Foxhole atheists denounce Congressional ignorance of humanist values
From the Army Chief of Chaplains Strategic Roadmap – Will they allow nontheistic diversity?
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers and its thousands of current and prior military members are denouncing the ignorance and prejudice displayed by Representative Mike Conway who declared that atheists believe in nothing and would tell a grieving family their son was “worm food”. Representative Fleming worried a humanist chaplain would tell a dying soldier there was no hope. Where was his outrage in 2011 when senior chaplains at a Library of Congress event told the assembled crowd senior Christian chaplains would try to convert a dying soldier? A humanist chaplain would be reprimanded even by humanists for pushing their beliefs on those in need. When will Christians reprimand Christian chaplains for using their position to proselytize?
Note: This article was originally distributed as a media release by MAAF on June 6, 2013. Also see the excellent article from Hemant Mehta at Friendlyatheist.com and the separate MAAF article covering foxhole atheist response to congressional comments. Also, the Secular Coalition Action Alert from 6/11 provides additional background.
MAAF is currently working with three humanist chaplain candidates who are preparing applications to be submitted in the next few months. They fear they won’t pass this unconstitutional religious test for the public office of the chaplaincy that some are proposing, and many other candidates have already been discouraged by the anti-nontheist culture in the chaplaincy. A prospective humanist chaplain, still anonymous but preparing his Navy chaplaincy application, expresses his hope to serve: “I look forward to being an agent of compassion, care, and pluralism in the military, even to those who disagree (with my beliefs).”
Members of the MAAF Facebook page are expressing their frustration and anger at Rep Conway’s comments: “I was an atheist Chaplain’s Assistant in the Air Force…I think I did my job well enough, and without any intention of trying to convert anyone like some of my coworkers had…” and “As a military atheist in the flying portion of the Air Force (arguably the most proselytizing of any sector of service), I would love to have someone to talk to that didn’t push me to ask jesus what to do.” and “It is endlessly infuriating how we non-religious service members are treated as UN-American. I wonder how these Christian bigots would feel if the only real resource for confidential counseling they had was from a Muslim? I have served for 10 years and deployed multiple times in both Iraq and Afghanistan but because I don’t believe in god none of that matters? (expletive deleted)”.
This clash of cultures comes as a result of Representatives Rob Andrews and Adam Smith supporting an amendment to facilitate the accession of nontheist chaplains into the military. Military regulations currently would not prevent a nontheistic organization from endorsing a chaplain in the military. The barrier is entirely due to the anti-nontheist culture in the chaplaincy. While there has been some encouraging outreach in terms of providing facilities, chaplains have not provided truly equal support to nontheists. The most encouraging work has been at the Academies where humanist alternatives to church are being provided this summer. However, the most representative example is that Army chaplains have prevented humanist on the list of religious preferences, though over 100 other options are available. A 2010 Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute survey found 3.61% would choose “humanist”, a number dwarfing most Christian denominations and all non-Christian denominations.
The assumption in many articles is that a humanist chaplain is an unprecedented idea. However, Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel N.D. de Kooter told MAAF of the humanist chaplaincy of the Dutch military which has been present since 1964. Greg Epstein at Harvard and Ben Biber at American University are examples of many humanist chaplains in the university setting. The Veterans Administration has also been approached in San Diego and West Palm Beach, among other places, in seeking humanist chaplain support. Humanist memorials have been held at Arlington Cemetery and just last weekend on the deck of the USS Midway. A non-military example is the online community Grief Beyond Belief, where one can easily see the inspiration and compassion of a realistic approach to life, death, and tragedy.
MAAF has an ongoing outreach to chaplains in understanding and supporting nontheists in the military. Even with the introduction of humanist chaplains, there are 5000 total chaplains in the military. They support Christians, Muslims, and even Wiccans. Today they could start supporting nontheists as well by reaching out to MAAF and other humanist organizations. Every day they don’t, they are discriminating against those nontheists in their units. Chaplains claim to support all but have no training at all on the nontheistic perspective, and eliminating that training shortfall is the easiest and best way to move towards equality for nontheists.