Congress Set To Debate Possibility Of Adding Secular Chaplains To Military

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Lawmakers in D.C. are set to start talking about the possibility of adding secular chaplains to the military.


The U.S. Military can add the chaplains to their branches on their own, but Congress is trying to decide whether they should either require or prohibit the branches from doing so.

Supporters of adding the chaplains point to the large number of military members with no religious affiliations. Out of the 1.4 million active service members in the military, nearly 290,000 of them identify as atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. For some perspective, the number of military members identifying as Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu is less than 13,000 combined, yet all of these religions have sponsored chaplains in the military.

What’s more, chaplains provide a counseling outlet for members of the military seeking help that do not want their discussions reported to their superiors. Visits with military psychologists and psychiatrists are noted in a service member’s records, while visits with chaplains are confidential.

Written By: Jonathan Wolfe
continue to source article at opposingviews.com

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    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      I am all for it. The purpose of a chaplain is to keep a solider in action even when he is burned out.

      I can’t speak for the US military here but in the UK armed forces a chaplin is much more of a welfare officer than an in house bible thumper. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist but I certainly never found any examples of it. The reason people keep going forward into danger is for their comrades not any cause or indeed religious exhortations.

  1. I think the key to this is that visits with chaplains are confidential. That represents a service which some (the religious) have access to while others do not. Undoubtedly there will be those who will try to claim, yet again, that this shows that atheism is a religion.

    • In reply to #3 by Matt G:

      I think the key to this is that visits with chaplains are confidential. That represents a service which some (the religious) have access to while others do not. Undoubtedly there will be those who will try to claim, yet again, that this shows that atheism is a religion.

      The way you worded that was kinda disturbing, the religion part I mean. The literal meaning of atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. You could make a religion out of if you wanted, I suppose. That’s what appears to be happening, for sure. But you can bet that I wont be a part of this silliness.

      • In reply to #5 by fishhead:

        I don’t understand what you find disturbing in what I wrote. I’m not suggesting that atheism is a religion (it clearly isn’t), just that many religious people portray it as a religion to suit their agenda (such as claiming that evolution is one of atheism’s “beliefs” and that their belief in creationism should have equal standing). What I DO think is appropriate is for non-religious service people to have a non-religious person they can talk to in confidence, just as a religious person can with a chaplain.

        • In reply to #6 by Matt G:

          In reply to #5 by fishhead:

          I don’t understand what you find disturbing in what I wrote. I’m not suggesting that atheism is a religion (it clearly isn’t), just that many religious people portray it as a religion to suit their agenda (such as claiming that evolution is one of atheism’s “beliefs” an…

          Dude, The truth of it was what I meant as being disturbing. I absolutely agree with what you said. It’s just kinda scary to me how some people want to bastardize the truth of atheism into an organization like religion. No disrespect intended. I’m sorry, I should have been more obvious with my response.

  2. Greed, war, murder and mayhem are the main attributes of the religious experience. One cannot fully enjoy the experience without the personal guidance from their chosen faith. Why else would we be trying to kill our neighbours?!

  3. There must be another word but chaplain which could be used. Chaplain is rooted in catholicism. The church functionary who guarded the cloak of St.Martin of Tours was called capellanus – no need for chaplain – we need to find an alternative – I would suggest secular adviser or something similar.

    • In reply to #7 by perkyjay:

      There must be another word but chaplain which could be used. Chaplain is rooted in catholicism. The church functionary who guarded the cloak of St.Martin of Tours was called capellanus – no need for chaplain – we need to find an alternative – I would suggest secular adviser or something similar.

      For any poor bastard who has to kill his neighbour for the greed and stupidity of his country, I suggest their “chaplains” be called psychologists.They certainly need one.

  4. I am an atheist and a veteran and I am against secular chaplains. There is so much difficulty in simply getting a service member to seek help for combat stress related issues. So many of them suffer alone with PTSD, suicidal thoughts and a myriad of other complex issues revolving around military life simply due to the idea that seeking help is synonymous with weakness. Having the ability to identify with a counselor on a spiritual level is integral to these individuals seeking help. The role of chaplain is one of spiritual religious guidance for those who choose to seek spiritual religious guidance. To remove the religion from that role is to remove access to religion for the service members who would fall under one of these secular chaplains. There is typically only one chaplain assigned to a battalion sized element (approximately 1,000 persons). As activist atheists, we attempt to bring people’s worldview around to a more rational, science literate mindset. We do not attempt to limit a persons access to choose for themselves. The solution here is to offer secular anonymous counseling services to service members who wish to seek secular help, not to remove religious counseling options from those members who choose to have faith. If there is one person whom I will leave to find comfort in false faith, it is a person who is suffering from combat stress issues. I cannot ethically take away a persons belief in heaven when they have already been through hell.

    • In reply to #8 by Jcstauff:

      I am an atheist and a veteran and I am against secular chaplains. There is so much difficulty in simply getting a service member to seek help for combat stress related issues. So many of them suffer alone with PTSD, suicidal thoughts and a myriad of other complex issues revolving around military life simply due to the idea that seeking help is synonymous with weakness. Having the ability to identify with a counselor on a spiritual level is integral to these individuals seeking help. The role of chaplain is one of spiritual religious guidance for those who choose to seek spiritual religious guidance. To remove the religion from that role is to remove access to religion for the service members who would fall under one of these secular chaplains.

      Its funny because I’m usually the one that people here say “are you really an atheist?” but I have to start by asking if you really are one because what you said makes absolutely no sense if you are.

      Yes counselling is important and trust is an essential element of getting a good therapist. So why in the world can’t you see that some people who are atheists may have a hard time trusting a therapist who is religious? I mean to me it wouldn’t matter either way, I don’t care anything about the personal beliefs of my therapist she is there for me not the other way around but I can certainly understand how other atheists wouldn’t feel that way and would want to have a therapist who shared the same views.

      Everything you said about the importance of therapy and trust to combatting things like PTSD seems a great argument for why we need secular chaplains as well as religious ones, so that non-religious service people can more easily find someone they can trust and confide in.

      • In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #8 by Jcstauff:

        I am an atheist and a veteran and I am against secular chaplains. There is so much difficulty in simply getting a service member to seek help for combat stress related issues. So many of them suffer alone with PTSD, suicidal thoughts and a myriad of other complex issues…

        Surely Jcstauff’s point is simply that: those who seek comfort from a religious official should have that opportunity, and those who seek a secular comforter, should have that choice. There is no need to saddle a secular comforter with a religious title, or for that matter, to expect him/her to perform the other duties which are performed by chaplains. Why would any atheist want a religious title?

      • In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #8 by Jcstauff:

        I am an atheist and a veteran and I am against secular chaplains. There is so much difficulty in simply getting a service member to seek help for combat stress related issues. So many of them suffer alone with PTSD, suicidal thoughts and a myriad of other complex issues…

        I assure you I am really an atheist. ;-) my point is simply one of maintaining access to religious services for service members who are religious (which still represent the majority) while offering secular services to the minority who identify as atheist/agnostic. Under the current structure of the US military, the assignment of a secular chaplain to a unit would mean there is no religious chaplain in that unit. As I stated before, there is typically only one chaplain per unit. This is an issue deserving of a compromise and I believe that compromise lays in changing the policy regarding anonymous psychological and counseling services.

        • Why not take away the religious title entirely – call them counsellors. After all, if you think access to a religious chaplain is essential then the number of chaplains required would vary with the number of different religions of those in the battalion.

          As a matter of interest, do you know what training and qualifications are required of chaplains in the military. I see your point about the difficulty of persuading soldiers to seek counselling unless it is anonymous – is the chaplain currently seen as such?
          And do chaplains have no responsibility to identify those who they believe are mentally unfit to continue on active service?

          In reply to #13 by Jcstauff:

          In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #8 by Jcstauff:

          I am an atheist and a veteran and I am against secular chaplains. There is so much difficulty in simply getting a service member to seek help for combat stress related issues. So many of them suffer alone with PTSD, suicidal thoughts and a myr…

          • In reply to #14 by Marktony:

            Why not take away the religious title entirely – call them counsellors. After all, if you think access to a religious chaplain is essential then the number of chaplains required would vary with the number of different religions of those in the battalion.

            As a matter of interest, do you know what tr…

            The position of chaplain is, in part, a religious position. Removing that removes access of religious persons to religious guidance. It’s true that one chaplain cannot be the same religion of everyone in their unit, but part of their position is also facilitating guidance of those who are members of a different religion by seeking out materials, literature or even finding a chaplain that is their religion and getting them in contact with person if possible. A secular chaplain could do that as well, but I feel the issue with secular chaplains revolve around the other job of a chaplain which is counseling services and crisis management. Although a service member may be catholic and their chaplain is Protestant, they still feel better approaching a “man of god,” even if the specific theology differs.

            I’m not certain exactly how chaplains receive their training, but the ones I had contact with we’re all licensed counsellors. I assume that is a requirement of their position, but I could be wrong. Chaplains are all commissioned officers and as such are required to hold a bachelors degree for lower officer ranks and a masters degree if they wish to gain rank into the mid range tiers of the rank structure. There aren’t any specific requirements as to what degree they have to hold, but the position does favor those with education in behavioral sciences. The chaplain can be seen under confidential conditions, I would assume if there was an issue that put the health or welfare of individuals at risk they would need to escalate the involvement of others. Currently, a service member who seeks non-chaplain counseling or psychological assistance has that recorded in their record. That recording alone prevents people from seeking help.

          • In reply to #16 by Jcstauff:

            In reply to #14 by Marktony:

            Why not take away the religious title entirely – call them counsellors. After all, if you think access to a religious chaplain is essential then the number of chaplains required would vary with the number of different religions of those in the battalion.

            As a matter of…

            In the UK Forces although the unit Chaplin lives in the Officers Mess, they are the same rank as the person they are dealing with, in addition to being effectively non-denominational. They are supposed to be there for those of all religions and none equally.

        • Here’s a compromise, we will let you keep chaplains as long as they aren’t religious. You shouldn’t have religious people, spreading religious ideas, on a government paycheck. That’s how it should be. How chaplains are allowed to prosthelytize currently in the military is beyond me. It completely breaks the establishment clause of the Constitution.

          In reply to #13 by Jcstauff:

          In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #8 by Jcstauff:

          I am an atheist and a veteran and I am against secular chaplains. There is so much difficulty in simply getting a service member to seek help for combat stress related issues. So many of them suffer alone with PTSD, suicidal thoughts and a myr…

          • The reason why the military has chaplains is because it wasn’t so long ago that men were drafted into the military. To also deny these conscripted men their religion would be a double whammy of injustice. IMO.
            But I agree. They should not be allowed to proselytize. It should also be seen as unseemly to do so.
            In reply to #18 by Prime8:

            Here’s a compromise, we will let you keep chaplains as long as they aren’t religious. You shouldn’t have religious people, spreading religious ideas, on a government paycheck. That’s how it should be. How chaplains are allowed to prosthelytize currently in the military is beyond me. It completel…

          • In reply to #18 by Prime8:

            Here’s a compromise, we will let you keep chaplains as long as they aren’t religious. You shouldn’t have religious people, spreading religious ideas, on a government paycheck. That’s how it should be. How chaplains are allowed to prosthelytize currently in the military is beyond me. It completel…

            Proselytize (intransitive verb) 1. To induce someone to convert to one’s faith 2. To recruit someone to join one’s party, institution or cause. (Merriam Webster)

            No US military chaplain I ever encountered conducted themselves this way in any shape or form. You would only ever know what religion a chaplain was if you either asked them directly or attended the religious service they conducted on Sunday. They conduct themselves as a spiritual resource for those who wish to seek spiritual guidance, or secular counseling resource for those who wish to seek assistance in that regard.

            The fact that a religious position exists in the military may be a violation of church/state division, but it a supply that meets a demand. The military is more than a group of government employees, it is a community. Communities require community services. Like it or not, the needs of a community currently often include spiritual and religious guidance. Especially when the community is touched so directly by war.

            I would love it if more people embraced science, reason and atheism. But that is not the current state of humanity we live in. We live in a time when the majority of Americans and the majority of US service members still choose to identify with a religion. With PTSD and combat stress related family abuse and suicide being a very real struggle for military members, removing access of military communities to religious leadership will almost certainly cost more lives. I don’t agree with religion, but I will not indirectly condemn someone to die for their religious beliefs by removing their access to assistance they are comfortable with.

  5. Damn~! How some earn rent money! I wish I could read and “interpret” The Bible for 1-200 folks every week to collect 10% of their paychecks! I mean, really, can you imagine sitting in a congregration with a Master’s Degree in English and having to Bible still read to you?

  6. In reply to #13 by Jcstauff:

    I assure you I am really an atheist. ;-) my point is simply one of maintaining access to religious services for service members who are religious (which still represent the majority) while offering secular services to the minority who identify as atheist/agnostic. Under the current structure of the US military, the assignment of a secular chaplain to a unit would mean there is no religious chaplain in that unit.

    Thanks for clarifying now I see what you mean. I see your point and I commend you for being willing to give up a bit of equality (having chaplains that represent your beliefs) in order to accommodate the greater good. But in this case I don’t agree. For one thing this must happen already, say your unit has a Jewish chaplain or a Muslim chaplain there certainly must be people who are as bigoted against them, especially the Muslim chaplain, that they couldn’t trust them. Whatever option people use in that case could also be used if they can’t trust an atheist chaplain. The other thing is that IMO this kind of conflict is an inevitable part of granting equal rights to everyone and removing Christianity from its de facto position as the official religion of the US and especially the military. I’m sure there were and are similar situations with african american chaplains or gay chaplains. The same people who can’t trust an atheist chaplain would often have problems with a black one or gay one as well. In all those cases the answer isn’t to accommodate the bigots but to tell them that’s the price they have to pay for living in a society where people are treated equally and fairly.

    • In reply to #21 by Red Dog:

      In reply to #13 by Jcstauff:

      I assure you I am really an atheist. ;-) my point is simply one of maintaining access to religious services for service members who are religious (which still represent the majority) while offering secular services to the minority who identify as atheist/agnostic. Under…

      Thank you. It is nice when rational people can disagree without arguing. I see your points as well, and there is validity in them. I feel I do have a bit more insight into the matter being a veteran myself. I did actually seek counseling from a chaplain once to help me deal with going through a divorce. The environment was not completely comfortable as there were religious materials in the room, pamphlets and religiously themed wall hangings. But I will tell you the content of the conversation I had with the chaplain was not in the slightest bit religious. It was a perfectly secular counseling session. I never met a chaplain who attempted in any way to push religion on service members. They all seem to operate under a position of being available for the needs of service members, but never forceful. Having this experience with US military chaplains gives me the sense that it would be easier for an atheist to seek help from a theist chaplain than a theist seeking help from an atheist, but that could just be my opinion.

      In any case, with suicide from combat stress being such a large killer of service members and veterans, I still push for a compromise that can allow persons of all faiths or no faith to seek help from qualified persons with whom they feel comfortable. I am an atheist. I do not like religion. However, removing access of service members to religious leaders will almost assuredly cost more lives as persons struggling with the externalities of combat will find their first level of support taken from them.

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