The US Air Force, at no less a prestigious location than the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, has taken the notion of religious tolerance to a new level, in creating an outdoor worship area for pagans. The site, apparently sacred to pagans, consists of an inner and an outer circle of large stones. I’m sorry, but this truly is hilarious. Don’t get me wrong, if someone “has little or no religion and delights in sensual pleasures and material goods,” which is the definition of a “pagan,” then I say live and let live.
But I have to tell you, if I were in the Air Force and was being commanded by an officer who practices hedonism as a religion (another part of the definition of “pagan”), and who dances around a circle of stones in the woods carrying a lighted candle, I would be more than a little worried about following him into battle.
Funny thing is, this is not an entirely new idea. The immortal Jean Shepherd (whose wisdom about Beer I referenced earlier) had something to say about his days in the army, when he listed himself as a "druid." Here is a long segment from his Army routine from his radio show in 1967. The audio is a little choppy in spots, but if you have a few minutes, it is worth a listen, if only because he ranges far and wide as usual and has some tangential observations that hold true even today. The Druid bit is about 10 minutes in.
Shepherd reports that when he was inducted, the dog tag maker insisted that he declare a religion. Not being a religious guy, Shepherd said "druid."
I thought I was being funny, but he said 'OK, I've never seen that one.' Cachunk. And for 3 1/2 years I carried a dog tag with a D on it.
The only problem, he said, was that there were no official religious holidays for Druids. Other guys in his unit, a Signal Corps radar company, got Christmas or Passover off, but not Shepherd, who spend every holiday on KP duty as a result. At least until one day, when his commanding officer called him in.
'Shepherd,' he said, 'I understand you're a Druid.' I said Yes. 'Well, I read in a book that Druids are about to celebrate Great Oak Tree Day.' I said Yes - I'm glad you care ... it's a seven-day holiday, you know. And they celebrate it in New York. It's the only temple we've got in the U.S. It's in Central Park, right by the Ice Skating Rink, in a hole in the ground.
His story of how he thereafter became a Druid chaplain is priceless.
To this day, he says, "I'm the only registered Druid" in the Department of Defense records. "You ought to see the mail I get."
On every Nov. 17, I get phone calls. All day long at the station I get calls from one member or another of Company K ... They say will you please give me the sacrament over the phone?
Incidentally, if you make it past the long Army segment, there is a WOR newscast included that is fascinating to hear, including stories about the Vietnam War and a long segment on sports, including a score of the Baltimore Bullets game and news about O.J. Simpson's standout play in a USC football game that propelled them to the Rose Bowl.