Call for humanist military chaplains

Sound like an oxymoron?  Well, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers certainly doesn’t think so.  It has put out a call for humanist chaplains on its web site, though it is unclear whether anyone has yet applied or whether the MAF has the credentials to endorse them if they did (we’ll look into this and post an update).

There aren’t many humanist chaplains worldwide, but their number might well be growing.  They serve in the Belgian and Dutch armies, and three universities have humanist chaplains.  One of these and the only US one is  Harvard University, whose humanist chaplain Greg Epstein made a case for their inclusion in the armed forces.  In  a blog for the Washington Post’s On Faith, he wrote:

So why does the military even have publicly funded chaplains? One of the most common justifications is that by taking servicemen and women out of the rhythm of everyday life and sequestering them for military purposes, undue burden is placed on their first-amendment right to free exercise of religion. This may pass muster from a legal point of view, but let’s face facts: it has little to do with why we have chaplains.

Military chaplains exist because military life, by its nature, involves dealing with death. When people are about to die, in danger of dying, or even when they are merely contemplating death as we all do from time to time, they ask questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is the meaning of my life? What do I value most deeply and what will become of it–and of me–when I am gone?

Non-coincidentally, the world’s religions are built around providing systematic answers to such questions.  . . . .   . So we provide chaplains to help recruits, who must cope on a daily basis with a huge range of incredibly painful scenarios, make sense of them all.

In the absence of humanists in the chaplaincy corps, the  Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers offers to send religious military chaplains  information and materials that would help them respond to the needs of atheist and humanist troops.

more on humanist chaplains

back to Chaplains Under Fire homepage


Filed under atheism, military, religion

3 responses to “Call for humanist military chaplains

  1. Thanks for noticing. Whether MAAF (not MAF) has credentials to endorse chaplains is more complicated than it sounds from an administrative / legal perspective. However, we are aware of the regulations, requirements, and culture. Based on coordination with candidates, humanist organizations, and military leadership, we’ll navigate the waters and come to a solution. The Wiccans have been trying for years, but our hope is to have a viable candidate put forward within the year. The military, if it supports everyone, should be eager to work with us to expand the diversity of chaplain support.

  2. Apologies for misspelling the acronym — and thank you for the additional information.

  3. Pingback: Oxymoron or timely idea? | chaplainsunderfire

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