We Don’t Believe Anything Anyway.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews proposed an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday, the text of which is below in full:


At the end of subtitle A of title V, add the following
new section:

6   The Secretary of Defense shall provide for the ap-
7   pointment, as officers in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed
8   Forces, of persons who are certified or ordained by non-
9   theistic organizations and institutions, such as humanist,
10 ethical culturalist, or atheist.

In short, this amendment provides an expansion of services of the chaplain corps by allowing non-believers to join the ranks.  Obviously they’re not “chaplains” in the same sense as their peers, but they will offer the same counseling services that religious members of the military regularly enjoy.

Given the increasing percentage of atheists, agnostics, secularists, and other unbelievers serving honorably in the military (*cough*PatTillman*cough*), giving them equal access to counseling services … along with just someone to talk to … makes logical sense, right?

Haha, no.  They don’t need counseling because atheists don’t believe in anything.  And how do we know?  Because a couple of conservative Christian Republicans on the committee don’t understand the first thing about atheism:

But Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee objected mightily, saying that atheists can’t offer spiritual counseling and would likely offend dying soldiers or their families.

Two things come immediately to mind.  First, of course atheists can’t offer spiritual counseling.  That’s sort of by definition.  They can, however, offer non-religious counseling that covers issues like coping with stress, anxiety, and grieving over the loss of a brother or sister in arms.  The argument can possibly be made that they may not belong in the “chaplains’ corps”, but given the range of duties they have, it’s reasonable to suggest they do.

Second, if the dying or dead soldier identified as atheist or agnostic and the counselor is actually qualified for the position they hold, then the issue of “offense” is a manufactured problem.  The only possible conflict I could see would be if they never came out to their family … at which point the offense might be aimed at the messengers.

“They don’t believe anything,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.'”

I can’t imagine it either … and that’s because it wouldn’t happen.  That would be like a Christian chaplain comforting a parent by saying something like, “Don’t worry … it was God’s plan that your son’s face was accidentally blown off by a grenade thrown by his friend.  God was watching him as he suffered indescribable pain for hours while they tried desperately to save him, but they ultimately failed.  But praise the Lord … he’s with Jesus now.  You should be happy.”

See?  We can all make offensive, exaggerated claims about the platitudes these notification teams will give based on ill-informed opinions surrounding certain beliefs.  It doesn’t make them true.

“This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). “The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.'”

As opposed to what?  Look, I’m not going to pretend Fleming’s imaginary straw-chaplain would come close to saying that goddamned boneheaded to begin with, but he’s not going to provide any comfort for a non-believer by telling him that in a few short hours, he’s going to be spending eternity playing harp music with the Cherubim to praise the glory of the LORD he doesn’t believe in.  It’s not going to happen.  They will provide comfort and solace in the way that is best suited for the person to whom they are tending.  That’s how it works for religious people, and that’s how it works for non-religious people too.  I don’t know what’s so surprising about this.

For his part, Rep. Andrews (the sponsor of the amendment) vehemently defended the bill, saying that atheists obviously do have values and beliefs … and that suggesting otherwise is nothing more than ignorance on the part of those who are too damned lazy and self-righteous to bother actually understanding another perspective, but are happy simply to judge it based on what makes them feel good about themselves.

Besides, in this stage of our political discourse, there’s not many people who will call him out on it enough to make the effort worthwhile.

This entry was posted in Atheism and PR, Freedom from Religion, Profiles in Fundamentalism, Religion and Public Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to We Don’t Believe Anything Anyway.

  1. I know that’s exactly what I say when I’m at a funeral. “You know your Dad is worm food now, right?” Because I don’t know how to be sensitive, what with not being raised a Christian. On the other hand, I have heard religious people say things like “It was the Lord’s Will” said person died so be happy or even worse, that someone like a suicide victim was going to hell. Nice.

  2. BeyondRedemption.... says:

    Yes but……………….. another thing we don’t believe in is fighting STUPID, UNNECESSARRY WARS!!!!

  3. Charity says:

    Very interesting post, Senator Jason. I agree with BeyondRedemption above, war is stupid! From my understanding though wasn’t there a great movement of atheists supporting Bush to fight the “evil doers”?

    All I know is my own personal experiences regarding the military: I have a brother in law who was raised by his grand dad who served two tours in Vietnam as a Marine. I also have a brother in law who was in the Air Force for five years, and his father is a Protestant chaplain in the Army. I have yet another brother in law who is a lifer in the Marine Corps, and should be retiring in the near future. (I’m the oldest of seven daughters, hence, all the brothers in law.) I believe this relative had served three tours in the Middle East during this present stupid, dragged out war. As for me, I’ve always had a weakness for sailors. Twice I have been engaged to two different sailors before I even met my husband. I’m married to a man who spent all four years of high school in an Army military school, five years in the Marine Corps and his remaining 15 years of his military service in the Navy before he retired just this spring. We met and married half way through his military career.

    As you can see, the military and war affect me greatly. My husband always hated being in the military, but he is a very conscientious husband and father, and wanted to be a good provider for our family, and muddled through his remaining years for us. For the past few years we had both started to embrace an anti-war mentality, and became atheists his last year of service.

    From my own personal perspective, atheism goes against the continual implication of “God and country” throughout the military. It’s in every formal ceremony, and there is either a cross or star of David in most homes of military families. Soldiers, and sailors’ wives also seem to be obsessed with hanging prayers specifically for their Marine, Coastie, and so on upon the walls of their houses. If you go to a fireworks display on a military base it almost always ends with “God Bless the USA” booming loudly from the speakers. As religious as this all seems, their protestant chapel services are actually the most secular church services I’ve ever been too! They’re very dormant, bland, unemotional, and scripture is rarely mentioned. They’re about like a town hall meeting with maybe a couple of songs, and much less drama.

    Most civilians would be shocked to know of how horrible crime is in the military, and I’m not just talking about the obvious war crimes committed by its leadership. When our family lived in Hawai’i there was a Marine who lived out in town and beat a neighbor to death in front of that poor man’s daughter. He had his stereo super loud in his apartment in the middle of the night, and the neighbor knocked on his door requesting him to turn down his music. The Marine then goes to that guy’s apartment and gives him the beat down! My family lived on a base the last two years that we resided in Hawai’i. An Army guy who lived on our base was married with a preschooler step daughter and a newborn baby. He beat his little girl to death during the day in his home right on base! When military investigators went in to look at the crime scene they discovered dried blood splatters all over the baseboards of the home for he had a habit of beating her with his belt. If she wet the bed, he’d beat her, if she left toothpaste in the sink after brushing her teeth, he’d beat her and so on.

    My husband and I have known people who were police officers and investigators in the military. One recently told us that he was shocked by the domestic violence he saw among military families. We weren’t, we always knew that was a problem. Sexual assault didn’t shock us at all either, however, it’s insane that it even happens to women (including female military personnel), and some of them more than once! I personally knew a woman whose husband was in the Army and their young teenage daughter was raped by a soldier. I believe it was on base. We were taken back to hear an investigator talk about all of the sexual assaults that are man on man in the military! I was shocked! However, none of this should astound me when we manipulate the minds of our military men and women to be absolute killing machines, fighting wars for money, territory, opium, and oil!

    There is a part of me that would love to see an atheist/secular/agnostic chaplain, but I don’t think it’s going to happen because of all that I have mentioned above. If it became official, I don’t know if he or she would be taken seriously by leadership and others in the military, as well as their dependents. It’s sad because I would love to see a chaplain like that on EVERY military base EVERYWHERE. I think one would have totally helped my family out emotionally the last year my husband served as an atheist. However, as the above comment states, many of us are anti-war, so, why would we even hold official leadership positions in the military that are so gung ho to fight in the name of God and country?

    • Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and your insight. Given our recent history, now more than ever we need as many counseling and psychological resources available to soldiers through every stage of their training and deployment in order to be able to spot signs of PTSD and other disorders before they end up claiming victims. Even for those who don’t necessarily go through anything overtly traumatic, transitioning to White Picket Fence Suburbia from an environment in which you are perpetually on guard, waiting for the next IED or sniper is going to be extremely difficult. Yet, not so surprisingly, we tend to ignore that part of the equation when it comes to “supporting our troops”.

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