Hold The Hallelujah: The Perils Of Rifles And Religion For former Marine Benjamin Busch, his time spent in Iraq meant fighting ideals as an American soldier, not as a Christian. Blending church and state is dangerous in any context, but in war, he says, America walks a fine line between religious extremism and zealous patriotism.

Hold The Hallelujah: The Perils Of Rifles And Religion

Hold The Hallelujah: The Perils Of Rifles And Religion

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The Biblical reference printed on this gun reads, "JN8:12", indicating the Book of John, Chapter 8, Verse 12. Trijicon's involvement in the Biblical engraving had not been broadly acknowledged until an ABC News report last week. ABC News hide caption

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ABC News

Benjamin Busch was an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. His memoir, 'Bearing Arms', recently appeared in 'Harper's' and his photographs from Iraq have been featured in 'Five Points', and 'War, Literature, & the Arts'. His newest essay, 'Growth Rings', is in the current issue of the 'Michigan Quarterly Review'. He lives in Michigan with his wife and their two daughters.

As a Marine invading Iraq in 2003, I thought we actively separated church and state from our motives.

I know that Scripture embedded in the obscure numbers on rifle scopes may seem like a small detail, and that manufacturer Trijicon likely intended no particular malice by placing biblical references on its equipment. Like, 2COR4:6 represents 2 Corinthians 4:6, "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." There seems to have been neither marketing nor secrecy associated with the presence of these inscriptions.

But these are not innocent times, and the codes are still messages printed and sent out. These notes have now been read and exposed, and we have the baggage of explaining ourselves to people convinced that many of our actions are motivated by religion instead of self-defense, justice or altruism.

As a Marine, I aimed at Iraq through rifle scopes, my vision amplified. When viewing other cultures, even enemies, I think we should be wary of seeing them through a lens marked by religion.

The United States is fighting Islamic extremists. But we are not Christian extremists. When I returned for my second tour in 2005, we were in the embattled city of Ramadi, and we fought jihadists, tribal factions and criminals alongside almost entirely Muslim Iraqi soldiers. It was impossible to segregate the ambitions of singular religions then.

Although the rifle equipment was stamped as a private act by a private company, it was sold to governments, and therefore unavoidably and knowingly coupled with politics. Biblical quotes were thoughtfully chosen — thoughtful enough not to be allowed as innocent of larger context.

Essayist Benjamin Busch was an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. Courtesy of Benjamin Busch hide caption

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Courtesy of Benjamin Busch

Essayist Benjamin Busch was an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Courtesy of Benjamin Busch

By branding weapons with Christian messages, there is a deep and ugly blending of religion, politics and bloodshed, and it has unwittingly painted our government and military with the embarrassing language of "crusade."

America is largely composed of people who consider themselves Christian, separated by various interpretations of the same book. But I did not go onward as a Christian soldier. I went forth as an American, a Marine. I was sent by my country to fight a threat, and thereafter with the best intentions of democracy, not theocracy.

Our efforts in the Middle East were complicated enough, and small symbols are examined carefully by our opponents. Based on my understanding of the teachings of Christ, he would be very disappointed to see his Gospel assigned to war of any kind in the first place.

I leave you with a verse that has not been stamped on our weapons: "But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you" — Matthew 5:44.