I just saw this story this morning, about atheists in the military wanting to have atheist chaplains.

Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders. […]

“Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews,” Mr. Torpy said in an interview. “It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”

So…I understand this, I think.  I mean, I see the atheists trying to have their own community.  That’s not an unreasonable desire.  There is something about this story that I find odd, though.  Unfortunately, I can’t put my finger on it.

“You’re not a faith group; you’re a lack-of-faith group,” First Lt. Samantha Nicoll, an active atheist at Fort Bragg, recalled a chaplain friend’s saying about the idea. “But I said, ‘What else is there for us?’ ”

Atheist leaders acknowledge the seeming contradiction of nonbelievers seeking to become chaplains or receive recognition from the chaplain corps. But they say they believe the imprimatur of the chaplaincy will embolden atheists who worry about being ostracized for their worldviews.

This seems like a way of saying, “See, atheists are just like you.  They just have different beliefs.  Or rather, they have beliefs like you, but their ‘beliefs’ are not based on faith.  But just like you, they like to get together and talk about their beliefs.  So don’t ostracize them just because they don’t have religion because what they have functions just like a religion, except for all the dumb stuff that they don’t like about religion.”  Yeah, I guess I really don’t understand it.

Not that I have a problem, per se, with the idea of atheist chaplains.  I find it highly unlikely that many atheists are going to want to go to the trouble of becoming a chaplain, but I don’t have a problem with accommodating atheists in the military in whatever reasonable fashion they…need.  Whatever that would be.  I can understand being an atheist in the military and feeling alone because supposedly there are no atheists in foxholes, but here you are, an atheist in a foxhole–maybe you’d like to talk about it once in a while.  I don’t know.  I reckon that atheists serving during wartime might have more profound conversations with each other than atheists meeting for kicks and giggles in a suburban Portland coffee shop, but even if they didn’t, I reckon that’s their right, being that they’re putting their lives in danger to defend our country.  I’m not going to begrudge them their meetings.

I still find it kind of odd, or rather, unlike anything I would expect from any of the atheists I know.

Military atheist leaders say that although proselytizing by chaplains is forbidden, Christian beliefs pervade military culture, creating subtle pressures on non-Christians to convert.

As an example, they cite the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitnessprogram, created to help soldiers handle stress and prevent suicide. The program requires soldiers to complete surveys assessing emotional, social, family and spiritual well-being. Based on their answers, some soldiers are asked to take “resiliency” training.

Atheists say the survey and training are rife with religious code words that suggest a deity or afterlife. The Army counters that the program is intended to determine whether a soldier has “a strong set of beliefs, principles or values” that can sustain him through adversity — and not to gauge religiosity.

So if I’m understanding this correctly, having atheist chaplains would be like officially saying, “You don’t have to believe in God to deal with stress and be okay with dying.”  I wonder if it is a source of stress for atheists to constantly have to prove that they are not any more stressed out about getting killed than a God-fearing soldier is.  I don’t know.

I guess I don’t have anything interesting to say about this.  I just find it an oddly perplexing and vaguely amusing story.  Girlfriend has been whining at my elbow for the last 15 minutes and now she is having a meltdown, so I will let you talk amongst yourselves.  I am especially interested in discovering what my gentle atheist readers think about atheist chaplains.  (So behave yourselves, non-atheists–no ostracizing language, please!)

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