Jesus Rifles Redux

NBC has resurrected the "Jesus Rifles" story of 2010, reporting that some three years after the Pentagon began removing a "Bible code" stamped on rifle sights manufactured by Michigan company Trijicon, the job of erasing the Scripture references remains unfinished. The article entitled "No fix for 'Jesus rifles' deploying to Afghanistan" is not what one would call balanced. It is written with a high degree of moral dudgeon and a breathless enthusiasm not merited by the underlying story. And, it is really rather shoddy reporting.

Here is how NBC starts off the story:

When the so-called "Jesus rifle" came to light in Jan. 2010, it sparked constitutional and security concerns, and a maelstrom of media coverage. The Pentagon ordered the removal of the secret code referring to Bible passages that the manufacturer had inscribed on the scopes of the standard issue rifles carried by U.S. soldiers into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly three years later — despite the military's assertion that is making "good progress" — the code remains on many rifles deploying to Afghanistan, which some soldiers argue is endangering their lives by reinforcing suspicions that the United States is waging a crusade against Muslims.

"I honestly believe that this is a dangerous situation. It literally could be a matter of life and death for a soldier if he fell into the wrong hands," said an Army officer who spoke to NBC News from Fort Hood, Texas. "The fact that combatant commanders are not following (rules set by Department of Defense) commanders is very disturbing to me."

The story is framed along these lines. Trijicon bad, Army slow, anonymous sources good. The unnamed Army officer at Fort Hood (who by his words appears to be from one of the non-combatant branches) offers his opinion, followed by comments from the omnipresent Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

When the story first came out in 2010, Weinstein told ABC News the sights would be a provocation to militant Islamists:

It allows the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the insurrectionists and jihadists to claim they’re being shot by Jesus rifles … Coded biblical inscriptions play into the hands of “those who are calling this a Crusade" … We’re emboldening an enemy.

The passage of time has not softened Weinstein's views.  He told NBC last week:

"It’s constitutionally noxious," said foundation president Mikey Weinstein. "It's an embarrassment and makes us look exactly like the tenth incarnation of the crusades which launches 8 million new jihadist recruiting videos."

The story is rounded out with the information the Army is working on erasing the Bible codes. Trijicon has no comment to make, while the anonymous Fort Hood officer gets one more chance to speak.

The article uses the phrase "Bible codes" to describe the markings.  What is a Bible code? What message has been encoded? If these are Bible codes, it would have been helpful if NBC could provide a key to their meaning.  Instead the network states the markings are "codes that point to passages in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Corinthians and Revelation." It does not give examples of these codes.

A Military Times article from 2010 gives some examples of these codes:

In one example, an inscription included “JN8:12,” a reference to John 8:12, a Christian gospel passage: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The inscription on another optic includes “2COR4:6,” which refers to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament: “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.”

A Wikipedia article lists other passages of Scripture reportedly used by Trijicom, while the photo accompanying the article in the Military Times shows a gun sight with the inscription: PSA27:1.

Psalm 27:1 in the Book of Common Prayer reads: "The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom then shall I fear?/The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?"

NBC seems remarkably incurious about these Bible codes. What was Trijicom's purpose in embossing references to passages from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament? And, why these particular passages from Scripture? Why is John 3:16 not present, while John 8:12 is present? NBC does not tell us, and appears not to have asked Trijicom this question.

I have no inside knowledge as to why Trijicom chose these passages, but I would note that each passage has the theme of "light".  "I am the light of the world"; "... commanded the light to shine out of darkness"; "the Lord is my light ...". A quick read of the Wikipedia page shows the theme of light in each of the Jesus Rifle codes. Not to get all Dan Brownish or anything, but perhaps an optics company owned by devout Christians whose products use light enhanced technologies was engaged in an inside joke -- a Sunday School pun?

In addition to failing to ask questions about the Bible codes, the NBC article treats the assertions of Mikey Weinstein uncritically. Almost three years after the news of the Jesus Rifles were splashed across the internet, what evidence is there that al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other assorted Islamist radicals are outraged by Trijicom's actions? Where are these millions of jihadists called to arms against America because of this gun sight? Surely after three years there would be some evidence, somewhere that this is a problem -- and by evidence I do not mean the politically correct cringing of armchair officers or stateside non combatant Army officers.

The article starts off with references to "constitutional and security concerns" yet offers no evidence that these concerns appear anywhere other than in the minds of those disposed to think badly of religion.  The bottom line is NBC appears to have made up its mind about what sort of story it wanted to write and then slotted in the facts to support its argument.  This is called an editorial.There is a story to be written about the Jesus Rifle. This silly, silly story however is not it.

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