Military Atheists Miss the Mark with Chaplain “Humor”
He proudly announced that his “first act” was to arm his “fellow foxhole atheists” with “humor” to fight the “condescending theist” statement “there are no atheists in foxholes.” To wit (formatting original):
Technically, there really are no Chaplains in foxholes (in the US military.) They are designated ‘non combatants’, are not assigned a weapon, and are not supposed to be on the front lines of a battlefield. If they somehow stumbled into a foxhole, it would cease being a fighting position. It would simply be a hole…
In the hopes of this becoming a meme that eventually kills the offensive statement altogether, I pass it on to you. I encourage all of my fellow service members to use it. Use it respectfully, but fearlessly. You are right. They are wrong.
Unfortunately, Griffith is wrong, and his attempt at wit falls flat. A foxhole is not defined by whether or not a Chaplain is in it any more than a war is defined by the location of its front lines. (Ask the Soldiers in Humvees and MRAPs with Chaplains onboard if they think their vehicle is still for “fighting.”) He ignores the fact the US military does “[assign] a weapon” to Chaplains — it’s in the hands of the Chaplain’s assistant, standing right next to him, charged with protecting the Chaplain with lethal force.
Griffith also grossly misstates facts when he says Chaplains “are not supposed to be on the frontlines.” Not only is there no such law of war or policy on where Chaplains are “supposed to be,” Chaplains have been “on the front lines” in the US military for centuries, serving US troops’ spiritual needs and protecting their rights to free exercise — wherever they go.
As an organization’s new “military director,” Griffith could avoid such basic errors by doing some reading before making similar pronouncements in the future. As it stands, instead of a witty repartee about opinions and claimed beliefs, Griffith ends up “offending” a group of Soldiers solely by virtue of the military positions in which they serve.
As noted previously, the phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” addresses a legitimate, if controversial, discussion on belief. It is no more offensive than “there are no Christians in foxholes” — a phrase Griffith essentially promotes when he said it was “so true” that
maybe there are only atheists in foxholes.
While military atheists and military Christians have certainly fought — and died — for their country, it is also not uncommon for stories to be told about men and women in the US military “finding” or “losing” God due to their experiences in combat. Likewise, just as people have questioned how a person could face their own mortality and not acknowledge God, others have questioned how one who did acknowledge God could fight in a war. Thus, the conversation is valid.
Griffith, however, ends up not questioning troops’ beliefs, but their decision to serve their country in a specific military position. He could just have easily said there “are no doctors in foxholes,” because medical professionals are also non-combatants.
Such a statement would no doubt be offensive to those doctors who have died in combat, despite the fact they weren’t combatants. It is offensive because the criticism has nothing to do with their chosen ideology or opinion; it disparages them for the means by which they’ve chosen to serve their country.
Likewise, despite Griffith’s attempted humor, Chaplains who choose to serve in a position without a weapon are not any less in “combat” than the surgeon or Soldier standing next to them “in the foxhole.” Just as it is offensive to doctors who have served and died in combat, the same is true for Chaplains who have given their lives in “foxholes” and on the “frontlines,” precisely where they’re supposed to be. In fact, more than a dozen Chaplains have received the Medal of Honor and many more the Purple Heart. When someone pointed this out to him, Griffith said those Chaplains were “in the distant past:”
Chaplains are NON-COMBATANTS these days. They are specifically banned from firing weapons, going in foxholes, being on the frontlines, etc. What you are talking about is from the distant past, and does not represent any current chaplains.
The family of Chaplain Dale Goetz is one of several who would likely disagree.
American Atheist military director Griffith would do well to share where one can find the “specific ban” preventing Chaplains from “going in foxholes, being on the frontlines, etc.” — especially in an era of warfare in which there are no clear frontlines. As this site frequently notes, it seems US military Chaplains “violate” his “specific ban” every day. While some degree of ignorance or naiveté is understandable, Griffith is still emphatic. It’s as if he thinks belittling the Chaplains’ service gains atheists some form of credibility.
(For perspective, consider the World War II US Army video with “Chaplain” Ronald Reagan. The fictional Chaplain occupies a “foxhole” with Soldiers and ultimately sacrifices himself…on the frontlines.)
Just as military Christians can respond without irrational offense when someone asks “I thought Christians were supposed to turn the other cheek…?” military atheists can likewise use the opportunity to share their beliefs. As the American Atheists’ new “military director,” Griffith does not improve the situation by trying to make it “us” vs “them” — and it is certainly not an atheist vs Chaplain issue.
Griffith’s “first act” as the “military director” of the atheist group was a flop, but it’s early yet. There have been some prior positive happenings, so hopefully he’ll learn (read the regs) and improve, moving beyond clichés. Maybe his second act will be something that celebrates “reason” and provides support for his fellow atheists — without having to denigrate religion, Chaplains, or Christians in the process.