Jason Heap raised this intriguing question when he submitted his application to become a Navy chaplain. The words atheist and chaplain seem to be contradictory, since chaplains provide for the spiritual needs of the military. They officiate religious services and provide pastoral care. How could an atheist do that?
There are a growing number of atheists/agnostics in America, including military men and women. Don’t they also need care? Shouldn’t there be chaplains to meet the needs of this growing demographic?
Atheists, like Christians, should not be crammed into one box. There are atheists whose mission is to disparage and destroy religion, and would not be the best caregivers. But there are also atheists whose mission is to teach the value and goodness of the human being, without using religion to do so. While there are irreconcilable differences between Christian and secular humanism, there are also points of agreement between them.
To turn this argument on its head, is the chaplain required to share the spiritual beliefs of soldiers and military personnel? Chaplains are required to work in an interfaith (not just interdenominational) context. Humanism is not completely faithless – but their faith lies in the dignity and goodness of humanity, not in a deity.
While I’m sympathetic with some of atheism’s criticisms of religion, I find the denial the existence of a creator a logical absurdity. It’s fatal flaw is it’s failure to account for the origins of the universe. Atheism, in other words, requires a bigger leap of faith than theism.
At the end of the day, if I’m critically injured I won’t refuse a humanist chaplain. We disagree on the source of my worth, but if they affirm humanity’s value just as much as I do, I’ll welcome their care and support.