My friend Greg Epstein, also the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, has written a piece for the On Faith blog about the need for Humanist/atheist chaplains in the military.
He writes that the non-religious are not trying to eliminate religion from the military. Certainly, anyone can practice their faith as they wish. What we are against is proselytization of one particular faith over other faiths or no faith.
… we simply [ask] legislators to eliminate any publicly funded religious proselytizing, and to ensure that non-religious soldiers are not systematically discriminated against or denied opportunities that their religious counterparts are awarded. If the military can take care of these basic conditions, Humanists or other nontheists like me will get along with it just fine.
Greg also answers the question of why taxpayer-funded chaplains are in the military in the first place. Isn’t that a violation of church and state?:
So why does the military even have publicly funded chaplains? One of the most common justifications is that by taking servicemen and women out of the rhythm of everyday life and sequestering them for military purposes, undue burden is placed on their first-amendment right to free exercise of religion. This may pass muster from a legal point of view, but let’s face facts: it has little to do with why we have chaplains.
Military chaplains exist because military life, by its nature, involves dealing with death. When people are about to die, in danger of dying, or even when they are merely contemplating death as we all do from time to time, they ask questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is the meaning of my life? What do I value most deeply and what will become of it — and of me — when I am gone?
So what about the rest of us, who have no need for supernatural or religious-based explanations for those big questions?
That’s where Humanist chaplains in the military would come in handy:
If the military is going to serve its soldiers fairly, the time has long since come to do more to reach out to this [non-religious] population. Why not take a bold step and recruit Humanist chaplains for all branches of the armed forces? There are plenty of gifted people graduating from places like Harvard Divinity School who are Humanists and yet would like to work in the ministry, but are unsure what kind of job would be available for them.
Perhaps we should call on the US armed forces to make a good faith effort to hire Humanist chaplains proportional to their numbers of Humanist, atheist, agnostic and non-religious servicemen and women within the next five years. I’d happily volunteer to consult with the armed forces and help them identify qualified, energetic, patriotic candidates for such positions—not to volunteer them, but some of my students at Harvard would be perfect. Maybe you know someone who would be too.
I know there are members of the Armed Forces who read this blog.
I’m curious what they think about this idea. Would they make use the Humanist Chaplains if provided? Would they care either way?
Do those of you not in the military think this is a worthwhile goal to pursue?