Atheist Chaplains in Foxholes?

Over at the Christianity Today Theology in the News column, I have published a piece entitled “Atheists in the Foxholes–as Chaplains” which draws off of the strange but true reality that atheists are currently lobbying for the right to serve as military chaplains.  You can’t make this stuff up.
Here is the essay’s teaser:

The military chaplain is a staple of the armed forces. Many have suggested that the sense of mortality that one feels as bullets fly and bombs explode lends itself naturally to prayer and supplication of a divine being. The axiom “there are no atheists in foxholes” emerged based on battlefield scenarios.
There may soon be atheist chaplains in foxholes, however. A recent story in The New York Times, titled “Atheists Seek Chaplain Role in the Military,” covered recent efforts by atheist members of the armed forces to secure chaplaincy positions for atheists. More than 9,000 military personnel self identify as atheist or agnostic, the Times reports, and some claim that many more members of the military adhere to these camps without reporting their preference. Conversely, about 1 million troops say they are Christians. They represent roughly 70 percent of troops and about 90 percent of chaplains.

Read the whole thing.
Toward the close, I wonder out loud whether atheism possesses the resources to tolerate, even respect, other faiths.  Christianity surely does.  But if theism is merely a crutch for the weak, the drug of choice for the masses, how can atheists respect Christians and minister to them in a meaningful way?
Leading atheists are on record as arguing that “religion poisons everything,” as our own Mark Coppenger has shown.  Can an atheist chaplain following the lead of a figure like Christopher Hitchens meaningfully minister to a theist if that contention is true (and it most assuredly is not)?  It seems to me that atheists are often better than their beliefs.  It’s a good thing.  If atheists acted more consistently upon their beliefs, they would seek to accelerate the weeding out of the weak, the pruning of the pitiful.  If they truly believe that the strong have a genetic right–or obligation!–to advance, they ought to act on their belief.
Thankfully, many do not.  Why?  Well, for at least one reason.  Atheism does not work well.  It is not functional for rational people.  We are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and as a result we care for others, we love, we seek however haltingly the betterment of the weak.  We naturally want to hope, to believe that things will go well.  We do not, many of us, incline toward despair.  Atheism leads easily, effortlessly even, to nihilism.  But life in our fallen world is filled with wonder and discovery and purpose and growth and happiness. So most atheists are not consistent.  Atheism, we see, is basically unliveable.
This will surely prove true when in the heat of battle.  It is not natural for a human being created in the image of God to think of a fellow human being as but a clump of atoms.  It is natural to treat humanity with dignity and respect, to see life as purposeful and good.  Atheism cannot fund such a worldview–or such a chaplaincy–but Christianity can.  Jesus Christ has embodied nothing less than this sort of perspective.  So should we.

1 thought on “Atheist Chaplains in Foxholes?”

  1. Christian chaplains wear a cross, Jewish chaplains a mogen David.  What would an athiest chaplain wear… a Zero?

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