Wingnuts Don’t Like Atheist Chaplain Idea

For the last couple years, some atheist and humanist groups have been pushing for the appointment of humanist chaplains in the military, but military rules don’t allow that because it’s not a religion. An amendment has now been submitted in Congress to change that, but some conservative legislators don’t like that idea at all.

That’s after New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews offered an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday that would allow humanists or members of ethical culture groups to join the chaplain corps. Andrews’ idea was to help members of the military who don’t believe in God, but want someone to talk to about problems without having to seek a medical professional.

But Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee objected mightily, saying that atheists can’t offer spiritual counseling and would likely offend dying soldiers or their families.

“They don’t believe anything,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.’”

“This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). “The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”

Another perfect instance of Christian privilege — their religion is the default and anyone else is weird. Never mind that there are atheists in the military who wouldn’t feel comfortable getting counseling from a Christian chaplain. It’s a Blues Brothers moment — we got both kinds here, Catholic and Protestant.

29 comments on this post.
  1. John Pieret:

    It wouldn’t be humanistic or ethical to do the sort of things Conaway imagines these people would do. I’m pretty sure any such chaplain, having gone through the trouble to join the military, would do what chaplains of a different faith do … offer comfort to the soldier or family appropriate to their beliefs.

  2. gshelley:

    It’s the inability to see that their argument can be used to attack people they support as well. “Imagine a Jewish soldier, possibly dying, being told that he is going to burn in hell for rejecting Jesus” or “It would be terrible if a Jewish Chaplain told a Christian that God really hates it when people worship false gods and he needs to renounce Jesus or he may suffer in the afterlife”

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!:

    It’s a Blues Brothers moment — we got both kinds here, Catholic and Protestant.

    Don’t you mean Russian and Greek?

    (An orthodox joke that may be somewhat unorthodox actually?)

  4. scienceavenger:

    “The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”

    Riiiiight, because saying “You are going to burn in Hell forever if your beliefs aren’t correct” is so much better.

  5. eric:

    John, you are right that that’s what chaplains should do. Its arguably the one and only reason they should be paid for as part of a secular military in a secular state: because they can provide a valued assistance to all servicemembers, regardless of servicemember faith or none.

    Its arguable that they do that. As Hemant has pointed out, the percent of evangelical Chaplains far outnumber the percent of the military population that is evangelical, and its that sect (or set of sects) that appears to have the most trouble distinguishing between giving support and proselytization.

  6. flatlander100:

    Conway and Fleming’s nonsense aside, I don’t like the idea of atheist chaplains. The position of chaplain in or out of the military is inherently a religious one.

  7. johnscarry:

    ethical culture

    Pretty sure they meant ethnic culture.

    Though if they allow chaplains based on ethnic culture, then pretty soon we’d be demanding Jewish atheist chaplains, and Lutheran atheist chaplains, and even Baptist atheist chaplains. Where would it end?

  8. Raging Bee:

    Well, so much for “atheists are just as religious as theists.” This means we won’t be hearing that BS from religious con-artists anymore, right? Right?!

  9. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne:

    ethical culture

    Pretty sure they meant ethnic culture.

    Pretty sure they don’t: ethical culture

  10. leftwingfox:

    The position of chaplain in or out of the military is inherently a religious one.

    I think there’s a lot of value is creating a secular equivalent or improvement: Essentially psychological councillors or social workers with training to deal specifically with the social and mental health needs of the troops in both informal and formal capacities.

  11. gopiballava:

    “The position of chaplain in or out of the military is inherently a religious one.”

    While I think that’s true, in the military the position exists to provide a certain kind of support that, it was assumed, only a religious officiary could provide. Acknowledging that humanists can fulfill that role is a good thing.

    I think it’s really interesting that the answer to “is atheism a religion” question is, “which answer gives them less privilege than us?”

  12. Gregory in Seattle:

    And yet, these very same wingnuts are the first to scream about atheism has become the state religion of the US and how we must teach Christianity (of an acceptable flavor) in public schools to counteract this.

  13. matty1:

    In an ideal world of course.

    1. There would be no stigma from seeing a properly qualified mental health professional for this kind of support

    2. The religion or not of soldiers would be considered their own business not something that needs official support.

  14. Michael Heath:

    Rep. Mike Conway states

    I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.’

    Well, I like to think myself as stardust.

  15. khms:

    “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.’”

    As opposed to “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, you mean?

    “The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”

    “…, you hell-bound sinner, you.”

  16. Sastra:

    “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.’”

    Well, no, I can’t imagine it either. That’s because the most significant parts of the grieving process have to do with remembering the life of the deceased and considering your own personal future — not considering the personal future of the deceased (unless you’re talking about burial plans.) Just listening can mean a lot.

    The religious never seem to consider how inappropriate and downright creepy most atheists find the “this is not it — your son is in heaven now” bromides of the faithful. From our perspective, it’s a bit like insisting that no, the soldier who appeared to die in battle was a planted dummy and the REAL person has amnesia and is living a new life out on a farm with lots of animals for him to play with. It’s juvenile. That’s not coping behavior, it’s an elaborate form of forced denial and it’s just not welcome.

  17. tsig:

    If the position of Chaplin is inherently religious then why are we paying tax money for it?

  18. escuerd:

    gshelley @2:

    “Imagine a Jewish soldier, possibly dying, being told that he is going to burn in hell for rejecting Jesus”

    Oh, but you see, Christians are inherently decent people who would do no such thing. Atheists, not believing in God, naturally lose any ability to empathize with other people. Why, you’d be lucky if all they did was offend people rather than raping and murdering the surviving family members, secure in the knowledge that there will be no punishment when they die.

    Conway and Fleming’s nonsense aside, I don’t like the idea of atheist chaplains. The position of chaplain in or out of the military is inherently a religious one.

    While I agree, I think that this is complicated by the stigma attached to anyone who visits a mental health professional in the military. Some people may need what amounts to counseling, and that’s one role that a lot of chaplains fill. I’d rather we could change the shaming of anyone who uses mental health services, but extending the existing band-aid so that it’s religiously neutral isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of course, that might just leave the choice between being stigmatized for getting mental health counseling and being stigmatized for being an atheism, but I still think it would be a less bad situation.

  19. escuerd:

    Sorry. Forgot to attribute second blockquote to flatlander100.

  20. jnorris:

    Reads like Conway and Fleming are discriminating based on religious belief. That’s illegal in the USA. But they’re from the Bible South so they wouldn’t know about federal law.

  21. Kevin:

    @16: Yes, exactly. Not only “not helpful” though, but actually and actively harmful.

    Right now, my dad’s in hospice. I don’t expect him to live through the summer.

    And the thing I’m dreading the most are all about the next few weeks/months are those mealy mouthed platitudes of him “being in a better place”, and “looking down on us”, and all the rest of that garbage. They’re sure to come because half of the family is religious (to varying degrees; thankfully no evangelicals amongst us).

    It’s going to take every bit of self-control and more for me to get through my own grief while helping my mother with hers. One more god-botherer cliche might just send me right through the roof.

  22. Pierce R. Butler:

    matty1 @ # 13: In an ideal world of course.

  23. Pierce R. Butler:

    Oops, somehow triggered “submit” accidentally before finishing my # 22:

    … there would be no military forces or any perceived need for them.

  24. dingojack:

    So, clearly, the position of ‘chaplain’ is a religious one (since the rule is ‘no atheists allowed’) and yet the government pays the wages of these, self-evidently, religious ministers.
    Can I get an ‘amen’ for the all-powerful first amendment?
    :| Dingo

  25. shay:

    Chaplains are the only military personnel besides lawyers who are allowed confidentiality. Having someone to go to who is not obligated by military regulations to report junior personnel’s confidences isn’t a bad thing.

  26. dan4:

    I’m with johnscarry @7. Having an atheist “chaplain” would just give (figurative) ammunition to the “atheism is a religion” crowd,

  27. dingojack:

    Dan – if being a ‘chaplain’ is a religious position, why aren’t the churches (or the soldiers themselves) funding them? Is it the government’s job to say what religious, or philosophical position(s) their employees can or should have? Or is it private function of said employees?
    Would you be in favour of having only religious practitioners act as counsellors in (say) the IRS?
    Dingo

  28. dan4:

    26: Meant I’m with flatlander100 @6.

  29. =8)-DX:

    I’m pretty OK with the idea of chaplains, the reason being that various religions require on to partake in various religious rituals and soldiers overseas should know they’re “covered” in this regard. But it should be equal opportunity for all religions as well as atheists. And all chaplains, whatever their beliefs, should cater to any soldier whatever their beliefs.

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