tell these students that they had to learn the material if they wanted credit. This does not amount to a demand that they believe the evidence, but it does reflect a requirement for uniform standards. This problem has not come up since, but sometimes in course polls I get complaints about the repeated debunking of creationism.

      • footface
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        That’s right. Can’t have Christians exposed to evidence.

  6. Kevin
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    “God’s wishes are cited in efforts to deny abortions to raped women”

    Whose wishes are cited in (successful) efforts to secure the legal killing of innocent unborn or partially born children?

    • Gary W
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      No one’s, but assuming you’re referring to abortion, the controlling wishes generally are, and should be, those of the pregnant woman.

      • Larry C
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I agree with Gary W, Kevin, but I would like to add that “efforts” is not an appropriate word to use since a woman’s right to choose is the law of the land. No “efforts” are necessary.And an embryo or a fetus is not a child.

    • Wowbagger
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Define ‘partially born’. Cite your sources, and the statistics of how often this allegedly occurs.

    • Randy
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Are you some kind of troll Kevin? Trying to derail conversation about the topic? Furthermore, a fetus is not a child. Check out a dictionary. You can’t be a child and still be in the womb.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      partially born children

      Is that why you’re upset Kevin? Was this a personal experience for you? Are you partially born?

      no, wait, it’s a physical impossibility so you’re just trolling as per usual.

      carry on.

    • Posted December 12, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Partially born, born, born again, reborn in heaven. Only a cat has more lives.

  7. TnkAgn
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    In 1969, I was stationed in Okinawa to train with sentry dogs, prior to my assignment in Vietnam. We had a sergeant who always bugged us to attend his (Maranatha Baptist)church. He’d promised a great after-service brunch, and being tired of mess hall fare, we assented. During the service, the preacher did everything he could to get even one of us six hungry GIs to come to the alter and claim Jesus. Nobody moved. Some other parishioners came up, as if to show us how easily it’s done. Still, not one of us moved. After exclaiming to the assembled how disappointed he was (in us), the preacher ended the service, and we all ate some of the best fried chicken and biscuits I ever had, and more than a few disapproving looks from the faithful. We had earned both!
    Not sure there is a lesson in this for anyone, including former cadet Page. Draw your own lessons.

    • Dominic
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      You showed them that you did not need a god. that was a good thing that you did.

  8. Matt G
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Great article, and a huge number of positive comments from people who rightly decry this violation of the First Amendment.

  9. Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I know something about religion at West Point, at least in the late 60’s. I was in the class of 1970. Mike Anderson, who fought mandatory chapel in Anderson vs. Laird, was a friend and classmate.

    Mike, I, and a number of other classmates, were openly atheist, formally objected to mandatory chapel (which ended in 1972) and refused to have money taken from our pay to support the church. The atmosphere may have changed, but the repercussions in those days were not particularly grave. Each cadet company had a commissioned officer, usually a major, as tactical officer, in charge of discipline, training etc. Mine tried to persuade me to contribute to the church, perhaps due to pressure from higher up the chain of command, but I refused. I never suffered any reprisals or negative consequences that I am aware of. I often used to engage in lively debates about religion with my classmates, but none of them shunned me or seemed to particularly mind that I was an atheist, either. I am still good friends with a couple of classmates who are fundamentalist Christians. Fortunately, they lean to Calvinism, so don’t try to “convert” me. It may be that things are worse now than they were then, but I doubt it. A lot of people enjoy the status of “victim,” but in this case it’s probably exaggerated.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      beware of projecting personal anecdotes as general trends.

      there actually ARE a lot of case examples that have been posted publicly over the last 10 years of victimization and discrimination against non-christians in the military.

      Just because your experience was different, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        You seem quite willing to believe Blake Page’s “personal anecdote,” but apparently reject mine because it conflicts with your preferred version of reality. I think four years at West Point followed by five years in the Army is more than just a “personal anecdote.” If there had been pervasive discrimination against atheists in the Army, I would have noticed it.

        • Tumara Baap
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

          Ichthyic did not reject what you have to say. I suspect like me he hopes the tolerant atmosphere you speak of is much more widespread. But for anyone who has been following the MRFF and has pondered on its need to exist in the first place, ground reality for a lot of people is starkly different.

          One cannot rule out numerous generational differences either. In the sixties “liberal” was not a dirty word. The public did not associate national security as a conservative forte. The political culture in the armed forces was not the same – a vastly larger proportion of soldiers were solidly Republican by the mid eighties. And the Republicans themselves started to identify with reinvigorated fundus post Jimmy Carter. America as a whole slowly became more secular, but the military had little to show for it. The shit really hit the ceiling during the Bush-Cheney years.

          I sometimes wonder what sort of anecdotes and insights went up in flames in Pat Tillman’s diary. Fortunately there are countless anecdotes by others that could not be hushed up. Viva MRFF & FFRF.

          • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

            Military officers have always been a conservative lot, then as now. It is regrettable if unsurprising that, in a military over a million strong, there will be some instances of bigotry. However, in four years as a cadet and five as a junior officer I never made a secret of my atheism, and never encountered any overt discrimination or bigotry, although people would often challenge my beliefs, engage me in debates, etc. As an emotionally conservative atheist, I’ve always felt the atheist groups I’ve belonged to were very liberal and significantly less tolerant of ideological outliers.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:35 am | Permalink

              so… MRFF exosts solely on the basis of a delusion, or a single anecdote, you think?

              or is it more likely, as I said, that your particular window missed, consciously or unconsciously, the discrimination others did not?

              if you react with more strawmen, i would say that would support the idea that you unconsciously deny any bias or discrimination that was actually there, even during your tenure.

              check your own biases before you assume those of others.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:32 am | Permalink

          You seem quite willing to believe Blake Page’s “personal anecdote,” but apparently reject mine because it conflicts with your preferred version of reality.

          do you know what a strawman is?

          because you just erected a classic example.

    • tomh
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Helian wrote:
      It may be that things are worse now than they were then, but I doubt it. A lot of people enjoy the status of “victim,” but in this case it’s probably exaggerated.

      And you base this speculation on what? Forty year old memories and the fact that you have Christian friends? Big deal. You have no idea what you are talking about. Things are much worse now, just like they are in the country as a whole, and they weren’t so great for everyone forty years ago. I was in the service in the sixties also, and where I was there were plenty of repercussions for bucking the Christian establishment. Try keeping up with the MRFF to catch up with the way things are nowadays.

      • Miles_Teg
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

        Geez, what a cranky old geezer you are. Well, I guess it’s all Helian’s fault for not slavishly towing the party line.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink

          or using an anecdote in place of evidence.

          but then, I guess all us scientists are just cranky old geezers, right boyo?

        • Roux Brownwell
          Posted December 12, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

          lift that barge
          tow that bale
          toe the line

    • truthspeaker
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      ” It may be that things are worse now than they were then, but I doubt it.”

      Why do you doubt it? As you well know, the expansion of evangelical Christianity into politics started in the late 1970s, after you had left West Point.

  10. caf
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    An appeal from National Center for Science Education for people to help review Texas textbooks for creationist/ID ideology.

    We need your help!

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