Air Force Celebrates Humanists at Offutt AFB
In a great leap forward for acceptance of Humanists, Offutt Air Force Base posted a story celebrating the approval of Offutt Humanists, aka OH!, as a recognized Private Organization. While Chaplains provide advertising, space, resources, and organization for beliefs they deem acceptable, humanists and other nontheists are on their own to work through Private Organization procedures, like a simply hobby or social club. Despite this second-class status, Humanists gather and build community to provide their own equivalent to “spiritual” support.
beyond a dictionary, spiritual doesn’t have to mean souls and prayer
Offutt Humanists arose most recently but there are many other examples. Beale (CA) and Minot (ND) Air Force Base are just a few examples of humanists currently coordinating Private Organization requests. At Beale, they were told they need 20 signatures and at Minot they are reviewing an insurance requirement. Government bureaucracy can be especially hard to work through when officers are not assigned to facilitate. At Air Force Basic Training, over 100 trainees show up every week for Humanist alternatives to church. This has been a great success with some command support though that program also is excluded from chaplain support.
Offutt Air Force media provided the following quote (which supports the Air Force unwritten position that humanists shouldn’t get chaplain support), “I’ve been attending the base chaplain’s Bible study for over a year,” says Offutt Humanist founder, Tom Gray, and he [the chaplain] agreed with me that the needs of the non-religious would be better met outside of a religious context.” Gray elaborates on why he came to feel so unwelcome in chaplain circles:
For a year I’ve been attending the base chaplain’s Bible study events. Every Thursday during lunch he explores Christian principles and dogma. I’ve been open about my Humanism and atheism from the beginning and [the chaplain] and I have a good relationship.
However, he’s had some interesting things to say about atheists.
1. If someone says they are an atheist they are lying. They really believe in God, they just say that they don’t.
2. Atheists say they don’t believe in God because they are angry at God.
3. Atheists are angry at God because they don’t have good father figures in their lives.
4. Atheists are morally corrupt…but that’s OK, because everyone is morally corrupt.
As you can imagine, this floored me. Up to that point I thought that it was possible to have a conversation but here he was, in effect telling his audience of believers that they can safely discount arguments from non-believers because they are lying, angry, morally corrupt people with daddy issues. I maintain that this isn’t so.
Gray continues to attend the Bible study to learn and to set a positive example. But he also felt it was important to set up an alternative program to connect with others of like mind and to build a mutually supportive community. Chaplains continue providing Christian programs but not Humanist programs, so Gray invested the time and effort to create a Private Organization. It took four months to get approval but they are under way and have had almost 20 attendees at their discussion groups in the last two weeks.