I don’t know who Rex Murphy is. I’d never heard of him until I saw his column in the National Post about the “angry atheist.” I do know that he’s fixated on an almost cartoonish straw man version of non-believers plucked from his own imagination. (I also know that the National Post doesn’t think much of fair use. They make it impossible to cut and paste from their site even to comment on it, so I’m posting images of it instead)
Well, non-believers are, in fact, more numerous than Muslims or Jews in the military. And as has been explained many times, there are very good reasons why an atheist soldier would wish to seek counsel from a humanist chaplain rather than a Christian one. That in his zeal to portray atheist soldiers as petulant children, Murphy does not even mention those reasons, expressed eloquently by atheist soldiers themselves (who might know just a bit better what the reality is for them in the military), much less engage them, speaks volumes.
Many, probably most, chaplains are capable of counseling soldiers from any religious background without pushing their religious views on them. But some are not. Chaplains like Gordon Klingenschmitt and those endorsed by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches and some other conservative churches think their job is to proselytize, to convert, to constantly push soldiers to become Christians. Imagine being an atheist soldier in a unit with such a chaplain, troubled by something you have done or witnessed, struggling with the often brutal and disturbing realities of war. Imagine going to them to talk about marital problems, substance abuse of any other routine problems and, instead of getting useful counsel on how to handle the situation, being told that they have to turn their lives over to a god they don’t believe in.
The only alternative to visiting the fundamentalist, proselytizing chaplain in your unit is to request to see a military psychologist instead. But that goes on your permanent record and can impede your ability to get promoted. So what are they to do? There are no good options for a non-believing soldier. But Murphy doesn’t bother to imagine such situations because that would mean actually having to consider and engage reality, which would interfere with his ability to create a cartoonishly simplistic straw man that he can bravely knock down and declare himself the winner. That way he can simply declare the idea “ludicrous” and then puff himself up as having defeated his opponent.
He seems to care more about the ability to posture and preen, which is appropriate since he is far better at those things than he is about thinking rationally.
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