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November 16, 2011 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Atheists in U.S. military seek official recognition. A small but growing movement complains of religious bias and seeks the same status as Christians, Jews and Muslims. 'Religion — specifically Christianity — is embedded in military culture. The Chaplain Corps traces its origins to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Until the 1970s, the service academies required cadets to attend chapel services. Nightly prayers still are broadcast throughout Navy ships at sea. Fewer than 10,000 of the 1.4 million active-duty members of the armed forces identify themselves as atheists or agnostics. Atheists say many more are hidden among the 285,000 who say they have no religious preference.'

'Whatever their number, nonbelievers describe themselves as a minority that is often isolated and sometimes closeted. Torpy, of the military atheists group, said he heard from service members looking for "affirmation" and "connection to a community of like-minded individuals."'

'Some in the loosely knit but apparently growing movement of military atheists see the recognition of lay leaders as a step toward the appointment of nonbelieving chaplains, who would be responsible — like the priests, ministers, rabbis and imams now in uniform — for responding to the spiritual needs of service members.

Reactions so far, they say, have ranged from perplexity to hostility. Military authorities have yet to approve an atheist lay leader.'
posted by VikingSword (107 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome. I can't wait to see rightwing heads explode over "atheists = satan in human form" vs "soldiers can do no wrong".
posted by DU at 10:53 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Onward Atheist Soldiers just doesn't have the same ring to it.
posted by spicynuts at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


To some extent, the perplexity is understandable: what sort of person would constitute an analogue of a priest, imam or rabbi to people who have no religious affiliation?

But I suspect that's not what's tripping them up.
posted by clockzero at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2011


what sort of person would constitute an analogue of a priest, imam or rabbi to people who have no religious affiliation?

I could do it. I'm an atheist, but also clergy, thanks to the Church of Universal Life.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:57 AM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


DU: "Awesome. I can't wait to see rightwing heads explode over "atheists = satan in human form" vs "soldiers can do no wrong"."

Don't forget that booing gay soldiers is expected behavior at a GOP debate. They're already dealing with the disconnect.

Not that being disconnected from reality isn't a prereq for the position.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:57 AM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


At least they can get the same treatment in the end.
posted by komara at 10:58 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps there are atheists in foxholes after all.
posted by ackptui at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


To some extent, the perplexity is understandable: what sort of person would constitute an analogue of a priest, imam or rabbi to people who have no religious affiliation?

They can come around my house once a week and I'll lie to them, if it helps.
posted by howfar at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm fond of this blogpost by a soldier about his struggle to get dog tags that say ATHEIST/FSM. Yes, that's FSM as in Flying Spaghetti Monster. His bootcamp story about the time his drill sergeant found his holy book is especially lovely.
posted by Kattullus at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


Oh God, I wonder what they do to Dude-ists?
posted by Slackermagee at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Disclaimer first, because I know it sounds like i'm about to pick holes in this to cast dispersion. And I'm so not, because this is absolutely something I support happening.

I'm a bit puzzled, though about the "spiritual advisor" role for someone who is....technically non-spiritual. The only thing I can think that this role would provide is emotional counselling -- but would a mental-health type of counselor not suffice?

Sincere question, truly trying to understand the difference between "counselor" and "atheist spiritual advisor."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on November 16, 2011


Instead of a priest, the atheist soldier gets a Designated Bro, who will always be there with a shoulder to cry on, and will always know that feel.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:08 AM on November 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


A few years back there was a book, "Touching the Void," which detailed Joe Simpson's survival following an alpine accident when he was left behind by his climbing partner. At one point in his narrative, Joe described being inside a cave with no apparent escape route and a broken leg. The situation would, for most, have been one to evoke prayer and/or some sort of "God" apparition or feeling. Joe reported feeling nothing whatsoever, which in context was at first jarring, then refreshing. With nothing to lean on, he drew from his own inner reserves and survived.

I am confident there are atheists in foxholes, but most won't admit it for fear of being vilified.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:08 AM on November 16, 2011 [25 favorites]


Aren't those 285,000 with "no preference" atheist, by definition?
posted by scelerat at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a bit puzzled, though about the "spiritual advisor" role for someone who is....technically non-spiritual. The only thing I can think that this role would provide is emotional counselling -- but would a mental-health type of counselor not suffice?

I would think that it would be nice for a non-religious soldier to have the availability of an advisor who will not push things in a religious direction and who will not carry the stigma (in one's record or otherwise) of having been treated by a mental health professional.

As a member of a minority religion that is often reviled by mainstream Christians, I can sympathize with the concerns that an atheist soldier may have about seeking advise or non-medical counseling from an advisor who is explicitly a representative of a religion that looks down on the soldier's belief system.
posted by The World Famous at 11:14 AM on November 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


Q: "Does God exist?"
Atheist: "No"
Agnostic: "I don't know"
Irreligious: "I don't care"
posted by LogicalDash at 11:15 AM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anyone who has ever sought mental health support, only to find the mental health practitioner visibly confused at the inapplicability of a prayer model should understand why atheists, humanists, and allied persons need parallel access.

While it is possible to understand the chaplain tradition as providing access to clergy to perform ceremonial religious duties, in practice confidential advice and counsel is a major purpose. Being able to receive that from someone who shares/respects the frame within which you make choices and understand your world is pretty darned important.
posted by Redag at 11:16 AM on November 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


Smart atheists have always been able to fake religious belief; it's a good survival enhancer.
posted by Renoroc at 11:18 AM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


The armed forces officially recognize Eckankar, fer chrissakes. You would think they could respect atheists, you know, being what maybe several thousand times as commonplace among the population?

I'm not dissing ECK at all, good friends are into it...just saying, why not some love for the Pastafarians?
posted by trackofalljades at 11:20 AM on November 16, 2011


I'm a bit puzzled, though about the "spiritual advisor" role for someone who is....technically non-spiritual.

Why do you think all atheists are non-spiritual?
posted by DU at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I had an assistant (web designer) who was a retired Army chaplain: the epitome of calm, 99% of the time, and 100% trustworthy. I may have been his boss, but he taught me tons about getting by in a large bureaucratic organization. He helped me stay sane in what were sometimes unsane situations, occasionally better than my therapist did.

I can see how an atheist in the military would want to be able to talk to a guy like that about one's personal concerns, without having to worry about being converted or anything, or it being a "medical" situation.
posted by epersonae at 11:26 AM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't that called a 'mentor'?
posted by spicynuts at 11:30 AM on November 16, 2011


komara linked it above, and I've always liked the symbol for Atheism that appears "for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers" (i.e., in military cemeteries). Some notes on the symbol.
posted by exogenous at 11:31 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to mention that chaplains often serve the entire group they're attached to, regardless of affiliation. If atheists and others who aren't Christian can learn to respect (or at least put up with) Christian chaplains, then it seems quite wise for Christians to learn to do the same... especially given the evangelical turn the military has taken in recent years. Being exposed to atheist role models could be very good for a lot of people in the service, and for the service itself.

On preview: as I've said before, the fact that atheists are not "spiritual" (as in: supernatural beliefs, belief in gods) doesn't mean they are not "spiritual" (as in: deep values, emotions, and thoughts). The fact that we lack a different word for the latter is unfortunate, but it doesn't change the fact that chaplains counsel soldiers with regards to both.
posted by vorfeed at 11:32 AM on November 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Isn't that called a 'mentor'?

No, that's something else.
posted by The World Famous at 11:33 AM on November 16, 2011


The World Famous and DU covered most of what I wanted to say about spirituality and why chaplains would be helpful.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:37 AM on November 16, 2011


I would think that it would be nice for a non-religious soldier to have the availability of an advisor who will not push things in a religious direction and who will not carry the stigma (in one's record or otherwise) of having been treated by a mental health professional. [emphasis mine]

Ah, good point. Thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:37 AM on November 16, 2011


Awesome. I can't wait to see rightwing heads explode over "atheists = satan in human form" vs "soldiers can do no wrong".

The US military may have a strong religious foundation and history, but no one's head will explode if atheists are granted official recognition in the US military.
posted by lstanley at 11:41 AM on November 16, 2011


There are some pretty big issues a soldier is likely to be faced with (morality of violence, duty vs. obedience vs. personal morals, the role of the military in the state and the state in the global community) that aren't really "see a shrink" issues but would make sense as "see a chaplain" issues. Maybe it'd be a good outlet for people who got philosophy degrees and actually want to talk about philosophy a lot.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:41 AM on November 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Onward Atheist Soldiers just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Tell that to Christopher Hitchens, who once said some bullshit about how the US Millitary (Specifically the 82nd airborne, for whatever reason) was the greatest force for atheism in the world. This was at a round table with some other atheists (including Dawkins, maybe Sam Harris) who just kind of sat there like -- wut? Which was kind of funny.

On the other hand some of the levels of Christianity you hear about in the military is kind of disturbing. A lot of guys really do think they are 'soldiers for Christ' or whatever. I remember hearing about one of the members of Seal Team six who had been killed in Afghanistan after OBL got hit. She described her husband that way.
I would think that it would be nice for a non-religious soldier to have the availability of an adviser who will not push things in a religious direction and who will not carry the stigma (in one's record or otherwise) of having been treated by a mental health professional.
Maybe the military should try to destigmatize people getting psychological counseling.
posted by delmoi at 11:42 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


...no one's head will explode if atheists are granted official recognition in the US military.
No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. - GHW Bush
Among many many many many many other examples.
posted by DU at 11:43 AM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]



Q: "Does God exist?"
Atheist: "No"
Agnostic: "I don't know"
Irreligious: "I don't care"


Lots of people would say that is incorrect, and it should be more like this:

Q: Do any gods exist?
Agnostic Atheist: I do not hold a belief that any do. I don't think anyone can know the answer to that question.
Agnostic theist: I believe so, but I don't think anyone can know the answer to that question.
Gnostic Atheist: I know no gods exist.
Gnostic Theist: I know at least one god exists.

(Also one might be a gnostic atheist with regards to some gods (e.g.: Thor, Poseidon, FSM) while at the same time an agnostic atheist with regards to a non-specific god, or a deistic god.)

One might quibble about how words are actually used by people in general (e.g. how theists toss around the word "atheist" or vice versa) vs. how people who actually call themselves atheists (or theists) use the word.
posted by smcameron at 11:45 AM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


This was never a problem for me? The guy in the linked post that says he was sent to a chaplain is worrisome, but it sounds like his local command at the time was dumb. Which is going to happen whether or not there are atheist chaplains.

And, frankly, the idea of an atheist chaplain seems ridiculous to me. I find chaplains fairly ridiculous anyway, but they serve a purpose for a lot of servicemembers, so that's fine I guess. But I don't see how there's going to be any way to credential such people. Frankly, a therapist is a secular chaplain, as far as I'm concerned. Said therapist is also probably better equipped to help with the sorts of issues likely to be brought up than most chaplains anyway, atheist or not.

But then I'm biased, the one NCO I knew who was working on becoming a chaplain was a philandering alcoholic.

I wasn't in the infantry or anything, but a lot of people in my unit went to therapy of different sorts. Medical records also weren't something command accessed or even had access to, I don't think. I mean I know this isn't universally true in the military, but I never felt like there was any sort of stigma attached with going to therapy.

There was stigma attached to you if people felt like you were using some sort of trumped up medical excuse to get out of PT or otherwise doing your job, but a lot of that was because you could definitely schedule most health stuff such that it didn't interfere with any of that.

In conclusion, being an atheist in the military really wasn't that big a deal for me, at least.
posted by kavasa at 11:50 AM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]



Agnostic Atheist: I do not hold a belief that any do. I don't think anyone can know the answer to that question.
Agnostic theist: I believe so, but I don't think anyone can know the answer to that question.
Gnostic Atheist: I know no gods exist.
Gnostic Theist: I know at least one god exists.


I think you've missed the majority of atheists: I do not hold a belief that any do, because I've never seen any compelling evidence. There may or may not be a methodology by which to determine the answer, just as with any other question.
posted by DU at 11:50 AM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nightly prayers still are broadcast throughout Navy ships at sea.

What ships in the Navy do this? All the time I was in the Navy aboard a submarine I never heard prayers over the communication system. Maybe submarines are different?
posted by ionized at 11:50 AM on November 16, 2011


So Atheist soldiers will get to go to a philosopher? I approve of this.

What about during boot camp? Currently you have a choice on Sundays. Go to church, or do grunt work.
posted by Malice at 11:52 AM on November 16, 2011


Why do you think all atheists are non-spiritual?

Exactly. Atheists still struggle with "big questions" about meaning and their place in the world. There's just no God in it.
posted by Hoopo at 11:55 AM on November 16, 2011


First time I was in army, they put on my dogtag: H. I thought it meant heretic but discovered it meant Hebrew.
posted by Postroad at 11:58 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


as I've said before, the fact that atheists are not "spiritual" (as in: supernatural beliefs, belief in gods) doesn't mean they are not "spiritual" (as in: deep values, emotions, and thoughts). The fact that we lack a different word for the latter is unfortunate, but it doesn't change the fact that chaplains counsel soldiers with regards to both.

I wonder if "philosohical" or "metaphysical" would work, perhaps, so as to avoid the "spiritual = religion" connotations. You're right, but I'll admit that the "spiritual = religious" is what threw me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on November 16, 2011


Lots of people would say that is incorrect, and it should be more like this:

Q: Do any gods exist?
Agnostic Atheist: I do not hold a belief that any do. I don't think anyone can know the answer to that question.
Agnostic theist: I believe so, but I don't think anyone can know the answer to that question.
Gnostic Atheist: I know no gods exist.
Gnostic Theist: I know at least one god exists.


While I don't disagree with the basic framework, you're going to run into confusion if you start trying to call people Gnostics; I wouldn't want anyone thinking I'm a fucking Bogomil just because I claim that I know God Exists.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:59 AM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Maybe the military should try to destigmatize people getting psychological counseling.

Yes. It should. There are lots of other things about the military that should change, as well.
posted by The World Famous at 12:01 PM on November 16, 2011


No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. - GHW Bush

Attributed by Robert I. Sherman, reporting in American Atheist about a public press conference Bush held at O'Hare Airport on 27 August 1987.[1] No other journalist confirmed that Bush made the remark.
posted by lstanley at 12:02 PM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


why don't they just kick all the atheists out? surely they all fail the spirituality fitness test.
posted by sineater at 12:08 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Atheists should be confident enough to ignore the prayers and other shit and allow it to bring some comfort to their brothers and sisters in arms. They also should not pretend that there is some clerical analogue which they deserve.

If you are an atheist, you don't have clergy, and you don't need it.
posted by General Tonic at 12:13 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I ran across this the other day. It seems relevant here: "There are no chaplains in foxholes"
posted by iurodivii at 12:14 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


ionized: " What ships in the Navy do this? All the time I was in the Navy aboard a submarine I never heard prayers over the communication system. Maybe submarines are different?"

I suspect this is referring to a channel on the the armed services closed circuit tv?
posted by zarq at 12:18 PM on November 16, 2011


Atheists should be confident enough to ignore the prayers and other shit and allow it to bring some comfort to their brothers and sisters in arms. They also should not pretend that there is some clerical analogue which they deserve.

But lack belief in the supernatural is not the only issue here. There is nothing in atheism that says an atheist must be amoral. Most atheists have a strong moral sense. Morality can be entirely divorced from religion. Kant, Locke, Hobbes, whatever your morality is based on, it's part of a social compact. There are many situations where moral questions come into play. An atheist can have all sorts of moral questions and concerns, and right now, has no one in the military to discuss them with (officially). A religious person, in contrast, does. Spirituality is not the only issue here. There is morality, and ethics and more.
posted by VikingSword at 12:24 PM on November 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


Nightly prayers still are broadcast throughout Navy ships at sea.

This one's simple: Issue a pair of really kick-ass noise-cancelling headphones and an iPod to anyone who self-identifies as agnostic.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:25 PM on November 16, 2011


If we called them, not "atheist chaplains", but rather "Secular Humanist" chaplains, would that make more sense to people? I believe that's closer to what they're called in other countries which have adopted the practice.

Of course, some atheists would not consider themselves to be Secular Humanists, but it's a good starting point IMO.
posted by muddgirl at 12:29 PM on November 16, 2011


I thought that the military already (somewhat) recognized atheists by virtue of the atom symbol used on the headstones at Arlington.

I'd love to see them get the same comprehensive treatment as people with religions, but at least there is some recognition that they exist.
posted by quin at 12:29 PM on November 16, 2011


Awesome. I can't wait to see rightwing heads explode over "atheists = satan in human form" vs "soldiers can do no wrong".
Right wingers have no problem throwing soldiers under the bus when those soldiers fail to conform to their expectations; this is nothing new. Witness John Kerry, a genuine war hero against whom they ran a multimillion dollar smear campaign specifically to call his medals fake and him a traitor and so forth. Or witness the booing of the guy at a recent Republican presidential debate who, in his question for the candidates, mentioned that he is both a veteran and gay. Or witness the frequency with which chickenhawks who did their best to avoid military service attack Markos Moulitsas, an actual veteran, as being anti-military and anti-American. Or witness a hundred other such things.

Their heads aren't going to explode. Cognitive dissonance is their way of life.
posted by Flunkie at 12:33 PM on November 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


Atheists should be confident enough to ignore the prayers and other shit and allow it to bring some comfort to their brothers and sisters in arms. They also should not pretend that there is some clerical analogue which they deserve.

If you are an atheist, you don't have clergy, and you don't need it.


Well then, I guess atheists are either supposed to be supermen or subhuman. I'm entitled to be just as weak as religious person, and deserve just as much support as they do.

What a lot of people miss is that there is social and emotional support that comes from being part of a religious organization that atheists (being human) would benefit from just as much as a religious person does.
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:33 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's not necessary to believe in things that are already real. And not believing in said things won't make them cease to be real. How much faith is really required to believe in something that's real? How far out on a limb do you need to go to profess your faith in, oh, let's say cauliflower?

Me, I don't believe in cauliflower because I don't have to. And my lack of belief in cauliflower doesn't remove it from my plate. Or yours.

The unshakeable faith some people have in God, to me, is a pretty clear indication of whether God is real or not.
posted by emelenjr at 12:33 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


An atheist can have all sorts of moral questions and concerns, and right now, has no one in the military to discuss them with (officially).

Count me in the perplexed category. How could the military fairly choose an official atheist cleric?

I mean, its easy for Catholics: you need a priest. For Jews: a rabbi. For protestants: a minister.

Atheism simply is not an organized system of belief, and has no authorities. Every atheist is his own authority on what is true and important about reality. That's kinda the point.
posted by General Tonic at 12:34 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you are an atheist, you don't have clergy, and you don't need it.

Chaplains serve an important and frequently necessary function of counseling to soldiers, especially soldiers who have been through combat stress. Being an atheist does not inoculate one to existential crisis or grief over the death of a comrade. Military psychiatrists are spread thin throughout the armed services and are frequently unavailable to combat zone troops; a report from 2008 estimated that about 1/3rd of deployed troops did not receive requested counseling. There is absolutely a clerical analogue that atheist troops deserve, and moreover it is one of real and pressing need.
posted by Errant at 12:34 PM on November 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


If atheists and others who aren't Christian can learn to respect (or at least put up with) Christian chaplains

i only remember 2 chaplains from my time, one was pretty obviously gay and the other was a manic depressive. you wanted to counsel him about suicidal ideation.

What about during boot camp? Currently you have a choice on Sundays. Go to church, or do grunt work.

again, from my time (air force), even though we were threatened with grunt work, after the first week we figured out the DIs didn't come in to check on us. who had just as many religious as irreligious who prefered sitting around the barracks doing nothing to going to church.
posted by camdan at 12:35 PM on November 16, 2011


the fact that atheists are not "spiritual" (as in: supernatural beliefs, belief in gods) doesn't mean they are not "spiritual" (as in: deep values, emotions, and thoughts). The fact that we lack a different word for the latter is unfortunate

The basic problem is that the "magic man done it" aspects of religion were never spiritual, they were just an explanation for physical phenomena given an absence of data. There is no connection between supernaturalism and spirituality other than a historically contingent one. It is not atheists should avoid the term "spirituality", but rather supernaturalists.
posted by howfar at 12:36 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The US military may have a strong religious foundation and history, but no one's head will explode if atheists are granted official recognition in the US military.

The US military is also more a-religious than the civilian population. 21% of military personnel identified as "atheist/no religion" in 2001, versus 14% of American civilians over 18. There's a long tradition of disbelief and/or apathy toward religion in the service. Over a thousand "No Religious Preference" servicemen were casualties in Vietnam -- more than the Jewish and Episcopal casualties combined.
posted by vorfeed at 12:38 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


...there is social and emotional support that comes from being part of a religious organization that atheists (being human) would benefit from...

Being an atheist does not inoculate one to existential crisis or grief over the death of a comrade.

Of course that is all true, which is why ALL members of the military should have easy, no-questions-asked access to psychiatric/psychological counselling.

Atheists should not whine about missing out on churchy things.
posted by General Tonic at 12:43 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Renoroc: "Smart atheists have always been able to fake religious belief; it's a good survival enhancer."

Just ask Giordano Burno.
posted by symbioid at 12:45 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


vorfeed: "The US military is also more a-religious than the civilian population. 21% of military personnel identified as "atheist/no religion" in 2001, versus 14% of American civilians over 18. There's a long tradition of disbelief and/or apathy toward religion in the service. Over a thousand "No Religious Preference" servicemen were casualties in Vietnam -- more than the Jewish and Episcopal casualties combined."

Pew reports that 14% as 16.1%, btw. Based on a survey of 35K Americans.

Errant: "There is absolutely a clerical analogue that atheist troops deserve, and moreover it is one of real and pressing need."

In the US, far more people identify as "no religious preference" than as atheist or agnostic. So we're again faced with the question of how to handle their needs appropriately as a whole. It seems to me that General Tonic's suggestion, that "ALL members of the military should have easy, no-questions-asked access to psychiatric/psychological counseling," makes the most sense.
posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The US military is also more a-religious than the civilian population. 21% of military personnel identified as "atheist/no religion" in 2001

That is surely just a reflection of the age and gender make-up of the military. Young men are the people most likely to lack a religious affiliation in the civilian population too.
posted by howfar at 12:52 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Atheists should not whine about missing out on churchy things.

This is about unequal treatment, not "missing out on churchy things". I don't see how an atheist chaplain would be churchy, for one thing -- rather the opposite.

As for what other atheists "should not" do... wait, I thought every atheist was his own authority. If so, then atheists are free to enjoy "churchy" things if they so please.
posted by vorfeed at 12:53 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


vorfeed: " This is about unequal treatment, not "missing out on churchy things". I don't see how an atheist chaplain would be churchy, for one thing -- rather the opposite."

Doesn't 'Chaplain' automatically denote clergy?
posted by zarq at 12:55 PM on November 16, 2011


By which I mean that an atheist 'chaplain' seems like a weird title.
posted by zarq at 12:56 PM on November 16, 2011


That is surely just a reflection of the age and gender make-up of the military. Young men are the people most likely to lack a religious affiliation in the civilian population too.

The PDF I linked to lists "atheist/no religion" as 21% for military personnel and 19% for "civilians ages 20-39", so there's still a noticeable difference.

I don't see why it matters, though -- "a reflection of the age and gender make-up of the military" or not, the point is that a fifth of American servicemen and women are not religious.
posted by vorfeed at 12:58 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


one thing that kills me about the af academy issue, if you feel you pressured to convert to help get promoted or whatever: one could just easily be religious and buy into as have absolutely no scruples and fake in your own self interest. so they're attracting true-believers, who were there anyway, the easily influenced, who go which way the wind blows regardless, and complete scoundrels. is that considered when this mindset takes hold? or do the religious not care, as long as there is an appearance of uniformity? by doing this you're not discouraging nonbelievers, just honest nonbelievers.
posted by camdan at 1:04 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doesn't 'Chaplain' automatically denote clergy?

Not in countries which have non-clergy chaplains, such as in the Netherlands and (hopefully) the US.

If you want to call them something equally soothing, then go right ahead. The fact remains that there is a need for secular "chaplains," and since chaplains already exist in the military heirarchy, it seems like that's what we should call them.

This strikes me as following similar arguments for gay marriage vs. civil unions, btw.
posted by muddgirl at 1:07 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


By which I mean that an atheist 'chaplain' seems like a weird title.

Meh. If atheists can be "ministers" among the Unitarian Universalists, surely they can be "chaplains" in the military. It's nothing I'd want to do, to say the least, but I don't see why it should be off-limits to those who are interested.
posted by vorfeed at 1:07 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Atheists should be confident enough to ignore the prayers and other shit and allow it to bring some comfort to their brothers and sisters in arms.

....But why should they have to?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:09 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


the fact that atheists are not "spiritual" (as in: supernatural beliefs, belief in gods) doesn't mean they are not "spiritual" (as in: deep values, emotions, and thoughts). [emph. mine]

Even further, only the latter of the two bolded features is incompatible with atheism. Atheism does not necessarily imply philosophical materialism, although, granted, most Western atheists seem to be materialists.

Or to put it another way: you can't believe in God and be an atheist, but you can believe in unicorns and still be an atheist.

(And by "unicorns" I mean the full-on magical type found in fantasy, not merely otherwise ordinary horses with horns.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:15 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


muddgirl: " Not in countries which have non-clergy chaplains, such as in the Netherlands and (hopefully) the US.

Ah. I didn't realize.

If you want to call them something equally soothing, then go right ahead. The fact remains that there is a need for secular "chaplains," and since chaplains already exist in the military heirarchy, it seems like that's what we should call them.

This strikes me as following similar arguments for gay marriage vs. civil unions, btw.
"

You did see where I said that I agreed with General Tonic that everyone should have undiscriminated access to mental health resources, yes? Because you're sounding pretty hostile here.
posted by zarq at 1:17 PM on November 16, 2011


vorfeed: "It's nothing I'd want to do, to say the least, but I don't see why it should be off-limits to those who are interested."

Agreed.
posted by zarq at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2011


Apologies for any seeming hostility - I'm honestly not feeling any. I'm more confused as to why this is even an issue - soldiers have asked for secular chaplains, other soldiers have volunteered to be secular chaplains or "lay leaders" (they fill some of the same roles without needing a certification) - and it seems like an easy enough request to fill. Again, whether or not we call them "chaplains" ultimately doesn't matter, save for the fact that there is a role in the military called "chaplain", and that is the role that they will fulfill.
posted by muddgirl at 1:35 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect this is referring to a channel on the the armed services closed circuit tv?

On ships with assigned chaplains (I can't quickly find how many ships have assigned chaplains, but I don't think submarines do) there are commonly evening prayers over the 1MC. For instance on the USS George Washington:
Evening prayer over the 1MC, as well as other prayers offered from medical to the brig, to flight deck control, punctuate life at sea for many who serve aboard George Washington.
posted by Jahaza at 1:36 PM on November 16, 2011


Huh. Interesting. During my time on a ship, daily prayer was not something I noticed. There was a prayer every day at lunch made by one of the chaplains at the Boat School. Most everyone bowed their heads, but some refrained. I don't know of anyone who looked askance at them.

We preferred the Jewish (short and punchy) and Protestant (rhyming and topical) to the Catholic (long and boring) prayers, though.

During my time in Plebe Summer, we had a block off in the morning on Sundays from breakfast until noon or so, during with we were free to attend services or not. Otherwise is was quiet time in your room, something people enjoyed.

Most people went, religious or not, becuase there were donuts, pizza, and people who weren't in your company to interact with. Attendance dropped off steadily from that point on.

I think secular 'chaplains' are a good idea, becuase they have some privileges regarding confidentiality and mandatory-reporter status that servicemembers can take advantage of.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:49 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am a contractor working for a military organization, and we have prayers to open all of our staff meetings. No one forces me to pray, but there is an implicit pressure and assumption that everyone believes the same thing. Although I consider myself an atheist, I would not have as much of an issue with it if prayers weren't closed with "In Jesus' name we pray," which to me is more egregious than a general non-denominational prayer. However, because of the atmosphere at my office, I honestly don't feel comfortable complaining, and just end up looking for other people who don't close their eyes and bow their heads. There's one other person who doesn't, but I'm not sure how she feels about the praying.
posted by odayoday at 1:57 PM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I'm a bit puzzled, though about the "spiritual advisor" role for someone who is....technically non-spiritual. The only thing I can think that this role would provide is emotional counselling -- but would a mental-health type of counselor not suffice?

Sincere question, truly trying to understand the difference between "counselor" and "atheist spiritual advisor."


I'm with you there. I think that "spirituality" might be better called "mortality" issues, maybe.

...Plus, as an atheist, the question of the "supernatural" is merely a quesition of the "natural yet unknown," but when you are literally an atheist in a fox-hole, ... I guess the key is that you can talk about it with someone who approaches mortality the same way that you do-- at least when concerns the factory-made versions of mortality offered by the main faiths and Atheism, the "other" category of general rejection of them.

For example, if I were looking for a therapist, I would screen them for atheism, serisously-- I would need to know that they aren't trying to scrutinize me with a sky-daddy looking over their shoulder like a solitaire-imposer. I wouldn't risk getting life-advice from someone who's death-advice is so perfectly upside-down to me.

That's perhaps in the same ballpark as what these folks (who are necessarily dealing with mortality so much more closely than I am on a daily basis), are asking for, I might think.
posted by herbplarfegan at 2:00 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was confused about the "atheist chaplain" concept, but VikingSword cleared it up for me above. Yeah, there is a significant difference between a therapist and a moral guide, so whatever that position is called, I would fully support it being available for non-religious/atheist soldiers. Or I guess anybody, really.

To the extent that Christianity is dominant in the armed forces (or American society as a whole), it's that much greater of a responsibility of those in command to make sure that people not in that dominant group be properly served.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 2:09 PM on November 16, 2011


A small but growing movement complains of religious bias and seeks the same status as Christians, Jews and Muslims.

I don't like that they're doing it this way, because it carries the distinctly-to-be-resisted suggestion that atheism is just another religion, which it patently isn't. I'd rather the idea was couched in terms that suggest that religious people should have the same status as atheists. As in not one single special privilege based on their opinions. I am very resistant to these (to me) bizarre moves by certain atheists to try to adopt some of the same terms and terminology as the religious. I've even heard people talk about people forming "atheist churches". Ugh. That way lies trouble in the form of gunshot wounds to the feet.

As for that whole atheist/ agnostic/ agnostic atheist/ gnostic atheist navel-gazing, man, I get tired enough of that on r/atheism. The deal is:

Q: Do you believe in god(s)?

A1: No - you're an atheist.
A2: Anything else at all - you're not.
posted by Decani at 2:15 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exactly. Atheists still struggle with "big questions" about meaning and their place in the world. There's just no God in it.

That's kind of a drag. It ought to be a ticket out of that sort of navel-gazing. With no gods, spirit worlds, afterlives, etc., it seems like the meaning of existence is moot. There isn't one, it all just "is." Oblivion -> some stuff that happened for no real reason -> oblivion.

Party on, Wayne.
posted by codswallop at 2:20 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


herbplarfegan, that's an interesting point and I hadn't thought of it that way.

I was thinking any truly professional and competent counselor should suffice for an "atheist in a foxhole." But the fact that these guys can face death and worse is important. I can see why just any old psychologist might not be suitable, if he believes in an afterlife and I do not.

I'm still not sure how the military could fairly choose a designated "atheist chaplain," but I can see why it might be spiritually desirable for some. Maybe I'd feel that way, too.

Thank God I'm not asked to put my life on the line, or kill others in defense of life and liberty.
posted by General Tonic at 2:23 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chaplains serve an important and frequently necessary function of counseling to soldiers, especially soldiers who have been through combat stress.

If this is the case, then shouldn't non-believers be able to go to a chaplain for non-spiritual issues?
posted by dfm500 at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2011


As for that whole atheist/ agnostic/ agnostic atheist/ gnostic atheist navel-gazing, man, I get tired enough of that on r/atheism

Too bad. I don't care for Dawkin's church any more than I care for the Pope's. Atheist doesn't describe what I am, or don't beleive.
posted by bonehead at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exactly. Atheists still struggle with "big questions" about meaning and their place in the world. There's just no God in it.

Atheist here, and I don't struggle with this. Just a data point. See, we are all not the same!
posted by futz at 2:25 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think religions invented "a weekly gathering of people in the community," they've just managed to hold on to it longer than any secular organization. People are free to call it anything they like, but "atheist church" certainly gets the message across clearer than "A weekly gathering where we socialize, perhaps hear a lecture or play some games or something."

I quite like the term "gathering" on it's own, but again it doesn't quite get across the purpose in the same way that "church" does.

Now you could debate whether atheists should want to have some kind of secular church, but again that seems odd to me - clearly there is a desire for it, so why argue should vs. shouldn't?
posted by muddgirl at 2:27 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't want the same status as religious people, I want the status of being an atheist.

This is hard for authority to comprehend. My own employer announced that they were celebrating a diversity of religions. I told them while I was happy with diversity and toleration I found 'celebrating' a notch too far. It excluded me. That's OK, they said, we'll celebrate your atheism too. But that completely misses the point. I have nothing to celebrate in that region; I have an absence. The only way to please me is to exclude religion from important areas; unfortunately that doesn't fit their naive 'we all think the same, and share the same values really' mentality. We don't.
posted by Segundus at 2:33 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I see a big difference between psychological therapists and ministers, and that is methodology. Getting therapy from people with different religious views hasn't ever been a problem for me, because that's not their job. Their job is to help you explore your psychological history and environment to help you figure out how to make healthier choices. Religion just never comes up except for the infrequent suggestion that finding a community of like-minded people might be better.

Good ministers work in a very different way in my experience. They listen. They tell stories. They'll point out different ideas about interpretation. They'll profess their own beliefs. They also work to create meaningful ceremonies and celebrations that serve as markers of community.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:37 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


codswallop: That's kind of a drag. It ought to be a ticket out of that sort of navel-gazing. With no gods, spirit worlds, afterlives, etc., it seems like the meaning of existence is moot. There isn't one, it all just "is." Oblivion -> some stuff that happened for no real reason -> oblivion.

Except of course it isn't actually trivial to realize that, i.e. to truly understand it in a non-abstract sense. And until one "gets it" life continues to be a complicated and confusing mess. Hence even atheists like myself choose paths of "spiritual" exploration in order to find said realizations such as Zen Buddhism etc.
The tricky bit isn't believing in something... it's getting rid of those beliefs.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:53 PM on November 16, 2011


I don't want the same status as religious people, I want the status of being an atheist.


The thing is, there's just as much variety in atheists as there are in other groups. Some DO truly want to be part of a community that shares their beliefs, and quite frankly if we're going to honor that type of club for one belief system, we should do it for all. Thus, if other churches get chaplains, an atheist religious organization should as well. Plus I happen to think it does people good to be reminded that not everyone they run across believes the same thing as they do.

As someone who came from a church with a very strong sense of community, I do occasionally feel like I'm missing something.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:55 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Right wingers have no problem throwing soldiers under the bus when those soldiers fail to conform to their expectations; this is nothing new. Witness John Kerry, a genuine war hero against whom they ran a multimillion dollar smear campaign specifically to call his medals fake and him a traitor and so forth.

Oe even more egregiously, Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, and was highly decorated for combat actions days prior to that grenade accident:

Denigrating Mr. Cleland became fashionable in Republican circles in the fall of 2002, when his opponents ran television commercials that flashed his face on the screen with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. That ad offended The Gainesville Times , a daily newspaper in northeast Georgia, which called it misleading, offensive and “an irresponsible and repugnant attack on Cleland’s character and sense of patriotism.”

But that repugnant ad helped Saxby Chambliss-a pompous hack who had obtained several draft deferments-win the Senate race against Mr. Cleland. According to the Coulter definition, that made the ad “patriotic.”

------


Even further, only the latter of the two bolded features is incompatible with atheism. Atheism does not necessarily imply philosophical materialism, although, granted, most Western atheists seem to be materialists.

Or to put it another way: you can't believe in God and be an atheist, but you can believe in unicorns and still be an atheist.


Yes, atheism is just one circle in a philosophical materialist Venn diagram. Someone may be an atheist because he or she has suffered discrimination at the hands of religion, but not be much of a critical thinker, like the gay guy I know who subscribed to all sorts of wild 9-11 Truther conspiracy theories. (He has since backed down a bit through conversations with various skeptics in a skeptic meetup group I attend occasionally. I initially tried to get him to reconsider by showing him this George Monbiot column on the subject, but, at least at first, he just got more defensive.) It's one reason I don't primarily identify as an atheist - not just because it's defining oneself by a negative, but also because it's just an inadequate delineator.

I had the misfortune of being briefly involved with a woman who proudly proclaimed herself an atheist (thus seeming to be potentially compatible with me), but who turned to be big into astrology (and also a rather doctrinaire Maoist(!), complete with "gotta break eggs for an omelet"-type excuses of the damage Maoism and similar forms of Marxism have done.) Cognitive dissonance comes in many flavours.

That said, despite the many kinds of atheist there can be, an atheist soldier should have someone to turn to. First and foremost among the reasons for that is the wrong but prevalent idea that morality necessarily has anything to do with religion. (That incorrect notion is of course one of the main sources of resistance to recognizing atheists' rights.)
posted by Philofacts at 2:55 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


If your kid doesn’t believe in God, he will kill you
posted by homunculus at 2:56 PM on November 16, 2011


Chaplains serve an important and frequently necessary function of counseling to soldiers, especially soldiers who have been through combat stress.

If this is the case, then shouldn't non-believers be able to go to a chaplain for non-spiritual issues?


I'm pretty sure they're able to, and I suspect that some of them do. However, as herbplarfegan points out, some chaplains may still couch those issues in an undesirable spiritual context or present religiously-themed solutions to secular problems. This is a bit of a crapshoot for atheist soldiers in a way that it isn't for, say, Methodist soldiers consulting a Lutheran chaplain. There's more commonality of base assumptions. Put another way, there's no reason why a Hindu soldier couldn't receive counseling from a Christian or Muslim chaplain, but there would be a series of incompatible beliefs to either work around or else limit the effectiveness of some kinds of help. The point is well taken that if your job is to face the prospect of death with some regularity, the views of your counselor on death and the afterlife become a little more relevant even as background shading.
posted by Errant at 3:19 PM on November 16, 2011


zarq: By which I mean that an atheist 'chaplain' seems like a weird title.

"Psychiatrist/counselor."
posted by Decimask at 4:10 PM on November 16, 2011


By that logic, if a Christian goes to his pastor and says, "I'm cheating on my wife", he should apparently expect the same response as if he had consulted his therapist.

That rings very false to me.
posted by muddgirl at 5:13 PM on November 16, 2011


zarq: By which I mean that an atheist 'chaplain' seems like a weird title.

"Psychiatrist/counselor."


Earlier someone made the very good point that some people may not want the fact that they went to "a psychiatrist" in their record. You don't necessarily need to make it part of your medical record if you go to a priest, but a psychiatrist is more of An Issue.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:26 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds good, recognition I mean. I was "no religious preference" when I was in the Army. This was some time ago, and I didn't even consider broaching the issue about my ID tags stating I was an atheist, even though I was, and still am, and always will be. It worked out in the end, because on Sunday during basic it was time away to attend the religious service, I just sat there and thought. And plus they always had kool-aid and cookies, something we never got during basic. The other option was stay back at the company area and clean our bays (barracks). That sucked. So God Squad it was. It's not like it changed who I was or what I believed.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:53 PM on November 16, 2011


There's been a movement recently to institute secular chaplains at colleges, led by Harvard. I'm a student leader of a student secular group, and one of our goals is to provide the kind of support for atheist/non believer/humanist/etc students that Christian students get from the Christian group and so forth. We call ourselves a community, because that's what we try to be. We've had some great discussions over the years about what happens when you die and how to deal with that, having different beliefs about religion than your parents, and other things particular to atheism/secularism and not. I do feel the lack of an adult figure to help guide us, which other groups have in the form of a Christian or Catholic or Jewish or Muslim chaplain.

This is only tangentially related to the military, but colleges are another kind of institution that has chaplains, and humanist/secular chaplains do exist and are usefully different from counselors and so forth.
posted by MadamM at 7:11 PM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think anyone interested in the question of what role a community and moral guidance could or should have in atheist lives would do well to watch (parts 2 and 3) or read Marc Bernstein's platform speech opposing the notion that the Ethical Culture movement should seek closer ties with the rest of Humanist movement.
Now, it has always struck me that the broader Humanist movement has little interest in the private sphere. Humanists certainly talk about ethics. They argue that ethics derives not from supernatural sources, but from the cooperative efforts of human beings over millennia. They see such naturalistic ethics as a hallmark of their philosophy. But this is ethics in the abstract, not in the concrete. Think of the difference between understanding and explaining the phenomenon of love, and actually loving someone. They are very different. Believing in naturalistic ethics is not the same as a commitment to behaving ethically.
I would like hear other Humanists' views on whether this is a fair assessment (he does cite some evidence later on), but in light of the confusion that seems to exist about what role an atheist community should have in the morals of its members' private lives I think it's interesting that there is a movement that has made it a point of its own existence to deal with this explicitly.

Even though they have no branches here in Finland I'm a bit surprised that until very recently I had not heard of this.

Regarding the terms 'religion' and 'faith' in the context of Ethical Culture, from everything I've read they refer exclusively to the community and its mission and not to 'belief without evidence' and from my point of view are essentially misnomers, and words which apparently many members themselves won't use. To other's who've primarily associated religion with the community aspect, the term can be important, I suppose.
posted by Anything at 2:05 AM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nice link Anything. Thank you.

Something I've found a bit annoying is that lately it seems vogue to argue that atheism involves a lack of ethics, morality, values, meaning or hope, ignoring what atheists have actually said about those ideas over the last few thousand years.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:16 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I should note that the beginning of the speech itself comes only after a couple of minutes.
posted by Anything at 9:44 AM on November 17, 2011


Now, it has always struck me that the broader Humanist movement has little interest in the private sphere. Humanists certainly talk about ethics. They argue that ethics derives not from supernatural sources, but from the cooperative efforts of human beings over millennia. They see such naturalistic ethics as a hallmark of their philosophy. But this is ethics in the abstract, not in the concrete. Think of the difference between understanding and explaining the phenomenon of love, and actually loving someone. They are very different. Believing in naturalistic ethics is not the same as a commitment to behaving ethically.

The idea that a belief in naturalistic ethics isn't "a commitment to behaving ethically" is quite accurate -- they are in fact two different things -- but the idea that people who believe in naturalistic ethics don't have such a commitment is ridiculous. They may not all have a commitment to the same ethics, but it should be obvious that people without an ethical commitment cannot function in society for long, full stop. I get tired of seeing people conflate ethical commitments they don't agree with with a lack thereof.

"Why doesn’t their concern for ethics, so persuasively claimed to have naturalistic roots, apply to private matters?" Give me a break. How could any concern for ethics, no matter how shallow, possibly fail to apply to private matters? Crap like this (not two paragraphs after comments about how mean and awful anti-religious bumper stickers are because they don't show a "respectful attitude toward others"!) is precisely why I have no interest in any group which claims that their own code of ethical behavior is universal -- they have done nothing but substitute "High Conduct" for God, castigating everyone who won't do the same as "empty".

I'm not much for humanism, either, but at least they don't claim to be the holders of a specific, objective, universal honor code (which is the obvious reason why they don't fill their magazine with lectures about how other people should live their private lives).
posted by vorfeed at 11:34 AM on November 17, 2011


I feel the same way about the Harris-style science-of-morality types, also: it seems utterly obvious to me that there's an exception for every one of their supposedly universal rules, especially as one goes further back in history. It's interesting to study these things, but it's important to do so without drawing easy conclusions -- an investigation into "natural" ethics which just happens to end in something which looks a lot like one's own ethical system strikes me as a just-so story of the highest order.
posted by vorfeed at 11:43 AM on November 17, 2011


Vorfeed, I don't see the speech as arguing that naturalistic ethics are supposed to be an inadequate basis for how to live one's private life, but instead that the Humanist community -- as a community -- is insufficiently concerned in the matter. Here's how the above quote continues:
Suspecting that ethics in the private sphere is not one of Humanism’s key concerns, I wanted to see whether my hunch was correct. I chose a period, 1990 to 1999, and reviewed every issue of the Humanist, the magazine of the American Humanist Association. During this period, the magazine had more than one editor, so any findings would not be the result of a single editor’s idiosyncrasies, but would more likely be a result of the AHA’s moral and intellectual predilections.

I found almost no articles about ethics in the private realm. There were articles about freedom of choice, animal rights, euthanasia, environmentalism, issues not without implications for individuals; yet they were presented always as social issues about which one needs to take a stand, rather that issues that speak to our private lives. There were a few minor exceptions, of course. By and large, however, one can read this magazine and wonder whether its readers have a personal life. Don’t humanists have children they worry about? parents that they must care for? Why doesn’t their concern for ethics, so persuasively claimed to have naturalistic roots, apply to private matters? In one of the very last issues of the magazine that I looked at, I did find an article that struck me as close to the heart of Ethical Culture. It was a discursive essay entitled “Compassion as a Means to Freedom.” There were plenty of articles that claimed that we should see the compassionate side of a given issue, but only this article on the importance of compassion itself. Why?
Once again, I'd like to hear about whether that's a fair assessment.
posted by Anything at 2:59 PM on November 17, 2011


I don't see the speech as arguing that naturalistic ethics are supposed to be an inadequate basis for how to live one's private life, but instead that the Humanist community -- as a community -- is insufficiently concerned in the matter.

I would ask: how and why is the Humanist approach to private ethics "insufficient", and according to what metric? Why is Individual Conscience necessarily more important than Social Concern? Why are "goodness and virtue" necessarily more important than "rationality"? Why is an ethically inclusive approach necessarily empty compared to one which teaches a specific path to "goodness"?

I see no answer here, nor even the start of one -- it seems to me that Ethical Culture has simply taken the primary importance of their brand of virtue on faith. Which is fine, but you can't expect everyone else in the world to have the same primary values (that's why I brought up universal honor codes above). I don't think it's at all fair to say that "ethics in the private sphere is not one of Humanism’s key concerns", either.

Quite the opposite: the idea that the private application of Humanist beliefs is up to the individual is absolutely key to Humanism ("for secular humanists ethical conduct is, or should be, judged by critical reason, and their goal is to develop autonomous and responsible individuals, capable of making their own choices in life [...] We are opposed to absolutist morality, yet we maintain that objective standards emerge, and ethical values and principles may be discovered, in the course of ethical deliberation. [...] It should be noted that secular humanism is not so much a specific morality as it is a method for the explanation and discovery of rational moral principles.")

Humanism may have a different take on ethics in the private sphere -- rational rather than absolute, generative rather than specific, and inclusive rather than exclusive -- but that doesn't mean it's unconcerned with private ethics. One might as well accuse EC of being unconcerned with rationality... the two groups are simply starting from incompatible axioms.
posted by vorfeed at 9:39 PM on November 17, 2011


'Insufficient' with respect to the decision of whether the Ethical movement should seek closer ties with the broader Humanist movement.
posted by Anything at 2:11 AM on November 18, 2011


This author clearly thinks so. I would disagree. It's not a problem of sufficiency or degree of commitment, but of a different approach to personal ethics.

That said, I don't think the two groups are all that compatible.
posted by vorfeed at 9:27 AM on November 18, 2011


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