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Atlanta Airport Chaplain
September 9, 2009 6:00 PM   Subscribe

"I said, 'This is a dilemma, because if that was your 81-year-old grandmother sitting out there, you would be fit to be tied,' " Cook says. "And I said, 'I'm sure the news channels would love this story if I gave them a phone call.' " Being a chaplain at the Atlanta airport.
posted by wittgenstein (64 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Goddamnit, I am moved despite myself.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:09 PM on September 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Not the first or last to feel this way, but I love/hate it when I see something here that I considered posting but someone beats me to it.

I think the whole idea of a chaplain in this sort of place is so interesting, and though I'm conflicted (at best) about organized religion, what this guy does seems so valuable that I wish so many more of him existed. I spent a lot of my bus/train ride home (after hearing this story on the radio) wondering how to create and encourage similar "professional good Samaritans" outside of the framework of church-iness. Probably not going to happen so I'll just be glad to smile at it when I see it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:09 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:16 PM on September 9, 2009


I listened to it when it was broadcast and had the same reaction, MCMikeNamara. It occurs to me that the services provided - comfort, consoling, logistical support, etc. - don't necessarily need in most cases to be from a chaplain. And having them coming from a chaplain is as least tacit propaganda (regardless of whether it's intended) for religious belief.

I was specifically thinking that an Ombudsman's Office (or something similar) could provide many of the same services. I do support having a chaplain on site, though, since many folks do want spiritual comforting, and an interfaith chapel where folks can go meditate and worship if they so chose. But having the chaplain, himself, being the one to disburse funds and generally work the system on behalf of the folks in need places religious belief at the center of what should be essentially social services.

Omsbudspersons could similarly go patrolling around the airport looking for stressed travelers and help them out. The chaplain could refer folks with logistic and financial needs to the Omsbudspersons' Office. It would work relatively seamlessly, without giving the chaplain the leverage of being the one to hand out the money/services.
posted by darkstar at 6:17 PM on September 9, 2009


MCMikeNamara, as an atheist, I've always thought we should have an Order of some kind. Going around doing good deeds "for the sake of the widow's son," kind of thing. As it is I just freelance, but I never manage anything as good as what this guy does every day.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:20 PM on September 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


MCMikeNamara: "how to create and encourage similar "professional good Samaritans""

If I understand correctly this man is an employee of the airport. If so, the only change needed is a change of job description and hiring practice. Well actually it is probably not that simple, I imagine there are Christians on the board of directors who would not blink at budgeting for a Chaplain but would not be so approving of a an ombudsman with the same salary, budget, job description, and privileges.
posted by idiopath at 6:21 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chester Cook knows he can always find a lost soul at the re-ticketing counter in Terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. So he goes there each day, plants himself near the line and scans faces.

"I'm normally looking for someone who's having a meltdown," Cook says.


CULT
posted by Sys Rq at 6:21 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, I was recently in the hospital and had a visit from a chaplain. She asked if I wanted to pray with her and I declined. She then offered to pray for me and it seemed rude to decline. In my condition (on painkillers, etc.), even though it was fairly innocuous, I still felt in a vague way that it was kind of taking advantage of me in a weakened state to influence me to participate, however passively, in her religious ritual. Of course, I'm familiar with this tack from my own experience and was a little more irritated by it afterwards.

I would have far preferred to have had a counselor/ombudsman to come by the bed to offer to sit and chat for a while, so there wasn't the undercurrent of religious tone to the dialogue. But the social worker that did come by was mainly interested only in whether I was able to pay the bill.
posted by darkstar at 6:22 PM on September 9, 2009


Traveler's Aid does things that are really similar to this in larger airports. I'd encourage people who find this idea interesting but aren't religious to check it out. The airport chapels are some of the quietest places you can go in an airport; as a frequent traveller I spend a lot of time in them. Thanks for the post wittgenstein.
posted by jessamyn at 6:25 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


as an atheist, I've always thought we should have an Order of some kind. Going around doing good deeds "for the sake of the widow's son," kind of thing.

Let us not speak loudly of this.
posted by Avenger at 6:29 PM on September 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Jessamyn liked my post! I win!
posted by wittgenstein at 6:36 PM on September 9, 2009


As a local resident and frequent traveler using the Atlanta Airport, i too was moved by this story. So much so, that i decided to donate. Religious or not, in times like these this kind of "Boots on the ground" or grass roots help is exactly what the world needs more of. Below is the link if you are interested:

http://www.airportchapel.org/index.html

There is also more: stories, pictures, and a newsletter on the site.
posted by Wezzlee at 6:41 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I see from Wezzlee's link that this is not funded by the airport, but rather by a local religious charity. This means that their donations are most likely provided by individuals who would be less likely to contribute to a secular organization. Religious organizations have a pretty good hold on the niche of providing charitable services, they have a more reliable funding source that is exposed to their message and their requests for help more frequently than any secular non-government solution I can think of.

Having spent some time in the past technically homeless and subsisting to a large degree on benevolent organizations which fill in where the social safety net does not, it is striking how religious a face poverty has in this country. Many people make the daily tradeoff of praying or pretending to pray, and listening to a sermon they have no interest in, in order to spend some time in a warm indoor environment and get a hot meal.
posted by idiopath at 6:52 PM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Why are people so uncomfortable with the fact that he's a minister?

With so many vicious freaks running around under the sign of the cross, we should be encouraging a Christian who actually feeds the hungry, comforts the afflicted, and doesn't push people down in a rush to throw the first stone. (Actually we should be encouraging anyone like this, but you know what I mean.) It's not like he's referring people to Ted Haggard or Pat Robertson.

And although an ombudsman could get people emergency money and expedited flights, he wouldn't be able to provide the emotional help a clergyman could. Sure, a psychologist, rabbi, imam or Hindu priest could provide the same kind of help (and he may have some of them on his part-time staff or in his rolodex), but I think in the Atlanta airport, a minister might be the easiest to hire, and the easiest for people to relate to.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:04 PM on September 9, 2009 [23 favorites]


I hate to utter such glib cliches, but I literally had a "driveway moment" tonight re: this very story. I, too, was moved despite atheistic tendencies. He seems like a genuinely kind fellow doing good in the midst of one the biggest human agglomerations in America.
posted by littlerobothead at 7:07 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


See...guys like this...I wish when you heard the word "Christian", this was the first thing that came to mind. This to me, embodies all that Christianity should strive to be.
posted by dejah420 at 7:09 PM on September 9, 2009 [19 favorites]


Christian minister takes job seriously, gets feel-good profile. Meanwhile...
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:11 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, I laud the work the Chaplain is doing. I just wish it weren't necessary to hire a representative leader of a religious group to provide the financial and logistical support.

idiopath, we had an expression for the nonChristian folks who went along with the religiosity of missionaries involved in community development in order to gain the benefits of their ministry (clean water, food, social mobility, whatever): Rice Christians. The ministry is there for all, ostensibly, but there's no getting around the fact that those who were more amenable to the religious message (or at least plausibly feigned so) would more likely get on the better graces of those dispensing the largess and thus benefit more materially. In some ministries, it's rather more pronounced, of course.

Despite all of the above, I was very glad to hear that someone sincere is providing these compassionate services to travelers. I've been in dire straits in my travels and under those circumstances even the least little help or charity shown by someone else is truly a boon.
posted by darkstar at 7:24 PM on September 9, 2009


As a person of faith: I think many of you disregard the DUTY we feel to pray for you. I understand if you don't want to pray WITH me, but I feel compelled by my belief and faith to pray FOR you. It's not 'taking advantage of' you.
posted by GilloD at 7:29 PM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


See...guys like this...I wish when you heard the word "Christian", this was the first thing that came to mind.
Or this. Or many other examples.
posted by shothotbot at 7:30 PM on September 9, 2009


That is a nice story.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:32 PM on September 9, 2009


As a person of faith: I think many of you disregard the DUTY we feel to pray for you. I understand if you don't want to pray WITH me, but I feel compelled by my belief and faith to pray FOR you. It's not 'taking advantage of' you.

As a former person of faith, I don't disregard this at all. In fact, I'm intimately aware of the compulsion/duty to pray for others. I respect that. What is an imposition, however, is asking me to give it my seal of approval to do it in my hospital room while I'm trying to convalesce. And asking me to give it my seal of approval when I'm under the influence of painkillers and pain and therefore am not really able to defend my own rights to not have a chaplain hovering over my bed and intoning prayers.

The key is this: your duty to pray for me does not require you to ask my permission. Nor does your duty require you to be by my bed when you do it. So why do chaplains (and others) ask for permission? Missiologically, the reason we did this was that by asking, we engage in a direct attempt to get someone to approve of the prayer - and thus approve of the religious belief in which the prayer is offered - by by their explicit assent. Doing so when someone is on painkillers and barely conscious is most definitely taking advantage of someone in a diminished state.

Please feel free to pray about whatever you feel you need to based on your faith, but don't try to rope me into it as a passive participant and don't do it in my hospital room when I'm in diminished capacity and unable to resist the subtle attempt at co-opting me into the religious ritual, you know?
posted by darkstar at 7:43 PM on September 9, 2009 [16 favorites]


I myself am interested in the person mentioned in the story, Dale Campbell. How on earth do you end up in a hotel room in the Virgin Islands with all your earthly possessions, have them all stolen, get shot, but still have a return ticket (?) to ATL? There's a story there.
posted by clerestory at 7:45 PM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


"As a person of faith: I think many of you disregard the DUTY we feel to pray for you. I understand if you don't want to pray WITH me, but I feel compelled by my belief and faith to pray FOR you. It's not 'taking advantage of' you."

Go ahead and pray for me all you want.


At home, in your closet, where you're supposed to.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:45 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have also been on the receiving end of a praying hospital chaplain. I just said "no, thank you." and that was pretty much it. From my personal areligious perspective, it's rude to ask.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few years back, I was on vacation in Cusco, Peru. I was depressed, more than I had been in years, and I was having a particularly bad day when I visited some church or another built around ancient Inca ruins. It was open to tourists, but it still had a working catholic monastery(?) of some sort in the back. I wasn't finding much joy in anything that day, so I found a bench and sat down.

I must have looked pretty bad, because a man stopped and asked, in an Irish accent, if I was feeling alright. Did I have altitude sickness? The nurse's station is right there if you need some water or other help. No, I said, and I told him, because he seemed like a good person, that I just wasn't having the best week. I might have used the word "depressed." He immediately said that he was Father Suchandsuch, and would I like to go into the back, sit down with some tea, and talk about it?

I was touched. And I don't say that very often. Here was one stranger, offering another some comfort, tea, and an ear. Nothing major, but he was deliberately choosing to take some time out of his day to give me that comfort if he could. There was no mention or implication of religion beyond his title, and I would have reacted negatively if there had been.

I never have been good at accepting kindness, and I felt I would be wasting his time, so I declined. But I thanked him sincerely. Just his offer, holding out his hand, had made a difference for me.

The position of priest, minister, chaplain, or what have you provides two major benefits. First, those positions are trusted, by default, by many people. They get around the walls of suspicion we bring up when faced with other strangers. Second, by virtue of their positions and the expectations thereof, they have both an excuse and an impetus to hold their hand out to others. I feel for others when I see them in distress, but I often don't feel I'm in a position to approach them and provide even the comfort of showing I care. I'd like to, though.
posted by whatnotever at 8:05 PM on September 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


When I prayed for my friend in the hospital, they made us leave - candle wax and chicken blood was all over the place, and I think they were very, very unhappy with me.

Naw, seriously, if he can do this without proseletyzing, that's cool. I'll put up with well intentioned prayers from someone who helps out. I know some folks don't like it. Like mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey said, pray someplace else. God will hear just as well.
posted by Xoebe at 8:09 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have also been on the receiving end of a praying hospital chaplain. I just said "no, thank you." and that was pretty much it. From my personal areligious perspective, it's rude to ask.

jessamyn: How is it rude? Is there a "not" missing in your last sentence?
posted by hala mass at 8:17 PM on September 9, 2009


The scenario was like the one described by darkstar above

"Do you want to pray with me?"
"No, I'm not religious"
[this was one of those show up at the hospital in dodgy condition and they just send the nearest religious official just so you'll have someone.]
"Do you mind if I pray for you?"
"As long as you don't do it here."

I guess my feeling is, once you know that someone isn't religious asking to pray near them is, to me, sort of like asking if you can cry or masturbate in front of them. It's usually something done privately or between people from similar backgrounds or beliefs. If someone wants to pray for me, for their own reasons, that's their deal. If they want to sit near me [and I'm stuck in a hospital bed, remember. I can't go anywhere else, and I'm doped up on pain medication and very very unhappy] and pray I find that a little invasive. The god that people seem to believe in can hear prayers under any and all circumstances, I am led to understand. So, there's no functional reason prayers need to be said in my vicinity by a well-meaning stranger.

That said, this isn't really germane to how I feel about the airport chaplain. To be honest I think this is all in keeping with how Bush Sr. really wanted the "thousand points of light" thing to work out, so that religious [and other well meaning] institutions would pitch in for social service activities like this one so the government could stay small and worry about Big Picture stuff. At the end of the day though it's easier to fund and maintain religious programs that help people in need than it is, usually, to fund non-religious ones.
posted by jessamyn at 8:26 PM on September 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


Totally agreed, jessamyn. (And not just because you're one of the mods, honest!)
posted by darkstar at 8:31 PM on September 9, 2009


I am vaguely recalling a plan that one of the Churches of Satan had to get funding through W's Faith Based Initiatives program. I am finding little documentation about this actually happening, so I am guessing it was just a publicity stunt. My google-fu is weak on this, but I am finding articles saying that Obama is expanding the funding for Faith Based Initiatives.
posted by idiopath at 8:39 PM on September 9, 2009


The position of priest, minister, chaplain, or what have you provides two major benefits. First, those positions are trusted, by default, by many people. They get around the walls of suspicion we bring up when faced with other strangers. Second, by virtue of their positions and the expectations thereof, they have both an excuse and an impetus to hold their hand out to others.

Yeah, that can be pretty cool sometimes. Today started for me when I rounded up some funds to help an elderly woman go pick-up her prescription glasses. There's probably some helping organization in town that could have done that eventually, but it seemed like a small need that had fallen through the cracks and it wasn't hard to get the money to her and get her seeing clearly again by lunchtime.

Then I got a call from someone out-of-state who found our church online because it was near a friend of hers who is going through a horrible depression and doesn't have any connections in our town yet. She asked if I could call her friend and see about dropping by and making sure she's okay. In that case, I don't know who she could have contacted other than a church/synagogue/mosque. Maybe there's someone else whose job sometimes involves calling a stranger to see if you can drop off a meal or arrange counseling services, but I don't know who. I certainly don't know who would do it for free, and within minutes of your first contact.

There's a lot of not-fun stuff about ministry, but today was worthwhile.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:53 PM on September 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


By the way, I seriously want an airport chaplain job now. Bet those don't come open very often, though.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:54 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't give a damn he's a minister. Sure, I could likely do without the 'god' bit - but he's not a missionary, not bible-thumping, here's a human being doing well by other human beings (something we all could stand more of.) A little more damn compassion in the world.
posted by filmgeek at 9:28 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


...once you know that someone isn't religious asking to pray near them is, to me, sort of like asking if you can cry or masturbate in front of them.

Sort of like asking if you can masturbate in front of them?

I'm as not-religious as it gets, but that's disturbing and offensive.
posted by ambient2 at 9:49 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Chaplain profiled here is appointed by both the Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy and the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:18 PM on September 9, 2009


See also.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:19 PM on September 9, 2009


Yeah, I'm as anti-religion as they come and... what? What are you talking about? Something's in my eye, that's all!
posted by brundlefly at 12:03 AM on September 10, 2009


Sort of like asking if you can masturbate in front of them?

I'm as not-religious as it gets, but that's disturbing and offensive.



What's offensive about masturbation? It's wholesome, healthy and fun! Most folks do it. Feel free to do it as you like. But it's generally considered bad form to ask someone if you can do it in their presence while fantasizing about you when they've already told you they're not interested in you that way. Then it becomes a little skeevy and rude.

In other words, it's an analogy. One generally shouldn't get hung up on the specifics of why an analogy is flawed, but on what makes the analogy work. It's not like anyone's mentioned Hitler or anything.

Oh drat...I'll come in again.
posted by darkstar at 12:07 AM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow. Just wow. A compassionate, Christ-like minister is paid to work at the Atlanta airport. I'm astounded. I just said a prayer for him and his ministry, for surely the gates of hell will be unleashed his way. We can't have anyone expecting Christians to act that way, lest the hypocrisy of Christian Right become too obvious!

I am reminded of a certain rose, growing alone in a vacant lot in Manhattan.
posted by Goofyy at 2:42 AM on September 10, 2009


I live in Atlanta and I fly through that horrible airport fairly regularly. Although I am not Christian I am very thankful that a man like the Rev. Dr. Cook is looking after travelers in our city.

Sometimes you need a cleric to address the pain and fear that people have when they encounter issues during travel. Someone whose vocation is to care for and assist people. That's not your typical government employee.

I'm not at all uncomfortable that it's a Christian man in this position. I'm just thankful that it's this particular man tending to the many, many distressed travelers.

I too made a contribution. There are too few genuine good works being done in the world, frankly, it doesn't matter much who does them, or under what auspices, just that they are getting done.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 AM on September 10, 2009


As an avowed atheist, I'm always puzzled by other nonbelievers who take offense or become insecure whenever they encounter religious behavior. Asking to pray for someone is not attempting to convert them.

Even if it was, so what?

God bless such kind people, and please send more.

-
posted by General Tonic at 8:07 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm still skeeved out.

Christ, if this guy was a Hare Krishna, you'd all be banging tambourines.

Yes, he's a nice guy. That's how religious converts are made. Yes, he's nice to people who are down in the dumps. That's how easy religious converts are made. He's taking advantage of people's vulnerability to indoctrinate them with religious mumbo-jumbo. That's why every cult ever uses this very same tactic.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:11 AM on September 10, 2009


This is what a Christian is supposed to be like. This guy is truly living his faith and even though I am an agnostic/atheist I totally respect someone who can do that.
posted by jkaczor at 9:23 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


My wife was a hospital chaplain for a while (neonatal ICU). She wasn't there to preach, she was there to help in some of the hardest situations I ever heard of. That's when I knew I could never do her job. I'm very happy to see chaplains/anyone helping at these places of stress.
posted by mdoar at 9:24 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


For better or for worse, "charity" has come to mean "religious charity" in this country (USA.) If it doesn't come from the government, aid to the poor mostly comes from religious organizations, and if you're illegal, pretty much all of it does.

The local food pantry, the local clothing charities, emergency financial assistance, etc. is all funded by and staffed by Christian churches and members in the area.

They do a lot of good work . . . but they track what church you go to, and how often you attend (and they do check -- calling the Pastor to confirm, and keeping a file on you to track such things while you're on assistance.) As an atheist, they'll take my money and food donations, but were explicit that they didn't want my volunteering time -- and, yes, they asked my religious status openly when I volunteered.
posted by Blackanvil at 9:43 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Religious intolerance is still intolerance, even when coming from someone who does not believe in religion, and even when the religion is that of the majority. There is a huge difference between "This is what I believe, and why I believe it" and "You are wrong and evil for being a member of a religion."

What the hell is up with evangelical atheism lately? It's more than a little off-putting, and does more harm than good to the cause of freedom of conviction.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:11 AM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Slap*Happy: "What the hell is up with evangelical atheism lately?"

This is not evangelism, it is two things that I have seen is this thread so far:

"This is a nice thing that religion offers the world. As an atheist, I wonder, is there a way this sort of service can be offered without a religious premise?"

"It makes me uncomfortable when people ask me to pray with them, or ask if they can pray for me"

To give an extreme example, how would you feel if someone found you in a position of need and weak mind, and asked you to join them in an animal offering in your name, and upon your refusal asked permission to do the offering in your name, at the foot of your hospital bed, without your participation. Of course prayer is fairly innocuous in comparison, but it carries behind it a history of evangelism, and carries in that same tradition of seemingly well meaning pushiness. Being uncomfortable with being prayed for is not evangelism, in any way shape or form.
posted by idiopath at 11:55 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


What the hell is up with evangelical atheism lately? It's more than a little off-putting, and does more harm than good to the cause of freedom of conviction.

Are you actually responding to anything in this thread? Because I don't see where anyone in the thread has been evangelically atheistic.

"Feel free to pray, but please don't ask me to be a passive participant of your religious ritual" != "zomg ur a churchy, lulz"
posted by darkstar at 12:02 PM on September 10, 2009


The key is this: your duty to pray for me does not require you to ask my permission. Nor does your duty require you to be by my bed when you do it. So why do chaplains (and others) ask for permission?

Have you considered the possibility that he asked because he wanted to be sensitive to your wishes?

You're right, he didn't have to ask. He could have prayed for you if he wanted. But maybe he wasn't thinking about what he wanted -- maybe his greater concern was what you wanted. And so he was asking to find out what you wanted.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on September 10, 2009


What the hell is up with evangelical atheism lately? It's more than a little off-putting, and does more harm than good to the cause of freedom of conviction.

I see very little "evangelical atheism" in this thread. People are merely talking about their atheism, and about why they might find being prayed with offensive. How is that "intolerant" or "evangelical"? Give me a break.

Next on The 700 Club: Pat Robertson with I Dunno, I'm Not Really Comfortable With That, followed by our roundtable discussion: Well, Somehow It Seems A Little Rude!

Besides, tolerance is not necessarily a requirement for atheism -- atheism is no more than the lack of belief in God(s), and is thus perfectly compatible with an entire spectrum of pro-and-anti-tolerance ideologies. On top of that, true "freedom of conviction" clearly includes the freedom to hold anti-Christian convictions. Nothing about freedom of choice necessarily implies personal endorsement of and/or personal tolerance toward all choices; it only implies that others should be free to make those choices.
posted by vorfeed at 12:24 PM on September 10, 2009


Just to be clear, I laud the work the Chaplain is doing. I just wish it weren't necessary to hire a representative leader of a religious group to provide the financial and logistical support.

That's a good question: has the airport hired him, or has the church rented out space in the airport? (This is a sincere question.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on September 10, 2009


church
posted by idiopath at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2009


More specifically, an interfaith group including Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish representation funds the chaplain, I am not sure if they pay any rent or not.
posted by idiopath at 12:31 PM on September 10, 2009


Thanks, folks; that's what I thought. The airport hadn't "hired" anyone to deal with this. So it was more the faith community recognizing a need.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:00 PM on September 10, 2009


And having them coming from a chaplain is as least tacit propaganda (regardless of whether it's intended) for religious belief.

- Darkstar (one of seven posts, one of which compared prayer to masturbation)

He's taking advantage of people's vulnerability to indoctrinate them with religious mumbo-jumbo. That's why every cult ever uses this very same tactic.

- SysRq (One of two posts, one of them had blinky letters.)

I dunno. You guys must be reading a different thread than I am cutting-and-pasting from... it's a pretty ugly derail, nannied and nurtured. (I'm an atheist, too, but I understand it's shouting-at-clouds crazy to take offense when someone says "I'll say a prayer for you.")
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:28 PM on September 10, 2009


one of seven posts, one of which compared prayer to masturbation

That was me and I apologize for the hasty choice of words. I was looking for an analogy to something that is emotional, private or only done among people who are consenting. I don't have the negative associations with that that some people seem to, so I guess I could have chosen a better example to be more clear.

The Catholic Hospital saved my life so I have very little to actually complain about, but I do feel like this is the sort of situation where I feel that people may not understand what this interaction feels like to someone from outside of their culture so I was trying to explain that.
posted by jessamyn at 1:43 PM on September 10, 2009


to me, sort of like asking if you can cry or masturbate in front of them.

What do you mean "or"?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:09 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone whose vocation is to care for and assist people. That's not your typical government employee.

?? I know a lot of social workers who do this.
posted by kathrineg at 2:56 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's a pretty ugly derail, nannied and nurtured. (I'm an atheist, too, but I understand it's shouting-at-clouds crazy to take offense when someone says "I'll say a prayer for you.")

I think ugly is in the sight of the beholder, here.

But anyway, imagine how you'd feel if a Satanic Priest while you were on painkillers and half-conscious came into your hospital room and offered to commune with the Dark Lord with you. And then, when you politely said no thanks, they asked if it would be okay if they just stood at the side of your bed and called forth Satan's minions to put a protective guard over your bed so that you would start getting better.

I can say with almost absolute certainty that most of my evangelical Christian friends would not only find that a little uncomfortable and perhaps rude, but they'd be calling for the nurse or hospital security to get the guy the heck out of there, post haste. There would be no polite "no thank you" involved.

Evangelical Christians seem to forget that just because their religion has enjoyed social approval for so long, and unbelievers have been mostly taught to at least passively assent to these kinds of intrusions, that there's no reason anyone could possibly find it legitimately offensive, however mildly. And this social conditioning is so strong and pervasive that many nonbelievers don't even flinch when it happens.

But again: you don't need my permission to exercise your duty to pray for me. The only reason to ask me if you can do it in my presence is to gain my sanction and participation, however passive, in approving of the ritual.

And for those evangelicals who don't think this can possibly be a means to proselytize, then you're just not familiar with your own faith's missiological tradition. I've attended seminars and sermons where exactly this practice is taught to "engage with resistant unbelievers" on matters of faith. The whole "Praying For You" movement in evangelical circles is explicitly based on the very effective premise that nonbelievers will allow this minor intrusion because they have been socially conditioned to accept it, and through it, the evangelist can "witness" their faith to the nonbeliever by engaging them, however passively, in the prayer.

So I laud the Chaplain's work and passion, whether in the airport or in the hospital, and my heart is with them as they deal with people in some very difficult situations. But I am also acutely aware that there is a subtext of tacit approval of the religious context in which these services are rendered. This is not some secret revealed. Chaplains are not ignorant of this tension - they are well trained and well aware of the line they walk in this regard. Depending on the chaplain, some will steer well clear of that line while others eagerly cross it all the time.
posted by darkstar at 3:32 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hear what you're saying, darkstar.

However, I don't think anyone is disagreeing that a) Evangelical Christians forget this, and b) that this is unfair.

What I'm missing, however, is precisely why this particular story reminded you of these points, seeing as a) the minister in question is not of an Evangelical denomination, and b) in the article, he seems to be one of those chaplains you mention that do steer well clear of that line.

In other words: I agree with you wholeheartedly about how SOME Christians are butt-munches, but what does the fact that some christians are butt-munches have to do with THIS particular guy?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:44 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's a pretty ugly derail, nannied and nurtured

What?

Well, regardless of whatever that means, all I'm saying is that if someone came up to me in an airport while I was in an obvious state of fucked-upness, and started to get all "benevolent hand of God" on my ass, I'd tell him, as politely as possible, to go fuck himself.

Then I might report a rogue religious fanatic to airport security, just to see how they handle that sort of thing.

Now, all that said, just in case there's any confusion, let me say make one thing clear: I speak only for myself—not for Atheism™.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:45 PM on September 10, 2009


EmpressC, I think we're on the same page, then.

As to why this particular story called to my mind those folks that may cross the line, I guess it's because the story put the best possible light on the chaplain in question and was almost a hagiography. Perhaps he is all that, really, but everyone I've known in ministry is, when you get to know them, as flawed and complex as the rest of us. And how the chaplaincy, itself, can be a tacit promotion of a religious belief, even when the chaplain doesn't explicitly cross the line.

Perhaps that's the cynic in me, but it is based in experience. As someone who's worked with folks in ministry - as well as train and lead them, counsel them and conduct their personnel reviews - my view may be a bit less rose-tinted, I guess. And as someone who has been responsible for developing and leading the very missiological strategies that take advantage of reluctant nonbelievers' willingness to be tolerant so that we might introduce our faith and witness, even in subtle ways, I'm sensitized to it when I see it.

It's not intended to be a reflection of this particular chaplain, though, who by all reports seems to be an excellent, sincere and charitable man.
posted by darkstar at 4:38 PM on September 10, 2009


Going around doing good deeds "for the sake of the widow's son," kind of thing.

Unfortunately, no Atheist can be made a Mason, at least not in what is regarded as "mainstream" (AF&AM/F&AM/PHA) Masonry here in the US. We're not a religion, but do require a belief in a higher power of some sort.

(and in other news, I've decided that my first tattoo will be this on my right shoulder)
posted by mrbill at 8:59 PM on September 10, 2009


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