Hanscom AFB Cites Military Atheists in Chaplain Article

Army Specialist Samuel Keenan of the Massachusetts National Guard recently wrote an article out of Hanscom AFB entitled “Getting in the foxhole: how chaplains serve nonreligious service members” — apparently a subtle play on the “no atheists in a foxhole” phrase.

In short, the article uses the example of Guard Air Force Chaplain (Capt) Derek White to show that chaplains serve everyone, even those without a religious faith:

“It doesn’t matter if they’re religious or if they have no religious preference,” said White. “The fact that I am the person that they feel they can share their life with… that’s a really great feeling…”

“Regardless of religious preference, or non-preference, everybody hits a wall with human limits,” said White. “Chaplains provide hope that the wall is not an obstacle that cannot be overcome.”

That’s a valid discussion — even if the “non-religious” issue feels somewhat forced to the exclusion of everything else. Based on the article, it seems Keenan, more than Chaplain White, focused on the non-religious aspect. There’s no clear reason why.

Unfortunately, Keenan relied on an “interesting” source for part of his article:

According to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, an advocacy group for nonreligious service members, there is an upward trend amongst military personnel who are deciding not to associate with any religious tradition.

In truth, Keenan could have referenced just about any source, as the idea that people are moving away from “organized religion” has been a common topic the past few years. Notably, however, this decision not to associate with a “religious tradition” does not mean people are moving away from religion. In some cases, it has been documented to be a shift from denominations to non-denominational. In others, people describe themselves as “religious” or “spiritual” — but unaffiliated, not atheistic or agnostic.

And that makes his reliance on Jason Torpy and his MAAF a bit odd, as they’re political activists with an agenda — not just an “advocacy group.”

Keenan doesn’t cite a person, specific quote, or any data, so it’s hard to know upon what he bases his statement other than Torpy generally. Torpy has, in the past, falsely stated that non-religious personnel make up nearly a quarter of the military. Torpy’s predilection to advocacy, even at the cost of the truth, taints what should be basic facts and numbers, making him an untrustworthy source.

Still, all that notwithstanding, the article is a noteworthy reminder that military chaplains serve all — and we don’t need “atheist chaplains” to provide broad spiritual support in the US military.

And when those troops hit the “wall with human limits,” even if they’re not religious, chaplains have a chance to meet them where they are — and even, perhaps, provide true Hope.

Note: While Keenan’s graphic above shows “no religious preference” on the dog tags, that choice was deprecated last year, though “no religion” and “no preference” were added.