Skip to comments.Atheist groups push for military chaplains
Posted on 04/28/2011 1:27:29 PM PDT by NYer
As Deacon Greg Kandra says, it sounds like an Onion headline, but it's not: The New York Times reports that groups of atheists and secular humanists in the military are pushing to add some of their own to the ranks of military chaplains:
Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders.
But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?
Jason Torpy, a former Army captain who is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do, including counsel troops and help them follow their faiths. But just as a Protestant chaplain would not preside over a Catholic service, a humanist might not lead a religious ceremony, though he might help organize it.
“Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews,” Mr. Torpy said in an interview. “It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”
If we're simply talking about counselors for people of no particular faith, I don't see the problem. After all, as the article notes, the number of military personnel claiming to be atheist or agnostic is higher than the number of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists -- all groups that have chaplains. Being able to speak with someone who shares a similar worldview about the stresses and pressure of active duty can only be a good thing.
But are chaplains more than just glorified counselors, or people who "direct our values"? Can atheists be said to profess a common creed that requires a minister? The article notes that officers also have to have a graduate degree in theology to become a chaplain -- which seems like it might be somewhat problematic for an atheist...
The question here sounds like it's less about having a minister for people of no faith so much as opening up opportunities for these groups (access to meeting space, etc.) and pushing back against what they perceive as the "Christian beliefs [that] pervade military culture." But is there a better way to address those issues?
That's not a problem at all. I could get a graduate degree in Soviet Studies, but I'm not from there, nor do I agree with any part of the Soviet philosophy. Other more obvious problem abound though. Here I am trying to make people realize atheism isn't a religion, then you get idiots like these trying to make it into one.
Dude... if your belief system has what are essentially government-recognized "clergy"... it is a religion. LOL.
Too much logic there for some people.
That's what makes this request absurd. .
Don’t worry, they don’t have a prayer of this happening. /s
How wonderfully interesting. Now when certain nutbars claim something like this:
Then they have to back this push for atheists in the chaplain corps now don’t they?
Getting back to reality the answer to this: “Can atheists be said to profess a common creed that requires a minister?” is no, ergo atheism is not a religion.
That link is funny. For all the talk of atheism not being a religion you sure see a lot of atheists on that site defending their faith. They get really insulting about it too, reacting in a way that is remarkably similar to people whose beliefs are mocked and insulted.
Hmmmm...wouldn’t atheism have to be a “religion” to have “chaplins”?
As a military chaplain (retired), I can see a few problems with this. First, Congress (via military regulations) has determined that any chaplain must be endorsed to the chaplaincy by an agency representing their denominational ministers. IOW, they have to have sufficient organization to agree on a review board that looks at both denominational qualifications and physical/mental qualifications of those fit to serve on active duty. The atheists would have to come up with such an agency and some review process about qualifications of a group that doesn’t yet exist. (Not saying they can’t get that together, but it could take some time.)
2. The atheist chaplain would have to provide general religious support to those not of his faith group. IOW, he’d have to help the catholic soldier get catholic help, and the baptist soldier get baptist help, etc., etc. He would NOT be permitted to tell them to take a hike.
3. He is also required by law to conduct worship for his faith group. I don’t think there is any doctrinal consensus among atheists on what that would even begin to look like. Additionally, he’d have to arrange for such worship for those not in his faith group when in a job that requires him to be with soldiers.
4. He is to provide counsel to the commander on matters of morale as touched by religion. He is to provide/arrange counseling for families, individuals, etc. He is to conduct weddings, funerals, etc. All of these things would have to be redefined.
5. Finally, he is to be a symbol of hope in darkest hours that speak of death. His symbol would be “kiss your ass goodbye, ‘cause once you bite the dust here, it’s all over there, too.”
6. Finally, are the atheist groups sure they want to argue that they are officially an organized body of beliefs about deities....a religion?
That is not quite accurate. They have to have an advanced degree acceptable to their endorsing agency.
Mormons, for example, often have their advanced degrees in counseling and other subjects. I don't believe they have seminaries in the tradition of historic Christianity.
"Seminary" to a Mormon is more like a catechism gathering for the young.
First of all, thank you for your service.
I think there are two questions here: should the atheists have a chaplaincy, and are they ready? I think it is obvious that they are not ready, for some of the reasons you list: lack of organization, lack of a formulated doctrines of faith.
On helping other faith chaplains, I don’t think thay compare to a Baptist and a Catholic, but they can compare to Hindu and a Christian. In other words, “I don’t think your religion makes any sense but I can help carrying that heavy idol of yours”. I can easily imagine an atheist with a collegial attitude. Note that if it is a requirement of service, then belligerent types simply won’t apply or won’t stay long. Like in any other professional work, it requires professional attitude, and an atheist can be a good professional.
What they lack now can be developed. They can have a congress, establsh some principles, adopt some core statements, agree on some symbolism and bingo, they have their own set of bells and smells and are ready to go. After all, a military man does not have to choose a chaplain, — if he is of generally atheistic persuasion but does not like the work of the hypothetical congress, he is no worse than now.
But should they? The core question is, are they a worldview based on a faith or are they not? I think they are. Their faith is that there is no supernatural life. So far they have been insisting that Atheism is not a faith. But if they come around and admit that they are what they are based on a faith, I don’t think anyone should stand in their way.
Can an atheist give hope to a dying fellow atheist? The soviet Union had a rich experience with that, and there is evidence that it worked for them somewhat. In the war with Germany, there was a surge of Christian faith (and Stalin was smart enough to not suppress that), but also there were acts of heroism done for atheistic ideation to be sure. The usual line was advancing ideas by their death, rather than gaining eternal life. The dying soldier would be counceled that he served his country, saved many lives of others, or perhaps served the goals of Communism. An American Atheist would fashion a similar set in line with the American values. So, yeah, they can provide a measure of comfort.
I personally think that Atheists should be barred from the military, the Academe, or political office, but so long as they are considered legitimate in their stupid faith, they are legitimate in sustaining it in the military service.
will the Marxist atheistic Chaplin also have the ability to do an Objectivist atheistic service?
The problem here is that the ones pushing for this are generally the beligerent type.
Good post, annalex, with good points.
I do think that many atheists (most?) would rather have their nails pulled out than admit that they were an organized body of beliefs about the supernatural.
That would make all such beliefs, and the presentation of them in any governmental setting, subject to the restrictions against all other religions.
I am ready to allow for a real need for consolation among the atheists, and that can be done professionally and without much controversy. If a militant atheist tries to become a chaplain, — well, beside the fact that he will be taking out the atheists’ market differentiation as precisely not a religion, — he will be subject for the military rules, in which the Muslim, that Christian of many denominations, the Hindu, etc. all have to serve together and not tear one another down. Rots-a-ruck militating.
I think you are right, but I don’t have an objection to such a minority that would want a chaplaincy.
The origin of the word chaplain goes back to the cloak of St Martin of Tours...his cappa, if memory serves correctly.
The story of Martin’s cape is as follows:
“While Martin was still a soldier at Samarobriva (modern Amiens) he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Samarobriva with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me.” (Sulpicius, ch 2). In another story, when Martin woke his cloak was restored, and the miraculous cloak was preserved among the relic collection of the Merovingian kings of the Franks.”
From that story of a 4th century saint we get both chapel (capella, I think, and chaplain, cappellanus.)
The word “chaplain” is UNIQUELY Christian due to its origin, so my guess is that an atheist could NEVER be a cappellane. They could never adorn themselves with that history of service for Jesus among warriors on the battlefield.
In fact, since they do not believe in existence in the afterlife, they have no belief in an enduring human spirit to provide sustenance to.
Objections are no longer a matter of what is right, but are rather a matter of what liberal sophists in the legal fields can make to sound appealing to itching ears.
But, I agree with you that they will have their day.
The really sad thing, though, annalex, is the same sad thing that happens to any battalion of fighting men stuck with a muslim, hindu, or “atheist” chaplain. They have no one on staff to whom they can bring their spiritual needs and from whom they can receive no eternal spiritual sustenance.
All they have is a functionary filling an MTOE slot.
A similar scene involves St. Francis:
But we digress.
For an atheist, disocvering a need for comfort in the face of death is a step in the right direction. Of course, false religions cannot provide that, but they do acknowledge a larger purpose in life. They just don't know what that purpose is. When, for example, a Soviet komissar would tell a soldier that his sacrifice saved the life of an entire platoon, he is telling him that his life had a higher purpose. That is all I was trying to say. In fact, much of Hollywood militaristic production seems not to go beyond that simple point as they depict scenes of military heroism. Well, it is something. Not much, but something.
When I saw this thread my first thoughts were “How could they (atheists) have chaplains when they have no chapel — not even in their hearts — for God.
And what happened to the old saying “Ain’t no atheists in foxholes!”??
I know I am coming late to this conversation, but seriously how could an atheist be a chaplain when he doesn’t even believe in God?
I think atheism is a false religion, along with many others. Since it happens to be the practice of the US military to have chaplains in false religions, there is no reason not to have atheist chaplains.
Further, it serves a purpose as people in false religions deserve their spiritual needs met on the level on which they are prepared to accept help, in return for serving this country.
We can say to an Atheist or a Muslim or a Jew: — Come to Christ Who alone is the Truth, the Way and the Light, however, even while you are not prepared to come to Christ, listen to the good preached in your religion and be a good Muslim, Atheist, Jew.
I agree with you that atheism is a false religion, but I’m still at the reflections stage. I might be overlooking some of the reasons why atheists simply couldn’t perform the job. That is the ultimate issue, because they do NOT just minister to their own kind.
Imagine one on a funeral detail in Tennessee for a recently deceased veteran. Imagine one being on a notification team to the home of a recently deceased soldier.
I’m sure we can find some adroit way to logic around these responsibilities, but they simply would be unable to perform the desired function in the spiritual way intended.
I’m not saying yet that your allowance is wrong; I’m just saying that in my mind the jury is still out.
Seems to me there are de facto Chaplains of atheism in the military.
To some degree, I suggest mental health workers serve that role.
I am not saying that there is not a role for mental health professionals in this world. Just that atheists, to some degree, look at mental health professionals as some sort of high priests.
There was no presence of the Church in the front line, so far that I know. Stalin did reverse the active persecution of the Church, up to a point, but I never heard of chaplains in the true Christian or any other properly religious sense.
There were political leaders, the "politruks" or "comissars". They were to give the troops the sense of purpose and to console them in their losses. They were with the operational command I imagine, at the platoon or regiment level. They did not themselves have operational command, but rather were dedicated Communist Party members who oversaw both the officer ranks and the troops. It is often by their informing the NKVD that people were plucked and jailed for political "crimes", like Solzhenitsyn was, right from the front line (he had a low opinion of Comrade Stalin's leadership ability). But they also had a duty to inspire, lead to battle and died in significant numbers with the soldiers. This is a painting of a Russian civil War-era politruk getting killed.
We can also remember the comissar character in the Enemy at the Gate film:
So what was their message?
In great part it was standard-issue patriotic, like in any military. The goal of the soldier was to defend the motherland (easier to explain when your own country was invaded) or to liberate the oppressed (toward the end of WWII, rolling through Hungary or Poland). There was a good deal of demonization of the enemy (Soviet war propaganda had it that the Germans were just awful people, apparently by nature; in the Civil War the Whites were the greedy rich). I don't think something similar cannot be imagined going on in any country's military, only the labels change.
When a soldier dies, it is so that the larger goal is served, as explained above: the home town is safe, the platoon survives to fight another day, the enemy is defeated, the Poles (who just can't wait for the Reds) liberated. That, too is not specifically atheist, and is often a true statement, but works for the atheists.
In addition, and instead of the higher goal of serving God, there was the higher goal of serving the worldwide Communism. "Bravely we go in battle/ for the Soviet Power/ and will die all as one/ in the struggle for it". The Whites sang the same tune, "Bravely we go in battle/ For the Holy Russia/ and kill all the zhids (Jews), the rascals".
Was there a more personal reward in communist Russia to be head after a good death? For sure. It was, however, formulated in the negative:
The most precious that man has is life. It is given him once, and it must be lived so that to avoid the torture of shame for the years lived aimlessly, so that not to be seared by the ignominy for the base, penny-change past; and so, dying one could say: my life and my strength was given for the most important thing in the world: the struggle for the liberation of mankind. And, one must hurry to live. for an ugly disease, or some tragic accident may cut it. Immersed in these thoughts, Korchagin left the mass grave.
(Nikolai Ostrovsky, "How the Steel Was Tempered", 19321934. This was a phrase every school kid had beaten into his brain).
So eternal life you don't get; but the "torture of shame for the years lived aimlessly" -- you can avoid.
Atheists, like vegetarians, seem to love to call attention to themselves by any means necessary.
You are right on target. Require a psych degree and send them to the medical corps.
makes more sense, actually.
You bring up some excellent point X not the least being the one above. I recall when I was in the service I was assigned to relatively small units. I was blessed that I had some excellent chaplins but, as you stated, many of them served multiple denominations. In fact our group were so small that often we attended different worship services just to support the chaplins. There would be a certain irony if an atheist had to perform a baptism.
What is most interesting about your point and this article is that the atheists don't seem to have a clue as to how the military works or what would be required of them. If they did, they certainly wouldn't make this proposal.
These atheists certainly don't have a clue. Others have been serving in the military for years with no problems.