Newest Academy Cadets Eat Doughnuts, Told to Let Go of God

Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is currently engaged in his annual campaign on atheism at the US military academies, which coincides with basic training at each service academy.  The Christian Post picked up on his discussion, and noted that some version of non-sectarian offering was available during basic training to new cadets.

Chaplain Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty acknowledges that those who choose to have no religious faith also have rights — but questions their desire to mimic religious institutions and have chaplains: 

“People of no faith, or those who hold humanist views have constitutional rights as well as believers,” Crews told The Christian Post. “It is fine that they can meet and have their ‘non-worship’ events. However, these same groups are also asking to have ‘chaplains’ from their non-faith perspectives to be allowed on active duty. I believe this is inconsistent with what chaplains are about.

“The military can provide counselors to meet these needs. The very purpose of chaplains is to provide for the spiritual needs of those they serve. One cannot provide for spiritual needs without acknowledging there is a spiritual dimension,” he said.

Crews has a valid point, and the military not only can provide counselors for secular purposes — it already does.  For some reason, though, some military atheists don’t want secular counselors — they want chaplains.

Former Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt says the reason is atheists are actually trying to end the military chaplaincy altogether:

“If they had their way all chaplains would be fired. But the courts have decided our troops have a first amendment right to be accompanied by a chaplain who represents their faith, so the atheists must attempt another method,” Klingenschmitt said.

While it may be a bit conspiratorial, there may also be some validity to that viewpoint.  After all, when he organized “Rock Beyond Belief,” US Army Sgt Justin Griffith made a point of saying its true purpose wasn’t to provide secular fellowship and entertainment — his goal was to make religious events so unpalatable they’d never occur again.  Thus, Klingenschmitt’s perception that some atheists’ real goal is to undermine the freedoms of their fellow religious troops — not celebrate any freedom of their own — has already played out in real life.

Most interesting, however, was Klingenschmitt’s response to the atheist “church” offered at the military academies, which at Annapolis included a “Doughnuts, Downtime, and DVD” sermon by Julia Sweeney on “Letting Go of God:”

“I think it’s sad how atheists are using a government forum and resources to openly recruit Christian cadets into atheism or secular humanism. What should Christian parents think, when their 18-year-old son or daughter is promised donuts, but gets a lecture about ‘letting go of God’ and proselytizing into rejecting their parents’ faith? Atheists define themselves by what they are against (God), not by any good they stand for. But the Bible says ‘the fool says in his heart, there is no God.'”

Klingenschmitt has, intentionally or not, turned the atheists’ argument back on them.  In fact, the MRFF’s Chris Rodda has accused Christians of using ice cream and pizza in similar circumstances to sucker naive, innocent trainees into the evil Christian fold.

The truth is that cadets at US military academies are adults — and bright ones, at that (most of the time).  They are — or should be — capable of making adult decisions about their spiritual lives, whether that decision is to celebrate, join, or leave a religious faith.  The military doesn’t need to influence that one way or the other.  It only needs to protect their right to exercise their faith, whatever that faith may be.

The bigger question is missed:  Why are atheist events — which are self-proclaimed alternatives to religion, not independent ideologies — being granted equal status with religion?  Torpy’s logic is weak, relying on an “If Christians, then atheists…”, but no such equivalence exists, nor are the academies required to provide a “counter” to religion simply because they allow religion.

Bluntly, the academies are not required to allow or sponsor an anti-Jewish group of cadets merely because they allow a group of Jewish cadets.  That’s apparently not how these military atheists see it.

The military has, for centuries, paused in its training to allow those of religious faith to exercise their faith.  (In fact, armies have even paused in their armed combat for the same reason…) If the military wants to change that tradition to an open “free time” where trainees can exercise their faith or not, fine.  But when the military starts supporting non-religious — or worse, anti-religious — groups during these training pauses, it becomes problematic.  It opens itself up to some valid questions, like why only religious groups and atheists?  Why not a political group, or a Toastmasters, or a chess club?

It also begs the question why the military feels the need to openly support not “freethinking,” but rather pointed, anti-religious “evangelism” that exists not to “celebrate” reason, but to tear down religion.

3 comments

  • So, you have a problem with atheists ripping a page from the fundamentalist Christians’ play book? If the Christian military ministries can try to lure trainees and cadets with some food and downtime to evangelize them, then atheist groups should be able to do the same thing. Sounds fair to me. Nobody was forced to go to “Doughnuts, Downtime, and DVD,” right? Do you think your religion isn’t strong enough to withstand an equal playing field? That your religion will lose potential converts if the cadets and trainees who only participate in military ministry groups to get away from training and get some good snacks can get those things elsewhere?

    And, as far as atheist chaplains go, you’re leaving out one very big difference between a secular counselor and an atheist chaplain. Chaplains are the only people a service member can go to where they are guaranteed confidentiality. Why should religious service members have someone that they can go to with that guarantee of confidentiality while atheists are denied a comparable confidential resource?

  • @Chris Rodda
    “Problem?” Maybe you should try reading that again, this time for comprehension. It’ll save you a wasted paragraph next time.

    To your second question, that’s been discussed here before, so it wasn’t “left out.” Contrary to your assertion, atheists have access to the same confidentiality as every other member of the military. A chaplain does not have to be the same faith as the person speaking with him to have confidentiality.

    It begs the question, of course: If atheists want confidentiality from a non-sectarian position (which is what you’re really saying), why not “fight” to get confidentiality granted to counselors, rather than demanding a secular “religion” be added to the chaplaincy?

  • I guess Atheists and Agnostics would like to feel that they are being treated equally. Having a Chaplain type person and a place to gather and discuss their own set of beliefs would help to normalize Atheism in the armed forces.

    It’s time for alternate beliefs to take their place in society and the military. Religion has dominated both civil and military life for so long it seems almost normal to deny Atheists the basics.

    Religion, Islam and Christianity in specific, is the antithesis to Democracy and Democracy has had to butt heads with religion for a long time.

    To guarantee freedom of religion it is vital to guarantee freedom from religion. Whenever religion becomes too powerful it has to be contained fro the protection of those who do not subscribe. Vice versa, relion must not be snuffed out for its practitioners.

    Religion, however must be subordinate to Democracy and Democracy’s Constitution. If religion is allowed to supercede constitutional provision its protections would be lost. By the same token religion, if practiced within the parameters established for it by the constitution (and all the US Supreme Court decisions, rulings and case law appertaining thereto) must also be protected.

    Change is not easy but it is time for change and to put religion in perspective to other things and assign to it it’s real place in society and the military.

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