Tell Me Again Why There Are No Humanist Chaplains in the Military?

According to Stars and Stripes, Pratima Dharm has just been named “the first Hindu chaplain to serve the Department of Defense.” She’s trained to help everyone, of course, but she knows the Hindu traditions better than anyone else out there and can be there for those soldiers specifically.

But having a Hindu chaplain available, even if only by email, will make one important group very happy — military mothers who want to make sure their children can practice their faith properly. Sometimes that means explaining cultural fine points.

“Mothers would ask, can you give proper rites to the soldiers?” [Indian-American Army Reserve veteran Chaturbhuj Gidwani] said. “For example, if I die, I don’t want to be buried, I want to be cremated. I don’t want to eat beef, I want vegetarian food.”

You know what? Good for her. And good for the Hindu troops. That’s awesome.

But…

Now, we have to ask the questions: How many Hindus are in the military? And how many non-theists?

I asked Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and he said this (emphasis mine):

Our study of 2009 DoD data shows 0.05% Hindu vs 0.5% Atheist & Agnostic.

A 2009 survey by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute shows 3.61% Humanist. Hindu isn’t listed and is presumably among the 1.19% “less common” category.

So 0.05% of our military consider themselves Hindu. They now have a chaplain.

Meanwhile, there are ten times as many atheists and agnostics in the military… but they still don’t have a Humanist chaplain.

There’s something wrong with that.

(via Under God)

  • Jeff

    Aren’t they called psychologists?

  • keddaw

    Not all agnostics and atheists are humanists!

    Perhaps, although highly unlikely, there are less than 0.05% humanists in the army.

  • http://www.kidkaos.us Kid Kaos

    I said it before but it stands repeating.
    Some 20+ years ago in the United States Marine Corps recruiting office, as I was filling out my paperwork getting ready to go to boot camp, I was asked to answer the question “Religion?”.

    My first answer, the truth, was “None.”
    The Sergeant behind the desk gave me a look and in all sincerity said, “It would be better for you if you put something down.”

    So having been raised in a loosely Jewish household. I put that down.

    The look the Sergeant then gave me was even worse than when I put down none. But he was smart enough to say nothing further.

    In all seriousness he was looking out for me. Back then Atheists were treated much worse than religious people in the Marines. I don’t know that its changed. Maybe a younger Marine might be able to put in a word on that. I would be interested in hearing what its like now. (First hand please)

  • http://pinkydead.com David McNerney

    I don’t get the humanist chaplain thing, especially for atheists. I could understand a counselor or non-religious liaison but I don’t need a pastor or other to deal with my life issues, so…

    Obviously, the response to that is that then theist chaplains would get more influence than they should – but the answer to that is not to give them so much (or any) influence in the first place.

  • Adam

    The military is horribly biased. When I was enlisting, they told me to put something down. In basic training, on Sundays, if you didn’t attend some sort of religious event at the Chapel, you got to clean all morning while the religious sat and wasted their time.

  • Rickster

    Atheists don’t need chaplains is the first thing that comes to my mind and I bet practically everyone in charge of chaplains in the military think the same thing.

  • Marty

    I’ve been out of the Army Reserve for about 5 yrs now. I definitely encountered bias. Every major meeting had a prayer that I was obligated to stand for. Soldiers got time off from drill to attend a service. We only have about 20 hours of training on a typical Saturday/Sunday, so it was an imposition. As a company commander I refused to let soldiers come in late on Sunday so they could go to church. I reminded them to “render unto caesar.” A soldier complained and my Battalion Commander over-ruled me.

  • http://www.kidkaos.us Kid Kaos

    Keddaw
    One of the things we see in the military is an under reporting of Atheism or over reporting in believing in various gods. Mostly due to the military attitude towards Atheists.

    That said to those who think the military chaplain is useles, please remember what you asked us to do.

    The main reason for a chaplain in the military is to assist very young men in dealing with very old life issues. In all fairness the military chaplain is one of the most important figures to a solder in or more often just out of combat.

    My Rabbi was very good to me when I needed his input and I was lucky enough that when he realized I was not religious he stopped preaching and just talked. Seriously, given what we are asking these young men to see and do the chaplain is required.

    Having said that would a shrink do just as well? Maybe but the shrinks job is to fix the broken. We were not broken it was just that we saw and did things that no one really knows how to deal with well. The chaplain is there to just listen and advise about things that have no real answers. Maybe a therapist would helpbut still I’m not sure. It still sends a message that the solder is broken. Really its such a weird circumstance there is no real analogy in civilian society.

    So until someone can solve the need the chaplain will still be needed. I just hope that they can come to realize their special council is needed by those who don’t believe just as much, maybe even more than those who do.

  • allison

    I agree with Kid Kaos here that the chaplain is there to help these young men (and the older ones too) deal with big, scary issues. The psych people are considered to be there to fix the broken and from what I understand there’s a pretty large stigma against visiting the psychs during service.

    While not all atheists and agnostics are humanists, it would at least be a foot in the door as humanism is legally recognized as a religion.

  • qtip

    I really dislike using the word ‘chaplain’ here. It plays into the “atheism is a religion” trope we hear so often.

  • Alex

    What’s a humanist doing in the army anyway? Maybe if they were really “peacekeepers” I could see it. But telling soldiers to be humane and compassionate when firing their gun at another human being just wouldn’t sound right.

  • Peter Mahoney

    One bad part is that such a big percent of military chaplains are Evangelists. This makes sense in that Evangelists SEEK such opportunities to EVANGELIZE, including within their work.

    This is a PROBLEM when they are being PAID by our GOVERNMENT (meaning paid with our tax dollars) and they have a life-view/goal of proselytizing and they are put in a position to proselytize, it is a terrible combination.

  • Synapse

    So what if someone contacted the military and volunteered to enlist, solely based on serving this particular role of Humanist Chaplain to ensure they can’t claim no one is willing to serve?

    (Yes, would demand it in writing – promises from a recruiter are worse than getting the real name of a exotic dancer or “working girl”)

  • Miko

    Even if all atheists and agnostics were Humanists, it still wouldn’t follow that all of them would want to have a chaplain.

    Although I doubt that most atheists and agnostics in the military are Humanists, as I’d expect that most Humanists would have better moral standards than to join the military.

  • Timmy

    @Alex…a humanist an a tree hugger is not the same thing. The one Humanist I know is in the military to fight what he considers a threat to all of humanity….Islam.

  • Ryan

    One of my good friends from college is now in training to become a Military chaplain as a Unitarian Universalist. Although he is not strictly atheist/agnostic I feel that he and his understanding and acceptance of all religion is a great step forward.

  • Michelle

    There seems to be a trend towards judgmental and presumptuous responses about this topic. As Kid Kaos pointed out, there are more reasons for chaplains than just religion. Maybe more military personal (because they are not all men) would go and talk if they did not feel they would get preached at in the process.
    People join the military for many reasons. Not that long ago one could join, especially the guard and reserve branches, and not worry about war because most of their work was in disaster relief and similar situations. Some join as medics or to train those in other countries to protect themselves from the continued war being waged on them by those that use religion to murder. I’m not justifying the U.S. wars, just pointing out we should not be so quick to pass judgment on what motivates other individuals nor should we decide that they don’t need something. If they have a Humanist Chaplain an don’t go fine, but until they have one it is really an unfair argument.
    Lastly, the idea that no self respecting humanist would ever have anything to do with the military is insulting and inaccurate in its presumption and reduction of the facts.

  • CanadianNihilist

    They should just replace the chaplain with a psychologist.
    Next step is people getting over the stigma of non-religious counseling and everybody wins.
    Problem solved forever.
    Done!

  • Peter Mahoney

    I agree with CanadianNihilist:

    They should just replace the chaplain with a psychologist.

    (or a social worker, or other counselor).
    Why does the government employ religious leaders (chaplains)???

  • Alex

    @Timmy

    The one Humanist I know is in the military to fight what he considers a threat to all of humanity….Islam.

    But aren’t there other ways to fight without using a gun? How do we always get to last option so fast? Maybe its the one that pays the best?

  • Richard P.

    I wonder how many general psychologists and counselors there are available. I have to think that with the effects of battle on the human psych these services would be available. The question that remains, are these services only available through the chaplains?

    I would have guess not, they must employee professionally trained mental health professionals that are not attached to religion. Are these not the services that non believers should be accessing? Or do we just need a Chaplin for the sake of a label? Surely there is no need for “spiritual” guidance?

  • http://darkenedstumbling.blogspot.com/ Leum

    One big problem with psychologists as opposed to chaplains is that psychologists in the military aren’t confidential, that is, they can and do report on their clients’ health to the military bureaucracy; some jobs are so secure that simply going to a psychologist gets you temporarily removed to them. Chaplains, on the other hand, are confidential and there is no potential loss of position from going to them.

  • Blacksheep

    Every now and then someone here at FA slaps me on the wrist and reminds me that atheism is not a faith, a belief system, or a religion. They explain that not having faith in a particular thing does not mean that one has “faith” in another.

    I’m totally confused about what a “humanist chaplain” or any kind of non-religous counseling for that matter would do for soldiers.

    “I’m afraid of dying on the battlefield.”

    “And how do you feel about that?”

    “Scared!”
    “Don’t be afraid, everyone dies eventually, and there’s nothing after death anyway. Besides, your fear is just a chemical response to ensure self preservation.”

    “gee, thanks.”

  • Blacksheep

    As a company commander I refused to let soldiers come in late on Sunday so they could go to church.

    Not letting soldiers attend church, nice. of course you were over-ruled! You were imposing your belief on others instead of letting people choose how to worship!

    (One of the resons we started this country in the first place).

  • ACN

    I’m totally confused about what a “humanist chaplain” or any kind of non-religous counseling for that matter would do for soldiers.

    “I’m afraid of dying on the battlefield.”

    “And how do you feel about that?”

    “Scared!”
    “Don’t be afraid, everyone dies eventually, and there’s nothing after death anyway. Besides, your fear is just a chemical response to ensure self preservation.”

    “gee, thanks.”

    I get this feeling you have “humanist” and “cold, unfeeling, jerkface” interchanged. Just because we don’t subscribe to your supernatural nonsense doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings, and want to talk to other people about them.

    According to wikipedia:

    Often, in addition to offering pastoral care to individuals, and supporting their religious rights and needs, military chaplains also advise senior officers on issues of religion, ethics, troop morale and morals, while also increasingly functioning as liaisons to local religious leaders in an effort to understand the role of religion as both a factor in hostility and war and as a force for reconciliation and peace.

    I don’t understand how being a humanist could exclude them a priori from doing any of these typical functions. Atheists/agnostics/Freethinkers/Nones/Humanists have religious rights, and could use advising in ethics, troop moral, morals. There is nothing about being a humanist that would a priori prevent you from being a liason with local religious leaders with regards to hostility and reconciliation.

  • Annie

    I like the term “atheist representative” better. Chaplains are counselors of a sort, but rarely have the same level of training (in psychology) as a psychologist.

    The idea that people only go to counselors or psychologists when they are “broken” is just silly to me. The few times I have employed the services of a psychologist were when I was presented with very difficult life circumstances, and my own prior knowledge and friends’ advice (who had never been in the same experiences) was not enough. I needed coping skills, relaxation techniques, and just someone to talk me through. If going to a military psychologist is so stigmatized, perhaps an atheist representative, with training in psychology, would be helpful to many enlisted men and women.

  • Blacksheep

    I don’t understand how being a humanist could exclude them a priori from doing any of these typical functions. Atheists/agnostics/Freethinkers/Nones/Humanists have religious rights, and could use advising in ethics, troop moral, morals. There is nothing about being a humanist that would a priori prevent you from being a liason with local religious leaders with regards to hostility and reconciliation.

    I see your point, and I was admitedly being sarcastic. So how would the conversation go between a hunamsit chaplain and a humanist soldier who was afraid to die?

  • ACN

    *shrug*

    I’m not sure.

    I can speculate.

    Fearing death is a part of the human condition. They might talk about what dying meant, or about practical things related to it. For example, advanced directives for body disposal, or setting up financial asset/disposal to make sure their family and/or friends are taken care of. Talking about life experiences related to death and dying could be helpful also. By the time they’re military aged many people have had a friend, or a relative die and talking about that shared human experience could be cathartic.

    Like I said, I don’t know exactly but do any of those topics sound so unreasonable?

  • Joy

    As a hospital chaplain, I can tell you that psychologists are not able to offer a full range of chaplaincy services. Chaplains are there to help people figure out their own answers to, as Kid Kaos says, “things that have no answer.” Questions such as “Why is this happening?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Because — with or without a religious framework — humans must come to grips with these and other impossible questions when they are in the midst of them. Some call this process “finding meaning”: I prefer to call it making sense of the situation. We also offer emotional support, if needed, while the person or family is sorting it through, and help them identify their own sources of support.

    Although chaplains might offer “coping skills, relaxation techniques, and just someone to talk me through,” as Annie mentions her psychologist offering, this would not be the core of what a chaplain does/offers.

    I love this discussion. I wish you all the best in identifying a job title and job description for someone you’d be comfortable helping you through impossible situations with heartbreaking questions. We all deserve that option.

  • Dan W

    Honestly I don’t see why the military needs chaplains of any kind at all. I think our military would be better off if they replaced chaplains with some sort of trained psychology professional, like a therapist or counselor.

  • Blacksheep

    Fearing death is a part of the human condition. They might talk about what dying meant, or about practical things related to it. For example, advanced directives for body disposal, or setting up financial asset/disposal to make sure their family and/or friends are taken care of. Talking about life experiences related to death and dying could be helpful also. By the time they’re military aged many people have had a friend, or a relative die and talking about that shared human experience could be cathartic.

    Like I said, I don’t know exactly but do any of those topics sound so unreasonable?

    Not unreasonable, just terribly sad.

  • Blacksheep

    They might talk about what dying meant,

    ?

  • Blacksheep

    Dan,

    Honestly I don’t see why the military needs chaplains of any kind at all. I think our military would be better off if they replaced chaplains with some sort of trained psychology professional, like a therapist or counselor.

    I’ve been having this dialogue with ACN, and I’m at a loss as to how a psychologist could help someone who is afraid of death on a battlefield. It sounds good, until you actually play it out. I know Army Chaplains – and it’s serious s_ _t they deal with.
    The one point I agree with ACN on is that there would be some comfort derived from knowing that friends and loved ones are being looked after.

  • Richard P.

    Thanks Leum,
    I did not know that.


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