Secular humanism and atheism are not religions.
All atheists are secular humanists, but not all secular humanists are atheists. Some are agnostics, freethinkers or just plain humanists. Many humanists are spiritual, some believe in the God of Abraham, others in the spirituality of Buddhism or other “accepted religion.”
Clergy deal with more than just religion, their god or spirituality. They deal in human behavior.
I am an atheist and a secular humanist. I believe these are two separate issues as it concerns my disbelief in a supernatural omniscient spirit and my belief in the spirit of Man's natural goodness. I am “ordained” with the Universal Life Church as the Rev. Sage Dave. I have performed secular marriages recognized by the state of Missouri.
So why is this so important? Because the United Sates Army is now considering adding to the chaplain corp a secular humanist chaplain, and the question as to the authenticity of a chaplain who is a nonbeliever has come into questions. Jason Heap, graduate of the University of Oxford and of Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and licensed as a minister in Texas, will be the first.
Congress is fighting the Rev. Heap’s application with a restrictive religious propaganda more than law.
I have already spent time on this topic on my blog and have received some interesting feedback from the theist, deist and atheist sides of the discussion. Some question the government sanctifying any person as a “clergy” as a First Amendment violation. Some have deemed it impossible for a nonbeliever to be able to act in a clerical role.
Visiting the Web page of the Army’s Chaplain Corps, we find that they are entrusted with three major responsibilities: nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor for the fallen. And though the Corps motto is “Pro Deo et Patro!” — “For God and Country” — it is the human aspect of their duty that is so important. My high school and college Latin tells me that one can read the motto as “For God and Father.”
The importance of this is much greater than the idea of having a nonbeliever ministering to the members of the armed forces. The premise that a humanist chaplain will not lead the prayer but can certainly help the soldier to find the right words. She can certainly help with the humanist aspect of ministering where a god is not needed to fill any perceived gaps.
The goal is to find acceptance for the 1 percent of U.S. military members whose records indicate that they are atheists or agnostics — a percentage far lower than the general population. Why? The speculation is the intertwining of our military with religion. Religious interference in military operations has been seen within all of the United States military services and academies, with the possible exception of the Coast Guard Academy.
Too many still do not trust one who is not of religion. Many do not trust one from another faith, or within the same faith but a different denomination or sect. If one believes in none of the mythologies, then that person must be, at best, questioned; at worse, immoral.
If the military allows sanctioned chaplains to minister to the needs of the troops, as the U.S. has done since 1775, then it must meet the needs of all of the troops, including the servicemen and -women who are atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics and secular humanists.
Unfortunately, Congress, in passing the bloated military budget earlier this year, wrote into the law that a chaplain “must be (ordained through) recognized religious and faith-based organizations.” The Universal Life Church is one such organization. So is, even in its full satirical plumage, The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Both, like most other religious organizations, are 501c3 nonprofits.
Maybe it is time for our government to recognize that a significant number of its citizens, more than 9 percent, and at least 1 percent of its warriors do not believe in a Jewish, Christian or Muslim god and “For God and Country,” like our national motto, needs to be rewritten to reflect the nature of our government — secular. “For the Constitution and Country.”
The United States is not a homogeneous nation. We are not of one race, one creed or one faith. I am not arguing the elimination of the chaplain corps but the inclusion of all under its umbrella.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.