A Chaplain and an Atheist Go to War
September 4, 2010 8:43 AM   Subscribe

A Chaplain and an Atheist Go to War
posted by JeffL (76 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Though he admits to some youthful indiscretions and flirted briefly with the lure of dentistry

Heavens, I'm glad he was able to turn away from that dark path. It all starts innocently enough -- looking at friends' teeth, studying brochures about gingivitis -- but the next thing you know, you're wearing a white shirt in your practice, surrounded by expensive stainless-steel devices, telling young women that they really should be flossing at least once a day, not even every time you brush, just once a day, that's all I'm asking.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


I understand this article was supposed to be written as provocatively as possible, but everyone take note: Marines are, broadly speaking, about as utterly irreligious a group as exists in the Armed Forces (not in the logical Richard Dawkins kind of way, but in the "I put my ass on the line every fuckin' day so I'm gonna get me some booze 'n pussy tonight no matter what the Good Book says" kind of way).

As the article suggests, even the Christians among them probably regard the chaplain here as being a bit of a nutter. And, naturally, not all military chaplains act like this joker. Let's keep that all in mind before we start going "GRAR GRAR RELIGION" up in this thread.
posted by Azazel Fel at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


This kind of double-act, total-opposites theme in a battlefield scenario is a TV series begging to be written.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


This chaplain may believe that he is protected in a combat situation, but using the his own logic he should realize that his atheist escort isn't protected by the divine. It's great he personally feels safe on the battlefield, but he is risking the lives of others with his careless actions; that implies to me a fundamental failure to respect those with different beliefs, even while they risk their lives to protect the chaplain and his.
posted by Menthol at 9:03 AM on September 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Navy Chaplain Terry Moran is steeped in the Bible and believes all of it.

ORLY?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:03 AM on September 4, 2010


I found this article kind of inspiring. I am, for all intents and purposes, an atheist. Religion ain't going away, and we, the religious and the sane* alike, must learn to live and work together without killing each other.

*I kid, I kid...
posted by vibrotronica at 9:13 AM on September 4, 2010


Let me clean your teeth, I'll do anything you want, I need it so bad. I want to cover you in a lead vest and X-ray all over your face.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:26 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know it makes me a bad person, but I was really hoping that the article would end with the chaplain being shot.
posted by klangklangston at 9:29 AM on September 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Which one is the neat freak and which one is the messy one?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:31 AM on September 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I kept sensing an anti-Moran, pro-Chute tone to this article. Certainly I felt biased against the actions of Moran, especially with regards to the backpack in the potential minefield incident. Regardless of my feelings towards war and religion, if you're in a dangerous place and your actions could end up getting others hurt, then you have an incredible responsibility to follow the rules and pay attention.

Likewise Moran's answer of "Leviticus says no" when asked about tattoos - that's my least favorite kind of specific verse-picking. Does Moran follow every rule laid out in Leviticus? I'd bet dollars to donuts he doesn't, so why does that one verse get dragged out as being more right than the others?

I appreciated Chute's tolerance and willingness to work with this guy, because were I in his place I couldn't have lasted a week.
posted by komara at 9:32 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know it makes me a bad person, but I was really hoping that the article would end with the chaplain being shot.

Something tells me you may get your wish someday. His last quote,

"No matter what situation you find yourself in on planet Earth, God will protect you," he said after the patrol returned safely to base. "All He asks is that you trust and believe what He says. So, if I find myself in a combat situation, His promise of protection is still valid."

is exemplary of what bugs me most about willfully ignorant religiosity: in order for this to be true, he must assume that every battlefield death must be a result of a lack of / imperfect faith. Implicitly, they had it coming, they brought it on themselves. He, however is superior. But his illusion of protection causes him to put himself and his human protectors in additional danger.

Dick.
posted by Casimir at 9:47 AM on September 4, 2010 [30 favorites]


And if he does get shot, he's a martyr for the faith.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:08 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lt. Moran told Bible stories about angels, but met with silence when he asked the Marines to relate their favorite angel stories. "Even now, where we are, I believe there are angels present," he said.

The chaplain tried to lead the men in a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but forgot the words after "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," and had to resort to "lala-lala" to fill in the blanks.
Bad enough our taxes pay to put this useless putz in-theater; we have to pay for a soldier to babysit him too?
posted by nicwolff at 10:21 AM on September 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


Reminds me of Chaplin Tappman and his atheist assistant Corporal Whitcomb in Catch22 -- surely these guys have read the book, right, I mean they had to have read it, they're now living it...
posted by dancestoblue at 10:24 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sergeant Brad 'Iceman' Colbert: The point, Lance Corporal: we're supposed to be a recon unit of pure warrior spirit. We're out here, 40 klicks in enemy lines, and this man of God here, he's a fuckin' POG. In fact, he's an officer POG. That's one more layer of bureaucracy and unnecessary logistics, one more asshole we need to supply MREs and baby wipes for. And worst of all, worst of all, the motherfucker doesn't even carry a weapon. When push comes to shove even Rolling Stone picks up a gun but this fuckin' shill of God, he can't cover a sector, he'll never hump ammo or Claymores. This is a fuckin' war and we're here as warriors, so on top of everything else that's expected of us do we really need to drag him along and indulge in this make-believe bullshit?

Corporal Josh Ray Person: Oh, no. Now not only do we have to worry about all the Charms you've eaten, but now Brad's just pissed off God.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:26 AM on September 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


A Chaplain and an Atheist go to war
A point is all you can score

posted by chococat at 10:38 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If and when that chaplain gets hurt or killed, everybody around him is going to feel pretty bad about not only losing him, but how his faith made it possible.
posted by warbaby at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2010


It would make a fun movie.

The chaplain is clearly a fundamentalist, statistically likely for an American.

A Catholic chaplain would make a whole different article.

Check out "The Mission" as a religion/war movie for contrast.
posted by KMH at 10:48 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The chaplain sounds like an idiotic and oblivious dickhead and would be no matter what profession he had chosen. Can't they just remove him from the field for endangering himself and everyone around him?
posted by amethysts at 11:02 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Grow a brain, Moran.
posted by klangklangston at 11:22 AM on September 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


Someone needs to sit the chaplain down and explain the Sufi proverb: "Trust in Allah, but tie your camel first." He's clearly endangering the people he's ministering to, and himself. They should pull him out of combat and replace him with someone who isn't going to get people killed.
posted by zarq at 11:27 AM on September 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


"He trusts God to keep him safe," says RP2 Chute. "And I'm here just in case that doesn't work out."

Fucking. Awesome.
posted by lattiboy at 11:43 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Totally, and hilariously, slanted piece.

"You can put them on your head, and you'll know you've been prayed over," he said, flopping one onto his own head like a newspaper in the rain.

Someone upthread wrote that they "understand this article was supposed to be written as provocatively as possible," which I would dispute; the author does not actually point and laugh at the chaplain himself, he merely invites us to do so.

That said, the writing is full of what I can only describe as grace notes:

"Gunny Shawhan shook his head in disbelief."

posted by mwhybark at 11:49 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is unconscionable for anyone to require babysitting on the front lines. Utterly wrong and very likely to end in tragedy. Shame on Moran for risking other's lives.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:52 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I kept sensing an anti-Moran, pro-Chute tone to this article."

Yeah, reality has a well-known pro-Chute bias.
posted by klangklangston at 11:57 AM on September 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


I kept sensing an anti-Moran, pro-Chute tone to this article.

The article isn't biased. It told both men's stories pretty clearly and distinctly. The marines have concerns. Chaplain Moran is disregarding some of them because he believes that G-d will protect him. It's appropriate to explain how his fellow officers feel about that, as well as the actions he undertakes in his capacity as Chaplain.
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Azazel Fel, you have obviously been talking to different US Marines than I have!

My husband (an officer in a non-US armed force) keeps threatening to try and becoming the first atheist chaplain. I'm going to send this to him and see if it pushes him over the edge. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Megami at 12:10 PM on September 4, 2010


Oh FFS. I knew this article would drag out the old cliche, but I didn't expect it would start with "there are no atheists in foxholes."

There is an old saying, "'There are no atheists in foxholes' isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes."
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:24 PM on September 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


"No matter what situation you find yourself in on planet Earth, God will protect you." Maybe if someone would have filled in Jesus on this fact, his faith would have kept him alive and he'd still be with us today.
posted by Daddy-O at 12:32 PM on September 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hasn't Moran ever heard the joke about the pastor in the flood? I heard that in church, for Chr- for Pete's sake. Of course, it was an Episcopal church, and I am pretty sure that is basically a hotel bar as far as Moran would be concerned.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:52 PM on September 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Please, God, don't let the atheist get hurt trying to protect this holy fool.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:53 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought God helps those who help themselves. When Moran gets to the pearly gates, upset that his God didn't prevent that bullet from ripping through his heart, God's gonna be all "Why the he'll didn't you use that foxhole I gave you?"

Faith fail.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:55 PM on September 4, 2010


iOS autocorrect fail.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:57 PM on September 4, 2010


Moran's warfare theology reminded me a little bit of of the ghost dance.
posted by codacorolla at 1:01 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


> zarq: The article isn't biased. It told both men's stories pretty clearly and distinctly. The marines have concerns. Chaplain Moran is disregarding some of them because he believes that G-d will protect him. It's appropriate to explain how his fellow officers feel about that, as well as the actions he undertakes in his capacity as Chaplain.

I believe it is very biased. It does not portray Moran in a positive light. Well, no, it does show us some positive things, but the author is quick to show a bunch of negatives as well. Moran deciding whether or not to finish his MREs before he runs for his live across a bridge known to be a sniping target while a fellow soldier shakes his head in disbelief? Acting in a manner that could get his fellow men killed, like with the backpack incident? Forgetting the lyrics to a song? Why in the world would that last one be in there if the author didn't intend for us to think that Moran is a bit of a dolt?

On the other hand, there are no such pieces in the article making Chute look like a dullard, so I call it biased.
posted by komara at 1:03 PM on September 4, 2010


For clarification, zarq, my statement about the article bias is not debating whether or not Moran did anything wrong, it's about the way in which the author chose to portray him.
posted by komara at 1:04 PM on September 4, 2010


If Moran is a dolt, saying so is not bias. Bias is basically about saying things that are untrue or misleading.

FWIW, there is no bias in reporting. If it's bias, then it's not reporting. It might be editorializing or it might just be lying out the ass like Beck.

Media bias is mostly an invention of the far right, first as fiction when it didn't really exist and then as farce once Fox and Ailes got rolling.
posted by warbaby at 1:10 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maybe, komara, the report is truthful in that Chute is not actually a dullard and didn't do anything to make himself look like one.
posted by amethysts at 1:11 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why in the world would that last one be in there if the author didn't intend for us to think that Moran is a bit of a dolt?

Because it happened? You seem to believe that any story that doesn't pretend both sides might be right is "biased". Are you by any chance an editor at a mainstream news outlet?
posted by nicwolff at 1:15 PM on September 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


The chaplain does all of the religious HURF DURFing for us. To me, though, this is more a story about heedless optimism. Heedless optimists always require a ground crew, a posse, whatever you would like to call it, to keep their world running smoothly and to make sure they do not get shot. I'm not talking about people who are generally "up," I am referring to people who assume that it will all work out, no matter what.

Every time you run across one of these folks, look around. They'll have a wake of realists behind them, cleaning up the mess, trying to get ahead of the optimist and prevent more damage.
posted by adipocere at 1:39 PM on September 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Countess Elena: for Chr- for Pete's sake

And swearing by St. Peter is less sacriligious than swearing by Jesus by just what degree?
posted by localroger at 1:40 PM on September 4, 2010


Doesn't "Thou shalt not take my name in vain" apply to Jesus and not to Peter? (and it's "sacrilegious" with an "e" — impossible to spell right unless you keep in mind that it's based on "sacrilege" not "religious").
posted by nicwolff at 2:52 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


localroger, is that right? I thought it came out of "for pity's sake." In any case, I was only told to avoid pronouncing the name of God as an impressionable youth. I grew up in a knee-deep brackish combination of Methodism and the SBC, and no one said much about saints, except for the Apostles. Whiskeypalians do, and they also don't keep a close watch on your cussing.

I was being facetious, anyway; as an open atheist I try to be respectful to religion, and it struck me that what I had naturally typed was uncouth, so it amused me to edit it.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:02 PM on September 4, 2010


warbaby, nicwolff, I'm saying that I think the author is intentionally trying to make us dislike this Moran by deliberately including things that portray him as an idiot. If I'm interviewing someone and they scratch their junk or stick their finger in their ear, I'm not going to put that in the article unless I mean to make them look bad on purpose. The inclusion of "this guy can't even remember the words to a song so he has to go 'la la la la'" doesn't further the story. It's not about his religious beliefs or lack thereof - it's only there to make him look dumb.

Why would the author include descriptions of Moran's actions including standing in the open with a suspected sniper's nest nearby, or throwing his pack down in an area where there could be explosives, other than to make him look stupid? It's one thing to say, "During the course of my following Lt. Moran he repeatedly voiced his faith in God to keep him safe" but it's another to say, "Look at how this dumbass sat out in the open." If it were an article about how chaplains don't get the best training, maybe I can understand that.

But for an article that's supposedly about a religious chaplain and his atheist companion and whether or not they can co-exist, it sure does have a lot of unnecessary scenes of Moran playing the fool.
posted by komara at 3:02 PM on September 4, 2010


For example, what's the difference in this:
Lt. Moran told Bible stories about angels, but met with silence when he asked the Marines to relate their favorite angel stories. "Even now, where we are, I believe there are angels present," he said.

The chaplain tried to lead the men in a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but forgot the words after "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," and had to resort to "lala-lala" to fill in the blanks.

But the men sang Amazing Grace enthusiastically and thanked the chaplain warmly for providing a few minutes of relief.
versus this:
Lt. Moran told Bible stories about angels, but met with silence when he asked the Marines to relate their favorite angel stories. "Even now, where we are, I believe there are angels present," he said.

The men sang Amazing Grace enthusiastically and thanked the chaplain warmly for providing a few minutes of relief.
I personally can't see any reason to include the middle sentence other than to intentionally make Moran look idiotic.
posted by komara at 3:07 PM on September 4, 2010


And swearing by St. Peter is less sacriligious than swearing by Jesus by just what degree?

Well, for one thing, he's not God.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:07 PM on September 4, 2010


The chaplain tried to lead the men in a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but forgot the words after "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," and had to resort to "lala-lala" to fill in the blank

Pfft, everyone knows the next line is "there can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:11 PM on September 4, 2010


I thought God helps those who help themselves.

Poor Richard / Ben Franklin is not a biblical author, by any stretch.
posted by hippybear at 3:17 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I personally can't see any reason to include the middle sentence other than to intentionally make Moran look idiotic.

that would be like making the ocean wet, wouldn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:25 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


komara, why do you think the reporter should avoid telling us what he saw? The story is not about how chaplains in general work with non-religious assistants; it's about this idiot in particular, his inane and infantile belief that because his faith is strong he can't be injured, his confusion as to how anyone who read the Bible could fail to believe it, and his blithe unconcern for the physical well-being of the troops who humor his clumsy ministrations.

If you know somehow that there's another side to this story, which the writer is hiding from us due to his own prejudices, then I guess you should tell us what you know and expose this bias. But if you are calling the article "biased" just because it isn't balanced, you're misusing the word.
posted by nicwolff at 4:18 PM on September 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


komara, reporting means reporting - if there are warts, don't hide them. Please remember the reporter was one of the people in harm's way. There's honest journalism and there's editorializing. Reporting facts is not editorializing. Making stuff up is not honest. Being irked by the subject of your reporting is all part of life's rich pageant.

When I was doing investigative reporting, "Fair but cruel" was often the case. But then, many of the people I was reporting on were criminals, white supremacists, Wise Users, and in one case, a hate-mongering pistol-packing preacher who was fired by his congregation after my article came out.

I would not be saddened if I helped ease him on his way, but I don't think I did. He was also somewhat of a scam artist, but I didn't report that because it wasn't solid enough to print and also wasn't important to the story. It was important to his congregation which was why he got the boot.

Please don't imagine that it is a journalist's duty to sugar-coat things or hide the warts. I'm not sure what you mean by bias in this instance. I've read it carefully and don't see any sign of what I consider bias or bad journalism.
posted by warbaby at 4:21 PM on September 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I personally can't see any reason to include the middle sentence other than to intentionally make Moran look idiotic.

To intentionally leave it out because it is embarrassing is worse. It may not be kind to say it, but if it happened, it happened; lay out the facts, let the reader draw conclusions.
posted by Menthol at 4:25 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


It does not portray Moran in a positive light.

I believe that all depends on your perspective. Most of us here seem to have a not-so-secret sneaking sympathy with Chute; maybe because we're atheists/agnostics ourselves, or former Marines, or whatever. But I'd be willing to bet that some other chaplains or ultra-religious people would see nothing wrong with Moran's actions. Some people truly believe that either you're going to get your butt shot off or you're not, and nothing you do or fail to do will affect that in any way. Same with the people around him; firm believers think that your life is in God's hands, and may believe that Moran was in no way putting those people in danger, because their fate is sealed. I'm not advocating for that, I'm just saying that what many of us see as a biased and unflattering portrait of Moran may not strike those who think like him the same way.
posted by jennaratrix at 5:12 PM on September 4, 2010


I'm found this article interesting because my father caught a lucky break in the draft as an astigmatic and near-sighted scrawny kid to become a musician and chaplain's aid at Fort Knox, which apparently involved (among other paperwork duties) playing organ as a Methodist for both Baptists and Catholics on Sunday morning. It apparently was a friendly arrangement until his commanding officer retired, and the next person on the post banished the Catholics from the chapel.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:11 PM on September 4, 2010


I don't have much of a sympathy for either of them. Moran should be having a serious discussion with Chute rather than shrugging him off and throwing care to the wind-- a chaplain is not a job like a faith healer or megachurch pastor, it is serious and hard work to minister to armed forces (and dangerous too!). Chute, for his part, seems to have a religious grudge against the guy he's charged with protecting. I do think it is sensible that Chute comes off better than Moran.
posted by shii at 6:27 PM on September 4, 2010


Lt. Moran wasn't troubled. "I believe the Lord is going to protect us"

I hope he realizes that his same exact god is also guiding the aim of many of the people on the other side.
posted by Evilspork at 6:44 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


nicwolff, five fresh fish: I expect it's similar in the other services, but at least in the Army, chaplains are unarmed. They do not (can not?) carry a weapon, which is why they all have a chaplain's assistant. So it's not like he in particular has a babysitter because he's incompetent. (I say this as someone who did not RTFA.)
posted by Hal Mumkin at 6:58 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


We know that! His incompetence still wastes both their salaries. (And it's fucking dumb that each chaplain travels independently around hot zones with his own armed babysitter; why not leave them in the FOB and let combat units get ministered to there?)
posted by nicwolff at 7:29 PM on September 4, 2010


"No matter what situation you find yourself in on planet Earth, God will protect you," he said after the patrol returned safely to base. "All He asks is that you trust and believe what He says. So, if I find myself in a combat situation, His promise of protection is still valid."

Then why the hell does he have a bodyguard? I would have thought that chaplains in a war zone would have some grip on reality, in the 'God helps those that help themselves' vein.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:41 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I personally can't see any reason to include the middle sentence other than to intentionally make Moran look idiotic.

If he had lied, (even through omission,) that would have been biased. Those details aren't irrelevant.
posted by zarq at 8:01 PM on September 4, 2010


Then why the hell does he have a bodyguard?

The chaplain did not choose to have a bodyguard. He was given one. Presumably because people in charge realize that faith in God is not quite as effective as Marines with rifles.
posted by lullaby at 8:14 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


... at least in the Army, chaplains are unarmed. They do not (can not?) carry a weapon...

That's idiotic. Even 1st ed rules allow them to carry a mace.

... it's fucking dumb that each chaplain travels independently around hot zones with his own armed babysitter; why not leave them in the FOB and let combat units get ministered to there?

I assume the thinking is that soldiers who are are the pointiest part of the pointy end are the ones most in need of whatever consolation that a minister might be able to provide. Once they're safely back on base their need diminishes.
posted by Ritchie at 10:18 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have been thinking it over for some time, and honestly...I cannot think of a single better use for young earth creationists than having them walk around in front of snipers in Afghanistan.
Huzzah, US ARMY!
posted by GoingToShopping at 10:22 PM on September 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I kept waiting for a "They fight insurgents!" (a military version of "They Fight Crime!") to show up in the article.

On the subject of atheists and foxholes, I feel compelled to quote the great Kurt Vonnegut, from his novel Hocus Pocus (who is in heaven):
“The sermon was based on what he claimed was a well-known fact, that there were no atheists in foxholes. I asked Jack what he thought of the sermon afterwards, and he said, ‘There’s a Chaplain who’s never visited the front.’”

And if he's carrying a hardcover copy of the Bible, he's carrying a weapon. I mean it would seriously hurt to get whacked by that thing. You could even break someone's nose.
posted by Hactar at 11:25 PM on September 4, 2010


So it's not like he in particular has a babysitter because he's incompetent.

Having a bodyguard is not babysitting. Having to have someone to tell you once again how to walk across a mine field is.

If he is making himself a walking target, he needs to be pulled back. Soldiers are best off not needing to save another's life.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:47 PM on September 4, 2010


Moran reminds me of a cousin of mine. She hates doctors and prefers to take all kinds of weird vitamins and supplements, because doctors make mistakes. Yet, even she has a breaking point... once she was in a lot of pain (gallbladder) and went to the ER.

Another time, I was (a minor at the time) riding with her and she wanted to pick up a hitchhiker. I told her no and she said that God would protect her because she was doing a good deed. I finally said, "look, if you pick him up, then I'm getting out and walking and my mom will never forgive you!" and so she didn't pick him up.

My mom likes to say that God helps those who help themselves. Let's not jump off the cliff and then expect God to save us, okay?
posted by IndigoRain at 11:49 PM on September 4, 2010


FWIW, here's a biased article (the "some say" bit is epic concealment to mislead) that reports only half a story. The bias / one-sidedness is obvious and you can see the result in the thread it's linked from.

/enough of the derail, as you were..
posted by warbaby at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2010


Let it be mentioned here that traveling around with an armed bodyguard is precisely the opposite of Christ-like.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:13 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


To those taking me to task for my use of the word 'biased' - you're probably right. I don't have a good grasp of the definition of true media bias. I should probably be using a different word.

Let me restart this from the beginning. When I read the title 'A Chaplain and an Atheist Go To War' and read the first paragraph or two I thought it would be an interesting piece about how this religious chaplain dealt with his atheist assistant. I got about a paragraph's worth of that - which I certainly did find interesting - and many more words about how dumb this chaplain really was.

As for why I found this biased - I'm sure that while the reporter was around, this chaplain ate food, or took a shit in the bushes, or said, "My balls itch" or "I wonder how the congregation is doing back home" or any number of other things. When you all tell me, "Hey, it happened, so not putting it in the article would be showing bias!" I wonder about all the things that happened that aren't in the article. I felt the author was specifically cherry-picking things to make Moran come across as an idiot.

I guess that's not media bias, that's the reporter's personal bias. In an article that I thought was supposed to be (my fault, I shouldn't suppose what something is until I see what it really is) about the interaction between an atheist and a devout Christian, I got what amounted to a point and laugh, or shake your head at the moron.

All this time I've been resisting using the word moron. I just couldn't help it. It finally came out.
posted by komara at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2010


"On the other hand, there are no such pieces in the article making Chute look like a dullard, so I call it biased."

But what if he's not a fucking dullard?

I mean, that's perfectly possible, right? That the chaplain is a dumbass who believes a lot of shit that actually acts to magnify his ignorance and blithe disregard for the men around him, and that the atheist charged with protecting him has actually done some work thinking about this stuff, and is also simultaneously able to do his job protecting someone he disagrees with, and do it well.

If that's perfectly possible, and we grant that the Washington Post has some very good journalists, and some very good editors, people who take the idea of bias very seriously, then couldn't it maybe, just maybe, be that the fucking article is accurate, that Moran is a dumbass and that Chute isn't? In fact, isn't that likely?

Now, it might be biased—it certainly would be editorializing—to say that Moran and Chute's relationship is a metaphor for a lot of religious-secular interaction in America. Phrases like "a lot of" show that I'm clearly excluding things that disagree with me, examples of which are easy to find.

But the article doesn't say that. It says that Moran is blindly faithful and doesn't believe that he will have any trouble to deal with personally, and that he may even be right—Moran's likely to be dead before there's any chance for him to truly question. The article also says that the people around him consider him foolish, which is likely true (and for a certain kind of believer, invigorating). That's not biased to say; it is biased to argue that because reality does not balance the foolishness of a chaplain and the stalwart rationalism of an atheist that therefore reports thereof are slanted.
posted by klangklangston at 12:09 PM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that the chaplain and the NCO religious specialist are doing their jobs exactly the way they're supposed to.

The military (since at least the Napoleonic navies, but probably since the dawn of time) has worked on a tension between gung-ho junior officers (of whatever chronological age) who are more worried about winning medals or winning battles or covering themselves in glory or providing religious care and NCOs who try and keep the gung ho junior officers from getting themselves and everyone else killed. This creative tension is how the system is designed to work. As a military officer commenter points out over here:
By design, the emphasis is different - the officer's focus is on mission accomplishment & motivating subordinate leaders to push all out all the time. The NCOs focus is on taking care of the soldiers so they can/want to drive hard & accomplish the mission & exceed expectations. Officers generally put mission first, people second if it comes to a crunch; NCOs have the responsibility to temper that, while still accomplishing the job.
Let it be mentioned here that traveling around with an armed bodyguard is precisely the opposite of Christ-like.

Let it be mentioned that there's a long and sophisticated history of discussion of such issues in Christianity and there's no reason to be ignorant of it. While we're prooftexting though, have a look at Luke:36-38.
posted by Jahaza at 4:53 PM on September 5, 2010


But what if he's not a fucking dullard?

I mean, that's perfectly possible, right?


Yes, and it's also perfectly possible that Fox News reports are unbiased. CNN's too....it's possible. Let's be real though, it's quite rare to find writers who do not inject bias into the article at all - news report or not.
posted by drewski at 8:28 AM on September 8, 2010


So I've been thinking about the article and this discussion still, and I've come to the conclusion that there were two things wrong here:

1.) I did not clearly understand or make the distinction between a personal bias and a media bias, and think about how those two may or may not be the same thing. Is it a personal bias if Phillips thinks Moran is dumb and writes it to make him look dumb, regardless of Moran's true intelligence level? If Phillips is sent out there by and in the name of the WSJ, then do his words become their prejudices? Is that really a bias? I'm not asking you to answer these, I'm just mentioning things I'd never considered before saying that I thought a piece was biased when I was thinking only of the reporter and the way he or she relays information about the subject.

2.) I was arguing about what I thought the article should have been versus what it really is.

For the record, I think Moran comes across as a lunatic because he probably is, and I respect Chute for not knocking his block off. I can understand that Phillips likely couldn't get away with "The Idiot Chaplain" for a title.

I hope I didn't come across as someone being thick-skulled for the sake of argument. I forgot that when I started talking I was stepping into both a war-political and religious discussion, and to make sure I knew exactly what I was saying when I started typing.
posted by komara at 12:23 PM on September 8, 2010


"Yes, and it's also perfectly possible that Fox News reports are unbiased. CNN's too....it's possible. Let's be real though, it's quite rare to find writers who do not inject bias into the article at all - news report or not."

Look, if you really want to have an argument about systemic media bias, I'm all for it. However, it'll take real work on your part, and not just vague assertions. Like, the best way that we know Fox News has a pervasive bias is by looking at other news outlets' coverage of the same thing. Got similar stories about this chaplain that show him in a less blithe and vapid light? Feel free to trot them out. Another way is to show specific instances in which a fact is being misrepresented, oversimplified, decontextualized or distorted. I've read this article twice now, and nothing jumps out at me as being a misrepresentation. Which means that it's likely that there's no obvious reporter bias (and the idea that it's rare that writers don't inject their bias is pretty bullshit unless you want to get super hand-wavy about what constitutes bias). So, the other option is that this would be editorial bias, which is seen in the kinds of stories that are chosen and run. It may be possible that the WSJ is pushing its secular, anti-religious message by highlighting a Goofus and Gallant situation at war. But that goes against the pretty obvious bias of the editorial page of the WSJ (which is traditionally only slightly left of the Moonies).

So, no, again, the most likely answer is that this really happened, that these portrayals are accurate, and that the locus of bias lies in you, the reader. And I'm sorry if it feels like I'm going off on this, but accusations of bias are both simultaneously serious for journalists and journalism and often totally inane bullshit trotted out by people who disagree with reality, so I'd like to see a lot less of them.
posted by klangklangston at 1:27 PM on September 8, 2010


I don't think the story is particularly biased (though the religious perspective is not handled as knowledgably as the military aspect, but KlangKlangston, your comment isn't that persuasive on a number of fronts, here are a couple:

"But that goes against the pretty obvious bias of the editorial page of the WSJ (which is traditionally only slightly left of the Moonies)."

But this isn't on the editorial page and the news pages of the WSJ haven't traditionally been right-leaning, in fact, at least one study found that they were ideologically the most left-wing of 20 major news outlets including NPR, the NY Times, and the CBS Evening News.

"the idea that it's rare that writers don't inject their bias is pretty bullshit unless you want to get super hand-wavy about what constitutes bias"

Actually, the idea that observers of all sorts inject their bias naturally is pretty widely accepted. The idea of professional objective journalism is to struggle against this natural bias in a particular way.
posted by Jahaza at 7:00 AM on September 10, 2010


"But this isn't on the editorial page and the news pages of the WSJ haven't traditionally been right-leaning, in fact, at least one study found that they were ideologically the most left-wing of 20 major news outlets including NPR, the NY Times, and the CBS Evening News."

That study is totally fucked. In it, Rand is liberal, the ACLU is conservative, and the NRA is neutral. It engages in some fantastic question-begging and is fairly useless as a predictive measure. It also falls into a long pattern of conservatives finding liberal bias and liberals finding conservative bias.

"Actually, the idea that observers of all sorts inject their bias naturally is pretty widely accepted. The idea of professional objective journalism is to struggle against this natural bias in a particular way."

A way which is incredibly effective at combating most claims of direct bias, including this one. That includes editors and fact-checkers, and the reporter's own training. And again, the argument that it's rare for writers — which, to avoid pedantry, we clarify to mean journalists in this case — to write a story without bias is patently false, unless you want to get very abstract about what you mean by bias. Stories of arson often have biases toward the idea that people should own property and that attacks on capital are immoral. But that's not the kind of bias we're talking about here, the charges of which are frankly nonsense, and the vast majority of stories stem from a basic program of fact-based reporting which is going to be as close to unbiased as possible.
posted by klangklangston at 8:35 AM on September 10, 2010


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