Thursday, December 06, 2012

Months before graduation, West Point cadet quits, citing culture of overt religion

The following story makes me sad for a couple of reasons:  First, it is another example of militant atheism trying to drive any expression of religion out of public life.  (See my previous post.)  But secondly, I am sad because the cadet in question, Blake Page, is obviously hurting and doesn't see the possible connection between his anti-religious (and specifically anti-Christian) feelings and the depression and anxiety he is experiencing, which could be directly related to his feelings of hostility toward his environment. 

My sympathy goes out to Mr. Page over the suicide of his father last year.  But this, too, possibly says something about the pathology of the family system that could have been helped by faith in Christ.

Two final observations about this story: (1) While Page resigned and was honorably discharged, the fact remains that he had been medically disqualified from receiving a commission in the Army as a second lieutenant — like his classmates will receive in May — because of clinical depression and anxiety.  It is almost unheard of for someone to graduate from the Academy without receiving a commission, and there is a stigma that goes along with that.  He had, in a sense, failed in relation to other West Point graduates, so he might as well have resigned.  In other words, it was already determined that he was going to end up in a different place from his classmates, so now he gets to resign and begin a career as an anti-religious activist with regard to the military.  He indicated that "he plans to remain an activist on the role of religion in the military" and is quoted as saying, "I'd really love to be able to do this for the rest of my life."  This sounds cynical but, given his ambition, it was a smart career move for him to resign at this point.

And (2):  Is it just me, or do some of his statements, especially about  "criminals" in the military, sound a little over the top?  To put it another way, if I were a soldier in combat, pinned down by enemy fire, this isn't the kind of guy I would want next to me.  Live or die, I would want someone next to me who, at the very least, had a little more faith in his country and its institutions--the kind of soldier described in these verses from an old poem:

There are soldiers today as brave as those
Who gathered by Concord's stream,
Or fought with Warren on Charlestown Heights,
When Freedom was but a dream.

There are sailors today who would die at their guns 
As the tars of the Cumberland died,
Or with Somers sail through the jaws of Death 
On Tripoli's fatal tide.

For buried deep in each loyal breast,
The undying embers still glow,
Of the fires which set the world ablaze 
A hundred years ago!

Thrones have crumbled and fallen since then,
And Empires have melted away;
But Freedom still reigns! and oppression's waves 
Shall beat harmless against her sway.

And the Flag that has weathered a century's storms,
Triumphant on ocean and sod,
Will not be dishonored by Liberty's sons
Nor abandoned by Liberty's God.*  
I pray that Blake Page's time living with his grandparents becomes a turning point in his life and that someone close to him can introduce him to Christ.

Here's the story:

A cadet quitting West Point less than six months before graduation says he could no longer be part of a culture that promotes prayers and religious activities and disrespects nonreligious cadets.

Blake Page announced his decision to quit the U.S. Military Academy this week, telling The Associated Press that he could not become an officer because of clinical depression played a role in his public protest against what he calls the unconstitutional prevalence of religion in the military.

'I don't want to be a part of West Point knowing that the leadership here is OK with just shrugging off and shirking off respect and good order and discipline and obeying the law and defending the Constitution and doing their job' - Blake Page
"I've been trying since I found that out: What can I do? What can I possibly do to initiate the change that I want to see and so many other people want to see?" Page, 24, said. "I realized that this is one way I can make that change happen."

West Point officials on Wednesday disputed those assertions. Spokeswoman Theresa Brinkerhoff said prayer is voluntary at events where invocations and benedictions are conducted and noted the academy has a Secular Student Alliance club, where Page served as president.

Maj. Nicholas Utzig, the faculty adviser to the secular club, said he doesn't doubt some of the moments Pagedescribed, but he doesn't believe there is systematic discrimination against nonreligious cadets.

"I think it represents his own personal experience and perhaps it might not be as universal as he suggests," said Utzig, who teaches English literature.

Page criticized a culture where cadets stand silently for prayers, where nonreligious cadets were jokingly called "heathens" by instructors at basic training and where one officer told him he'd never be a leader until he filled the hole in his heart. In announcing his resignation this week on The Huffington Post, he denounced "criminals" in the military who violate the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution.

"I don't want to be a part of West Point knowing that the leadership here is OK with just shrugging off and shirking off respect and good order and discipline and obeying the law and defending the Constitution and doing their job," he told the AP.

One of Page's secularist classmates called his characterization of West Point unfair.
"I think it's true that the majority of West Point cadets are of a very conservative, Christian orientation," said senior cadet Andrew Houchin. "I don't think that's unique to West Point. But more broadly, I've never had that even be a problem with those of us who are secular."

There have been complaints over the years that the wall between church and state is not always observed in the military. The Air Force Academy in Colorado in particular has been scrutinized for years over allegations from non-Christian students that they faced intolerance. A retired four-star general was asked last year to conduct an independent review of the overall religious climate at the academy.

There also has been a growing willingness in recent years by some service members to publicly identify themselves as atheists, agnostics or humanists and to seek the same recognition granted to Christians, Jews and other believers. Earlier this year, there was an event at Fort Bragg that was the first known event in U.S. military history to cater to nonbelievers.

Page said he hears about the plight of other nonreligious cadets in part through his involvement with the West Point affiliate of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The founder and president of that advocacy group said Page's action is a milestone in the fight against "fanatical religiosity" in the military.

"This is an extraordinary act of courage that I do compare directly to what Rosa Parks did," said Mikey Weinstein.

Page, who is from Stockbridge, Ga., and who was accepted into West Point after serving in the Army, said he was notified Tuesday of his honorable discharge. He faces no military commitment and will not have to reimburse the cost of his education.

West Point confirmed that it approved his resignation and that Page had been meeting the academic standards and was not undergoing any disciplinary actions. Page said he had been medically disqualified this semester from receiving a commission in the Army as a second lieutenant — like his classmates will receive in May — because of clinical depression and anxiety. He said his condition has gotten worse since his father killed himself last year.

It's not unusual for cadets to drop out of West Point, an institution known for its rigorous academic and physical demands. But the window for dropping out without the potential for a penalty is in the first two years. Dropouts are rare after that point.

Page expects to leave for his grandparents' home in Wright County, Minn., in the coming days. He plans to remain an activist on the role of religion in the military.

"I'd really love to be able to do this for the rest of my life," he said.
Read it all.

* (From "Centennial Musings, July 4, 1876," in Sights and Shadows of Our Cruise, edited by George R. Willis, published by the crew of the U.S. Frigate "Tennessee," Flagship of the Asiatic Fleet 1875-1878.)
 

3 comments:

John Joseph said...

You are so right. There is more behind the story then what was in the paper. Thanks for your thoughts. It shines light on what is really going on.

John

Mario Bahena said...

I can clearly see a contemporary conumdrum in contemporary culture and cadet education in this country.How can the U.S. military keep established meanings in an era of multiculturalism and emerging sensibilities? In particular, how can the military ensure that new recruits--and society in general--understand they represent freedom when emerging values and sensibilities do not feel represented but rather repressed in their actions? I would say it is a very complex issue. The natural reaction is to deny it or to deligitimize the dissident. However, in the era of free press and almost universal connection to the internet, any attempt to squash new demands would be problematic. Thus, my question remains. In lay terms, how can the military ensure new generation of Americans that value a different lifestyle that previous generations and represent a variety of views and interpretation feel their military represents freedom if the military is still operated under previous generation's value system?

Mario Bahena said...

I can clearly see a contemporary conumdrum in contemporary culture and cadet education in this country.How can the U.S. military keep established meanings in an era of multiculturalism, multireligious and emerging sensibilities? In particular, how can the military ensure that new recruits--and society in general--understand they represent freedom when emerging values and sensibilities do not feel represented but rather repressed in military school? I would say it is a very complex issue. The natural reaction is to deny it or to deligitimize the dissident. However, in the era of free press and almost universal connection to the internet, any attempt to squash new demands would be problematic. And it is the nature of societies: what was assumed as natural and normal by previous generations is severely questioned by new emerging values. Thus, my question remains. In lay terms, how can the military ensure new generation of Americans that value a different lifestyle that previous generations and represent a variety of views and interpretation feel their military represents freedom if the military is still operated under previous generation's value system?