This article from the Washington Post gives several logical and spiritual reasons for incorporating atheist chaplains. The most obvious reason; service members asked for it.
We can't have it both ways. We say that atheism is a religion the way that bald is a hair color in one breath and then we ask for Atheist Chaplains in the next? I don't think so. Maybe we should be asking for Secular Humanist Chaplains. . .am I mistaken that Secular Humanism has been recognized as a religion? I personally don't like that distinction. .I think of it more as a world view. Nevertheless we'd be half way to the goal post if I'm correct.
I agree with Peggy, but also recognize that there is more than a little truth in the article. I tend to think carefully about things I read that irritate me, at least to get at just what the irritant is and why it bugs me so much. The article makes a good case for atheist chaplains, not only because the soldiers want it but because the Army doesn't and the religious will experience a minor paradox when they hear it's a serious request. It will humanize the non-believer to them.
"...such questions are not simply for the small-minded or the fearful, as atheists often charge, or that they can be addressed in purely clinical or scientific ways, as they often insist." This is particularly well said. Even Sam Harris mumbles about the 'developing science of the brain' when discussing this. I'm guilty as hell! :)
"We need atheists to admit that theirs too is a kind of faith." Well, that really pisses me off, but it's not completely ridiculous. I've had conversations with believers and said that the faith they were talking about is different to the way non-believers use the word. I ended up not entirely convincing myself, which is strangely just where I like my head to be when dealing with such matters.
All in all, a good article and a good case made. Thanks for sharing it, Chris!
Atheists may not have faith, but they still need someone to talk to, especially at the age many servicemen and women are. Personally, I would prefer they were called "atheist advisers" or something like, but the fact remains that they should have someone they can ask an honest question to, regarding family, the stress of combat, or struggling with the decision to sign up for another tour without being sandbagged with a useless bible verse.
Could the REAL question be, why do we have Chaplains at all?
I spent 20 years on active duty. At the time I still identified as a Christian even though I was not practicing. On the whole I got on well with the Chaplains I met, but to be honest they were mosly very worldly, rank concious people. Thinking back, in light of the new clergy project, I wonder if the chaplaincy might have been a refuge for ministers who had discovered they no longer believe.
I can't speak for anyone else but mostly what I got from Chaplain's was a friendly face at coctail parties.
Imagine having difficult questions that inevitably arise in situations where we are near to death, having our friends killed beside us, witnessing atrocity. Dealing with the aftermath of a suicide attack. I cannot imagine going to a religious chaplain with these concerns, given that there would be an intense push to get me to accept god as a baby to take it's medicine. Psychologists are a much more attractive option, but perversely paint the patient as weak in the eyes of fellow soldiers, while talking to a chaplain themselves is accepted? Atheist chaplains represent a middle ground, acknowledging personal difficulty without admitting to weakness. From what I've gathered of the Military hierarchy, they tell soldiers with such issues to 'soldier up, soldier!' and get over their childish issues. There simply must be a middle-ground here.
I wonder if Capt. Jean would consider entering this discussion? Trying to locate him now...
Case in point: Jean's own experience with the chaplaincy.
"...Those and other responses, Jean says, won him a trip to see the post chaplain, who berated him for his lack of faith. 'He basically told me that if I don't get right with God, then I'm worthless,' said Jean, now an intelligence officer at Ft. Meade, 'That if I don't believe in Jesus, why am I in uniform, because this is God's army, and that I should resign my commission in order to stop disgracing the military.'"
Shit, man! It's either the frying pan or the fire!
I understand the arguments for it I'm just not convinced the good that may result can out weigh the negatives that will result.
I wrote a short blog post on this topic just recently.