Military Atheist Documents Counseling with Navy Chaplain
Petty Officer 3rd Class Eduardo Otero is a US Navy Sailor and an atheist, as he describes in a uniquely toned article entitled “Not Applicable: The Story of an Atheist, a Navy Chaplain and a Search for Hope.” Otero, a Navy “mass communication specialist” (essentially a public affairs officer), wrote the article in a staccato future perfect tense — making it seem at times like an odd trip down a future memory lane that is unsure of its own footing.
Ultimately, it boils down to PO3 Otero desiring counseling from a chaplain, and he met with a Catholic priest, Chaplain (LTjg) Jason Burchell.
And that’s really about it. The article eventually becomes a “chaplain 101” story in which Otero seems to have transitioned his counseling into interviews with his chaplain, both personally and professionally.
Some of what Otero cites might seem like fodder for Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s crusade against military Christians — while other quotes almost seem to come from Weinstein’s own talking points. If nothing else, it illustrates the complexities of the chaplaincy, as well as understanding faith in the context of profession — something that requires nuance Weinstein abandons in favor of demagoguery.
For example [emphasis added]:
[Burchell] is a priest first, and an officer second…
[Chaplain Burchell says] that’s the whole point of the Chaplain Corps. It’s to provide and facilitate for all people no matter where they are, no matter what faith they have…
[Atheism] does not make me think any more or less of the person sitting in front of me. Is it a challenge for me? Sure…Yes, being a priest means everything to me, God means everything to me…but meeting someone where they are at that very moment is much more important. I am at peace with that…
One of the best ways I can explain what chaplains are is in this context: chaplains are all things for all people…If a chaplain is confident in who he or she is, in their own belief system, they can literally be whoever you need them to be.
Do I want to spread the Good News all the time? Do I want to make sure everybody feels the same way I do about my life, my blessings and how happy I am? Absolutely. But I’m not going to force it upon anyone.
There’s much one could laud and much one could criticize in those statements — and seeing the nuance is part of the point.
For example, Chaplain Burchell is not a national security threat because he was “a priest first, and an officer second,” or because he wants to “spread the Good News all the time.” PO3 Otero, an atheist, could see that — even if Mikey Weinstein can’t.
The role of chaplains — and other military Christians — in the US Armed Forces is not diminished by their faith. In fact, it would be easy to argue their faith enhances their military role.
And that, too, is something even an atheist could see.
In a chaplain’s office…I still won’t believe in an all-powerful deity in control of everything…I won’t see error in my ways or a folly in my long-held personal convictions.
But I will know something new. That I am not, have never been, and perhaps most importantly, will never ever be alone…
I will be alive and mostly sane…
I won’t know what the future holds, but I will feel strong enough to face it.