Religion and mysticism at AFA 

Ranger Rich

Experts say there are some 21 major religions in the world. I predict that at the end of this column, devoted followers of most religions — Christians and Jews, Hindus and Muslims, Buddhists and Scientologists and Wiccans, too — will hate me.

Speaking of Wiccans or witches, this week brings Halloween or the Wiccan samhain, meaning that group — there's quite a following here — is choosing a virgin to throw onto a bonfire. Good news: Miley Cyrus is probably safe.

And while this column will attempt to mock all religions, it will focus on Christianity and, more specifically, whether God and Jesus belong at our Air Force Academy.

On a personal note — and I say this with great respect for the Savior — I want to see the look on Jesus' face halfway through that new haircut he'll be getting when he checks into the academy.

Biblical footnote: John 18:10 tells us that Jesus' pal and hair stylist, Peter, accidentally cut off a Roman soldier's right ear while giving him a haircut with a sword. Jesus then reattached the ear with duct tape.

Here you might be wondering what qualifications I have to write about God, Jesus and the Air Force Academy, so let me tell you.

• I live near the Air Force Academy, looking up almost daily at the gliders soaring overhead and marveling at the courage of the young trainee pilots as I lower my pajama bottoms and moon them.

• I spent four years at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., a tremendous Catholic Jesuit school where theologians taught us that if God wanted us to drink Pabst beer in moderation, He would not have put 24 bottles in an easy-to-carry case.

Which brings me back to recent Indy stories about the Air Force Academy. From an Oct. 21 blog post: "Despite an Air Force investigation in years past and continuing efforts to set up religious sensitivity training at the Air Force Academy, it appears the officer school ... continues to couch its mission in terms of a divine being."

My father often couched his mission in terms of a divine being — especially on long family car trips with the three kids fighting in the back seat. Let me break down one example:

(Recognition of religion and the existence of an afterlife.) "Shut the hell up back there."

(Couching his mission.) "I'm trying to drive!"

(Reference to a divine being.) "Goddammit!!"

Anyway, at issue in that story, which also involved the Academy Prep School (for aspiring pilots who are afraid of heights) was a photo of the honor code, which ends with the words, "... so help me God."

This caught the attention of Mikey Weinstein, who graduated from the academy in 1977 (same year I graduated from Marquette, which was followed by a liver transplant). Weinstein, who has long railed against religion in the military, said that cadets who chose not to end the honor oath with "so help me God" will, in his words, "stick out like a tarantula on a wedding cake."

This should not be confused with my first wedding, where a tarantula cut the wedding cake.

No, really, the story by the Indy caused the academy to issue a news release that began, "After reviewing the Cadet Honor Oath, and in the spirit of determining a way ahead that enables all to be true to their beliefs, the Air Force Academy has decided to make the final clause optional."

No one knows what "determining a way ahead" means, but experts in sentence structure, religion and military history do agree on one thing: Whoever wrote it will, upon retirement from the Air Force at the age of 42, be issued an enormous federal government pension check each week for 500 years.

Later came another actual academy statement. "We are assessing the situation," it read, "and have many mission elements, to include Prep School leadership, the Honor Review Committee and other entities on base, working to put together a way ahead that is respectful to all perspectives."

As my very religious father would say, "What the hell does that mean? For Chrissakes."

Rich Tosches (rangerrich@csindy.com) also writes a Sunday column in the Denver Post.

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