Air Force makes God optional

The second production model F-35A Lightning II aircraft flies above the compass rose of Rogers Dry Lakebed at Edwards Air … Continued

The second production model F-35A Lightning II aircraft flies above the compass rose of Rogers Dry Lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, California in this May 13, 2011 file image distributed by the U.S. Air Force.


The United States Air Force has decided to make God an option
; at least as far as the service or enlistment oath is concerned. The oath is older that the United States itself, dating back to June of 1775, and has been administered in its current form since 1962, as follows:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Those enlisting now have the option of omitting those last 4 words, to which I say ‘Thank God’!

As a believer, I welcome this change in policy for precisely the same reasons that I reject the call by some to remove the phrase from the oath altogether. Faith flourishes best when freedom of conscience reigns for all. It’s as simple as that, no matter how many extremists from either the faith-based or atheist-driven communities say otherwise.

To be sure, were the new policy a move to get rid of the words “so help me God” altogether, I would be at the head of the line to resist the change, for the same reasons that I just defended making it optional.

Those atheists and secularists who would like to see the words banned altogether are potentially dangerous absolutists who are no more committed to freedom of thought and conscience that those who would make the oath the province of any one church or doctrine.

It’s not that I would not prefer that people find a place for God in their lives. I would. And more than 87 percent of Americans say that they do so, from which I deduce a number of conclusions which should further allay the concerns of those upset by the new “God optional” policy.

The new policy is not a portent of declining interest in God. As a nation, we may be less interested in choosing a singular religious community with which to identify, but that’s not because we are walking away from God. We’re not. In fact, the number of Americans identifying as atheists has been pretty flat for a number of years. So there’s no reason to resist the change as a way to keep us from forgetting about God.

If anything, the change represents an increasing awareness of the need to respect multiple views even as we join together to protect the one nation we share and love. That’s sounds like precisely the kind of approach that protects religious vibrancy in the culture by assuring that we continue to have a free market approach to ideas and beliefs. That approach is what has kept America much more God-focused than anywhere else is the so-called ‘first world.’

The military is not perfect at balancing the needs of various faith communities, including those who are part of the faithless community, but what institution is? If anything, military chaplains have often lead the way in figuring out how to serve the needs of all people with whom they deal, regardless of the faith followed by that person.

From battlefields to hospital wards to classrooms and prayer rooms, they regularly put the other person’s need ahead of the dogma that defines their own lives. Or more accurately, they have figured out time and again, how their own particular faith can help them serve even those who don’t follow that faith.

By going God optional, the USAF continues the best of both our nation’s traditions, and those of our military, not to mention doing something good for the health of faith in our nation. Truly, this is a moment when at least the believers among us should be saying, ‘thank God.’

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • allinthistogether

    I have not studied this issue closely, but as an agnostic, my gut reaction is that perhaps the “so help me God” phrase would be better left out of the written pledge, or added parenthetically with the word “optional” attached. As long as the phrase “so help me God” is included, the federal government is “establishing” a monotheistic religious world view – because the default position of the pledge is that there is a god. If it is left out, and those making the pledge have the option to state “so help me God” at the end of the pledge, then no presumption of montheism is mad, and everyone has maximum freedom. Keeping the phrase in is like making marriage vows include language that indicates that the two getting married are of different genders, unless a phrase is left out.

  • allinthistogether

    I have not studied this issue closely, but as an agnostic, my gut reaction is that perhaps the “so help me God” phrase would be better left out of the written pledge, or added parenthetically with the word “optional” attached. As long as the phrase “so help me God” is included, the federal government is “establishing” a monotheistic religious world view – because the default position of the pledge is that there is a god. If it is left out, and those making the pledge have the option to state “so help me God” at the end of the pledge, then no presumption of montheism is mad, and everyone has maximum freedom. Keeping the phrase in is like making marriage vows include language that indicates that the two getting married are of different genders, unless a phrase is left out.

  • nickthap

    It clearly is much nicer to believe in God while you are strafing villages in the 3rd world. Amen.

  • nickthap

    It clearly is much nicer to believe in God while you are strafing villages in the 3rd world. Amen.

  • gbjerry

    Mr Hirschfield is a believer, he says. So he wouldn’t delete “so help be God” from the oath. That’s at least self serving and at the worst contradictory. I do believe in a secular state. Much of the chaos now present in national politics is directly related to misguided religious beliefs. I resent having religion flashed in my face as though it were universally accepted, or in the minds of some should be, from “In god we trust” to the position of chaplain in the Congress. It’s pure evangelism, which I am not sure has a place in public life.

  • gbjerry

    Mr Hirschfield is a believer, he says. So he wouldn’t delete “so help be God” from the oath. That’s at least self serving and at the worst contradictory. I do believe in a secular state. Much of the chaos now present in national politics is directly related to misguided religious beliefs. I resent having religion flashed in my face as though it were universally accepted, or in the minds of some should be, from “In god we trust” to the position of chaplain in the Congress. It’s pure evangelism, which I am not sure has a place in public life.

  • Tungbo

    How about options to say:

    “So help me Allah” or
    “So help me Buddha”, etc.

    Shouldn’t people of diverse faiths who serves in our military have these options also?

  • Tungbo

    How about options to say:

    “So help me Allah” or
    “So help me Buddha”, etc.

    Shouldn’t people of diverse faiths who serves in our military have these options also?

  • oodnadatta

    Why would Christians want to swear an oath to God when their faith forbids it?

  • oodnadatta

    Why would Christians want to swear an oath to God when their faith forbids it?

  • Rongoklunk

    But what if there is no god? I mean its not a given is it? And even if there is a God, why assume it’s the one you pray to? Maybe it’s Allah or Vishnu or Brahma, or some god we never even heard of. It’s weird nobody ever saw a god. but they believe he’s ‘up there’ anyway. And it’s really weird that everyone believes in an afterlife when everything we know about reality says that death is death – for us as for all living things. I guess its like whatever gets you through the day is OK, and whatever gets you through the night is alright. Even if it’s just wishful thinking. But personally I’ll take truth over wishful thinking everytime.

  • Rongoklunk

    But what if there is no god? I mean its not a given is it? And even if there is a God, why assume it’s the one you pray to? Maybe it’s Allah or Vishnu or Brahma, or some god we never even heard of. It’s weird nobody ever saw a god. but they believe he’s ‘up there’ anyway. And it’s really weird that everyone believes in an afterlife when everything we know about reality says that death is death – for us as for all living things. I guess its like whatever gets you through the day is OK, and whatever gets you through the night is alright. Even if it’s just wishful thinking. But personally I’ll take truth over wishful thinking everytime.

  • Secular1

    This is atrocious, those stupid words were not present in any of our oaths and pledges, until the 1950s full 175 years of our existence. The republic had survived very well. This republic will survive for the next 175 years and more if those superstitious four words were completely eliminated. There is no doubt in that. These past 60 some years when everyone was forced to repeat them haven’t worked out any better that the first 175 years. So let’s agree that the grand concession to superstition has shown to be a spectacular failure. So the rational thing to do is to just plain remove them.

  • Secular1

    This is atrocious, those stupid words were not present in any of our oaths and pledges, until the 1950s full 175 years of our existence. The republic had survived very well. This republic will survive for the next 175 years and more if those superstitious four words were completely eliminated. There is no doubt in that. These past 60 some years when everyone was forced to repeat them haven’t worked out any better that the first 175 years. So let’s agree that the grand concession to superstition has shown to be a spectacular failure. So the rational thing to do is to just plain remove them.

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