According to Fox & Friends commentator Father Jonathan Morris, atheist (or Humanist) chaplains are an oxymoron and allowing them into the military chaplaincy program will degrade the chaplaincy, which in his opinion is based on faith (see video embedded below).
Morris' comments were in response to allegations by Army Capt. Ryan Jean that a military chaplain berated him for his lack of faith. Jean now wants to become a Humanist Chaplain to be of service to other non-believers in the military.
Characterizing himself as a Humanist, Morris conceded that Capt. Jean may have been berated, but in his view, the whole purpose of the chaplaincy was to honor faith and that the word "chaplaincy" comes from a Latin word meaning a place of sanctuary or a place of worship.
"An atheist place of worship?" he mocked with the Fox & Friends commentators agreeing, "Or a military chaplain, someone who is advising someone in their spirituality? How does that relate to non-belief?"
Morris, like many, believes that spirituality is inherently theistic. Spirituality relates to "the spirit," which is not necessarily based in religion or the supernatural. As Merriam-Webster defines it, it is also "the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person."
Vote in our related poll: Is spirituality inherently religious or rooted in supernatural/theistic belief?
As the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers points out,
People often seek answers to ‘higher’ questions of purpose, origins, and community identity. However, people search in different ways and reach different conclusions, many of which are compatible with military service. Traditionally, the question of religion focuses on scriptural bases, methods of worship, and church governance in addition to pious ethics and how to live in accordance with religious law. The fundamental difference is that a religious perspective has dimensions involving punishment and rewards from church hierarchy, an active deity, and/or the afterlife. Nontheistic service members do not seek to reject these influences; they merely see the supernatural as nonexistent and irrelevant to these ‘higher’ questions.
It is important to understand that this isn’t an effort to reject religion; it is set of evidence-based ethics that stand alone. In addition, it is not uncommon that nontheists have a good understanding of more traditional religions Many have explored other options and found the secular or nontheistic option to provide more satisfying answers.
Although some think that this lack of belief is due to anger or ignorance, it is important to respect the beliefs of nontheistic soldiers without question, just as Christian chaplains are expected to respect the beliefs of Jews, Muslims, and others, and as Jewish and Muslim chaplains are expected to respect Christians. Every person that believes in a certain god disbelieve in many others. Nontheistic service members have simply rejected one more god than monotheists.
There is a myth that ethics can not arise from the nontheistic perspective. This is an absolute falsehood and should be a focus in any education program. Nontheistic people often seek the same things as their religious counterparts: to live a good life and impact others positively. They might simply have other motivations, reasons, and methods to reach these goals. Without the belief in some higher power and the supporting hierarchy of clergy, nontheistic service members have the challenging opportunity to develop their own way of life. In addition, there is no tradition or authority to provide dogma and terms to which nontheistic service members can default. Conversely, nontheistic service members draw from the entire history of philosophy and religion. The entire history of human thought is viewed with equal skepticism and rules of logic. It is logic and skeptical inquiry that direct the development of a nontheistic individual’s ethics. Lessons from history, figures of authority, and intuition are accepted, but they are all subject to skepticism. Whether or not individual chaplains internalize the validity of the nontheistic viewpoint, chaplains can only be effective if they have an understanding of the nontheistic viewpoint and can both support and advise others in this area.
Morris claimed that it is not just an issue of semantics, such as "atheist counselor" or something similar. "It's not just the title," he said, "but how it relates to the U.S. Military Chaplaincy which is an organization that has thousands of military chaplains serving over 130 religious beliefs. And so if you're saying 'I'm an atheist' or "I'm a Humanist' — which I'm a Humanist, I hope we're all Humanists, we believe in humanity and that humanity should be developed and that it should be encouraged — but if you say, "I'm a non-believer' and you want to get involved in the U.S.Military Chaplaincy, and being recognized as a chaplain, and being paid as a chaplain, then our country is saying we are not willing to stand up for what we believe to be a very good thing for our soldiers, and that is the development of spirituality."
Morris went on to imply that people wanting atheist/Humanist chaplains in the military are fringe and are just trying to make a political point and to "degrade the military chaplaincy." Morris claimed that non-believers seeking to help military members should study psychology and become therapists.
Kristin Henderson, writing for Military.com, points out the flaw in forcing non-believers to visit psychologists to deal with the stress and issues they face:
In our military world, even the things you say on a psychiatrist's couch can be reported to a commanding officer. So some people bottle things up because they're afraid if they admit what's really on their minds they'll get in trouble or ruin their careers. That can be dangerous.
Chaplains are the safety valve. A chaplain is the one person in the military that regulations say you can talk to about anything without fear that it will go any farther. So one of the squad-mates of that suicidal servicemember went to the chaplain. In the privacy of the chaplain's office, not only did the buddy find help for his suicidal friend, but he also found the courage to finally speak up and report the real source of the problem — the corporal who was threatening them all. The corporal was removed in time to prevent a tragedy.
Servicemembers need a safe place to let off steam and figure out how to solve problems without fear of getting in trouble or ruining their careers. Family members do, too. When their loved one is deployed, better for them to cry out their troubles and fears to their chaplain, not their loved one. That way those on the frontlines can focus on their mission instead of being distracted with worry about homefront problems they can't do anything about.
Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, revealed to Russia Today's Alyona last month that there are more non-believers than Jews, Muslims and Hindus. In fact, non-believers are the second largest "conscience group" behind all Christian groups put together in the military, but they are told that they need to find another agency for counseling.