First up from the God Machine this week is a story about conservatives condemning the Defense Department for faith-based policies that don't actually exist at the Pentagon.
Fox News' Sean Hannity and Todd Starnes portrayed restraints on proselytization as proof of the Obama administration's purported "war on religious liberty in the military," despite the fact that military policy has long prohibited unwanted proselytization.On the May 2 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity claimed that a Pentagon statement reiterating the military's longtime policy against proselytizing was proof of Obama's "war on religious liberty." Starnes added that Christians were "under significant attack" by the Obama administration, under which "we have seen a Christian cleansing of the United States military."
The more Fox News pushed this line, the more others on the right took it seriously. Breitbart.com, true to form, told readers, "Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith." Then the religious right movement got involved -- AU's Simon Brown reported, soon after, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins expressed outrage that the Obama administration is involved in an "anti-Christian offensive." His colleague, FRC Executive Vice President Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William "Jerry" Boykin, added, "If this policy goes forward, Christians within the military who speak of their faith could now be prosecuted as enemies of the state."
Seriously? Christians will be prosecuted as "enemies of the state" for talking about their faith? No, not in this reality.
The truth is far more mundane than the right would have us believe. The Defense Department, hoping to debunk some of the overheated nonsense from the right, clarified his week that aggressive proselytizing and faith-based harassment among servicemembers is not permitted -- when one soldier is constantly trying to convert another, against his or her will, it's not good for morale or unit cohesion -- but men and women in uniform are still free to discuss their religious beliefs.
"The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a statement. "The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members."
Christensen added. "Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization)."
The Fox story, in other words, was baseless, despite the eagerness with which conservatives embraced and circulated it.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Pope Francis tweeted this week, "My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost." It came a day after he condemned the "slave labor" conditions at a Bangladesh factory whose collapse last week killed hundreds. Political activists on the right were not pleased, accusing the pope of supporting "socialism."
* There was a bizarre incident in an Albuquerque this week when a young man, wielding a knife, vaulted over pews and attacked a choir director he believed to be "a Mason," and that Capener later told police that he was "99 percent sure Alvarez was a mason" and that Masons are a group involved "in a conspiracy that is far more reaching than I could or would believe" (thanks to R.P. for the heads-up).
* There's also a bizarre faith-based controversy brewing in Dallas, where a debate over school reforms has led one local man to reach out to 75 local pastors to see his rivals as "a fake Jesus" (thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the tip).
* And my colleague Will Femia flagged this gem, showing a homeless man "conducting a clever exercise in behavioral economics disguised as an inquiry into the levels of spontaneous generosity as determined by religious creed or lack thereof." For the record, at last count, the atheists were winning.