Et in Arcadia ego: Bible verses on military gunsights

ABC News reported yesterday that Michigan gunsight manufacturer Trijicon is inscribing references to Bible verses on sights it’s supplying to US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company, which has a $660 million contract to provide illuminated targeting reticule systems to the Marine Corps, has been printing chapter and verse numbers at the end of their serial numbers—for example, “2COR4:6,” which refers to the verse in Second Corinthians, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Contemporary theologians have historically interpreted that verse as being about using hydrogen isotope phosphorescence to shoot an Afghan goatherder in the face.

Military rules of operation prohibit proselytizing for any religion in Afghanistan and Iraq, specifically to avoid the impression of a religious crusade against the Muslim world. Until last year, that strategy was undermined somewhat by a Commander-In-Chief who claimed to converse directly with the Christian god, but you can see how—on a mission whose objective is to make people in the Muslim world stop wanting to kill us by going over there and blowing a bunch of stuff up—that kind of thing would be important. The Pentagon has yet to decide what to do about this revelation,* in part because it seems, well, slight. It’s a bunch of numbers and letters at the end of another bunch of numbers and letters, and it’s not even on the gun part of the gun. Despite the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s assertion that “It’s wrong, it violates the Constitution, it violates a number of federal laws,” one gets the sense that few US servicemen are being converted to the Prince of Peace by reading the serial number on their gunsights. So why is this story so disturbing?

Part of the problem is that it reminds us of an association that we have come to take for granted, despite its being utterly baffling. People who are into guns also tend to be into Jesus. The founder of Tijicon, Glyn Bindon—who died in 2003 when his plane crashed near Gunsight Mountain in Alaska—was a devout Christian in addition to being a large-scale arms dealer. In American politics, the overlap among fundamentalist Christians, opponents of gun control and war hawks is near-total, which is kind of odd for a religion devoted to the teachings of a man known as the Prince of Peace. If you type “Thou shalt not kill” into Google, as I did earlier today, the first result is from, explaining that the prohibition against killing does not apply to hunting, accidents, the death penalty or war. It turns out that murder is the only kind of killing Jesus is against, which doesn’t really distinguish him from Hammurabi or, for that matter, Mussolini.

This sort of reasoning is obvious hyperbole and probably repugnant to any believer—making it all the more saddening that it describes the largest and most active bloc of Christians in America today. The military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about has come to fruition; the only thing Ike forgot was the church. Since Reagan, the evangelical vote has gone overwhelmingly to the Republican Party, which has enacted Christian principles primarily through war, massive defense spending, laissez-faire economics and, occasionally, reduction in aid to the poor. Stamping Bible verses onto gunsights is particularly grotesque, but it’s the cherry on top of a big, gooey hypocrisy sundae. For a lot of Americans who identify as Christian, abortion and kids learning about evolution are much greater threats to this country’s soul than a few dozen thousand dead Arabs. If you like guns, preemptive war and unrestrained profiteering, you’ll love Jesus Christ.

If you’ve lived in the United States within the last fifty years, none of this should surprise you. What is surprising is that we continue to treat this sort of political Christianity as a religion at all. There is a healthy tradition in America of treating religious beliefs with particular respect. Argument ends when someone says his religion orders him to do something, which is probably good. If we subjected other people’s religious beliefs to the same kind of argumentative rigor we use to conduct, say, our judicial system, the end result would surely be some sort of logical Inquisition. As fun as that sounds, it’s not how we do things here. There comes a point, though, when belief stops transcending logic and begins running counter to it. In contemporary America, at this moment in our political discourse, evangelical Christianity does not substantively differ from the Republican Party. The Bible may advocate peace and charity toward the least among us, but so-called Bible-believing Christians have no interest in either. The state of their souls is their business, but the state of discourse is ours. For millions of Americans “Christian” has become a political position. It so happens that it’s a particularly stupid and vicious one, and it shouldn’t be protected.

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  1. I suggest that the reasoning–or more accurately, lack thereof–required to believe in today’s Christianity™ causes a person to be open to other flights of fancy. For example, assault weapons for citizens, preemptive war, wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, and liking Joel Osteen.
    I proffer Christianity™ as a term to describe the politicized faith described in your article. In order to blindly believe in its deities: Baby Jesus, Bearded Jesus, and Ronald Reagan, a person’s logic centers must atrophy to the point where the tenets of our religio-military-industrial overlords sound like down-home, aw-shucks common sense.
    I propose that Logic & Reasoning be re-introduced into our school curriculum, on the grounds that you and I took Logic and we’re the smartest people we know. Perhaps if our electorate were able to reason with better faculty than an amphibian, then we could eliminate this wackiness in governance.

    DISCLAIMER: After many years attempting to (or being encouraged to at the hands of an angry woman in a nun’s habit) find religion, I have realized that I can’t live with that much fiction in my life. No Christians were harmed in the writing of this post, though I dearly want to punch that phony Joel Osteen in his pretty mouth.

  2. (That is a non-Biblical, apocalyptic forecast, if such a thing exists).

    It seems dicey to associate a particular version or caricature of Christian religion with “Christianity (TM)” writ large. Most of us Combat! regulars (from whom Dan’s posts rival coffee in terms of importance to weekday life) probably sympathize with this post’s observations about the “overlap” between conservative Evangelical Christianity and certain Republic positions, but I would be careful and specific about who we mean.

  3. Next weekend – Hence the term Christianity™, and therefore its association with business and politics. As I stated in my Disclaimer, I personally do not agree with much of Christianity, but I take special offense to the worst hypocrisies.
    As for being careful and specific, I prefer to paint with the broad brush of hyperbole, on a foundation of exaggeration, with plenty of humorous happy little trees to lighten the composition.
    Please feel free to flame me for my position on religion. It’s your right as a private citizen, and I fought in the military in part to defend that right. And, as commenters on a blog, we can be as fecetious (sic) as we’d like to be.
    However, I take offense at the corporatization and politicization of that right/freedom. I hope you do too! Cheers.

  4. “was a devout Christian in addition to being a large-scale arms dealer”. Doesn’t that say it all?

  5. It does seem kinda creepy at first. But the explanation the manufacturer gave, that they’ve always been there and the founder was a devoted Christian who has since passed made sense to me.

    I have to accept and be tolerant of other peoples religions all the time. And in fact its not so much “have to” because it doesn’t bother me unless their pushing it on me or being intolerant towards me about it first.

    Get over it.

    If you just cant abide the little letters on your scope than your the one with the intolerance issue IMO.

    BTW: I’m sure the Muslims and Jews would have no problem slathering their beliefs all over their weapons.

  6. I do agree with the article though that a lot of self labeled “Christians” use it as a catch-all excuse to judge, offend, kill, rob, and persecute people different from themselves. And while consistently claiming to be the actual victim of course. And I agree that deserves no defense.

    Its not just Christians though IMO. Thats zealotry in all its forms including the anti-religion crusaders.

    I didn’t find the letters at the end of the serial number on the outer casing of a rifle scope much more grotesque than the resulting uproar and indignation about it.

  7. Robthom: I suspect you are right about Muslims and Jews “having no problem with slathering their beliefs all over their weapons”. Israel and many muslim states either have a history of or seek a “religious state”.
    That is not the case in America. Yet.

    That’s the point.

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