Joe Carter can speak with more authority about this question than I can. I’m merely an Army brat, having spent the first sixteen years of my life living on or near Army bases in the U.S. and Germany. I was indifferently churched, but did spend time in a variety of Army-sponsored Sunday School, cathechism, and youth group activities (including a pilgrimage led by Jesuit seminarians—now mostly ex-Jesuits—to Rome).  (Some might now be thinking that that explains almost everything about me.)

But this isn’t about me.

Consider this passage:


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.”


While this position has some support in a remarkably problematical Supreme Court opinion , it’s hard to see how the denial of God can serve the same role as one or another version of belief in God.  The varieties of humanism are just varieties of secular ideology, are they not?  And doesn’t the military already provide all sorts of secular social services, like counseling, where the credentials don’t come from a seminary or divinity school, but from an M.S.W.  or psychology graduate program?  (Or am I wrong about this?)

Chaplains, we’re told in the article, are not supposed to proselytize, only to support.  But given the array of secular social services presumably already available, I have a hard time seeing how this could be about anything other than proselytizing.  And where do we draw the line?  Are there any secular ideologies that can’t claim admission to the Corps of Chaplains?

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg

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