Army Adds Humanist Religious Preference

The US Army recently decided to add “humanist” to the list of options that Soldiers could declare as their religious preference. From the LA Times (also repeated in the Stars and Stripes):

There may be no atheists in foxholes, but there soon will be a few humanists. The U.S. Army has heeded the plea of Maj. Ray Bradley that he (and others of his kind) receive a “preference code” similar to those accorded to members of traditional religions.

Much has been made of the change and, granted, humanist “adherents” have been calling for the change for some time. In the end, though, even advocates admit the addition really does little other than changing a moniker in a file, despite other declarations:

In practical terms, the change means humanists could face fewer hurdles in trying to organize within the ranks; military brass would have better information to aid in planning a deceased soldier’s funeral; and it could lay the groundwork for eventually adding humanist chaplains.

That’s not precisely true; in “practical terms,” there’s been no change — it’s an administrative record-keeping item only. The “brass” won’t have “better information” in the case of death because it is challenging even for humanists to articulate the difference between humanism and atheism — a “religious preference” that has been in records for years.  (To that point, US Army Maj Ray Bradley, quoted above, describes his beliefs as “non-theistic” but not “a-theistic.”)  As to “laying the groundwork for…humanist chaplains,” the same is true: there have been declared atheists in the military for years…and yet there is no atheist chaplain.

Adherents will declare neither atheism nor humanism is a religion.  As such, they need a chaplain like a bald man needs a barber, to mangle a favorite atheistic aphorism.

Humanist Army Soldiers can now declare their “faith,” and there’s no problem with them doing so. (The Army was the only US military service to make the change.) In the end, the Army could open the preference option up to free text and it would make little difference. The Army, for its part, will do its best to treat its Soldiers in accordance with their “religious” preference.

If humanists and atheists ever figure out, as a group, what their preference is, perhaps the Army’s change will have more significance.

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