New Study Shows Significant Atheist Military Population

A new population study of official Department of Defense records by the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers shows religious preference and chaplain endorsements for all components and branches of the military. Findings show atheists are represented in larger numbers than any non-Christian denomination. “No Religious Preference” is the largest individual selection. The Air Force also admitted that it does not know what organizations are endorsing its chaplains.

As a result of the study, Air Force officials have promised to reform their oversight of chaplain endorsing agencies. There has been no commitment to reaching out to atheists and humanists in the military. Top-level chaplains have declined to address formal outreach MAAF and grass roots development. Humanists have no opportunity to state their religious preference on their official records. Lay leader applications have been pushed aside for over a year. This new demographics study should help to show the growing need for chaplains to support nontheists as well as theists.

Chaplain support for diversity communities

Over 0.5% of the military self-identified as atheist. While this may seem low, the atheist religious preference was ahead of all responses except Christian or undetermined groups (No Pref & Unknown). Atheist is in the #15 position of all options, and 88 different religious preferences, including 73 Christian denominations and all non-Christian denominations, fall below Atheist.

Chaplain support showed a Christian majority as expected, but the total for all Christians was less than 70%, even with disparate groups like Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and Mormons lumped together. Despite this diversity, Christians fill nearly 97% of all chaplain billets, and Christians still enjoy special privileges while other groups face regulatory challenges. In addition, most “minority” religious groups like Jewish, Muslim, and LDS are overrepresented relative to the general population. Atheists and humanists have no dedicated chaplain support or even attention in chaplain training despite being a relatively large minority in the general population. MAAF seeks to do our part by endorsing humanist chaplains, if the military will accept candidates.

Raw data on the study, including technical details about the data provided in 2009 and 2012, changes, and methodology for categories are annotated on the official page. The study should be reviewed only in the context of the study’s methodology.

View the full religious preference study and information as well as the MS Excel Raw Data:  Requires Microsoft Excel MAAF 2012 DoD Religious Preference and Chaplain Study.

Edit 8/14: Why chaplains for atheists/humanists/nontheists?

13 Responses to New Study Shows Significant Atheist Military Population

  1. Pingback: Atheist Chaplains - wtf?! - XDTalk Forums - Your XD/XD(m) Information Source!

  2. Things may be quite different now, but when I was on active duty in the early 90s and having serious domestic troubles, my Chief sent me to talk to the Chaplain. I was not sent to any sort of social service worker or counselor. It was the base Chaplain. I was not a believer at the time but largely apathetic towards religion; it struck me as odd but I wasn’t offended by it at the time. I would feel differently now.

  3. The best proposal of this kind would be to allow Mentors that are just as noteworthy to be called to respond to those who seek no name to religion because many have felt the dereliction of religion. When you come into contact with those who call themselves Christians but act otherwise, you have to question the validity of religous spokesmen. It is my intention to believe that finding integrity to someone who does not judge, who does not concern with wrong, to help those who feel predisposed to have someone. this can help to solve sucides that are destroying the belief that one can carry on even if in disguise they are made to be viewed less credible in the eyes of those who throw stones and cause such hurt and pain!

  4. Pingback: New study shows atheists as a significant population in the military, yet the military leaves no room for them to declare humanism or atheism | God Discussion | Mobile Atheist

  5. Pingback: New study shows atheists as a significant population in the military, yet the military leaves no room for them to declare humanism or atheism | God Discussion

  6. Pingback: See, In That Foxhole? There They Are | The Proud Atheist News Blog

  7. Pingback: Why I’m leaving Rock Beyond Belief | Rock Beyond Belief

  8. “No Religious Preference” does not mean they are atheist. Too many believe in a deity but care less about going to church or identifying with an organized religion.

  9. Whether a non theist would want or need a chaplain depends on what you think a chaplain is supposed to do. Their original mandate was to ensure that all those who serve are able to exercise their freedom of religion. Yes, chaplains also have a pastoral role, but official military doctrine is very clear that this is a secondary role. Unfortunately, there are those (particularly the evangelicals) who treat this is their primary role.

    The nice thing about having the chaplain around is advocacy. He (or rarely she) has a direct line to the top. Each unit’s chaplain reports directly to the unit commander (in the Army, the chaplain along with the CSM is part of the commander’s personal staff). So, if there is a legitimate soldier issue, the chaplain is often in a unique position to get this information straight to the top, in a protected way.

    As an Army vet, I don’t think we should get rid of chaplains. Rather, I support extending endorsement privileges to include more diverse groups, including non-theist groups.

  10. Perhaps the military should not be a christian militia.

  11. This is tricky, because not all atheists are humanist ( though many are ) and not all humanists are atheists ( despite what some clergy believe). Also, most non theists would not want or need a chaplain, psychologists and councelors are already available. Perhaps the military should ask the non religious what kind of support services they want.

    • chaplains aren’t psychologists and psychologists aren’t chaplains. Chaplains aren’t licensed counselor either, at least not necessarily. View new link on what beliefs should chaplains support.

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