Below is a post that originally appeared on the MAAF (Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers) blog, discussing the coverage they’re getting for their ongoing efforts to secure Humanist Chaplains for those currently serving in the military. Anyone who participates in interfaith work should agree that this is an issue of fairness and rights — those who are nonreligious and serving in the military deserve to have access to the same resources that their religious peers do. As an atheist, an interfaith activist, and someone who currently works for a Humanist Chaplaincy, I’m so pleased to support MAAF’s efforts. Please check out their website and let them know you support them, too.
The NY Times recently covered MAAF efforts to endorse humanist chaplains. MAAF operates a chaplain outreach program with opportunities for candidates to opt into the program. Media including Alan Colmes, Mike Smerconish, and Michael Medved on Fox News, Lockwood Phillips, Canada TV, the BBC, and Sirius.
International media including US, Europe, and Egypt have taken notice. Religious media including Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, and others have weighed in as well, both in support and in opposition. Opposition generally results from ignorance of humanism or a myopic view of the chaplaincy.
Opposition has come from the National Association of Evangelicals, but Unitarian Universalists, Spirit-Filled Churches, and Baptist Joint Committee have expressed support for the idea of humanist chaplains. It is good to see initial support. Perceptions of a purely sectarian chaplaincy imply a secular humanist chaplain is impossible. However, those perceptions are inaccurate. The existing diversity of the chaplaincy, with hundreds of faith representatives from Buddhist to Muslim to Christian, requires little change to incorporate humanists.
Currently-serving civilian chaplains in health care and university situations show that chaplains can offer care and comfort. Those situations are more concerned with faith-based services. It shows even more that there are needs to connect with a supportive community, be guided in study do develop values, to receive mentorship, and to have leaders to facilitate discussions. Humanists don’t need individuals ordained to perform divine rituals, but that is common to others as well.
Humanist chaplains are desired by humanists in the military, candidates are available, and they are capable of doing the work. Objections to humanist chaplains sometimes arise from those who think the chaplaincy is only for fostering a belief in a god. This may have been true in the history of the chaplaincy, but it does not reflect the reality of the modern chaplaincy or the needs of a diverse military. Other objections arise from misunderstanding of atheists and humanists, and accusations that humanists have no values or believe in nothing or just want to disparage religion. These arise from ignorance and are simply invalid objections.