“Rock Beyond Belief” is scheduled for Saturday, March 31, and plans to feature bands and speakers, including Richard Dawkins, the famed British scholar and atheist author. It will be the highest-visibility event so far in a growing effort by military personnel without belief in God or religions to be recognized by their peers and the Pentagon.
The head of the largest representative body of chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans Administration doesn’t think so.
A New York Times article this week highlighted the case made by humanist organizations and atheists that humanist chaplains are needed to serve nonbelievers in the military. One humanist group has asked for an audience with the chiefs of chaplains to discuss the proposal.
Weighing in on the issue, Paul Vicalvi, executive director of National Association of Evangelicals Chaplain Commission, which represents over 1,200 chaplains in the military, said he was “puzzled” when he heard of the request.
Speaking to The Christian Post, Vicalvi, a retired Army chaplain of over 30 years, said he doesn’t see the logic behind humanist chaplains.
“Traditionally chaplains are seen as a person of a higher power faith. It would redefine the chaplaincy if a non-faith person becomes a chaplain,” he said.
Former Army captain Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, told the New York Times that “humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews.” Torpy is seeking to meet with the chief of chaplains for each branch of the armed forces, to discuss the atheist chaplaincy proposal.
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In the military, there are more than 3,000 chaplains who minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of active duty troops, regardless of their faiths. The vast majority are Christians, a few are Jews or Muslims, one is a Buddhist. A Hindu, possibly even a Wiccan may join their ranks soon.
But an atheist?
Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military.
Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders.
But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?