Potential Humanist Chaplain Profiled

The LA Times has an article about Jason Heap, who has applied with the U.S. Navy to be the first (official) humanist chaplain in the military. He’s an impressive guy, with a master’s in ecclesiastical history from Oxford. And he’s been endorsed by the Humanist Society, which is affiliated with the Quakers.

Heap says he’s not trying to make a point or bring attention to himself. He says he wants only to serve his country — and those sailors who don’t believe in God and hold what he calls “nontheist” beliefs.

“As both a humanist and a scholar of religion, I have a deep knowledge and understanding of world religions,” Heap said. “My purpose and focus as a chaplain will be for holistic well-being of anyone who is in need of pastoral care.”…

More than 13,000 service members identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, according to a Pentagon survey this year. That’s more than the number of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the military combined, yet each of those religions has its own chaplains. The Pentagon survey did not include a category for humanists.

At least 276,000 service members said they had no religious preference — the largest single group after “Christian, no denominational preference” at 338,000, and just ahead of Roman Catholics at 263,000…

Heap says his religious education and teaching experience qualify him to carry out a chaplain’s mission for all service members, including nontheists.

“Thousands of our men and women in the services have their own life stories and issues they wish to speak to a chaplain about, but are unable to … because they do not have access to a nontheist chaplain,” Heap wrote in an open letter to the American Humanist Assn.

He added: “Just as a Roman Catholic would prefer to speak with a priest, or a Jewish person with a rabbi … nontheist people would prefer to have access to someone who understands their basic points of view.”

The opposition to this is coming from the Christian right, which seeks to maintain their unchallenged privilege. Many of the same people freaking out about this were also the ones who wanted to keep Wiccans out of the military and who also often want to keep Muslims out as well.


  1. says

    He very likely will know more about Christianity than most chaplains, including the Christian ones, and possibly more about all other religions than they do as well. So I think he’d be in a very good position to counsel people whose problem is that they’re deconverting from religion and need some help.

    But for people with your normal, everyday problems? Relationship issues, deaths in the family, things like that? I wish the nontheist sailors could see an actual therapist. But the primary argument for not doing that is that it will go on their record. So I wish they could see a non-therapist secular therapist.

  2. magistramarla says

    I wish that we could clone this man and put one of him on every ship and on every military installation.

  3. schweinhundt says

    I haven’t seen the survey mentioned in the article, but the one listed below is probably similar. Since the Army and the Air Force list zero agnostics across the board, that choice is probably zeroed out along with the humanists. It would be interesting to see how many “no religious preference” folks would fall into one of those two categories.


  4. uncephalized says

    I wish the nontheist sailors could see an actual therapist. But the primary argument for not doing that is that it will go on their record. So I wish they could see a non-therapist secular therapist.

    Isn’t there a simple way to deal with this, as in stop stupidly stigmatizing soldiers and sailors who seek counseling or therapy by putting it on their “permanent records”? In a world where undiagnosed and untreated PTSD is killing servicepeople and veterans every day through suicide, drug abuse, etc., and causing serious trauma and suffering–including secondary PTSD in family members and friends (apparently PTSD is a contagious social disease)–therapy should practically be mandatory for soldiers during and after combat duty, and it certainly should never be grounds for losing a promotion or other discrimination. The way we do it now is an obvious failure.

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