Sunday, December 17, 2006

Military Colonel's Derogatory Comments on Atheists

From the pages of Brent Rasmussen’s Screwing the Inscrutable, we get the story of an army battalion commander Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich commenting on the case of the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman, said that his family’s “suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.” (cite)

Now, there is certainly reason to be upset with these words, and Mr. Rasmussen expresses his disapproval. However, I thought it would be instructive to look at the claims made and discuss exactly where Kauzlarich made his mistake and why it is appropriate to brand him a hate-mongering bigot.

One of the issues that may be seen as cluttering this discussion concerns the circumstances of Pat Tillman’s death. Tillman was killed by several fire, shot several? Times by other members of his squad while involved in a firefight in Afghanistan. The military hid the fact that Tillman died as a result of friendly fire for quite some time from his parents and the rest of the country. There is some suspicion of a cover-up, and speculation as to what it is that the government may want to cover up.

For purposes of this posting, the question of a conspiracy regarding Tillman’s death is not relevant. We can accept for the sake of argument that Tillman died as a result of friendly fire. Somebody made a mistake. It was a type of mistake that happens in war time. In spite of the desire of some to have the shooter’s head on a pike, it simply is not productive. In fact, under some circumstances, it may well be counter-productive to have soldiers so worried about shooting the wrong person that they end up not shooting the right people when they need to.

I am not saying that this is true of the case in question. I am saying that its truth or falsity is a different issue than the one I am writing about. Even if it is true, it would not excuse Col. Kauzlarich’s bigoted comments.

So, what’s wrong with Kauzlarich’s comments?

If we look at them, we see that Kauzlarich is proposing a regularity – a relationship between two events. In this case, “absence of a Christian faith” is said to cause “Tillman’s family’s unhappiness with the findings of past investigations.”

This is an attempt to describe some sort of regularity, like a discovery that, “flammable materials kept near the hot water heater in the basement caused the fire.”

Kauzlarich adds some detail to this theory.

"When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

So, “absence of Christian faith” implies “dead people are worm dirt” implies “hard to get your head around that” which, finally, implies “unhappiness with the findings of past investigations.”

As a part of this theory, Kauzlarich adds:

But there [have] been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide, and the parents have basically said, 'OK, it was an unfortunate accident.' And they let it go. So this is — I don't know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs.


So, Christians who lose their children due to “unfortunate cases of fratricide” do not become “unhappy with the findings of past investigations.” Only atheists have this problem.

Bigotry is making up negative stereotypes about a group of people based on . . . well, based on nothing. Bigotry is saying that slavery is good for blacks because black people lack the basic intelligence to take care of themselves and, so, it is better that they live on a plantation with good, intelligent white people to care for them (in exchange for some labor on the cotton plantation) than that they suffer the inevitable failures of life as a free person.

The same can be found in the idea that women are creatures of emotion, lacking a basic capacity to reason, meaning that they need to be put under the care of men – taught first to blindly obey their father until they are old enough to marry, at which point they are to blindly obey their husband.

Kauzlarach’s theory is that atheists lack the capacity to accept death, which makes them fundamentally incapable of accepting the military’s story about how Pat Tillman died, because, we all know that Christians do not concern themselves with such questions.

So, if a Christian’s child is killed, and there is suspicion that the person responsible for his death acted in violation of rules and procedures, Christians simply do not care and are willing to allow the individual to get off without punishment. Is that what we are supposed to believe?

I suspect that even a Christian parent, for example, will tell somebody they catch lying that, “The problem with lying is that I lose any reason to trust you. You have shown that you are willing to hide the truth when you want to – you have no respect for honesty. How can you stand there and say, ‘trust me’ when you have already shown that you are not to be trusted with the truth?”

The claim that these are atheist traits not shared by Christians is blatantly untrue.

Yet, Colonel Kauzlarich uses these false claims to assert that atheists are inferior to Christians in their ability to handle the death of a loved one.

Another fact worth mentioning is that this is simply the most recent of a long list of stories describing bigotry in the military towards atheists.

It needs to be considered in the context of Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum's comments that said that atheists are the equivalent of bigots when he said, "Agnostics, atheists and bigots suddenly lose all that when their life is on the line." (cite) Blum’s remarks, among others, spurred first Lieutenant Wayne Adkins to resign from the national guard. In a column he wrote explaining his resignation, Adkins wrote

Army Regulation 600-20, section 6-2, paragraph a says “The U.S. Army will provide EO and fair treatment for military personnel and family members without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin, and provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination and offensive behavior. They have failed miserably at providing an environment free of offensive behavior for atheists. The regulation defines several terms in these sections which make it clear that the public comments of Blum and others constitute “unlawful discrimination”. Disparaging terms are defined as “Terms used to degrade or connote negative statements pertaining to race, color, gender, national origin, or religion”.

There is no reasonable way to deny that Kauzlarich’s statements are also, “…those meant to degrade or connote negative sentiments pertaining to . . . religion.”

Does one think that the military will start to enforce its own rules?

For some reason, I have decided not to hold my breath.

However, I do have to say that there is a reason why the military does a better job of enforcing its rules against degrading treatment of others, but not atheists. Substantially, it is because athiests do not protest - so we do not give them a reason to be concerned with the wrongness of their actions. It is much like the silence (except for private complaints to each other) following President Bush's comment that no person who denies that our rights come from God is qualified to be a judge - a statement that would have ended his political career if he had targeted some other group. But did not. I suspect that Kauzlarich’s statements will end up being ignored in much the same way.

Personally, I think it is time to insist on a public appology and admission of wrongdoing on the part of any military officer making derogatory comments such as these.


Anonymous said...

You are completely right, but the fact is that the US military has become infiltrated top to bottom with extreme Christianists. This stray remark is just a surface symptom of a very deep rot. See this article for instance.

Jersey McJones said...

This reminds me, in a roundabout kind of way, of the Christian apologetics for slavery and colonialism a couple centuries ago. It was alright, in the minds of many, to abuse and enslave people if you bringing them Christianity along the way. What a sick way of thinking.


Anonymous said...

This doesn't seem to be as big a problem in the Navy. At least, all the egregious stories I see in the press on religious matters are about the Army (Tillman) or the Air Force (Evangelicals at the AFA). There was a small flap about Navy chaplains opposing orders to make their public prayers more ecumenical, but I don't know what else came of that.

Anonymous said...

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you this Advent season, and Merry Christmas.