Non-believers are the second largest conscience demographic in the United States military, says Jason Torpy, President of the Military Associations of Atheists and Freethinkers.
Torpy was interviewed by Alyona on her program aired by Russia Today, who observed that with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the US military appears to be undergoing some big changes, progressing towards a modern age. But they are still far behind when it comes to its chaplaincy program and the role that religion plays in counseling.
Torpy is asking that atheist chaplains be accepted so that those without a religious background can get the same services as everyone else. He explained that for 200 years, the chaplains were focused on their mission to pray with troops. In modern times, this has changed and there is a diversity of backgrounds. In 1990, the military made strides in recognizing diversity, but the diversity was theistic only and included groups such as Buddhists, Mormons and Hindus.
Torpy pointed out that recent surveys show that at least 10,000 to 40,000 service members are atheists. The most recent Defense Equality Opportunity Management Survey reported that 40,000 said they were not religious, representing the second largest conscience group behind all Christians put together. There are more non-believers than Jews, Muslims and Hindus. The head of the freethinkers group said that chaplains need training to understand what scientific naturalism and human-based ethics are about. Currently, there are chaplains who have diversity training who can help minority religious groups such as Hindus or Mormons, but non-believers are told that they need to find another agency for counseling. Torpy believes that for the military chaplaincy program to stay relevant and receive the power, money and influence it enjoys, it needs to treat everyone equality.
Alyona raised the issue about too much religion in the military, such as reports about spiritual fitness training and troops being forced to listen to Christian concerts. She also noted that some conservative commentators in American media are pushing the notion that the United States is in a religious war
The overt displays of Christianity, particularly in the Muslim countries, is creating a dangerous situation, according to Torpy:
Here's what I hear. So if I talk to the troops and they hear people talking about Christianity vs. Islam, they say, 'Thanks a lot for making our friends in the Middle East angry, and making our enemies even angrier.' What that is, that is a recruiting call. When they see Bibles with Special Forces logos on them, and when they see Christian concerts, when they see the overt religion in spiritual fitness centers and generals talking about how associated they are with their Christian heritage, when they line that up too closely with the military mission, then our enemies have recruiting power from that. They say, okay, it is a religious war, let's recruit the Muslims against the Christians. And that's very dangerous.
Torpy is confident that there will eventually be change. For now, he has reached out to chaplains and has been met with "a deafening silence."