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Austin Cline

Christopher Hitchens: We Should Abolish Military Chaplains

By October 25, 2006

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Christian Military, Militarized Christianity
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Are military chaplains a constitutional necessity or an unconstitutional mistake? The former can be supported by the fact that without them, it would be difficult or impossible for people in the military to follow their religion. The latter can be supported by the fact that it involves the government with supporting and promoting religion. Which argument is most persuasive?

Christopher Hitchens believes that the latter argument is strongest and, moreover, that it has been much stronger by recent events in which evangelical Christian chaplains have tried to abuse their position to promote their own religion without justification.

Hitchens makes the very good point that it's difficult to fight a war against theocratic opponents when there are theocrats at home:

We are engaged in a war with theocracy, and we have at our back the armor of the U.S. Constitution, which expressly forbids the establishment by the state of any religion or (no less important) any "religious test." There is no possible splitting of this difference. ...It may not be long now before we hear demands that Muslim chaplains be allowed to conduct separate (and perhaps sexually segregated) ceremonies in the ranks, and what I want to know is: What will our Christian, godly campaigners say then?

Defense of the Constitution and of Madisonian principles, if invoked at that too-late point, will be portrayed by Muslims as discrimination. The evangelicals have already prepared the way for such a stupid outcome, with all the litigation and time-wasting in Congress that it will require. Their activity is a clear and present danger to the national defense, and ought to be regarded and treated as such.

Source: Slate

Hitchens makes a very good point in asking what the reaction would be if Muslim chaplains made requests like those being made currently by evangelicals. The sad fact is that many evangelicals make demands which they would never accept from others. Why?

Not because they are hypocritical (or at least not quite); instead, they sincerely believe that as Christians they are justified in receiving special privileges from the American government. They believe that the American government should promote their beliefs over the religious beliefs of all others. This is part of what makes them so dangerous: they really do seek a sort of theocracy in which they, evangelical Christians, rule and dominate over all others.


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November 1, 2006 at 1:13 pm
(1) Todd says:

We could allow Chaplains to function like embedded journalists. The are civilians paid by their own “church”, but allowed to use facilities on military installations. In times of deployment, the chaplains follow along and military provides access to them for the soldiers and provides protection and facilities in the field.

Doing away with chaplains would be politically more painful than having them. You’d be fighting 90% of the military population for something that is almost always good for morale.

They should perhaps at least have a better understand of their role in the military… to provide comfort, to be like counselors. Not to convert, berate or guide policy.

/agnostic former airman

November 2, 2006 at 11:48 am
(2) John Hanks says:

In my three years in the navy, I never say a chaplain except an almost obligatory service in boot camp. Since we had no access to the news, he let us in on the New York blackout.

I think they functioned mainly as a sort of kindly mother mary for the homesick and gays who wanted to get out.
Maybe they could be replaced with social workers.

Evangelical “chaplains” are actually versions of Stalin’s political commissars. Any form of Evangelicism or Fundamentalism treats religion like a commodity to be sold. It is totally bogus.

If not a social worker, how about every visit to be monitored by a J.A.G. officer.

January 22, 2007 at 9:35 pm
(3) Joshua Van Vlack says:

The purpose chaplains serve in the military is quite clear. They are to provide for the free exercise of religion. This is done through performing religious services within their own faith group parameters or providing opportunities for religious services outside of their own faith group parameters.

Chaplains also function as the ethical and world religions advisers to the command to which they are assigned. Additionally, chaplains conduct the initial counseling for soldiers who may be referred to more professional counselors if needed.

Chaplains are the only group of officers whose job is specifically authorized by federal law.

One scholar pointed out that if the United States military did not have chaplains, it would have to invent the position. If chaplains were removed from the military, it would take decades to replace even a portion of the services they provide, if they could be replaced at all.

November 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm
(4) Tara says:

For what it’s worth, and I know from experience, that Chaplains are needed in the military. Not only do they provide religious support for soldiers and family members at home but also assist with those soldiers oversees. The suicide rate has gone up in the last few years and if the military needs Chaplains, it would be now.
They also provide help for those soldiers outside their religion. A Christian Chaplain provides books, prayer mats, and medallions for soldiers of all other faith groups. They are there to talk to with privacy.
So all in all, there is great need for military Chaplains.

March 15, 2012 at 11:01 pm
(5) Phillip says:

In the military you are under no obligation to attend any service. In fact, wishing to attend a service is no excuse for missing duty. The chaplain should not, and in most case, have no mandatory attendance authority over anyone. In simple terms, you attend services on your own time.

March 18, 2013 at 10:29 pm
(6) Scott Atkins says:

When you read the 1st Amendment, you find these words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The first six words (“Congress shall make no law…”) are the key to this Amendment, because it limits their authority to interfere in the basic rights of the people. Those basic rights are laid out as: 1) Establishment of religion, 2) Free exercize of worship, 3) Freedom of speech, 4) Abridging the press (making them right what is propoganda), 5) The right of the people to peaceably assemble, and 6) To petition the government for a redress of grievances. When you look at it constructively, it would read like this: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion; Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercize of religion; etc.” Now when you want to halt the existence of a military Chaplain, you are violating rights #2, 3, and 5, because Christian service members have a RIGHT to see a chaplain, just as much as someone has a RIGHT to refuse to see one. When you want to end something, because it ‘supposedly’ violates YOUR rights, you are basically violating SOMEONE ELSES rights.
There is NO law that claims seperation of Church and State, except for what I showed you according to the 1st Amendment, and that states that CONGRESS cannot interfere in the religious freedoms we all have.
Think about that.

March 19, 2013 at 4:14 am
(7) Austin Cline says:

Christian service members have a RIGHT to see a chaplain

Yes, they do.

But having a right to see a chaplain doesn’t mean that the government is obligated to employ chaplains. If that were the case, then the government would be expected to employ every priest, pastor, and minister in the nation.

Try thinking about that.

April 3, 2013 at 8:27 am
(8) JTL says:

I get really tired of neocons claiming there is no separation of church and state. Where were these idiots when History class was in session? Study Thomas Jefferson and then we’ll see what you think. The USA IS NOT a Christian Nation. Do your homework.

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