Why Can’t Jason Heap Become a Military Chaplain?

Jason Heap wants to become a chaplain in the U.S. Navy and he seems perfectly qualified to do so: He has two master’s degrees, passed his physicals, and completed the paperwork… but Kimberly Winston tells us that what he doesn’t have is the endorsement of a religious organization (***Edit***: I should say that he does have the endorsement of a religious group, just not one approved by the Navy):

Jason Heap

Heap is a Humanist. He carries the endorsement of the Humanist Society, an organization of those who believe in the positive power of human potential, but not necessarily in God. The Humanist Society — like all organizations that represent nonbelievers — is not among the Department of Defense’s list of approximately 200 groups allowed to endorse chaplains.

“The military includes atheists, humanists and people with nontheistic perspectives and the military currently has no way to service them,” said Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, a group supporting Heap.

It’s silly to dismiss what Heap is trying to do just because you don’t like the “chaplain” terminology. Humanist chaplains have a purpose in the military that goes beyond simply counseling:

Heap and his supporters say the push for a military Humanist chaplain goes beyond the desire for recognition. They note that when soldiers seek mental health counseling it is noted in their record and reported up the chain of command. But consultations with chaplains are confidential, making them a safe place to discuss the problems soldiers routinely face — loneliness, fear, anxiety and other personal issues.

There’s no word yet from the Department of Defense on whether or not Heap will be approved, but there’s really no good reason for them to say no. There are atheists in foxholes — and submarines and anywhere else our soldiers are stationed — and they deserve to have someone to talk to about their issues just as their religious colleagues do.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ElRay

    There is a reason to deny his application: Congress said no. The DOD can agree all they’d like, but it’s technically illegal for them to approve the application.

    The least bad choice might be to try to become a Unitarian-Unversalist Chaplain. At least they endorse atheist members.

  • Ryan Jean

    First, Hemant said there is no good reason. The reason they have isn’t good. That aside, however…

    Second, Congress has NOT said that there cannot be Humanist Chaplains; they simply voted down an amendment to the NDAA that would have made it *explicit* that such is allowed and required the DOD to go along. Lacking explicit permission is not the same as having an explicit ban.

    Therefore, the DOD *could* agree, and that would be that, but given how they’ve treated the subject of atheist and Humanist support, anything at all shy of forcing them kicking-and-screaming is *functionally* equivalent to a ban.

  • Tony Miller

    Can he get away with an online ordination?

  • Ryan Jean

    Nope. They reject those.

  • Tony Miller


  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    There’s no word yet from the Department of Defense on whether or not
    Heap will be approved, but there’s really no good reason for them to say

    I don’t think reason will be employed in this process at all. From both Congress and the brass there will be rationalizations, equivocations, euphemisms, red herrings, delays, excuses, delays, excuses, delays, and excuses. There will be all manner of weapons-grade bullshit to try to hide the bigotry, to dress up the bigotry, to distract from the bigotry, to postpone addressing the bigotry, and to preserve any tiny trace of the bigotry any way possible.

  • Kyle

    I am sure Mr. Heap is very intelligent. However, there are other career fields in the services to provide the type of services that he’s seeking to provide. A military Chaplain is someone who is supposed to be able to provide spiritual counseling, not simply objectivity. On the subject of “when soldiers seek mental health counseling it is noted in their record and reported up the chain of command.” that is only if the soldier presents a risk to him/herself or others, and the actual conversations aren’t reported, it isn’t like everyone knows their business, they are only reporting that they are or are not fit for duty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Scott.McElhiney Redorblack Nigelbottom

    And that person is supposed to be able to give spiritual counseling regardless of a soldiers faith/religion. So a Catholic Chaplain should be able to counsel a Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Atheist without bringing Jesus into it. My experience (and I have heard it’s gotten much worse in the 2 years since I got out) is that doesn’t happen. I was raised Jewish and had to sit through the Christ bullshit with multiple Chaplains with the exception of the one time I ended up at a Jewish service when I specifically requested to go rather than having to sit through another evangelical “non denominational” Jesus fest.

  • Erp

    Ethical Culture might be another possibility though the UUA already has military chaplains though not many (some of whom might be in the humanist side of UUA). The UUA does have some requirements of their own which are probably far stricter than that of some other endorsing organizations. http://www.uua.org/careers/ministers/military/index.shtml

  • JD

    Why Can’t Jason Heap Become a Military Chaplain?

    Simple. If atheism (or its non-theistic denominations) is a religion like not-playing-soccer is a sport, then an atheist asking to be a chaplain is like asking to be a not-playing-soccer coach. Sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?

  • Ted Thompson

    Funny how you don’t see Joe Klein addressing this injustice.

  • TCC

    Hello, Mr. Dowty. Perhaps you could take a moment away from promoting your execrable blog to notice that Heap is a Humanist, which is a positive philosophy and not at all comparable to not-playing-soccer. Then you can go back to being a disgrace to our military.

  • José Pacheco

    He’s not seeking to become an atheist chaplain, whatever that would be. He’s seeking to become a Humanist chaplain. With that in mind, tell me why can’t Jason Heap become a military chaplain?

  • TCC

    Ethical Culture is not an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization (see the list at the end of this PDF document).

  • Ryan Jean

    Ah, yes. Our good friend CFP.

    It’s nice to see that you still haven’t been able to come to terms with the difference between an atheist and a humanist, or how someone could reasonably be both. You still ignore that atheists, whether identifying as humanists or not, are people too who have needs and a desire for community, and that a Humanist Chaplain would help cater to those people. You still pretend that the rest of the Chaplain community natively has the ability to work with us without trying to proselytize or viewing us as morally deficient, despite clear and convincing evidence that few Chaplains are willing or capable of that.

    Nearly two years ago you deliberately mangled my words on the subject, by focusing on the definition of atheist but ignoring the implications of the definition of humanist, and it’s obvious you’ve worked hard to avoid learning a single meaningful thing on the subject since then. The same dishonest framing; lather, rinse, repeat…

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    That is absolutely not true. For a start, a chaplain is supposed to be able to provide counsel and advice to Soldiers of any religious preference, though chaplain’s typically prefer to refer those service-members seeking counsel to a chaplain of that service-member’s faith.

    Also, I want you to seriously think about the mental health counseling piece. What’s the first thing a service member is going to have to do to go seek counseling? That service member has to go to their chain of command to request permission to seek said counseling. A request visit to the chaplain can be ambiguous. A request to visit mental health isn’t. Additionally, at least in the Army, the commander and first sergeant get a report every day about what appointments their individual Soldiers are supposed to be attending. The idea is that they can ensure those Soldiers make it to those appointments so that the Army isn’t billed for wasted time. An appointment to mental health ALSO isn’t particularly ambiguous.

    That’s supposed to be one of the advantages to chaplains, though for atheists like me that option is out. Additionally, we haven’t even touched on the problems associated with meeting on post. To officially meet on post a faith-based organization typically has to have a “lay leader” to shepherd the process. They organize for the space, arrange for donations and contributions to the pooled funds that are used to pay for religious spaces on post, and they represent their organization at the inter-faith meetings. In theory, there’s nothing that would stop an atheist or humanist lay-leader from being appointed. The problem is that these packets seem to keep getting lost, misfiled, or downright rejected despite the maturity of the people putting them in. Why? Because they have to go through chaplain channels, and unsurprisingly evangelical Christians aren’t exactly enthusiastic about atheist or humanist organizations. Having a humanist chaplain would allow that chaplain to help shepherd those applications through.

    In short, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and it shows.

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    There are a few problems with this:

    First, you’re conflating humanism with atheism. Atheism is merely the rejection of a deity. Humanism is a system of moral and ethical conduct and a framework through which to view the world. Most atheists are humanists, but not all humanists are atheist. Even then, though, that definition sounds an awful lot like other religions that have representation (Buddhists springing almost immediately to mind).

    Second, I’m almost positive that you, as a Christian, would not object to the concept that faith isn’t just about ethical and moral viewpoints. After all, I would point to the multitude of homilies that are dedicated to the discussion about how to view moral and ethical choices through the prism of the Christian faith. It’s those discussions, and the community that builds up around them, that is constantly pointed to by theists as of immense value. And I completely agree! Humanists have the same discussions about ethics and morality. The only difference is that they approach them through a different lens.

    This is where your example of using a not-playing-soccer coach falls flat. If we were, in fact, talking about a non-sports player wanting to have a non-playing team in a sports league, I would completely agree with you. But as I demonstrated above, you’re conflating not playing soccer as being the same thing as playing, say, rugby. Me, as a rugby player, may not want to play soccer. I may not gain athletic satisfaction out of it. But rugby might give me a great deal of satisfaction, because I enjoy the physical challenge of the scrum. As such, I would certainly want to play rugby*. In short, this example is a composition/division fallacy at best.

    Third, and perhaps most critically, you’ve glossed over one key point: even IF we wanted to create an atheist chaplain’s position (for the sake of argument), you’re still providing an example of the state providing support for one religious viewpoint and not another. In short, the federal government is picking religious winners and losers. I’m sure I don’t have to point out how onerous that precedent is. I’ll admit, I’m skeptical that having any chaplains at all is Constitutional, but I acknowledge they’re not going anywhere. As such, turn-about is fair play, and all views should be represented, if only to provide representation at the table to those views.

    *Full disclosure: I don’t play rugby, bur I’m rather using this example to prove a point. I’d like to though!

  • Marisa Totten

    I work in a psychology practice off post. We cannot see active duty soldiers without a referral. In order to get a referral, the soldier must go through the base hospital psyche dept. In order to get “permission” for an appointment, the soldier must go through the chain of command. So yes, the military will know, unless the soldier calls Military One Source, in which case the process can be circumnavigated temporarily. In most cases, going through MOS can get a soldier 6 authorized sessions.

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    This. When I got back from Iraq several years ago, I felt like I had to go talk to somebody about some things. I actually went through my chain of command and requested it, and in doing so told them the basic outline of my problems. I also pointed out how reticent I was to go to them to ask to see somebody (I didn’t want to be made non-deployable, I was afraid I would look bad, I didn’t want to jeopardize my security clearance) At the time, however, I felt the problems I was having were negatively impacting my job performance and readiness. It took a lot to walk into my bosses office to do that. I will happily say the support I got in doing this from my supervisors was phenomenal, and they were very supportive. The off-post referral was especially important, because I didn’t want to be seen by my subordinates at the time going to mental health. My command team facilitated this well and also kept it from being spread around the unit as gossip (coming up with fake meetings or tasks to cover for me, et cetera). Doing so allowed me to work through my problems, and I was able to successfully deploy again several months later. It was a success story.

    Why do I bring this up? Because if I had been in another unit, one with a more toxic leadership climate, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing any of that in any way. As an atheist and a humanist I wouldn’t have been comfortable going to any of the chaplains in my brigade (all of which were evangelical Christians). As such, I wouldn’t have gotten better. I likely would have gotten out of the Army. That would have been a loss for me, and I would like to think that would have been a loss to the Army too. If I didn’t think that I wouldn’t be wasting space and drawing a paycheck, at least if I had any shame. So providing this secondary channel as a check-and-balance is absolutely vital, and with the growth of the “no preference” category and the “atheist” category this is only going to keep being an issue.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    If the Department of Defense has a list of approximately 200 groups allowed to endorse chaplains, and the Humanist Society is not on it, it would seem the (bureaucratically) logical prior step would be for the Humanist Society to apply to the DOD to be put on that list, per DoD Directive 1304.28 part E3.1 — or is there some reason they can’t meet those qualifications?

  • frankbellamy

    That in itself is an unreasonable expectation for the military to have of chaplains. Of course a christian chaplain can’t provide spiritual support to a non-christian, any more than a jewish rabbi could to a non-jew. It’s insanely stupid for the military to expect that.

  • frankbellamy

    Do we know what Heap’s masters degrees are in? Is he actually qualified to counsel anyone?

    Even aside from his qualifications, if humanists become part of the military chaplaincy, will our organizations every have the backbone to try to abolish the military chaplaincy? I have a hard time imagining a Humanist Society/American Humanist Association which is allowed to endorse military chaplains lobbying congress or suing the DoD to abolish military chaplains. We have had this problem with SCA, because it has member organziations which have what they consider clergy, SCA is structurally incapable of lobbying to abolish privileges for clergy, and that makes SCA the biggest joke in the secular movement.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    Masters of Divinity is one, I believe,

  • Detroit City

    Erm, perhaps his qualifications suit those for a Chaplain and not another role in the military? After all, one of the required qualifications for a Chaplain in the military is an MDiv (Master of Divinity), which carries with it a different set of skills than just mental health counselling.

  • Detroit City

    Frank: Not only ‘stupid’, but illogical. All Chaplains can provide some basic pastoral care to all people, but who better to minister to a Jewish person than a rabbi, or a Muslim from an imam, or a Roman Catholic from a priest, etc., etc.?

  • Detroit City

    Frank, I think it is safe to assume that he has, at the least, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Brite Divinity School, as the article says. After all, to apply to be a military chaplain without an MDiv would be like marching towards loaded cannons, ready to fire.

    Also, it doesn’t appear as if the Humanist Society is trying to abolish the military chaplaincy. What information has led you to this conclusion? From what the article says, in addition to the stories being recounted in these comments and on the MAAF’s website, I can only see that Humanists want a “place at the table”, so to speak. Please don’t jump to a conclusion such as abolishing the chaplaincy, as there are already others who would emotively make an antagonistic accusation such as this.

  • frankbellamy

    I don’t doubt that he has a master of divinity, but that still leaves the question I asked, is he qualified to counsel anyone? I don’t think a master of divinity qualifies him.

    As to AHA/HS abolishing military chaplaincy, that follows from any conceivable commitment to the separation of church and state, which they say they are for. If they’re ok with the government paying the sallaries of clergy, and placing clergy in a military chain of command, then to say that they are for church/state separation or equality for the nonreligious becomes a complete joke. I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • Detroit City


    We’d have to know more about him to be able to determine if he’s qualified to counsel anyone. 38 years old: I’d think he’s seen his fair share of ‘real life’. It’s also a requirement that the chaplain applicant has at least 2 years’ worth of ministry experience and certainly he has this, too.

    Actually, I’m afraid that I cannot see that it immediately logically follows that “separation of church and state” leads to an abolition of chaplaincy. Maybe it is seeking to abolish a preference for one group over others, but to abolish chaplains altogether is throwing the baby out with the bath water, isn’t it?

  • frankbellamy

    I agree we’d have to know more about him to know if he is qualified to counsel anyone, in particular I’d like to know what that other masters degree is in. But I don’t consider the two years ministry experience relevant to the question any more than the divinity degree.

    I’m not sure what the “baby” is in the clergy. The whole idea of a clergy is only part of the lives of religious people, it has nothing to do with atheists, and for the military to institutionalize it therefor privileges the religious over the nonreligious. Aside from the issue of government money paying the clergymen to pray and talk about god and lead religious services, I as an atheist have a constitutional right to insult any clergyman I damn well please, and if I were a member of the military I could be disciplined for insulting chaplains who outranked me. That seems like a pretty obvious church/state problem.

  • Detroit City


    Funny thing is, that I completely support your ideas here.
    For some reason, ‘clergy’ is the sacred cow, so to speak, that has kept religious groups in power (think about Michel Foucault’s power/knowledge philosophy and how ‘discourses’ keep those in power, in that power). What all this issue strikes me is that nontheists have someone who fits the military’s requirements and their regulations, and now those in power are afraid that the power will be challenged. Can you imagine the pressure put on the power if atheists, Humanists, WICCANs, Buddhists, mystics and others were to unite behind this chaplain applicant?

    As far as his Oxford education goes, does it really make a difference what his Master’s degree is in? I mean, this is The University of Oxford we are talking about here. How often do you find people with those kinds of papers walking around the military? I’d have huge hopes that someone with that kind of pedigree would be well-read and have an open mind before talking to me, rather than just asusming that I need to be ‘converted’ before actually having a conversation about what I need to talk about and not what they think I need to talk about! I mean, how many Oxford graduates do you know (I don’t know any, so if you do, you’ve got one-up on me)?

  • frankbellamy

    If I honestly believed that this was a serious step towards challenging the power of the clergy in the military, I would be completely behind it. If I thought this was the first step in a sequence of events that might end with the abolition of the military chaplaincy, and that AHA/HS would follow through towards that, I’d be cheering them on and volunteering to help any way I could. But how does that work? What are the steps that come after humanist chaplains that lead to abolition of the military chaplaincy, and how do humanist chaplains set us up to take those steps? I’ve put that question directly to Jason Torpy (who runs the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers), and he doesn’t have an answer. And if he doesn’t have an answer, then it is highly unlikely that anyone else does either. So I don’t see this being a challenge to the power of clergy. I see it as humanists taking the first step towards setting up their own clergy, and that absolutely disgusts me. The day atheists set up a clergy class is the day I leave the movement.

    There was also a question within the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) a few months ago about how far to go in challenging the privileges of religion in the tax code, and whether or not SCA should lobby against the parsonage exemption (the rule that says ministers don’t have to pay personal income taxes on the value of their housing). I had a front row seat to that discussion. It was not handled on a strategic level of whether we would be likely to have any success doing that. It was handled on the level of some of the members of SCA (the American Ethical Union, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and the hUUmanists) had what they called clergy and therefor didn’t want to endanger their faudulantly obtained tax breaks. Because some of the people involved in leading SCA were taking some of the benefits of the privileges the government gives clergy, they were unwilling to oppose those privileges. And I strongly suspect that the same will happen here, once AHA/HS is taking advantage of the military chaplaincy, it will be unwilling to oppose the existence of the military chaplaincy. And then it will have betrayed the secular movement, it will be a joke, it won’t be serving the people it exists to serve.

    As to the oxford degree, I’ve met several people with such credentials, all very intelligent. But a graduate degree only implies training in its particular area, not any general well-read-ness or open-mindedness or anything. If his oxford masters is in particle physics, for example, that would tell us nothing about how much psychology or philosophy he has read, or how ready he is to counsel anyone about anything. I’ve spent the last two years studying law at a pretty good law school, but that hasn’t made me any more qualified to counsel people or more well read in general or more open minded. If his oxford masters is in clinical psychology or social work or something like that, that would make him very well qualified to counsel people. And I do think actual training to counsel people is necessary, especially in the military where PTSD and such will be a problem for a lot of people. Counseling is a profession requiring professional training, not just well-read-ness and open-mindedness.

  • spermdonor

    Bigotry? Really? Do you even know what that word means? You must feel better now that you’ve used that really big word “bigotry.”. That word might be above your pay grade “Wade” or is the silent?

  • Amor DeCosmos

    What on earth are you blathering on about?

  • Marisa Totten

    I am also a military spouse. Sadly, I do see many of my fellow spouses relay part of your stroy, the fear of going through commnd, fear of caeer ramifications, etc. Also, it seems in my own anecdotal experience as a spouse that there are far more “toxic” command climates than your experience indicates, in fact outside of my own spouse you are the only other person who’s had positve things to say about how their personal issues were handled. There is a stigma regarding mental health, and fear of it’s implications on a military career is alive and well, something I’m not sure the miltary is adequaely addressing.

  • KeithCollyer

    are you a sperm donor because that way you get paid to masturbate as opposed to having to pay someone to have sex with you.
    Just asking

  • Redorblack Nigelbottom

    Sure they can, they might not be able to fulfill the role when it comes to specific religious sacraments, but they are expected to provide spiritual support for soldiers outside their particular faith. http://www.militaryonesource.mil/phases-military-leadership?content_id=269246

  • frankbellamy

    I didn’t say the military doesn’t expect them to, I know it does. I said that that is an unreasonable expectation, because they can’t do it. For an analogy, you could put me in an operating room, hand me a scalpel, and tell me to amputate someone’s leg if you really want to. But given that I have no medical training, I am unlikely to do the guy any good. It is the same when the military asks clergy to counsel those not of their faith.

  • Bill Haines

    Neither the American Humanist Association nor any subset of it (such as the Humanist Society) is a religious group.


  • Bill Haines

    And providing for chaplains isn’t a joke, it’s the law: namely the ‘free exercise’ clause of Amendment I. Subject to the demands of duty, soldiers must be allowed to practice their religions (or in this case a philosophical stance that eschews religion), including officiants if necessary.

    And as long as the military remains open to chaplains of all organized groups to which a viewpoint concerning religion is central, this does not violate the ‘establishment’ clause of Amendment I.

    This is exactly the argument in favor of Heap: his group isn’t religious, but in this case qualifies for the same sort of legal status religions have, because various groups of nonreligious soldiers are demanding the presence of officiants who have the same view of religion they do.

  • Bill Haines

    But telling members of the military they -can’t- have chaplains is an even more obvious ‘free exercise’ problem. I could see removing rank for chaplains or making them warrant officers for that sole purpose, and having their sponsoring organizations pay them rather than the government, but as a practical matter I think it’s simpler the way it’s done now. And as long as they accept chaplains of all religions (or as in this case groups that are nonreligious but similar enough to religions in scope and purpose to be accorded the same status) it’s not an ‘establishment’ problem.

  • Bill Haines

    But Frank, weren’t you there for the whole dinner conversation with Niose before he spoke at UVA? The AHA’s primary goal is ‘a seat at the table’ — not ‘overturning the table.’ If you believe true secular government requires that military chaplains not be given rank or on government payroll, then by all means advocate for just that, and I’ll even support you in doing so. But advocating the removal of chaplains entirely is supporting what would be a clear violation of Amendment I, not to mention what is near-universally regarded as a basic human right. That kind of activism easily is used against us, no?

  • frankbellamy

    I agree that soldiers need to have access to clergy if they want it, including when they are deployed, and to some extent that may require the military to make special accommodations for that. That much I am fine with. And if those clergy want to call themselves “chaplains”, I really don’t care about the word. But the free exercise clause does NOT require that those clergy be given a rank and the various privileges that go with that, nor does it require that those clergy be on the government payroll, nor does it require that they be expected to serve soldiers not of their own faith. And the establishment clause does forbid all those things.

    The only reason any secular soldiers (and we have no idea how small the fraction is) want chaplains is because of the special unconstitutional status they are given by the military. I repeatedly hear arguments about military chaplains proselytizing and providing marriage counseling and such as a justification for humanist chaplains. The solution to that isn’t humanist chaplains, it is to prevent government employees with military ranks from proselytizing, and to prevent the military from substituting clergy for qualified counselors. We civilian atheists have no inherent need or desire for clergy, and atheists in the military are no different.

    And I did not say that the AHA was a religious group per se, only that if it is allowed to place chaplains in the military it will almost certainly not have the backbone to then oppose the existence of military chaplains. My understanding, however, is that the Humanist Society does does consider itself a religious organization, and that is the basis for its certifying legally recognized celebrants (which itself is another stupid thing for AHA/HS to do).

  • Bill Haines

    Humanism is a lot more than just atheism, so the analogy is invalid. A better one would be (insert specific religion here) is to Humanism as (insert favorite sport here) is to chess. Chess isn’t exactly a sport, but does it differ so much from generally acknowledged sports which also require natural talent, great concentration and long practice to master that it shouldn’t be classified and respected in much the same way?

  • Bill Haines

    ‘Spirit’ doesn’t mean just ‘soul’ — it also can refer to mood, confidence, optimism, determination, assertiveness, attitude, intention etc. A counselor who doesn’t believe in souls is no less capable per se than one who does — especially when dealing with others of like mind on that subject.

  • Bill Haines

    But that’s also a bad analogy, no? It’s more like seeing a doctor or lawyer: any competent one should be able to give you good general medical or legal advice, recognize when your problem is serious enough that you need a specialist with more expertise, and see that you’re referred to one.

  • Bill Haines

    The Humanist Society and the Center for Inquiry are the only secular groups I know of who have gotten fairly widespread legal recognition of their trainees as the equivalent of clergy — anyone know of any other group?

  • frankbellamy

    what is the general knowledge/skill that clergy in general are supposed to have though? Doctors and lawyers, regardless of their specialty, have some common elements of their training, and those common elements are about real things in the world, not someone’s delusions. That is why any competent one can provide at least very basic services and make correct referrals. Where is the equivalent with clergy?

    With referrals in particular, in both law and medicine, there is a real possibility that the layman won’t know what kind of specialist he needs to see, and therefor will have to talk to some member of the profession to figure it out. But no layman is ever ignorant as to which denomination they want to see a clergy member from. So I don’t think the referrals analogy works at all.

  • Bill Haines

    Well, for those who are trying to live according to a system of precepts (whether or not they’re based on delusions or magical thinking) a general knowledge of the major systems of such precepts would be in order for anyone attempting to counsel those people, yeah? Such knowledge would be the equivalent you’re asking for?

    And laity actually aren’t always certain about who they want to see — if you’re questioning the religion you were raised in, or otherwise have believed in up until recently, and this is causing you anguish, you may want to talk with clergy of another persuasion — or, you know, a Humanist chaplain. ;) Does the referrals analogy work for anyone else reading this…?

  • frankbellamy

    Since when do clergy have a general knowledge of world religions? And since when would any clergyman refer a layman to a clergyman of a different denomination? If a person questioning his christian faith goes to a christian minister, the minister is not going to refer him to a humanist, nor vice versa.

  • Bill Haines

    The UUA includes many pacifists and many more opposed to conscription, which historically has distanced them from military chaplaincy, but that is another possibility — UUA ministers are required to be well-versed in all the major religious traditions, but no personal belief in deity is required of them, so they would seem very well suited. ;)

  • Bill Haines

    Most of the clergy I’ve gotten to know personally have been pretty well versed ( no pun intended ;) ) and some actually are required to study comparative religion ( e.g. UUs as above ).

    I myself was referred by a Catholic priest — a parish pastor, no less — to the Community Church (UU) in New York on my own path from theism to atheism. ( He later left the priesthood, too, and is happily married now. )

    And a competent Humanist chaplain certainly would refer someone to a religious chaplain if that were the best way to address the person’s specific issue.

    Seems to me you’re thinking a bit stereotypically? And while stereotypes exist for a reason — and clearly there are many ignorant bigoted fundies in military chaplaincy — isn’t the idea to try to rise above these and encourage others to do so as well?

    I’ve known and still know fundies who rail against reason when their beliefs are challenged, with silly and/or hateful statements, but who also are not really bad people on a personal level — they treat me with respect when dealing with me one on one, are curious about how I deal with life absent faith, etc.

    This difficulty many fundies have in sticking to the more onerous points of their belief system when confronted with people who totally disagree with them but yet are still obviously decent folk — this is what people like Niose are counting on in ‘gaining a seat at the table.’

    Kinda tougher to believe being gay is evil when that nice neighbor kid you’ve known for years comes out, eh? Or your cousin, long-time co-worker, regular postman, dental hygienist, favorite athlete etc. The success of the LGBT socio-political movement has been based on making themselves more familiar to those who despise them solely for dogmatic reasons: making them see they’re really just like everyone else. We can do this too — and issues like this chaplaincy thing are ways of doing that, eh?

  • frankbellamy

    Most of the clergy I have talked to have been pretty ignorant of religions other than their own, and there’s no particular reason to expect otherwise. But I don’t see what types of referrals you are talking about. If a person is a committed member of a particular religion, and just need to know the address of the local church of that religion or something, then of course a humanist would provide that logistical help, although no particular training is necessary for that. But if a person is genuinely questioning their religion, and wants to talk about their doubts, I can’t imagine any circumstance under which a humanist would refer them to a clergyman. Similarly, no good clergyman would refer a person who came to them with religious doubts to a humanist. It sounds to me like the priest you talked to was already a pretty bad catholic by the time you talked to him.

    I don’t understand the point you are trying to make talking about the effect of knowing an atheist/humanist. I don’t see what that has to do with the chaplaincy issue at all.

  • Bill Haines

    Well, of course we’re speaking from our own experiences — and mine likely isn’t typical, though yours may not be either? Mine has been with Catholic parish priests in one of the most diverse parts of the country (NYC metro area), Jesuits who tend to be more educated and liberal (I attended Xavier and Seton Hall), ministers and rabbis working together in community or charitable causes I also supported (so they were dedicated to interfaith efforts), Methodist ministers who regard ‘mixed’ marriage without bias (my wife identified as Methodist for many years) and a friend from childhood who was ordained late in life (more knowledgeable about world religions than anyone else I personally know including myself).

    If you don’t understand why a Humanist chaplain might refer someone to religious clergy, I don’t think you entirely understand Humanism? And the priest who sent me to CC was not only my parents’ pastor at the time but also my employer and friend, who is still a ‘good Catholic,’ though no longer a priest. He already knew I’d abandoned Catholicism — I’d had him remove my name from the parish register — and was simply trying to point me toward spiritual support that actually might help me.

    The point about familiarity seems clear to me: the more we secular folk are openly accepted, the harder it becomes for those who view us as unacceptable to defend that view, even to themselves. So we should be pursuing publicly visible positions heretofore closed to us: Congress being the prime example, but military chaplaincy can serve as well.

    ( And especially if the Humanist Society could afford to sponsor chaplains financially as well as organizationally — so that Heap and others could, say, donate their military pay to secular charities like the Foundation Beyond Belief? Now that would be setting an example, eh? ;) )

  • frankbellamy

    I’ve admittedly dealt with more evangelical christian clergy, so we probably both have somewhat biased samples.

    What part of humanism don’t you think I understand? I’ve read many of the various definitions and manifestos, and didn’t find anything particularly complicated there. Certainly nothing that would require referring someone to a clergyman.

    So your point is greater visibility leads to greater acceptance? Fine, so long as the visibility is genuine. If the cost of the visibility is that the only visible atheist are the ones that act christian enough, that pretend to fill christian roles that atheists don’t need, then I say fuck that. I don’t want anyone to see atheists as having a spirituality or complex theology/philosophy analogous to christians. The point of atheism is to do away with that.

  • Bill Haines

    But Humanism does require compassion, which might in some circumstances require such referral, no?

    And I’m certainly not advocating Humanist chaplains act Christian, or pretend to fill Christian roles — but people in general do need inspirational counsel and ethical guidance at times, atheists included, yes?

    We agree theology is fiction, and Christian philosophy a contradiction in terms, but doing away with philosophy entirely is not the point of atheism as far as I can tell. Wisdom clearly involves rejecting falsehood, but does it not also require constantly refining our methods of finding truth?

  • frankbellamy

    Again, under what circumstances would compassion involve referring a questioning person to a clergyman? If the clergyman’s beliefs are false and harmful, what good could we reasonably expect to come from such a referral? None, as far as I can tell.

    Professional inspirational counsel and ethical guidance based on graduate level training? No, I’ve never found any need for that. That is a christian idea that has no place in our movement. Claiming to be such a person is acting christian.

    Refining our methods of finding truth is called science, not philosophy. Philosophical metaphysics is just as lacking in an empirical foundation as christian metaphysics. And I have never found any use for fancy philosophical ethics either. It relies on intuitions that are often far removed from real life and that therefor we have no reason to trust.

  • Bill Haines

    Well, for example, I’ve pointed several people with apparently unshakable faith in a deity of some sort, who were having real issues with their restrictive faith groups (Baptist, Church of the Brethren, etc.) but seemed to truly need some like-minded supportive fellowship, to the UUs who strongly tend to be accepting of all viewpoints that include compassion and hope, because those people’s needs obviously wouldn’t have been met within the Skeptic or Humanist groups I know of in our area.

    And while you might not find any need for such counsel or guidance, others might, as ‘YankeeCynic’ in the comments here points out, recommending this sort of channel even just as a way of achieving parity with religious service members. This isn’t only a Christian idea; as I’m sure you know, consulting philosophers and other scholars for inspiration and ethical advice long predates Christianity and has not been unique to it. Nor is claiming to be such a person, say, having completed Humanist Institute training and gained Humanist Society certification as a chaplain, somehow acting Christian. It is, of course, acting Humanist. :)

    Scientific method is very basic to finding truth, agreed, but surely not the only method? While the science of physics has supplanted the speculation of metaphysics, the other branches of philosophy remain vital to understanding and particularly to dealing with reality, in ways that benefit us as individuals and societies. Some approaches within these branches are useless, again agreed, but do you really deny principled logic, practical epistemology, pragmatic ethics and applied aesthetics are important to living as fully mature adults in civilized cultures?

  • Bill Haines

    I suspect we’re not going to agree, and our disagreement reflects the growth of the secular movement in general, which necessarily involves increasing diversity.

    Some of us view religion as like cancer, to be cured — while others see some practices closely associated with religion that actually are beneficial to people and communities, and seek to employ those to our benefit without the supernaturalism we agree is like cancer.

    But our goals remain the same, no? A truly secular political system, and a society in which the rejection of mysticism and myth is commonplace.

  • Wendy

    A chaplain is someone who provides spiritual and religious counseling, comfort, and answers to a person who is facing a life and death situation. The person wants to know “what happens to me when I die?” So as an atheist, what does Mr. Heap say, “nothing?” How comforting is that message? Mr. Heap has more faith than myself as a Bible believing person. To believe there is no God, when He is all around us, requires a faith that is blinding.

  • Wendy

    Of course a christian chaplain can provide support to a non-christian and a jew to a non-jew. As a born again believer who works with hospice patients, I provide comfort and support to them all of the time in my job. I don’t jam Jesus down one’s throat. Jesus told us to Love the Lord thy God with all of our heart, mind, and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are loving God then we are loving people. If we are not loving God, then our love for people is fake.

  • Wendy

    Your atheist belief makes you very closed minded and have a narrow view on the clergy. My pastor knows all about many religions. In order to identify a counterfeit bill, the FEDS study the real thing!!!!

  • randomfactor

    Your experience is not applicable to others, who are fully capable of real love without religion.

  • randomfactor

    In the case of religion, there is no “real thing” to study. Each is equivalent to any other.