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'Role of Religious Faith at Pentagon'

May 18, 1985

Last Dec. 30 The Times printed an article by Bob Toth, "Role of Religious Faith at Pentagon Raises Questions, Doubts." The article did raise questions and doubts, and probably left some readers with the impression that Joint Chiefs of Staff who pray together cannot be trusted. I took some exception to the article at the time, but decided not to write. Now, in a form of rebuttal, I want to share some points which I feel add balance to your article. These are from an address I delivered to approximately 1,500 people at a military prayer breakfast in San Antonio, Tex.

The tone of the headline and article in your paper, however, implied that senior military leaders--or national leaders for that matter--who base their decisions on moral considerations in addition to all other considerations, are somehow doing something that is strange or unique. I confess to thinking about moral issues, and to trying to base my actions and decisions on such moral considerations as providing for the common defense and helping to secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty. I do not consider this strange or unique. In fact, I think that some of the problems our country faced in the last few decades are due, in part, to a loss of faith and moral considerations by many in our nation.

Our ancestors in declaring our independence, invoked the name of "Creator" and "Nature's God." We should not ignore these underpinnings of faith upon which our country was founded. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers realized that this nation was nothing more than a reflection of its citizens and their beliefs and deeds. They knew that without a strong belief in God there could be no virtue, and no dreams. They knew that without God there was no hope, and democracy could not long endure.

In the 1960s and 1970s, however, we as a nation attempted to exile God from our lives. Questions asked during that time were more like, "What's in it for me?" rather than, "How will this help my family, or my community or my nation?" Materialism replaced basic values of care and concern for our national, moral and spiritual welfare.

What we paid for this period of hedonism was a loss of moral spirit and strength, and loss of Free World leadership. Authority figures, like church, nation, and even family were rejected, and people subscribed to the "me-first" philosophy of life. It was a time of "pick-and-choose" morality where people took a "one-from-column A, one-from-column B" approach to what they wanted to believe or not to believe; what to live by and what not to live by.

In our courts there was an avalanche of legal suits; suits to abolish the words "Under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance, and suits to remove "In God We Trust" from our national currency. What I feel is amazing about this is that all of these cases were brought forth in the name of religious freedom and open-mindedness.

I'm not condemning the courts--I am just pointing out the currents and trends of what I feel were very troubled times for this nation. After all, this was a period when "God Is Dead" bumper stickers were the nearest thing many people had to a confession of faith. This was a time when we were disallowing those who wanted non-compulsory prayer the same access to our public buildings and classrooms, which were already enjoyed by those who wanted to exert their freedom of speech in discussions about Marxism.

I offer an example of what a society can become when earthly rewards and goals replace all else in importance, when its leadership forgets God and human rights, and forces their subjects to follow suit. The example is found within the Soviet Union today. Recently, you could sense hopelessness in the funeral ceremonies that marked Konstantin Chernenko's passing. You could see the utter desolation--instead of a horse-drawn funeral procession, there was a modern, black-bedecked armored weapons carrier upon which Chernenko's body was transported. Instead of people praying for the deceased, there were the dutiful, stone-faced Muscovites and gray-uniformed, goose-stepping troops. What was striking was the coldness--the military parade of rockets and tanks in place of a funeral procession of the faithful.

If this is the "perfection" that exile of God from country brings, I ask is that what we really seek? But I feel we need not worry, because today in this country there is strong evidence of a renewed religious commitment--and what's wrong with that? What is wrong with a sincere request for God's help in facing today's problems? What is wrong with giving sincere thanks for God's blessings? What is wrong with putting service to God and service to others before service to self? Absolutely nothing, I say. If these are the kinds of people we have in positions of national and military leadership today, thank God!

One point in Toth's article that bothered me in particular was the statement, given without an opposing view, that senior military leaders attending prayer meetings are engaging in "religious exhibitionism." I have never seen or met anyone at any of these meetings who I thought was anything less than absolutely sincere in his or her faith. And, frankly, I would prefer "religious exhibitionism" to the exhibition of hopelessness we saw in this country in the last decade, and we still sometimes see in other troubled places around the world today.


Washington, D.C.

Adm. Watkins is chief of naval operations.

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