On the Church, the Military, and the Descent into Tyranny
The heart of America resides in its free institutions.
The heart of America resides in its free institutions.
In a republic committed to freedom, the church and the military, two of the country's most powerful organizations, must be allowed to construct and to follow the ethical guidelines, codes of conduct, internal rules, and hallowed rituals they themselves create without interference from the federal and state governments.
In other words, the military --with self-limiting exceptions its specific duties and focus may require -- and the Church must have the freedom to define themselves, and must have the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights without qualification to all Americans.
If both are not allowed by an increasingly arrogant administration to retain the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they risk losing their authentic and free consciences entirely.
In turn, when the conscience of an institution is corrupted and/or hijacked by another ethical paradigm, it loses its unique moral identity and purpose and is at the service of an alien ethos. It becomes the tool of another force, regardless of whether or not it retains emptied symbols and rituals.
The free conscience of the Marine Corps, for example, as in other branches of services, resides in two main places.
First, the corps itself has ethical and spiritual codes of conduct every Marine is supposed to follow:
The Corps is an elite fraternity, a spiritual brotherhood. Entry is a calling. For most, earning the title is closely akin to becoming a priest. Yet, the ethos of the Warrior Culture of the Marines is simple: prowess in combat.
Each U.S. Marine, past and present, has entered more than just the Brotherhood of Marines. He has become, and will always remain, part of a mystical fellowship of valor. He must comply with hallowed rituals. He must conform to an uncompromising code of honor, discipline, and personal integrity.
Second, the individual conscience of the soldier must remain free.
The mentors of the spiritual ethos of the individual soldier are its commanding officers and, perhaps more especially, its chaplains. Chaplains in particular are the spiritual guides of the soldier's individual conscience. They are the ones who share the soldier's hardships, providing spiritual strength and comfort in times of duress, whether it is on the beaches of Normandy, in the jungles of Vietnam, in the deserts of Iraq, or in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. Chaplains are with America's warriors in life and in death.
To that end, they must be free to proclaim the ethos undergirding the faith and to instruct individual adherents to the faith without interference by the secular state.
But the conscience of people of faith, including military chaplains and members of our military, is increasingly threatened by the anti-religious sentiment of our current administration, which is seeking effectively to silence chaplains who are speaking out about the overreach of the government's health care mandates concerning birth control and sterilization.
The mandate objected to by military chaplains, as noted in a previous article for American Thinker, is one which insists that the Catholic Church provide access to health insurance containing provisions for abortifacients and sterilization to all employees of its institutions.
The particular object of the wrath of the executive branch involved the reading by Catholic chaplains of a letter opposing the mandate to soldiers. One particular line in the letter was objected to by the chief of chaplains, who said he was concerned that the statement "We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law" was a call for civil disobedience.
Not content with admonition of military chaplains who dared speak out against the edict, the administration also sought to censor Archbishop Timothy Broglio, archbishop for military services, who called the health care injunctions "unjust."
Broglio replied to efforts to censor his protests with a strong statement to Catholic soldiers:
It is imperative that I call to your attention to an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be 'of, by, and for the people,' has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people -- the Catholic population -- and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faith. It is a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle.
Is Archbishop Broglio's defense of freedom of conscience to be seen as a seditious call to insurrection? Are U.S. military chaplains calling for mutiny among the ranks?
This administration seems to think so.
But since when is it insurrection to follow the principles of one's faith, refusing to obey a law against one's conscience, and particularly a mandate having to do with birth control and sterilization? Just how is the might of the military compromised by soldiers who object to abortifacients?
The individual soldier must follow orders of his superiors and commanding officers as regards his duties as a soldier. He is not required to sacrifice his conscience in matters of faith and practice of his religion.
If a chaplain can be commanded to change his archbishop's letter calling a government policy unjust; if he can be called seditious for reading the letter; if he can be commanded to change or expurgate the words of his spiritual superior, the archbishop; if the archbishop himself can be commanded to censor statements about Church doctrines and practices, then religious freedom and free speech in this country are dead, and no American is safe from attack by his own government.
The attack on Catholic chaplains, and by implication on every other chaplain who dares resist government directives against conscience, is especially ominous when viewed in combination with the recent National Defense Authorization Act. As Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi points out, the law allows "seditious" Americans to be detained indefinitely if they fit the fungible and vague definition of "terrorist" as outlined by that law.
No American can walk free when "terrorism" and "sedition" are so broadly defined that to call a measure "unjust" is viewed as seditious and as an incitement to insurrection. No citizen dare speak out against the current administration, including matters of faith and religious practice, without fear of repercussions that include condemnation without trial and incarceration without an end.
It is only fair to ask what happens when the military is subject exclusively to the state's "conscience," centered in and proclaimed by one branch of government and/or one man.
When only power matters and commands must be followed without regard to ethics, anything is possible, and anything can be done without the restriction of conscience. War is always a terrible enterprise, but when it is undertaken by soldiers whose consciences are in every aspect completely in thrall to the dictates of a given government, it is Hell indeed.
Certainly we have enough examples from history of conscience-cleansed troops who claimed that "I was only following orders."
Let's be clear: the concern on the part of radical secularists attacking the Church and the military is not the danger of insurrection. The true goal is the replacement of the current spiritual ethos of the American military and even the Church with a radically secular ethos. It is the subjection of conscience to the boot of the state.
The concern is not that marauding Christian soldiers will march against their own commanders and move to take Washington by force because they don't believe in sterilization. The true goal is the imposition of an ethos alien to all the longstanding traditions of all branches of the armed services. The goal is to mold the U.S. military into duplicates of other institutions that have been captured by extreme secularists -- institutions like the public schools, academia, and the mainstream media.
Behind the threat of the executive branch is the 800-pound gorilla -- that none other than the federal government's executive branch, which adheres largely to the ideology of radical secularism, is to act as the conscience of the individual, the Church, or the military.
When the attacks on freedom of speech and religious liberty are coupled with the dangerously imprecise National Defense Authorization Law, the nation is faced with a poisonous mix that could well prove fatal to liberty.
If American Christians and others of faith, including those in the military, don't rise up against the tyrannous conduct of this administration, they shouldn't be surprised when their local priests, pastors, or chaplains are hauled away to prison for teaching what the Church believes.
People of all faiths must not remain silent.
It is long-lasting institutions with their own code of ethics, tribunals, and tools for interior self-examination and reform which are the ballast of our Republic. Institutions like the church and the military provide an overarching framework that resists the political vagaries of a given administration, the nostrums of a particular president and Congress, and the extremes of radical fringe groups seeking to impose their will.
When the state tries to seize control of either, not only does it trample on the freedom of the Church and the military, but it jeopardizes the state itself. For a monopoly of ideological force, ethical or otherwise, may appear invincible at the outset, as did the SS controlled by fascist ideals of the Third Reich.
But in the end, a government without free institutions which act independently to correct, temper, and resist the monopolist impulses of an all-powerful state will find its moral strength quickly dissipating.
Then begins the descent into tyranny.
Fay Voshell was selected as one of Delaware's Republican "Winning Women" in 2008. She holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her the Charles Hodge prize for excellence in systematic theology. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.