Monday, November 14, 2011

Chaplains Want to Bar Atheist/Humanist Chaplains

I should be used to Christian arrogance by now, but every now and then another insensitive, arrogant Christian breaks through my indifference and makes me mad. This time it's Father Jonathan Morris, an Army Chaplain who appeared on Fox News to ridicule the idea of Humanists and Atheists serving as chaplains in the military.
"What is a 'chaplaincy' in the first place, where does it even come from? The word, it comes from the Latin word which means a sanctuary or place of worship. And atheist ... (pauses) ... place of worship? Or a military chaplain, someone who is advising someone in their spirituality? ... [If an atheist] is being paid as a chaplain, then our country is saying, 'We are not willing to stand up for what we believe to be a very good thing for our soldiers, and that is the development of spirituality.' ... It's degrading the military chaplaincy saying 'You know, it doesn't matter whether you believe or not believe'..."
On the face of it, an atheist chaplain does seem a bit odd. But the truth is that chaplains provide a wide array of spiritual, emotional, philosophical, psychological and social services to our men and women in arms. The military is a place where men and women are taken from normal society, taught how to shoot guns and drop bombs, and then sent off to foreign countries to kill and injure other human beings. They're separated from parents, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives and even their own newborn babies. These soldiers, some still teenagers, are ill-equipped to handle the moral, psychological and social traumas that they'll face while serving our country.

The Chaplains in our military are the first and best resource that these young soldiers turn to for help when faced with the awful reality of war. Yet Father Jonathan Morris seems to think that atheist and agnostic soldiers don't deserve the critical services of a chaplain.

It's obvious what's really going on here, and it's too bad Father Morris doesn't just admit it. He wants to use the military to force religion on everyone, and to deny social, psychological, moral and philosophical support to atheists, agnostics and humanists. If a soldier is dying on the battlefield and doesn't believe in the Christian God, too bad ... no comfort from a chaplain. If an atheist soldier's spouse gets tired of waiting and has an extramarital affair, too bad. If an atheist soldier has moral qualms about killing, he can just suffer in silence. If in the heat of battle an atheist soldier kills an innocent civilian, he can just deal with it ... Father Jonathan Morris isn't interested in helping that soldier.

Except that Father Morris probably would welcome the chance to comfort that soldier, because it would give him a chance to push his faith on the atheist.

Father Jonathan Morris should be ashamed of himself. If he was truly interested in the welfare of our men and women in arms, and truly sworn to uphold the United States Constitution – all of it – then he would welcome anyone of any faith or no faith who wanted to join the chaplaincy and help serve the social, spiritual, moral and psychological needs of those who serve our country. Father Morris doesn't understand the true meaning of service.


  1. Faux News cracks me up: present only one arrogant position, have two hosts sit there and agree like idiot lemmings, have the third host throw out a few softball questions, and then wonder why the person would want a humanist chaplaincy in the first place (HINT: have HIM on too and ask him!!!) "Fair and balanced!!!???" This Morris guy needs to talk to a few atheists in the military to see what "degrading" is. Also, can't atheist or humanist chaplains provide "sanctuary" (his provided definition of chaplaincy) against the discrimination they face by the religious majority in their jobs. Thanks, Craig, for letting us know about this!

  2. Why don't they just call them 'councillors' or something like that? They can do the same job, and the religious chaplains won't complain that atheists are infringing on their associated titles. Win, win?

  3. Calling them counselors would seem reasonable, but I do think our religious service members like the idea of a chaplain. I'm not suggesting that we take anything away from religious service members, only that we make the program accessible to all service members, including those of no faith. I think it's a good idea to say, "Hey, what about us?" But it's not going to fly if atheists try to change the long tradition of chaplains in the military.

    In case it wasn't clear from my original post, I think it's entirely appropriate that the military serve the religious needs of soldiers, and chaplains provide a very important service.

  4. Craig I am seriously disturbed by the thought and accompanying feelings that any member or our species in a military service situation who doesn’t believe in the fantasy and myth that is religion has not got access to sound non-religious emotional mental and social support.
    First, do American service people, free thinking or otherwise, have access to meaningful non-religious psychological social and family support at least equal to that available to those whom might seek the chaplaincy as it stands at the now?
    If the answer is no then the concern is not access to non-religious financial or medical support or some such irrelevancy for freethinkers. It’s non-religious as opposed to religious support or none for regular life difficulties that can and do arise at times for anyone. What we are talking about here is humans serving freedom and liberty not just America. These are Humans (capital H) putting their lives on the line in an often hostile environment in the fight against terror and a despicable crime family dictatorship and subsequent inhuman social structure and the aftermath of said regime in Iraq and terror and similar in Afghanistan.
    Is this extremely serious or is it just that I am Australian and see Americas contribution to life as we know it, not negating serious shortcomings, as hugely in the affirmative. I think it is extremely serious because we’re talking about human beings and needless suffering, If, what seems to be the case here actually is.
    Maybe a petition that anyone including free thinkers can sign and send to the appropriate department that handle such matters. I don’t know other than something needs to be done.

    Life Centred Free Thinker

  5. Each of the military branches provides a full array of psychologists and social workers to provide for the needs of every soldier. They are not chaplains.

    Chaplains serve the needs of those who believe in God. The psychologists and social workers do not answer the questions of God and belief. Since the athiest does not appear to have these questions, would not their needs be well met by the psychologists and social workers?

  6. Father David – Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, the military (in parallel with our whole society) has a strong bias against psychiatry, psychology and even family counseling. Soldiers who seek mental-health professionals are seen as weak and needy, with the implication that they are less fit for duty than those who "buck up" and just deal with their problems.

    Military chaplains have become a sort of "work-around" for the stigma associated with seeking the services of a mental-health professional. Nobody thinks twice if a soldier asks to see the chaplain. Because of this, chaplains (as I'm sure you know) provide far more than just spiritual counseling. They help out soldiers with everything from "Dear John" letters to death and grieving.

    In addition, chaplains are accessible. They serve throughout the military and are widely and immediately available to any soldier without appointments, justifications, explanations or fuss. The barriers to seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker is much higher. By refusing to allow atheists to serve as chaplains, atheist and agnostic soldiers have a much tougher time getting informal counseling.

    The answer to your question, "would not their needs be well met by the psychologists and social workers?" is "No." Psychologists and social workers are not trained to address moral and ethical issues. In fact, psychologists are often taught not to be judgmental or offer their own opinions about morality and ethical questions. An atheist chaplain, by contrast, would be trained in humanist and secular philosophy (and probably theist philosophy too), and would be able to counsel soldiers on topics that a psychologist or social worker couldn't.

    And finally, answer me this: Why are you against the idea of atheist chaplains? What's the harm? How does that detract in any way from the work that's already being done by chaplains? Atheist soldiers have made it clear that they'd like this service. Why not provide it? These are men and women risking their lives for their country ... can't we provide them with the same level of service as the other 85% of their fellow soldiers?

  7. 17.11.11
    Good on you Craig this abandonment of service personnel cannot be shoved under the carpet or the religious shroud of subterfuge quibble and pun or the real concern in any way be lessened by justification rationalisation denial dishonesty narrow mindedness or any other religiously derived negative memes.

  8. I merely wanted to thank you one more time for that amazing blog you have made here. It is full of ideas for those who are definitely interested in that subject, primarily this very post.

  9. Great post, thanks for sharing. While I don't really know what an atheist chaplain would do - wouldn't that just be a therapist/psychologist? - I think that they should have some type of non standard chaplain.

  10. Surely atheists don't need chaplains; that's only for the weak-minded believer, isn't it?

  11. Craig - good post, although watching Fox&Friends segments always makes me want to stab myself in the eye.

    Just wanted to let you know that the post by Agnostic Religion is almost certainly SEO-related spam - look at the wording, it's deliberately generic. You can see comments like this on all sorts of different threads, and they all go something like "this is a very informative post, and I enjoyed reading it very much."


  12. Anon – I was suspicious of Agnostic Religion but I tend to err on the side of permissiveness. Besides, uses the "nofollow" tag in all external links specifically to make SEO spam useless. (You can see how "nofollow" works on Wikipedia.)

  13. As an agnostic hospice volunteer "chaplain" - and, trained by Christian ministers - I can tell you that we are sorely needed by people in distress, especially those "believers" who, at the time of death, no longer "believe" and need the support of a spiritual person. It must be the same in the military, no??

  14. The reasons for chaplains existence in the military is to provide "spiritual" based services. An "atheist" chaplain does not fit that definition. If a atheist service person requires counseling in its many varied forms without the "spiritual bias" of a chaplain, then let them see one of the many mental health/counseling professionals eg...psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor. A atheist chaplain really strikes me as another case of ineffective political correctness.
    BTW...I could care less whether one is a atheist, christian, muslim, jew...etc.

  15. Anon - you missed my response to Father David above, which addresses your point.


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