Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
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10-11-2015, 11:25 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
(10-11-2015 07:19 AM)jason_delisle Wrote:  1. How are atheist being persecuted and judged? How have you been personally treated because of your beliefs?

I've been on the bad end of judgements solely for my lack of belief often enough that it makes me wonder why believers think they have any insight onto character. As far as bad personal treatment, it's only happened once or twice, and was nothing to get butthurt over.

(10-11-2015 07:19 AM)jason_delisle Wrote:  2. If you have ever served in the military or have had interactions with a military chaplain, how would you describe your experience? What were the good and the bad?

I'm an Air Force veteran. I was an atheist well before I enlisted. You bet your ass I still went to Sunday services, because I needed the extra sleep, and anyway anyone caught stooging around the barracks at 0930 on Sunday morning got extra attention from our MTIs. That, in itself, was a form of harassment; non-believers (or non-mainstream believers) were in a way punished for not attending Christian services. But my experiences with the chaplains were always cordial. Aside from basic training, I only interacted with them a couple of times -- once when White died in a training fire in 90, and they sent chaplains for counseling, once when we got to Saudi -- but they were always professional and didn't subject me to any bullshit for my atheism.

Make sure you do the same. Your job as a military chaplain is not to gain followers for your god. Your job as a military chaplain is to make sure that the men in your command are free of emotional distraction in order to prosecute the mission effectively.

(10-11-2015 07:19 AM)jason_delisle Wrote:  3. What advice do you have for a future chaplain to ensure that the beliefs of an atheist are protected in the military?

Protect the atheists in your command against discrimination from the higher echelons. Don't worry about protecting atheist "beliefs" (we don't have a set of beliefs) -- just make sure that the atheists in your command are as welcome as any believers.
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10-11-2015, 11:36 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
(10-11-2015 10:46 AM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  Why is the US government paying for chaplains ?
It is antithetical to patriotic American values, which separate religion from the state.
Military chaplains are used for several reasons but the center of everything a chaplain does is to maintain moral within the unit. First role is to advise the commander on things ethical and moral. It doesn't even have to be religious in nature. An example of this would be if a commander was planning to carry out an artillery strike on a village because it was a known strong hold for the enemy. It would be a chaplain who would be responsible to advise the commander if it could harm or damage the moral of the service members. I agree that anybody can give that type of advice and it doesn't necessarily have to be a chaplain but this is an extreme example to show how a chaplain may advise a commander.

The second roll of a chaplain is to provide religious services to the service members. If a service member needs spiritual counseling, a baptism, or anything else only an ordained leader in their faith can perform it would be a chaplain who would provide those services in order to keep moral high.

Third responsibility is to ensure a service member's freedom of religion is protected. An example of this would be if a Muslim was forced to eat at a chow hall and the facility only served pork. A chaplain would make arrangements for that individual to accommodate their religious requirements.

This is one thing that I found lacking in the military in regards to atheists. The military will go out of the way to accommodate people of religion but there seems to be a double standard towards atheist.
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10-11-2015, 11:40 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
I guess if I was in the military as an atheist my concern would be that my fellow soldiers see me as being just as much a soldier as them despite my lack of religious belief. That's what bugs me the most about the perception of atheists in general, that they're less American or less loving as spouses or parents or they have less value as citizens in general - as if we're incomplete people somehow. I guess that's what I would want in a chaplain, someone who understands that any bravery or heroism on my part, my dedication to my fellow soldiers, my love of democracy and my country, my desire to see justice done, are not in any way lessened by my lack of belief in a higher power. I'd want someone who gets this, and tries to spread this attitude among the believers.
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10-11-2015, 11:44 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
Do atheist feel as though they are being singled out because they have no ties to any religion? I would imagine it would be frustrating to be seen as a "free agent" for every other religion trying to stake a claim on you to "save you".
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10-11-2015, 11:47 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
(10-11-2015 11:44 AM)jason_delisle Wrote:  Do atheist feel as though they are being singled out because they have no ties to any religion? I would imagine it would be frustrating to be seen as a "free agent" for every other religion trying to stake a claim on you to "save you".

Yes, it is very frustrating. Theists always assume that they know something we don't. Have some access to knowledge we don't (as if they have some sort of cognitive ability we don't). And they think that all they need to do is tell us about god (as if we have never heard about any before) and we will believe.

Being nice is something stupid people do to hedge their bets
-Rick
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10-11-2015, 11:50 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
This is a pretty refreshing attitude.

I don't have any personal experience on that front (no pun intended), but I'll give you my general (no pun intended) sense of things. Take that for the navel-gazing it's worth. I also remember hearing a few Thinking Atheist and Dogma Debate podcasts on the subject of atheists in the military -- I'll try to dig them up.

How are atheists persecuted in the military? There's lots of little (and a few big) things. I was going to try to put them into broad categories, but...

The military is a very hierarchical institution, and that gives plenty of opportunities for a commanding officer to abuse (in little ways and large, consciously or unconsciously) those beneath him. (Or her, but usually him.) The simple fact is that someone who pisses off someone above them in the chain of command is in for a world of hurt, and people can piss off the chain of command just by being atheists. This can result in bad performance reviews, withheld citations or promotions, and abuse of punishment or assignment authority (assigning the atheist extra-undesirable duties or being swift to punish an atheist for things they would let slide with a Christian). Alternatively, they can piss off the chain of command not so much by being atheists, but by speaking up about abuse.

Another factor is the culture of those around them. Atheists in the military know that the environment is predominantly Christian, and that many of those Christians harbor false beliefs about atheists. (And about other things, but that's a topic for another post.) Watch two hours each of Pat Robertson and Josh Feurstein, imagine that 5% of Christians will be saying stuff like that to an atheist, and that the rest won't make religion a big deal, so that those 5% will end up defining that person's interaction with Christianity. Now make that 5% soldiers that the atheist will need to rely on to keep them alive in combat.

Moving into specific situations that an atheists in the military face:

Many atheists perceive, rightly or wrongly, that they will be persecuted by their unit unless they stay in the closet. (Whether there is something to fear varies a lot by unit.) Expect some people who present as some flavor of vague theist or Christian to actually be atheists in the closet. Expect others to not believe in a god but not realize that this makes them an atheist.

Group prayer is problematic, especially before a mission. The atheist has to choose between violating their integrity and identity by joining in on their prayer, or undermining unit cohesion and outing themselves by opting out. This can get worse if someone in authority (illegally) orders them to join in. Then there's also prayers that are delivered at formation, graduation services at military training camps, and so forth... places where the atheist has no way to opt out. They're essentially being forced to attend a religious service against their will.

Religious members of the military get time off to attend services -- half a day once per week, IIRC. Those who refuse to attend get no time off at all, and essentially have to cover the shifts of those who do get time off. Expect this unequal treatment to stick in peoples' craws. Also, opting out of religious services can out an atheist.

There's also significant policy impacts to atheists. It seems that every five years the generals or civilian leadership go and do something incredibly stupid on the religion front. Recent offenses include a job performance evaluation that included a category rating the military member's "spiritual health", and the Air Force changing their oath for reenlistment to explicitly require acknowledgement of a higher power. I don't know if either of these have been changed back yet. And the chaplaincy itself is an issue, partly because it is seen as a violation of the establishment clause by many secularists, and partly because our ennightened Congress has been barring secular humanists from taking up chaplain roles.

And, of course, there's public perception and statements. The old "no atheists in foxholes" lie dishonors non-believing members serving in the military, minimizing their service, their integrity, and their value as human beings every time it is uttered. Political leaders often say worse under the assumption that all service members are Christian, and others will outright attack non-Christians in the military as being enemy agents or traitors trying to bring America down. Atheists in our culture quickly grow a thick skin (and sometimes a readiness to counterattack) in response to all of this, and I would expect that would be the same or moreso of atheists in the military, but it doesn't stop it from being hurtful.

What can you do as a chaplain?

The first and foremost thing you can do is accommodate atheists in your duties. Signal, very clearly, that you are willing to leave god out of your conversations, and that you are prepared to keep anything they tell you confidential. Many people will come to you for more secular purposes, and you might find yourself serving as a poor-man's psychologist (in a culture where seeing a real shrink is seen as a bad thing and where it goes in your official jacket) or as the gateway and guide to various services the military offers. Atheists will have family troubles and attacks of conscience the same way that Christians will, but unless you are able (and signal to them that you are able) to administer to their needs, their needs will largely go unmet. Be ready to set aside... not so much the god, as the god-talk when you speak to them. More than that just doing that in the moment, try to get training (or at least a few good books) on how to do for these things without bringing your god into it. Explicitly inform them that you will respect their confidentiality in all things, and that you know that your job isn't to convert them. Allow them to set the tone and the agenda for any meeting. Some will be extremely wary and avoid religious topics (and you) like a plague, while others will be happy as pie to spend a bit of time off debating religion with a chaplain over a couple of beers. Ask yourself how you can make your meeting area more welcoming to them, with fewer overt religious symbols or Bible quotes. View this not so much as something you're forced to abandon, but as a way that you can better serve those who may come to you. A lot of it will come down to signalling and perception. Signal that you're the cool, accepting guy that people can talk to, not the evangelizing crusader on a mission from your god to thump Bibles and indict the ungodly. It's not enough for you JUST to be that cool accepting guy; people won't know it if you don't send out those signals often and loud.

The second thing you can do is to improve the environment. A chaplain carries a unique moral authority... at least, among Christians... as well as a position outside of the chain of command that lets you offer a degree of criticism. There are limits, but they aren't the same limits that others are constrained by. If you discover any persecution by Christians of non-Christians going on (or even by Christians of different groups of Christians), you are in a singular position to take the offenders to task for it. You are in a position to emphasize a message of brotherhood rather than evangelism in your weekly services. You are in a position to suggest policy changes to the unit CO in a way that would be insubordinate coming from anyone else, and your opinions will be listened to in a way that the opinions of others would not be.

By the way, most of this advice will help you serve people of other religions as well as atheists -- Pagans, Wicca, Jews, Muslims, etc.

I'll try to dig up those podcasts later today.
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10-11-2015, 11:56 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
(10-11-2015 11:47 AM)TheBeardedDude Wrote:  
(10-11-2015 11:44 AM)jason_delisle Wrote:  Do atheist feel as though they are being singled out because they have no ties to any religion? I would imagine it would be frustrating to be seen as a "free agent" for every other religion trying to stake a claim on you to "save you".

Yes, it is very frustrating. Theists always assume that they know something we don't. Have some access to knowledge we don't (as if they have some sort of cognitive ability we don't). And they think that all they need to do is tell us about god (as if we have never heard about any before) and we will believe.
It is true that there is a lot of ignorance from theist. Most don't even understand that there are a large group of atheists who grew up in religious homes. I have met some who were former pastors. It troubles me when I hear fellow Christians assume that they know more than an atheist. It is embarrassing to listen to an argument where an atheist knows more about the bible than the Christian.

I like to assume that most atheist have done their homework. That their decision to become an atheist was a product of deliberate study and research on many religions.
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10-11-2015, 11:58 AM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
(10-11-2015 11:56 AM)jason_delisle Wrote:  
(10-11-2015 11:47 AM)TheBeardedDude Wrote:  Yes, it is very frustrating. Theists always assume that they know something we don't. Have some access to knowledge we don't (as if they have some sort of cognitive ability we don't). And they think that all they need to do is tell us about god (as if we have never heard about any before) and we will believe.
It is true that there is a lot of ignorance from theist. Most don't even understand that there are a large group of atheists who grew up in religious homes. I have met some who were former pastors. It troubles me when I hear fellow Christians assume that they know more than an atheist. It is embarrassing to listen to an argument where an atheist knows more about the bible than the Christian.

I like to assume that most atheist have done their homework. That their decision to become an atheist was a product of deliberate study and research on many religions.

As long as you assume that, then you are on good footing to have meaningful conversations with atheists.

Being nice is something stupid people do to hedge their bets
-Rick
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10-11-2015, 12:18 PM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
Oh, and one more piece of advice:

ALWAYS assume that there is at least one atheist in your unit, even if everyone presents as Christian. Maybe someone's in the closet, and you helping to avoid problems like group prayer or formation sermons will help shield them even if you don't know who it is. Or maybe an atheist will transfer in next week, and it's better if the unit is already a place they can fit in rather than a hostile environment that you will be working to reform at the last minute, with everyone figuring out pretty quickly that the one new guy is the reason for all the changes.
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10-11-2015, 12:29 PM
RE: Please Help a Future Military Chaplain
I think there are a large number of chaplains who cannot separate themselves from evangelizing. CHAPLAINS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE TRYING TO CONVERT PEOPLE TO CHRISTIANITY! They are to be a resource for people who are already Christian.
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