Don't fix AFA chapel, dismantle it 

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Recent discussion about the closing of the airforce academy chapel, for purposes of rehab, bodes well. Could it be impetus for eventual permanent closing of the building? Hopefully. Topics have intertwined on cost, history, church-state separation, opulence versus homelessness and poverty, architecture, nostalgia, and of course regional tourism. Recent federal court perspective espouses the valued historical residue of the chapel as a public symbol, carrying secular cultural weight. The court therefore respects each of these themes but demurs on the church-state issue as grounds for critiquing the chapel’s renewal funding.
click to enlarge The AFA Cadet Chapel will remain open until June. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The AFA Cadet Chapel will remain open until June.
As predictable as this perspective is, I suggest its overarching religious predominance is quite unconscious to the faith- and secular-oriented individuals and institutions of this society. When religion understands itself as a prided ‘free’ feature of society thanks to the nation-state, it inevitably becomes an iconic arm of the status quo. It will then be 'culturally protected’ from oppression, and conversely, from any sense of responsibility to challenge the chapel’s pro-military reason for existence. When religion at the academy chapel fits itself into a ‘generic’ array of society-affirming perspectives, it becomes sanitized into a individualistic, self-help preeminence, essentially eclipsed from critical public ethical considerations. A peek underneath the historical cloak of this mainstream religiosity can illustrate.
Note the Babylonian Creation myth, or ‘Enuma Elish’.
Archeologically deemed humanity’s oldest religion, this myth’s best known records date to cs. 1250, its oral roots reaching to and even before the famed 18th cent. b.c.e Babylonian kin Hammurabi. The account depicts a civil war in the Mesopotanian pantheon, with the young Marduk emerging the victor in a complex divine butchery. The created order is the product of this deicide. Creation, including humanity, arose from the cadaver of the chaos-representing mother goddess, Tiamat. This tumultuous god story perfectly reflects the human condition. Humanity has no ‘problem of evil’ to tackle, since it is a given; it arose as primordial combat, and continues forever. Our very origin is violence, ontologically. The best humanity can do is obey the king and his divine commission to keep the constant threat of chaos at bay. Afterall, military victors are the favored of the gods.
The distinctive feature of this myth is the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. No wonder it is often referred to as the ideology of zealous nationalism. Any modern-day perspective—religious, theist, atheist, secular, nationalist, agnostic—would unanimously set aside this cosmological shibboleth, except in one feature, violence. Likewise, in the religions represented at the chapel. All of them, however implicit or explicit, use the chapel to enshrine this commonality. For each of them in their own ways and articulation, Buddhist, Moslem, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant—their mutual congeniality is much more than shared physical space at the chapel. From behind gargantuan chapel tourist attraction, they promote its singular commitment ot U.S. bottom-line violence-based, nationalist superiority.
By contrast, I propose the architectural wonder of the chapel can be translated into an number of other local attractions off AFA property. We can dismantle the chapel and turn local artists and architects loose to ponder it recycled, re-constituted possibilities—minus military justification and the huge price tag.

Peter Sprunger-Froese



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