Atheist chaplains

There apparently ARE atheists in foxholes, and they are demanding their own chaplains.  From the New York Times:

In the military, there are more than 3,000 chaplains who minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of active duty troops, regardless of their faiths. The vast majority are Christians, a few are Jews or Muslims, one is a Buddhist. A Hindu, possibly even a Wiccan may join their ranks soon.

But an atheist?

Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military.

Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders.

But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?

Jason Torpy, a former Army captain who is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do, including counsel troops and help them follow their faiths. But just as a Protestant chaplain would not preside over a Catholic service, a humanist might not lead a religious ceremony, though he might help organize it.

“Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews,” Mr. Torpy said in an interview. “It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”

via Atheists Seek a Place Among Military Chaplains – NYTimes.com.

HT:  Joseph Knipperberg, and see what he says about it.

Does it seem to you that our military is being used as a means of gaining social respectability?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Wow, would Mark Twain or H.L. Mencken have a field day with this one! Or Lewis Carroll. Or Monty Python. I’m hoping maybe Dave Barry finds some inspiration in it. I’ve no doubts that, were Walt Kelly still with us, there would soon be an atheist chaplain character in “Pogo” (“we have met the enemy and he is us” – which is true, in this case, on many levels).

  • Pete

    Wow, would Mark Twain or H.L. Mencken have a field day with this one! Or Lewis Carroll. Or Monty Python. I’m hoping maybe Dave Barry finds some inspiration in it. I’ve no doubts that, were Walt Kelly still with us, there would soon be an atheist chaplain character in “Pogo” (“we have met the enemy and he is us” – which is true, in this case, on many levels).

  • Tom Hering

    I think hospital chaplains should include Christian Scientists.

  • Tom Hering

    I think hospital chaplains should include Christian Scientists.

  • MichaelZ

    @Tom#2
    Your comment is even funnier because I missed it the first 3 times I read it. :-P

  • MichaelZ

    @Tom#2
    Your comment is even funnier because I missed it the first 3 times I read it. :-P

  • Dennis Peskey

    I humbly bow to Tom Hering superior wit.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    I humbly bow to Tom Hering superior wit.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Pete

    Ditto – forget all those names @1. Tom Hering took the atheist chaplain ball and ran with it!

  • Pete

    Ditto – forget all those names @1. Tom Hering took the atheist chaplain ball and ran with it!

  • Carl Vehse

    The word “chaplain” comes from the Latin word, cappellanus and is also related to the word “chapel.” The cappellani were in charge of the cloak (Latin, cappella) of St. Martin (316-397 AD), the Bishop of Tours, and the sanctuary in which the sacred relic was kept.

    According to the story, when he was a soldier Martin had cut his military cloak in half to share it with a beggar and in the morning the cloak was miraculously made whole. Martin was baptised the next day and later became a pacifist and a monk. Coincidentally on Nov. 11, 1483, a day after he was born in Eisleben , Germany, an infant was baptized on St. Martin’s Day, given the name Martin, and later, beside other accomplishments, became a close friend to a famous German artist, who several centuries later had a Lutheran blog site named after him.

  • Carl Vehse

    The word “chaplain” comes from the Latin word, cappellanus and is also related to the word “chapel.” The cappellani were in charge of the cloak (Latin, cappella) of St. Martin (316-397 AD), the Bishop of Tours, and the sanctuary in which the sacred relic was kept.

    According to the story, when he was a soldier Martin had cut his military cloak in half to share it with a beggar and in the morning the cloak was miraculously made whole. Martin was baptised the next day and later became a pacifist and a monk. Coincidentally on Nov. 11, 1483, a day after he was born in Eisleben , Germany, an infant was baptized on St. Martin’s Day, given the name Martin, and later, beside other accomplishments, became a close friend to a famous German artist, who several centuries later had a Lutheran blog site named after him.

  • kerner

    Yeah, good one Tom. :D

    But this just goes to show you why government funded chaplaincies should be scrapped. In Wisconsin, we have a Wiccan chaplain in the prison system. I see no reason why my tax dollars should be paying for that. By the same token, I see no reason why the tax dollars of non-believers should be paying for Christian chaplains. Other than allowing access to the troops, and providing space for the chaplains to set up operations, the government should mind the business of its own left hand kingdom and leave the right hand kingdom stuff to the Church, including funding chaplaincies.

  • kerner

    Yeah, good one Tom. :D

    But this just goes to show you why government funded chaplaincies should be scrapped. In Wisconsin, we have a Wiccan chaplain in the prison system. I see no reason why my tax dollars should be paying for that. By the same token, I see no reason why the tax dollars of non-believers should be paying for Christian chaplains. Other than allowing access to the troops, and providing space for the chaplains to set up operations, the government should mind the business of its own left hand kingdom and leave the right hand kingdom stuff to the Church, including funding chaplaincies.

  • Carl Vehse

    BTW, I wonder if the U.S. military has any Amish chaplains. If so, they must be as lonely as the proverbial Maytag repairman.

  • Carl Vehse

    BTW, I wonder if the U.S. military has any Amish chaplains. If so, they must be as lonely as the proverbial Maytag repairman.

  • Carl Vehse

    humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do

    Will this include leading public prayers (to whom?) at official military ceremonies?

  • Carl Vehse

    humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do

    Will this include leading public prayers (to whom?) at official military ceremonies?

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    All wit aside, and there was some good ones, could this lead to atheists finally admitting they are a faith group? Could they finally admit that their’s is not so much a complete lack of faith and religious belief, but simply a denial of God and all the pretenders to His glory?

    I say let them have their chaplains if they will admit they have a god and its name is “Rational Thought”

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    All wit aside, and there was some good ones, could this lead to atheists finally admitting they are a faith group? Could they finally admit that their’s is not so much a complete lack of faith and religious belief, but simply a denial of God and all the pretenders to His glory?

    I say let them have their chaplains if they will admit they have a god and its name is “Rational Thought”

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Atheist Chaplains. Sounds oxymoronic to me.
    Maybe what the atheists want is someone to give them comfort and guidance during times of trial and stress, but without the spiritual dimension.

    But doesn’t the military already employ therapists and counsellors?

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Atheist Chaplains. Sounds oxymoronic to me.
    Maybe what the atheists want is someone to give them comfort and guidance during times of trial and stress, but without the spiritual dimension.

    But doesn’t the military already employ therapists and counsellors?

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Atheists already have chaplains. They’re called psychologists and psychiatrists.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Atheists already have chaplains. They’re called psychologists and psychiatrists.

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  • Louis

    J.Dean @ 12 – do actually have an opinion, or do you just like spouting nonsense?? The implication of your words are that people in these professions are somehow anti-religious. This is a common belief in fundy circles…..

  • Louis

    J.Dean @ 12 – do actually have an opinion, or do you just like spouting nonsense?? The implication of your words are that people in these professions are somehow anti-religious. This is a common belief in fundy circles…..

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Louis @ 14,

    I submit to you that the most prominent names in the fields were atheists-Freud, Jung, Skinner, Piaget, Maslow, etc.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Louis @ 14,

    I submit to you that the most prominent names in the fields were atheists-Freud, Jung, Skinner, Piaget, Maslow, etc.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Correction: Louis @ 13

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Correction: Louis @ 13

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    From the article:

    Humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do, including counsel troops and help them follow their faiths.

    To me, this speaks to the very problem of the chaplain program. I wouldn’t want just any Protestant chaplain “helping me follow my faith” — I’d want one I was in fellowship with, who understood my faith.

    The chaplain program is the problem. The atheists are merely making use of it.

    And J. Dean (@14), I suggest you brush up on your Venn diagram skills.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    From the article:

    Humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do, including counsel troops and help them follow their faiths.

    To me, this speaks to the very problem of the chaplain program. I wouldn’t want just any Protestant chaplain “helping me follow my faith” — I’d want one I was in fellowship with, who understood my faith.

    The chaplain program is the problem. The atheists are merely making use of it.

    And J. Dean (@14), I suggest you brush up on your Venn diagram skills.

  • Louis

    And I submit to you that a lot of Japanese car designers are Buddhist / Shintoist / agnostic, thus you should never drive a Toyota…. :)

    Seriously, your argument is drivel. A science / fact / theory /product should be judged on its own merits, not based on the religious/political views of its orginator. Furthermore, we now understand much more about the interaction between mind and body. Psychiatrists are specialist physicians, not quacks.

  • Louis

    And I submit to you that a lot of Japanese car designers are Buddhist / Shintoist / agnostic, thus you should never drive a Toyota…. :)

    Seriously, your argument is drivel. A science / fact / theory /product should be judged on its own merits, not based on the religious/political views of its orginator. Furthermore, we now understand much more about the interaction between mind and body. Psychiatrists are specialist physicians, not quacks.

  • Louis

    J. Dean – your line of reasoning is similar to saying – since the person who tells me that the bridge ahead is washed away, is an atheist, I will assume he is wrong and the bridge is there….

  • Louis

    J. Dean – your line of reasoning is similar to saying – since the person who tells me that the bridge ahead is washed away, is an atheist, I will assume he is wrong and the bridge is there….

  • Porcell

    Actually, the military tradition of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains has a long history. One of the more rich examples of this would be the four chaplains aboard the Dorchester, , a troop ship in WW II, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Rev. George L. Fox, Rev. Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington

    In less than half an hour, water was beginning to flow across the deck of the sinking Dorchester. Working against time the Chaplains continued to pass out the life vests from the lockers as the soldiers pressed forward in a ragged line. And then….the lockers were all empty…the life jackets gone. Those still pressing in line began to realize they were doomed, there was no hope. And then something amazing happened, something those who were there would never forget. All Four Chaplains began taking their own life jackets off….and putting them on the men around them. Together they sacrificed their last shred of hope for survival, to insure the survival of other men…. most of them total strangers. Then time ran out. The Chaplains had done all they could for those who would survive, and nothing more could be done for the remaining…including themselves.

    Appointing any atheist chaplain is a mere politically correct sacrilege. When Todd remarks that the problem is with the institution of chaplains itself, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. The institution is well founded; the liberal distortion of it is an abomination.

  • Porcell

    Actually, the military tradition of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains has a long history. One of the more rich examples of this would be the four chaplains aboard the Dorchester, , a troop ship in WW II, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Rev. George L. Fox, Rev. Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington

    In less than half an hour, water was beginning to flow across the deck of the sinking Dorchester. Working against time the Chaplains continued to pass out the life vests from the lockers as the soldiers pressed forward in a ragged line. And then….the lockers were all empty…the life jackets gone. Those still pressing in line began to realize they were doomed, there was no hope. And then something amazing happened, something those who were there would never forget. All Four Chaplains began taking their own life jackets off….and putting them on the men around them. Together they sacrificed their last shred of hope for survival, to insure the survival of other men…. most of them total strangers. Then time ran out. The Chaplains had done all they could for those who would survive, and nothing more could be done for the remaining…including themselves.

    Appointing any atheist chaplain is a mere politically correct sacrilege. When Todd remarks that the problem is with the institution of chaplains itself, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. The institution is well founded; the liberal distortion of it is an abomination.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@19), there is a very good reason why the WELS has civilian chaplains. I know of what I speak, as it is the position of my church (which you could hardly label “liberal” with any credibility — though it is very like you to label anything you disagree with as “liberal”). Thank you very much.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@19), there is a very good reason why the WELS has civilian chaplains. I know of what I speak, as it is the position of my church (which you could hardly label “liberal” with any credibility — though it is very like you to label anything you disagree with as “liberal”). Thank you very much.

  • Porcell

    Todd, the fact that WELS has “civilian” chaplains hardly proves that the basic institution of chaplains is flawed, as you argue. Most Protestant servicemen are hardly so narrow that they expect a chaplain to be of their own denomination. In my tour in the Marines my chaplain in Japan happened to be southern Baptist for whom I had great respect, though my faith happens to be Reformed Calvinist.

    While I don’t consider WELS liberal, I know that you are and that this likely influences your view of the great institution of military chaplains.

  • Porcell

    Todd, the fact that WELS has “civilian” chaplains hardly proves that the basic institution of chaplains is flawed, as you argue. Most Protestant servicemen are hardly so narrow that they expect a chaplain to be of their own denomination. In my tour in the Marines my chaplain in Japan happened to be southern Baptist for whom I had great respect, though my faith happens to be Reformed Calvinist.

    While I don’t consider WELS liberal, I know that you are and that this likely influences your view of the great institution of military chaplains.

  • kerner

    But I’m not a liberal, and I agree with tODD. In a society this pluralistic there is simply too much diversity of religious conviction for the public to fund chaplaincies. But there is absolutely no reason why various religious groups can’t fund their own chaplains, nor is there any reason why the Armed Services couldn’t allow said chaplains access to the troops. This is not to denigrate the sacrifice of the chaplains you mention, Porcell, but civilian chaplains can hand out life jackets as well as military ones if it came to that.

  • kerner

    But I’m not a liberal, and I agree with tODD. In a society this pluralistic there is simply too much diversity of religious conviction for the public to fund chaplaincies. But there is absolutely no reason why various religious groups can’t fund their own chaplains, nor is there any reason why the Armed Services couldn’t allow said chaplains access to the troops. This is not to denigrate the sacrifice of the chaplains you mention, Porcell, but civilian chaplains can hand out life jackets as well as military ones if it came to that.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@21), I realize it’s easier to label any and all of my arguments as merely those of a “liberal” than to actually do research and think things through, but really, do take a moment to look into why the WELS refuses to participate in the military chaplaincy program before you spout off here, won’t you? Otherwise, I have little reason to consider your ill-informed opinions.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@21), I realize it’s easier to label any and all of my arguments as merely those of a “liberal” than to actually do research and think things through, but really, do take a moment to look into why the WELS refuses to participate in the military chaplaincy program before you spout off here, won’t you? Otherwise, I have little reason to consider your ill-informed opinions.

  • Porcell

    Arthur Carl Piepkorn, the LCMS theologian who was the senior chaplain on Eisenhower’s staff during WWII, understood the practical necessity of Protestant chaplains who could serve many denominations. From what I know of him, he couldn’t imagine the narrow sectarianism that would require a chaplain to be in fellowship with some particular faith. The truth is that in not a few instances during that war Protestants were consoled in extremis by priests and Catholics by pastors.

  • Porcell

    Arthur Carl Piepkorn, the LCMS theologian who was the senior chaplain on Eisenhower’s staff during WWII, understood the practical necessity of Protestant chaplains who could serve many denominations. From what I know of him, he couldn’t imagine the narrow sectarianism that would require a chaplain to be in fellowship with some particular faith. The truth is that in not a few instances during that war Protestants were consoled in extremis by priests and Catholics by pastors.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@24), I’m not really interested in your opinion about what Piepkorn “understood” or “could imagine”. If you have some quotes to back up your speculation, that would at least give your assertions some basis.

    That said, as an LCMS theologian (before the split with the WELS, no less!), Piepkorn certainly understood the doctrine of fellowship better than you do, and would almost certainly not have derisiviely sneered at “narrow sectarianism”.

    That said, even back then, the WELS and the LCMS appear not to have agreed on this question of fellowship — which would, somewhat ironically, ultimately lead to their declaring themselves not in fellowship, as they didn’t share all doctrine in common.

    Still, the fact remains that this is the stance not of myself, but of the Wisconsin Synod (so your sneer about my “not knowing what I’m talking about” doesn’t apply). And that the Wisconsin Synod is vastly more theologically conservative than you are (so the jib about “liberal distortion” really doesn’t apply).

    It’s lamentable, however, that you apparently haven’t bothered to research the basis for the WELS position on chaplains, or fellowship in general. Ah well. Doubtless it won’t prevent you from tossing your slurs at me in the future, anyhow.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@24), I’m not really interested in your opinion about what Piepkorn “understood” or “could imagine”. If you have some quotes to back up your speculation, that would at least give your assertions some basis.

    That said, as an LCMS theologian (before the split with the WELS, no less!), Piepkorn certainly understood the doctrine of fellowship better than you do, and would almost certainly not have derisiviely sneered at “narrow sectarianism”.

    That said, even back then, the WELS and the LCMS appear not to have agreed on this question of fellowship — which would, somewhat ironically, ultimately lead to their declaring themselves not in fellowship, as they didn’t share all doctrine in common.

    Still, the fact remains that this is the stance not of myself, but of the Wisconsin Synod (so your sneer about my “not knowing what I’m talking about” doesn’t apply). And that the Wisconsin Synod is vastly more theologically conservative than you are (so the jib about “liberal distortion” really doesn’t apply).

    It’s lamentable, however, that you apparently haven’t bothered to research the basis for the WELS position on chaplains, or fellowship in general. Ah well. Doubtless it won’t prevent you from tossing your slurs at me in the future, anyhow.

  • http://www.Utah-Lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “But I’m not a liberal, and I agree with tODD. In a society this pluralistic there is simply too much diversity of religious conviction for the public to fund chaplaincies. But there is absolutely no reason why various religious groups can’t fund their own chaplains, nor is there any reason why the Armed Services couldn’t allow said chaplains access to the troops. This is not to denigrate the sacrifice of the chaplains you mention, Porcell, but civilian chaplains can hand out life jackets as well as military ones if it came to that.”
    Actually Kerner, the supreme court at least disagrees with you. In the eighties the chaplian program was almost sunk, basically because people thought the Wisconsin Synod position was the better, (I am inclined to believe that myself.) but the Military has a habit of detaining civilians for being in the wrong place, as they did with WELS chaplains in Vietnam, thereby actually depriving the soldiers of their first amendment rights. So the chaplain program stayed, where men are trained to be where they need to be, and can’t be imprisoned for being on the battlefield without a uniform.

  • http://www.Utah-Lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “But I’m not a liberal, and I agree with tODD. In a society this pluralistic there is simply too much diversity of religious conviction for the public to fund chaplaincies. But there is absolutely no reason why various religious groups can’t fund their own chaplains, nor is there any reason why the Armed Services couldn’t allow said chaplains access to the troops. This is not to denigrate the sacrifice of the chaplains you mention, Porcell, but civilian chaplains can hand out life jackets as well as military ones if it came to that.”
    Actually Kerner, the supreme court at least disagrees with you. In the eighties the chaplian program was almost sunk, basically because people thought the Wisconsin Synod position was the better, (I am inclined to believe that myself.) but the Military has a habit of detaining civilians for being in the wrong place, as they did with WELS chaplains in Vietnam, thereby actually depriving the soldiers of their first amendment rights. So the chaplain program stayed, where men are trained to be where they need to be, and can’t be imprisoned for being on the battlefield without a uniform.

  • helen

    My Sr. Pastor is an Army Chaplain, (on duty this weekend, as it happens). The LCMS on its better days is rather strict about the matter of fellowship. He has told me that in the case of joint religious services his superiors have accepted his willingness to organize, print bulletins, or anything required… except presiding in a mixed faith chancel. So he can be a team player w/o compromising his convictions or the official position of LCMS.

    I believe the article on “atheist chaplains” [oxymoron] suggested that the atheist might do something similar to avoid disbelieving participation.
    If the “ac” were the only chaplain assigned to a unit, however, servicemen of faith would have a problem.
    [No, I don't think unbelievers would have the same problem; chaplains/pastors talk to them all the time.]

    Porcell: It’s possible to respect a protestant chaplain w/o taking communion from him.

  • helen

    My Sr. Pastor is an Army Chaplain, (on duty this weekend, as it happens). The LCMS on its better days is rather strict about the matter of fellowship. He has told me that in the case of joint religious services his superiors have accepted his willingness to organize, print bulletins, or anything required… except presiding in a mixed faith chancel. So he can be a team player w/o compromising his convictions or the official position of LCMS.

    I believe the article on “atheist chaplains” [oxymoron] suggested that the atheist might do something similar to avoid disbelieving participation.
    If the “ac” were the only chaplain assigned to a unit, however, servicemen of faith would have a problem.
    [No, I don't think unbelievers would have the same problem; chaplains/pastors talk to them all the time.]

    Porcell: It’s possible to respect a protestant chaplain w/o taking communion from him.