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NPR on Rock Beyond Belief

NPR did a story about Rock Beyond Belief that featured an interview with Justin Griffith and with Rachel Medley, the atheist member of the Golden Knights that parachuted in to the event (she was awesome, I got a chance to talk to her for a while backstage).

The story also talks about the issue of having an atheist chaplain. I had a talk with Justin about this and I think it’s a good idea, though I would make it a humanist chaplain. They aren’t actually looking to have unit-level atheist chaplains, but to have one higher up in the chain of command to give atheists a seat at the table and to allow them to hold meetings on base, something Griffith’s group at Ft. Bragg continue to be denied. The Pentagon says all chaplains must be sponsored by a “qualified religious organization,” which is what prevents it from happening. But I wonder if maybe they could get the UU church to sponsor a humanist chaplain who is an atheist? Maybe it’s been tried.

Notice in the video below how completely irrelevant the response is from the spokesman for the National Association of Evangelicals. When asked about the idea of an atheist chaplain, he says nothing at all about the merits of the idea. He only says that evangelicals support the troops and that most of them wouldn’t understand the need for an atheist chaplain. As if either of those things had anything to do with the question. Maybe that’s just bad editing on the part of NPR, but if that’s the full answer he gave I don’t understand why it was even quoted. He might as well have said, “I like french toast.”

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Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    Ed reports:

    Rachel Medley, the atheist member of the Golden Knights that parachuted in to the event . . .

    So not only are there atheists in foxholes, there’s atheists who parachute into foxholes.

  2. Michael Heath says

    Ed reports:

    Notice in the video below how completely irrelevant the response is from the spokesman for the National Association of Evangelicals. When asked about the idea of an atheist chaplain, he says nothing at all about the merits of the idea. He only says that evangelicals support the troops and that most of them wouldn’t understand the need for an atheist chaplain.

    If this is his full answer within context, it’s consistent with how evangelical leaders in general create a framework of premises within which to consider atheists. That’s to dehumanize them, often by identifying them with monsters like Stalin while ignoring how much worse Christians come off if we use that same [arguably defective] standard. Even the fake-agreeable Rick Warren does this; like his Easter Sunday interview on Meet the Press a couple of years back.

    So in this case we have this evangelical spokesperson referring to the military as if the entire context within which to address this issue is how it affects the relevant humans – that being evangelicals where atheists aren’t even considered in spite of the whole topic being about addressing their needs.

  3. says

    I’m really interested in their being lower-echelon atheist chaplains. If you’re in the military and you’ve got issues that need talking about to an uninterested third party, your choices are chaplain or psychiatrist. One of those gets you a mark on your permanent record, the other gets you a bunch of religious nonsense. Plus, chaplains are really the best way to go if you need some assistance with family emergencies.

  4. matty1 says

    The Pentagon says all chaplains must be sponsored by a “qualified religious organization,”

    How can the Pentagon decide that some religious organizations are ‘qualified’ and others aren’t without running into the ‘no establishment of religion’ issue?

  5. uncephalized says

    @matty1 “How can the Pentagon decide that some religious organizations are ‘qualified’ and others aren’t without running into the ‘no establishment of religion’ issue?”

    Seems to me they can’t. I have the same issue with the government deciding who can and can’t officiate marriages based on religious status. Of course, the easiest loophole in the world exists in the form of nearly-free and instantaneous online ordinations, but the fact that the requirement is so meaningless is just more reason not to have it at all.

    As far as I’m concerned marriages should require two adults who wish to marry (regardless of sex), a marriage license, an officiant (anyone who wants to perform the ceremony), and maybe a witness. Anything else should be legally irrelevant and up to the couple.

  6. Ryan Jean says

    The story also talks about the issue of having an atheist chaplain. I had a talk with Justin about this and I think it’s a good idea, though I would make it a humanist chaplain. […] The Pentagon says all chaplains must be sponsored by a “qualified religious organization,” which is what prevents it from happening. But I wonder if maybe they could get the UU church to sponsor a humanist chaplain who is an atheist? Maybe it’s been tried.

    This is really the crux of it. Back when Justin put in his application to be a “Lay Leader” (the pseudo-equivalent to being a chaplain), I don’t know if he had an endorsement or not. I’ve heard some say that he applied as an atheist rather than as a humanist, and if that’s true it would be a little difficult to get an endorsement from a “religious” organization at all.

    When MAJ Bradley and I put in our Lay Leader packets at Ft. Bragg and Ft. Meade, we both had an endorsement. Ours is from the Humanist Society, the adjunct of the American Humanist Association that certifies Humanist Celebrants. AHA has recognition as an IRS Code 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organisation, but HS carries the additional recognition as a church under IRS Code 170(b)(1)(a)(i).

    That distinction is important, because the regulations for chaplain and lay leader endorsements define a “qualified religious” organization as one that is either: (A) recognized by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board; –or– (B) recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization by the IRS. We meet that legal standard.

    This has not stopped the efforts of the Army to block or ignore our requests (although at the Fort level the local command usually doesn’t cause a problem once the legal standard is clearly explained). Our packets are allegedly being debated at high levels now, but the chaplaincy is being notoriously quiet and opaque on the issue. The packets for both of us have been complete for some time, so the delay is clearly starting to appear as a blatant stalling tactic. If they can get us to give up, or if we move to another station, they win by avoiding having to approve the status.

    Importantly, the lay leader (and perhaps eventually chaplain) applications are not the only thing going on. One other side to this is to get Humanist recognized as an option for listing on our official records. MAJ Bradley has already initiated action on this front, which I support fully, and this is also allegedly being debated at high levels. Right now, I have atheist on my records, but given the choice I would put Humanist. I can’t help but wonder how many of the roughly 25% that list “No Religious Preference” would also put Humanist on their records but want to avoid the (unfortunately still prevalent) stigma of the atheist label. Hopefully, we will get to find out in the near future.

    Captain Ryan Jean
    Lay Leader “Candidate”

  7. Michael Heath says

    uncephalized writes:

    As far as I’m concerned marriages should require two adults who wish to marry (regardless of sex), a marriage license, an officiant (anyone who wants to perform the ceremony), and maybe a witness. Anything else should be legally irrelevant and up to the couple.
    [emphasis added – MH]

    I’d make one restriction to your argument. That would be that as far as the state was concerned the officiant notarize the marriage license where that was their only state mandated duty, i.e., to validate the people entering into a marriage contract were actually those two people.

  8. Michael Heath says

    Re the atheist or humanist categories: If I were in the military I’d prefer being categorized as neither but instead as a realist.

    When it comes to the atheist label I have no interest in defining myself by religious criteria. And I see the humanist label as a category error equivalent to the forest from the trees analogy, that such a label is overly narrow and suggests priorities I don’t always share, e.g., sometimes I favor the interests of another living species over our own. Where I’m trying to expand whatever vestigial tribalism biases that still remain into as broad a category as possible, e.g., I’m all for a thriving multi-universe if such exists. ;)

  9. matty1 says

    @Uncephalized,

    I almost entirely agree, I’m not too sure an officiant is required but I suppose someone should be responsible for filing the paperwork to arrange the legal benefits of marriage.

    Incidentally my brother married in the Netherlands, which pretty much follows that formula except that the officiant has to notify a Judge in advance.

  10. denada says

    “Atheist Chaplain” – why devalue the term “Counsellor”? Personally if I need counselling, I will find a counsellor. Not a Chaplain.

  11. tuibguy says

    I think that the phrase “Stained Glass Ceiling” is one of Sgt. Griffith’s originals. I love it, and even if Justin didn’t come up with it, I thank him for saying it.

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