Humanist Seeks to be Navy Chaplain

Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston* writes about Jason Heap, a humanist trying to become a chaplain in the US military.

Heap’s goal is not assured. He fits the requirements…The only thing he does not have is an endorsement from a religious organization approved by the Navy.

And there’s the rub: Heap is a Humanist…The Humanist Society — like all organizations that represent nonbelievers — is not among the Department of Defense’s list of approximately 200 groups allowed to endorse chaplains.

Ultimately, the article does little more than try to keep the concept of “atheist chaplains” (which have been discussed ad nauseum) in the media, and it says little new.

On the other hand, the article does include a fascinating response from DoD spokesman LtCmdr Nate Christensen on “why there are no nonbelievers in the chaplaincy:”

The department does not endorse religion or any one religion or religious organization, and provides to the maximum extent possible for the free exercise of religion by all members of the military services who choose to do so.

The article completely ignores the response, an apparent acknowledgement of its cryptic nature.  It turns out, though, that Christensen actually answered their question very clearly:

[The military] provides…for the free exercise of religion by all members of the military services who choose to do so.

The US military provides for the free exercise of religion for any atheist, humanist, or others like them who choose to exercise a religion.  They are free, of course, to exercise their non-religion — but the military’s support for that falls outside the chaplaincy.  That’s why there are (officially) no non-believers in the chaplaincy.

Unofficially, there are.  The article claims there are two US military chaplains serving with Christian endorsements who are actually non-theists:

“Chaplain Mitch,” a military chaplain since the mid-2000s, would not give his full name. He is endorsed by a Christian organization, but he’s come to identify as a Humanist and would change endorsements, if permitted…

It is difficult to understand how Chaplain “Mitch” can serve his congregants or interact with his ecclesiastical sending body with integrity, given his public statements.

Atheist activist Jason Torpy also features prominently in the article, sensationally claiming

The military includes atheists, humanists and people with nontheistic perspectives and the military currently has no way to service them…

It’s unclear what he means by “service them,” but all military members have equal access to chaplains or other counsellors or advocates they may seek out.

Supposedly, “atheism” (or its other non-theistic denominations) is as much a religion as not-playing-soccer is a sport.  An atheist asking to be a chaplain, then, is like asking to be a not-playing-soccer coach.  Make sense to you?

*Winston’s prior articles on atheism were apparently spurred by a donation to her employer.