You know the expression, “There are no atheists in foxholes”? It’s an aphorism used to argue that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as in war, all people will believe in, or hope for, a higher power. It’s been used in all sorts of interesting ways. 1) to argue that there is no such thing as an atheist, not really, as we’ll all suddenly have a religious epiphany or conversion experience at the point of extreme stress or 2) that atheists, if they did exist would be of no emotional succor value in a foxhole, because only god thought comforts. 3) ergo atheists (as the compassionless child eating bastards that we are) are not much good in crisis.
This photo has been making its way around the internet. It’s a photo of Army Sergeant Justin Griffith, American Atheists’ Military Director who said, “With my first act as Military Director I’d like to take the opportunity to arm my fellow foxhole atheists with a weapon against bigotry. That weapon is humor. The next time a condescending theist uses the no-atheists-in-foxhole ‘gotcha’ slogan, it just might be their last. I didn’t have to debunk the saying in some long-winded fashion. “There are no chaplains in foxholes.” It was instant, it was brutal, it was absolutely cathartic.”
According to Griffith, “there really are no Chaplains in foxholes (in the US military.) They are designated ‘non combatants’, are not assigned a weapon, and are not supposed to be on the front lines of a battlefield. If they somehow stumbled into a foxhole, it would cease being a fighting position. It would simply be a hole.” (you can read more HERE and some more HERE)
Who cares you might say?
Well on the one hand, we have seen the suppression of an American Chaplain, Kenneth Reyes, article, ‘No atheists in foxholes’: Chaplains gave all in World War II.” following the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, led by activist Mikey Weinstein, sending a letter to the base allegedly on behalf of 42 anonymous airmen who had complained about it. (you can read more about that HERE). The article was taken down, and there was some discussion about whether Reyes should receive further discipline regarding his article. The article was later restored, with no further action taken against Reyes (you can read about that HERE)
I’m a pretty hard-core atheist, and as such I see the problems inherent in Reyes article (see above) and: As an atheist, I don’t want to read about or hear about faith or heaven / hell/ divine intervention or the like, in my times of stress or danger. It’s not soothing to me, it’s not helpful – it’s aggravating and demeaning and insults my intelligence. Wishing for a god to “save me” is not much different than wanting my mother to be with me when I am sick. Neither of which are going to happen, and neither in my books is desirable.
At the same time, I don’t particularly have delicate sensibilities about what Christian chaplains say. I do have thoughts about censorship as in, anti-censorship. I hope some day in the not too distant future an adult writing or talking about god will have the same effect as an adult discussing santa claus. As a comment this is imperfect, as religion actually perpetuates harm whereas belief in Santa is pretty benign – mostly because we don’t really believe. I want to feel free to write about or discuss atheism where ever I go. Obviously it’s a damn risky proposition at work (yes, still) as a massive part of our “industry’ is still run by church based organizations (don’t even think of getting me started). Anyway … the censorship thing, the “discipline” Reyes thing for writing an article — does not sit well with me.
If the military are going to censor a Christian chaplain, one who they appointed, for writing about faith — the military has a real problem on it’s hand. Faith and religion walk hand in hand. If the military are going to impose a ban on religious discussion, is it not a bit hypocritical to hire Christian Chaplains in the first instance? As stated by retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, “A chaplain has been censored for expressing his beliefs about the role of faith in the lives of service members. Why do we have chaplains if they aren’t allowed to fulfill that purpose?
Oh deary me, we’ve got a conundrum on our hands.
You just know this is gonna kick off B-I-G debate from Christians (and other religious people) who will demand access to religious chaplains. And isn’t it interesting that the table turns here? Previously it has been other religious denominations, with a smattering of brave agnostic / atheists advocating for alternate religious, or non-religious support. Now its the religious folks who are having to advocate to access their religious supports.
Breitbart News legal columnist and a senior fellow for religious liberty at the Family Research Council, Ken Klukowski notes: “ because this growing wave of anti-Christian extremism has been exposed to the public, the U.S. House has inserted new religious liberty protections for military members in pending legislation.” Obama has reportedly threatened to veto it.”
Whoa man, anti-christian extremists (!? aka atheists?), don’t trip on that last step, cuz it’s a doozie!
But hey, with all this conundrumming, could the emotional support needs of military personal not be equally met by say Humanist “chaplains” … or for lack of a better term, counselors / therapists and their ilk? Silly me. No way man. Have a look at this article, Atheist Chaplain Undermines Nature of Chaplaincy Itself. “Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) has sponsored a new amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would bar atheists from joining the chaplain corps. In discussing the amendment, Rep. Fleming said that an atheist chaplain is an oxymoron. ”
O rly? As a clinical therapist and social worker, I disagree with Fleming. If we needed religion to comfort people, give them guidance and purpose, help them come to terms with trauma – then people like me would not be successful in the jobs that we are. I assure you there is no religious hocus pocus up my sleeves when I am working.
How far will my argument take us? Well maybe not too far when we have ignorant asshats like Stan Solomon and Gordon Klingenschmitt spreading their hate against the effort to add atheist chaplains to the military, Watch this video to see how we really have not come a long way baby at all, what with Solomon claiming atheist chaplains would help implement health care reform by encouraging wounded soldiers to kill themselves.
We’ve got a long walk ahead of us.
Personally I’m supportive of atheist chaplains. I’m even more supportive of trained professionals, therapists and clinical social workers, being present for military personnel. In my work with chaplains, very few of them have any clinical therapy education or training and/or skills and I think this is a real problem. Yes I know psychologists and clinical social workers are employed by the military, however, maybe we need to look at expanding their briefs. Less god, more evidence based professional practice.