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Welcome! and On V in Other Places: "Where Did God Go in Afghanistan?"

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Quick heads up to regular readers, if you thought Michael C’s announcement yesterday about his article in Infantry magazine was cool, wait until you see this.

Michael C just had a piece published on the newyorktimes.com At War blog, titled, “Where Did God Go in Afghanistan?

This is amazing and cool, and big props to Michael C.

nineteen comments

Thanks for the shout out.

Oh yeah, and congrats.

Hey will I forgot to email you. Sorry.

Every five years, I sort through all my military stuff and throw out what I don’t need. Random things that just kinda collect over time. Do I really still need those woodland BDU’s? How did I end up with a 1 1/4 inch socket wrench?

This time around, I found eight pocket bibles that had been given to me throughout various deployments. I’m wondering what to do with them. It would be wrong to throw a bible away.

Anyways, to answer Michael’s question, I think that guys are just too busy in combat to focus on God. I know that’s not the right answer, but I think it’s true.

Moreover, war will test one’s faith. I heard a quote from a Vietnam Vet a while back, “When I went to Vietnam, I believed in John Wayne and Jesus Christ. When I came home, I didn’t believe in either.” I think most sort through their beliefs AFTER war. Many will grow stronger in their beliefs and some will stop believing.

Hey mike, really nice comment. You brought up a phenomenon that most people outside of the military don’t even know about, the junk and the storage rooms. Watching my brother organize that stuff cracked me up.

First, Will I didn’t mean to give you a shout out.
Second, at Mike F., I know what you mean when you say it feels wrong to throw out a bible, I feel the same way.

And I think I touched on your reason in the article, but I still don’t think it is the primary reason. Soldiers are worn out, but they still don’t go.

Capt. Cummings, I appreciated your article so much. I am a civilian with the USDA and I was on a FOB in Kapisa Provice for six months. I now work in Kabul and will be here in all two years. When the chaplain would come to our FOB, we would have a group of three or four. Even though the group wasn’t big, I felt like “where two or more are gathered” and it was always a comfort to me. The chaplain helped me through a very emotional time and I will never forget his kindness and guidance in a land so far from home. God bless all the military chaplains!

Best regards

Some SWJ props…



I applaud you for your poignant article in the New York Times. I am a Army helicopter pilot, and have now been to Afghanistan once(Baghram), and to Iraq (Kalsu & Taji) twice. I have befriended several chaplain friends along the way, even roomed with one, and I concur that we have a problem, and it is the same problem that our society is experiencing—Moral Relativism. There was a comment made by an atheist who summed the worlds view up nicely—if it works for you, great, but don’t press your beliefs on me… Christ said, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life…” (John 14:6) so it is pretty difficult for us as believers to reconcile that statement and say what is good for each is good enough…God does not believe that. I applaud your boldness: foremost, to call those that are brothers and sisters to accountability. Surely there are other believers…where is “the body”(Eph. 5:30)? You would think being a Soldier might give us all a more urgent need to seek and find truth, but sin continues to blind those most needing Him from seeing Him. I, with you, am amazed at the apathy that reigns, but God did say, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Mt 18:20 For all the stories of apathy, I know, and have seen positive stories where God is working powerfully on our Front lines as well…so I encourage you to pray steadfastly, and continue to embrace your brothers and sisters that DO show up faithfully. Unfortunately, I do think that things will get better before they get worse, and I know every generation since Christ has thought they were in the end times, but what we do know is things will not get better…wars, and rumors of wars…it is sure to get worse. I certainly find your article a great testimony for those that are not holding to their responsibilities as part of the body of Christ. Thank you for being bold and calling to the carpet those that might need a reminder of Whose they are, and that we each have a responsibility to each other as parts of the body of Christ. I know many chaplains that struggle every day with the spiritual battle that goes on in our ranks, and the frustration with the lack of faithful attendance to church, or any type of faith-based gathering. I pray that God may forgive us and continue to Bless our Nation with the freedom it enjoys, and protect the young men and women that fight so courageously for the freedom to share such important discussions as these! Be safe, Godspeed, and remain vigilant!

@Kathy- That is my one worry with the post, that it will be construed that I don’t like Chaplains or consider them necessary. Even though most Soldiers aren’t overtly religious, Chaplains serve a vital service to keeping a unit’s sanity.

@MikeF- Thanks for the heads up. Getting on NYTimes and SWJ in the same week is frankly unreal.

@EK- I am glad you enjoyed the piece, thank you for the compliment.

“If there are no atheists in foxholes, then why aren’t there any religious soldiers on our bases?”

Well, it turns out there are a number of atheists in a number of foxholes, so the second half of the question is somewhat moot.

Relevantly: http://www.maaf.info/demographics.html

I definitely appreciate your choice not to proselytize while deployed, despite the misgivings and disappointment you express in your article. As officers in a secular military serving a secular government, it is not ours to promote any religion while at work.

After all, my muslim squad leader, atheist soldiers, and atheist peers have heard loud and clear the “you’re not welcome” message every time a commanding officer has given a talk on the importance of (Christian) religion.

The contributions of non-christian soldiers and officers are not insignificant. They deserve a professional environment free of religious pressure or intimidation.

Congrats on the NYTimes exposure, anyway. This point of contention excepted, it seems like there’s some interesting things going on around here.


Matt P

soturi – To clarify, Michael is using a commonly stated aphorism that he never claims to take stock in. The tidal wave of pro and anti Christian backlash from an observation that the military may not be as religious as our culture generally believes them to be, is baffling to me. Further, he is not and would never try and slight any cultural or religious group from the recognition of their contributions. The piece is fairly straight forward.

he does indeed initially acknowledge the saying’s fallacy. but i’m not sure the piece is as straightforward as you say.

the second time he references that maxim, he treats it as though it is a reliable observation. so much so that the rest of the piece is an attempt to reconcile that sentiment with his direct observation of its refutation. the implication is that he thinks there are, in fact, no atheists in foxholes, but worship isn’t “cool” enough to be publicized. if only worship had a “cooler” popular perception, it would be evident that there are no (insignificant numbers of) atheists around.

after all, as he says:

“Maybe soldiers need hope; maybe they need the promise of an afterlife to face death. And when this friendly little aphorism was coined, it was probably true… Now, religion is political.”

despite observing the dearth of military religiosity first hand, he still believes the Army is Christian (or at least theist). but no one wants to be “that guy”, as he himself admits to feeling.

read this way, the article sounds a lot like someone trying to encourage the perceived christian majority to take heart and to more publicly embrace their religion within the Army community. perhaps he feels guilty about downplaying his religion in an attempt to avoid being singled out (which may feel acutely non-courageous in hindsight), and is attempting with this article to begin fostering an atmosphere where the religious in the military feel more comfortable being overtly religious.

and this, i think, is where most of the “backlash” that you mention originates. those who are anti-theist read it this way and think “oh great, another ‘you’re not welcome’ speech from an officer” and those who are pro-theist read it this way and think “yea! a champion in the War on Non-Jesus-Freaks!”.

did he intend it to be read this way? perhaps not. but clearly a lot of people ARE reading it this way.

so, as i said: i appreciate Michael’s choice not to proselytize at work. i don’t think it’s un-courageous to practice your religion “on the sly” while simultaneously executing your duties – i think it’s professional. especially in a secular military.

[Matty P – i found after i posted that you are a regular commenter here. i applaud your parent’s naming sense, and in deference to your presence preceding mine on this blog i shall henceforth sign my posts differently]

Here’s the problem Soturi: most of the army is religious. The link you cited (which I’ll repeat here: http://www.maaf.info/demographics.html) says that about 70 of the Army attends church at least once a month.

The conflict is that, if a base has 40 people, about 70 attend church, then you would expect 20-25 people to show up at the service. They didn’t, there is a disconnect, the post wanted to explore that.

Anyway, if anything, having to sneak off to service shows that the military, at least out in the field, discourages religious activity.

Eric: the only problem you have illustrated is one of logical fallacy. The neutrality of a messenger is independent of the message’s validity (see: ad hominem fallacy). You may not like the tone of delivery, but the army times collected data by polling its readers while the maaf collected data from dod demographics. Which do you suppose is more accurate?

The conclusion you’ve drawn from that (faulty) premise is suspect.

Further, michael’s illustrated sneaking is explicitly the result of peer environment, not “military discouragement”. Your proposition that the military fosters a religiously hostile environment is faulty. I think you would have a hard time defending it rigorously. The more logical conclusion would be that many soldiers are not religious, not that the army discourages religion.

Hm. Perhaps I was a bit unfair with that last one. The faults i pointed out in eric’s logic are real, but both sources do clearly indicate the majority of servicemembers are religious. Sort of tangential, but a fair concession.

Anyway, I’m far less interested in what the military’s specific demographics are than I am with a discussion of professional conduct/expectations WRT religion. I.e. Thoughts on my cursory deconstruction of the piece at hand. Matt is surprised by the observed backlash, but I think my reading of the article is consistent with how those doing the backlashing read it. Is my reading unreasonable?

Soturi, you seem much better at logic than I am, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here.

But in your quest to point out that Ad Hominem attacks apply to polling data (it doesn’t. Read 538.com, and I hope Focus on the Family never releases a study.), you never responded to my original point. So I’ll rewrite it with the offending word “neutral” stricken from it:

Most of the army is religious. The link you cited (which I’ll repeat here: http://www.maaf.info/demographics.html) says that about 70 of the Army attends church at least once a month.

The conflict is that, if a base has 40 people, about 70 attend church, then you would expect 20-25 people to show up at the service. They didn’t, there is a disconnect, the post wanted to explore that.


i have to admit to reading your post very incorrectly the first time around. apologies.

your question actually frames Michael’s piece quite well. it can still certainly be read as i indicated previously (and thus explain the various forms of backlash Matty P mentioned), but i can much more clearly see the “explorative” side of it as well now.

i still have some misgivings (coolness strikes me as a seriously insufficient explanation), but i’m inclined to let this topic go in favor of some of the other interesting things available On Violence.

Fair enough. My last comment was pretty snarky.

I’ve written elsewhere, but we originally included the MAAF study in our article, and made the set-up clearer. I personally don’t see how the post can be mis-read, but I appreciate the feedback.

That said—and this certainly doesn’t apply to you. You seem cool headed and willing to seek compromise—a lot of the responses have been really unreasonable. To take Michael C’s post, and assume he endorses religious coercion, well, that just isn’t supported by the text of his post.

Anyways, welcome to On V. We have a lot of stuff going on here, I hope you like it.