Recently at Fort Mead, Maryland, a soldier applied for lay status as an atheist. In this designated capacity, he will conduct meetings and work with military Chaplains to help soldiers. Indications are the request will be granted.
Not everyone likes this. One Chaplain said it “will weaken” the chaplain concept and suggested military personnel who are not believers and seek out psychologists provided by the military.
If we want a good military, recognition of and providing services to unbelievers seems a good idea. It is especially important if young people are becoming less likely to identify with traditional branches of the faith community.
On U. S. military bases now, there are gatherings for many faiths, including the various branches of Christianity, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist. Many Chaplains are trained to conduct services in a variety of faiths. It does not seem like much of a stretch to support meetings like those of our Freethinker group where discussions take place about current events and books people have read.
In addition to serving a significant population of military personnel, providing even a minimum of chaplaincy services to unbelievers would have a positive effect on commissioned and non commissioned officers. There have been many complaints about overenthusiastic religious officers letting their preferences be known.
From the Mi Lai Massacre in Vietnam to the recent soldier who killed many in Afghanistan, we can see traditional chaplaincy does not solve every problem. It couldn’t hurt to try new things.