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An Atheist Chaplain???
By SGT Awesome
For years now groups have been lobbying to allow atheists to serve as chaplains in the Armed Forces. This may sound confusing when the words hit your ear holes, and it should, because it is. Firstly, atheism is not a belief system (it is in fact simply a lack of belief in a deity), so what is actually being pushed forward is a “Humanist” chaplain.
Humanism (as defined by the American Humanist Association) is “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”
Their claim is that Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity fills for Christians, or Islam fills for Muslims. Here is where I (as an atheist and Humanist) come to my first objection.
Christians are Christians because they believe in Christianity. One need not believe in Humanism to be an atheist. This is a false equivalency. Yes, many atheists tend to follow Humanist beliefs, but it is not a requirement or a standard. Atheism is, again, simply a lack of belief in a god or gods. That is the sole universal unifying factor amongst non-believers. They come from a vast ocean of cultures and backgrounds and to attempt to shoehorn them all under an umbrella, no matter how many are already under it, is dishonest.
Next they point out that the chaplain corps currently under-serves or disregards atheists. They also point out that out of the 1.4 million active duty service members, 290,000 of them have no religious affiliation.
Non-belief is absolutely the fastest growing demographic in America and it dwarfs the populations of all non-Christian religions, yet even with all of this, I still struggle to see why an atheist would require the use of a chaplain.
Religious chaplains study their particular book and associated dogma extensively so they can perform rituals and advise people according to those particular rules. What would a Humanist chaplain study? What could they do that a Soldier’s chain of command or battle buddy couldn’t also do? As an NCO, a primary facet of my job is to look out for the welfare of my Soldiers. I do this regardless of the Soldier’s religious beliefs and if they happen to be religious and want to pray or something, they have chaplains available for that. What would a Humanist chaplain do for a Soldier that I could not?
I absolutely understand that what they are going for is an available counselor for Soldiers that can help people without requiring belief in parthenogenesis, but is there an actual need for it? They claim there is a stigma attached to Soldiers who seek help from a psychologist (which there absolutely is) but I fail to see how the addition of another officer running around without a weapon will be of any help.
What it boils down to in the end is just the latest attempt for a stigmatized minority group to attempt to gain equality from its government. While I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, I personally think this is the wrong way to do it.
All this does is further cloud and confuse people’s understanding of what atheism is. It also makes it appear as though we wish to take something from religious people (even though this wouldn’t, nor do we wish to) and it frankly seems childish.
I may however not be the ideal judge of the situation as I tend to avoid chaplains as much as possible (and will continue to do so even if they are Humanist). Do you see a place in the chaplain corps for a Humanist chaplain? Am I looking at this too cynically? And I suppose most importantly, is there any real harm in allowing it?
Sound off in the comment section!