Not since Tammy Faye Baker embroidered Bible verses on her underwear has there been as eye-opening a scriptural scandal as the recent revelation that an American manufacturer routinely engraves Bible verses on U.S. military gun sights. As reported earlier this week, the Michigan-based corporation Trijicon has supplied the gun sights used by American marines to aim at and shoot the Taliban and their sympathizers in Afghanistan. The company may now be in quite a few critics’ sights given the new publicity. The Wikipedia entry already details the controversy. But the main company website has nothing to say. In the detailed descriptions of the gun sights on the website the biblical abbreviations are nowhere in sight. But it does say that “Trijicon self-luminous night sights are proven to give shooters five times greater night fire accuracy- with the same speed as instinctive shooting.” Five times, got it? Try MARK 6:38 (do look this up) and don’t forget the fishes. It may very well be that the procurement officers never noticed the addition of gospel acronyms after the serial numbers, but the company is not shy about its Christian views: “We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals.”

The actual verses are not inscribed, only the chapter and verse in code. It appears that all of the verses are from the New Testament, so at least it cannot be claimed to be a Zionist plot (or perhaps it could be said to be a very clever Zionist plot…). I have no idea how many verses have appeared on the 800,000 units contracted for $660 million by the U.S. Marine Corps. I suspect that MATT 5:44 (do look it up) is not one of them. Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount is not part of what the company defines as “biblical standards.”

The irony is that most of the soldiers using the guns probably never bothered to read the extra letters and numbers attached to the serial number and were unaware these were meant as an evangelistic tool. I doubt that any Taliban coming into possession of the guns would have realized what the code meant. But the revelation that some Bible-belt capitalist felt God’s call to New Testamentize military guns becomes a great recruiting tool for Muslim extremists and suicide bombers. This only confirms the suspicion that America is promoting Christianity at the expense of Islam. We might as well call it “Operation New Crusade.” Waging war is never morally pure, but keeping religion out of it seems far more pragmatic than promoting Bible sword drills. At least in World War II our fighter pilots were far more likely to paint hot blondes on their plane fuselages than they were Bible verses.

This mix of bibliolatry and patriotism should not really be a surprise for a country that still displays the banner “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the backs of its filthy lucre (not to mention what it does to the backs of individuals who think that freedom of religion should also mean freedom from religion) or that added “under God” to the school-mandated pledge of allegiance. The much vaunted separation of church and state may be proscribed in our constitution, but it certainly is not in our national rhetoric. Nor is it separable from nationally televised sports. Imagine a World Series game where the man sitting in the row directly behind the catcher is not holding up a sign that reads JOHN 3:16, or a post-game interview with either NFL star quarterback Brett Favre or Florida sensation Tim Tebow that does not start with thanks to Jesus.

Whatever the intention of the founder of Trjicon, it is telling that God is always being invoked by those who do the fighting. A Muslim mujahid raising his kalashnikov and shouting “Allahu Akbar” is obviously dragging religion into militant politics. Of course, we secular church-separated-from-state defenders of democracy and freedom no longer formally “praise God and pass the ammunition.” But God only knows what would be written on the bullets, if Trijicon ever gets into the ballistic business. Of course America might have avoided the whole debacle in Iraq, if Bush and Cheney had read more Bible. I’m thinking Revelation 18:2. Just read it and tell me why anyone in their right pre-apocalyptic mind would invade Iraq?

Daniel Martin Varisco