West Point as a religious institution: The case of Blake Page

This may be a secular nation, but the traditions of the military academies are profoundly religious. Blake Page should have known that. Photo: West Point chapel (Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES, December 18, 2012 — West Point cadet Blake Page’s decision to resign from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has attracted quite a bit of attention. This is especially true since Page’s blog appeared on HuffPost Live.

Page’s blog entry, “Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate,” prompted a panel discussion earlier this month on the Huffpost Live in response. I was a panelist for that particular event. During the discussion I questioned Page’s motivations for entering the United States Military Academy in the first place, and his decision to quit at the finish line. According to Page, “They want me to pray and I was not going to do that.” I thought that was a dumb and unlikely reason to leave, and I said so.

Apparently, there are many within the blogosphere who have a different opinion from mine. I argued that it is entirely fair to view West Point – in some ways – as a religious institution. I’m referring to an article written by Chris Rodda, “Republican Strategist Calls West Point a ‘Religious Institute’ on HuffPost Live.” Rodda, who is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, strongly disagreed with my position. Allow me to explain myself.

In our ever-more secularized society, religion has become some sort of curse word. It has not always been so. Religion is a way to organize our beliefs about the nature of the universe and our role in it. It pulls together belief systems and cultural values give believers common moral and spiritual values.

This nation was established by men who believed that there was nothing inappropriate about promoting common national values. They established a nation without a state religion and with no requirement that anyone pass a religious test for public service, but it wasn’t their intent that the nation be free of values, including those reinforced by religion.

The United States Military Academy Preparatory School (USMAPS) reflected this idea. The goal was to prepare candidates selected by the Admission’s office for the academic, physical, and military challenges of the United States Military Academy. The goal was not to create a value-free atmosphere for creating American military officers; it was unthinkable that a rounded man, qualified to be an officer, would be a mere technocrat. The emphasis placed by the military academies on building character has never taken place in a values vacuum. The goal was never to impose a specific religion on cadets, but the moral was never taken to be independent of the spiritual. They didn’t build chapels on the Service Academy grounds in a fit of absent-minded architectural excess. 

If the founders didn’t intend to require that cadets be Catholics or Baptists, they also clearly didn’t intend that they be atheists. Page therefore found himself in a system designed not to eliminate atheists, but still not intended to make them comfortable. The values with which the Academies want to instill cadets are not specifically sectarian, but they are religious.

It is clear that this young man did not do his homework before he applied to West Point, or he would have known that one of the principle persons responsible for establishing the academy was the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. While the Left has often portrayed Jefferson as a man opposed to religion in general and Christianity in particular, he was in fact a man of faith. He supposedly edited his Bible to remove elements of the divine, but the values he embraced in what was left were emphatically religious.

Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, stated that “his codification of the morals of Jesus was not known to his family before his death, and they learned from a letter addressed to a friend that he was in the habit of reading nightly from it before going to bed.” Jefferson himself stated, in regards to Christianity, “My views of the Christian religion are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself.”

Those are not the words of a man hostile to Christianity – nor to the inculcation of habits of faith that can lead to values important to those who serve in our government and military. Page should not have been surprised that the Academy would attempt to instill such values.

I call West Point a religious institution – not in the sense of church sponsorship, but in the sense that it is a place of peculiar values, values that are symbolic of a bloodline. It is a bloodline of faith, tradition, values, and morals. That bloodline was established by Jefferson and been reinforced by over two centuries of military tradition. Its role isn’t to train ministers or missionaries, but to train warriors who treasure peace, men and women who place life as a higher value than their civilian masters, who treat life and warriors as pieces on a game board.

Our military leaders understand the need for spiritual toughness and morality in the heat of battle and in times of war. We don’t want to create the savage child-warriors of Uganda. We don’t want an army of butchers. War can easily degrade the men and women who fight in it, and so we must work to fortify both their sense of humanity and the idea that there are values greater than we are.

This is why the military has chaplains. To remove faith from the military is to remove moral walls that in war can prevent a descent into barbarism. We must demand leadership, justice, strength, virtue, honor, and a belief in right and wrong and good and evil from the men and women who will lead the military. A commander must not be just a person well versed in military tactics and strategy, but also a moral compass for who serve. Their men look to them to lift their spirits in the face of difficult odds, and to show them the moral boundaries that they must not cross.

None of this requires that a West Point Cadet be churched. There are men and women of high moral principle and strict honor who have no belief in God. Page should have stood on his atheism and shown everyone that he remained a man of integrity, that he could serve as a moral compass as well as any man. But in return, he should not have been shocked or dismayed by the overt religiosity of military cadets. It strikes me as wildly improbable that his graduation from West Point was ever contingent on him offering up a Christian prayer. It was contingent on him standing on and for his commitments, and recognizing that the moral codes of West Point aren’t entwined with religion just as a matter of show. West Point should encourage the religious/moral beliefs of the young men and women who study there, and if most of them are Christian, then it is the best of their Christianity that West Point should reinforce

Blake Page failed himself by resigning from West Point. It was a bad fit, and he bailed on the relationship after three-and-a-half years. He was unable to see how to integrate his own sense of morality with the United States Army. He entered an institution that demands sacrifice, but in the end he decided that his needs were greater.

Page was unwilling to stand up for himself within the military, preferring to do it from outside. It is best for all involved that he quit – both for the Army and for himself.

I stand by my statement that West Point is religious.


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Shirley Husar

Shirley Husar is an urban conservative freelance writer and licensed real estate agent, CEO of Herizon Plus Real Estate Development living in Los Angeles, California. Personal Appointed by the 38th Governor Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger to the position of Governor Appointee Board Member for The Geologists and The Geophysicists for the State of California Governor Appointee Board Member served for 4 years.

Server as a California Republican Party Delegate for 10 years and was an RNC Delegate for 2004. Follower Shirley at TwitterFacebook and her blog, Urban GameChanger.com; The National known Hip Hop Republican.TV and Hip Hop Republican.com

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