US AIR FORCE ACADEMY ADAPTS TOColorado Springs (latimes.com) - In the still of a cold November evening, a small gathering of pagans, led by two witches, begins preparations for the coming winter solstice. But these are not just any pagans, and this is not just any setting. They are future officers of the United States Air Force practicing their faith in the basement of the Air Force Academy's cadet chapel. According to the Air Force academy's enrollment records, only three of 4,300 cadets identified themselves as pagans, followers of an ancient religion that generally does not worship a single god and considers all things in nature interconnected. Still, the academy this year dedicated an $80,000 outdoor worship center - a small Stonehenge-like circle of boulders with propane fire pit - high on a hill for the handful of current or future cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of "Earth-based." Those include pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths. "We're here to accommodate all religions, period," Chaplain Maj. Darren Duncan, branch chief of cadet faith communities at the academy, says.
PAGANS, DRUIDS, WITCHES AND WICCANS
PAGANS, DRUIDS, WITCHES AND WICCANS
The building of the Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle on the hilltop, he explains, is no different from the past conversion of chapel rooms into worship spaces that serve this year's 11 Muslim, 16 Buddhist and 10 Hindu cadets. There are also 43 self-identified atheist cadets whose beliefs, or lack of them, Chaplain Duncan says are also to be respected. This is not about religious tolerance - a phrase Duncan, a Christian, rejects as implying that the majority religion is simply putting up with the minority. He calls it a 1st Amendment issue. If the military is to defend the Constitution, it should also be upholding its guarantee of religious freedom. "We think we are setting the standard," Duncan says. In addition to providing worship space, new policy dictates that all cadets take courses in understanding the religions of those who may someday fall under their command. Recently he's fielded calls from West Point and Annapolis about replicating the Air Force's efforts.
In 2005, the US Air Force was accused in a lawsuit of allowing aggressive proselytizing toward non-Christians, but now things have changed. The US Air Force Academy has provided an utdoor worship center for cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of "Earth-based", which includes pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths. There are also old chapel rooms used now as worship spaces for Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus and Atheist Cadets are respected, too. Diversity is importat because the path to understand and love God is found in all the great spiritual teachings.
WHAT DO THE VEDIC TEACHINGS TELL US?
At that time in my life I had a burning desire to understand truth, to understand who I am, and to understand God. ... I saw hypocrisy and contradictions, but I had a deep faith that in the original teachings of all these great traditions there was the same essence, the same ultimate goal. ... Not to be a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew or a Jain or a Parsi, but to love God and to be an instrument of that love in our life - and to have good character. So I studied Christianity, I studied Judaism and later in the Middle East I was studying Islam, and I was studying different branches of Buddhism and Hinduism. I wanted to find that essence. So I began to study various spiritual traditions, and I found universal truths there. And for me it wasn’t a matter of converting from one religion to another. For me it was a matter of becoming religious - of becoming actually spiritual.