Why Humanist Chaplains Matter

As the House Republicans continue to show that they will do anything they can to maintain Christian privilege in the military, Kathleen Johnson provides a perfect example of why humanist chaplains are needed in the military at the Rock Beyond Belief blog. This is the true story of someone she knows personally:

Service member two, who I will call Jenny, is an atheist at the same base and unit as Mike. Jenny also just returned from the same deployment and its also having trouble reintegrating with her family at home. She knows the only way she can get secular counseling is to risk the stigma associated with seeking out mental health services so she elects to also see the chaplain. During her first and only session with the chaplain, the chaplain tells her there are no such thing as atheists, because people who are atheists are simply people who have lost their way to God. He further tells her that he has a duty to help her accept Jesus into her heart and until that’s done, he cannot help her resolve her marital and family issues. Because she’s worried about her family, she seeks out and receives competent counseling through her installation’s behavioral health center but to do so, she had to inform her chain of command that she was seeing a counselor and when her next security clearance investigation came up, she was required to disclose that she had sought counseling and what that counseling was for! She was subsequently informed that the content of her counseling sessions would be obtained from her counselor and reviewed for any material that could cause her to be a security risk. Also, since her installation behavioral health services department was overextended by the critical need to treat service members with post traumatic stress and brain injuries, she was referred off-post to see a counselor but was limited to the handful of sessions her insurance, TRICARE, would cover and was advised if she wanted more services, those would have to be paid for out of her own funds.

A Christian soldier on that same base faces none of this, of course, which is exactly why there needs to be humanist chaplains in the military.

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  • iangould

    Yes but on the other hand how many religiously-trained chaplains are actually any good at helping people?

  • matty1

    If there are going to be chaplains then of course there should be humanist ones available but I would argue what is really needed is to improve the mental health services and the patient confidentiality of those services. I don’t think people without appropriate training should be expected to counsel soldiers dealing with the stresses conflict can cause no matter how sympathetic and well intentioned they may be.

    Now there may be a place for a ‘lower’ level of counsellor who simply offers a listening ear and advice on who to contact about problems and if you want to call these people chaplains go ahead but they should not be an alternative to mental health professionals and the ability of those professionals to help should not be compromised by reporting requirements.

  • shockwaver

    This is how the system is designed to work – and why they are working so hard to keep it that way. They’ll be able to point at atheists/non-religious and say “See? They always need counselling! The christians/religious people never have to go see Councillors! That means only religious people should be in the army/Atheists are damaged goods”

  • Okay, so they shitcan the notion that the military needs humanist chaplains. I ain’t hearin’ nothin’ about the Lizardokenyan chaplains that they’re puttin’ in place to counsel the millions of chiccomislamists that are hidin’ out in Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo. How come, do ya s’pose that is?

  • Good God, Ed, if you let people solve their problems without getting preached at, how can religion maintain the pretense of being indispensible for their mental health and growth? Why do you hate religious freedom so much?

  • Ben P

    Yes but on the other hand how many religiously-trained chaplains are actually any good at helping people?

    From anecdotal evidence some are outstanding and don’t particularly care if you’re religious or not. Some others…are like the one referenced above.

    It may be important to note that although many many religious denominations have Chaplains, many military communities are limited to a handful of choices. (i.e. you have the catholic chaplain and the protestant chaplain, maybe). The protestant chaplain may be an evangelical, or may be a low key christian denomination.

    There was actually an interesting suit in 2002. A group of 17 Evangelical Chaplains sued the navy saying that the Navy was discriminating against Evangelicals, because the navy had a system that divided chaplain openings into three equal parts, 33% for catholic chaplains, 33% for liturgical protestants (Methodists, lutherans, episcapalians), and 33% for non-liturgical protestants. The evangelical chaplains argued most of soldiers who identified with a specific sect identified as non-liturgical protestants, and so there should be more chaplain spots for non-liturgical protestants. The navy ultimately changed the policy, but the Court ruled the navy had broad discretion to determine how to best meet the religious needs of its members.

  • cameronmulder

    One thing i have seen failed to be mentioned about the Chaplin issue is that currently the DOD does allow for Unitarian Universalist Chaplins. From what I understand about what the house is trying to do, this would not change.

    UU’s have Humanist ministers and do not require a belief in god.

    Doesn’t this mean there should be humanist chaplins, just that they would come under the UU umbrella

  • JD

    Hopefully enough of these stories get around that people start to learn how to handle these situations. It’s impossible to know how old this particular story is, but the military has had Military Family Life Consultants for some time now. Confidential, free, and having nothing to do with religion.

    No change in military policy necessary. Just become aware of what’s already there.

    A Christian soldier on that same base faces none of this…

    What condescending, presumptuous malarkey. A Christian who receives bad counseling from a chaplain experiences precisely the same thing a non-Christian does. Your persecution complex is showing.

  • bad Jim

    cameronmulder has a good point, but there are actually very few UU chaplains, due perhaps to their tendency towards pacifism. A good question is whether there would be enough humanist chaplains to make a difference.

  • iangould

    So, if you can’t have humanist chaplains can a chaplain get out of their military commitment by declaring they’ve become an atheist?

  • immunologist

    Aside from the fact that the chaplain did nothing to assist this service person, something that those who oppose humanist chaplains say simply does not occur, I strongly suspect that even a religious soldier (I use the term generically, to include soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines) would not find that advice particularly helpful.