The Best Argument For Atheist Chaplains Is… Christian Chaplains

From the US Army Chaplain Corps website:

Mission Statement:
The U.S. Army Chaplain Corps provides religious support to America’s Army while assisting commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers. In short, we nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.


We nurture the living
We care for the wounded
We honor the fallen.
That’s all.
Our mission is not
To convert unbelievers,
Or promote Christianity’s call.
To those who will claim
That the godless are different
And somehow, we can’t get along…
It’s not that you’re spouting
A different opinion—
The God’s honest truth is, you’re wrong.

I have former students in the military. To the best of my knowledge, none of them are atheists. One calls me his “atheist friend”. (I hate phones. I loathe phones. I avoid phones. I have this man’s number on my phone, and keep in touch. He’s that important.) Some, I am well aware, have been under fire. None of my own students have been killed. Others at Cuttlefish U. have not been so fortunate.

Think of the people you know who are in the military. Whether you agree with their religious views or not, whether you agree with their mission or not, my goodness, you care about them. With that in mind… please watch this:

The caller, identified as a “former Navy Chaplain” (we have reason to suspect callers), is an utter ass. (update–apparently, he is identified by name, and is in fact who he says he is, and remains an utter ass.)

They don’t have spiritual needs the way that religious sailors do. I was a Navy Chaplain and chaplains, by definition, are people of faith. They cater to the spiritual needs, they cater to the beliefs, or the religious needs… if you don’t have a religion, then you don’t have religious needs, so you don’t need the services of a chaplain.
If you need counseling, you can go to a secular psychologist in the military — that’s free of charge and that’s confidential*, so what would the duties of an atheist chaplain be?

The chaplains themselves (quoted up at the top) say that they “nurture the living”. Atheists certainly might need that, now and again. Perhaps quite often, if they happen to be in a stressful situation, like… oh, I don’t know… combat. Chaplains “care for the wounded”. I suspect that wounded atheists need every bit as much care as any others. Different context, but Shakespeare would probably have asked “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” (oops–sorry, Jewish chaplains are allowed.) Chaplains “honor the fallen”. Anyone who thinks atheists do not honor and mourn is a sociopath.

The caller, apparently Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, is exhibit number one as to why Christian chaplains are inadequate. I have no doubt that there are other christian chaplains who are competent. Who can look beyond the “atheist” on the tag and see a human being who needs help. And be willing to help. But as long as there are Klingenschmitts in the Chaplains Corp, there is a serious need for atheist chaplains.

Oh, and as an aside (it doesn’t deserve more attention than an aside), Solomon’s quip about atheists encouraging suicide is one of the more offensive things I have seen this year (and as you know, I intentionally read comment threads on the internet). I could, of course, direct his attention to the good people at Rapture Ready (no, I will not link there–search at your own risk, or just think about what the title implies), and consider that I could make a claim (with considerably more backing than his) that it is evangelical christians who would advocate self-slaughter. But really, a truly good person would be above that. Guess I’m just all right.

*this Klingenschmitt bearing false witness. Visits to the psychologist are part of your permanent record.


  1. PatrickG says

    In the midst of frothing rage, I must note a technicality:

    “Confidential” just means limited access. So he’s not actually lying there. Misleading, obfuscating, and stretching the truth, but … yeah. Even civilian psychologists are required to notify authorities under certain circumstances (credible threat of harm to others, as one example).

    Counseling by chaplain doesn’t quite fit “anonymous”, but if they follow the job description, it’s functionally the same thing.

    Back to wiping foam off of mouth. Carry on.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    So, PatrickG, are talks with chaplains and talks with counselors equal? (As I understand it, the latter are noted on official records, even in cases where the credible threat of harm is not an issue. I am willing to be proven wrong.)

  3. Randomfactor says

    I was a Navy Chaplain and chaplains, by definition, are people of faith

    Change the definition. Problem solved. It’s not like a Navy “head” does any thinking, Or the existence of a second definition fitting the word “head” deprived sailors of the original one.

    No, really.

    It worked for marriage equality, it can work for chaplain equality.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    It’s not the definition that matters, it’s the function. What chaplains do is ” nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.” By their own words.

    Klingenschmitt clearly cares more for god than for country.

  5. PatrickG says

    are talks with chaplains and talks with counselors equal?

    Of course not. Talks with chaplains are formally off the record, and recognized as protected. In other words, a chaplain can tell the military brass to fuck off. A psychologist/psychiatrist can’t, and in a military situation the shield of privacy is very, very thin. Confidential does not mean private.

    As you say, the visit is reported. My threat of violence comment was merely to indicate that psychologists are not only permitted but required to report certain things (child abuse, threats of violence, threats of harm to self, etc.). I’m not a military expert, but I can only imagine the reporting requirements are even more stringent.

    To be very clear, I absolutely want secular chaplains with the same privileges as chaplains with religious affiliation. My only nitpick — in the midst of frothing rage at the people in that video — was terminology. The term “confidential” is very specific, and your original post didn’t seem to have that in mind.

    Technically, it’s not false witness (at least, if Gawd is abiding by US law). That was my only point.

    And apologies for a somewhat rambling comment, I’m in the middle of making dinner. :)

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Please, Patrick, I did not mean to insinuate that you wanted anything less than what you say here. I asked you because of your clarification earlier; I would much rather have a solid argument that is less than what I wanted, than everything I want on shaky ground. With your explanation, it seems that there is solid bedrock supporting everything a reasonable person would want, and I thank you for your time and trouble.

  7. PatrickG says

    No worries, and I didn’t actually think you were insinuating anything. The perils of typing out a comment phrase by phrase as you carefully pan-sear multiple batches of scallops, I suppose. :)

  8. Al Dente says

    Klingenschmitt got court-martialled some years ago for wearing his navy uniform at a political rally. He was discharged shortly thereafter. He’s just another conservative fundamentalist Christian pushing a right-wing agenda because “that’s what God wants.”

  9. says

    Reading this excellent post, I had a strange feeling I’d heard that name – Klingenschmitt – before.
    Sure enough – it’s the very same “chaplain” who used psalm 109 to incite trouble for Mikey Wienstein of the MRFF. Nasty piece of work. :(


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