"One chaplain asked me about 10 times about my religion," said Eline who by Dutch military regulations is not allowed to have her family name published. "The man named about 10 different Christian religions. He just couldn't get out of the Christian box."
Eline studied "God Science" for four years at university. That was not about theology as Christian belief, but the "full spectrum" of religious experience. After that she spent a year as a social worker at the Bissell Centre in Edmonton while studying at Grant MacEwan College.
She is what the Dutch military describes as a humanist. Thirty humanists tend to the spiritual needs of the Dutch military along with 90 Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen, two rabbis, two Hindu pandits and two Muslim imams.
To the best of Eline's knowledge, the only other military with padres who do not believe in God are the Belgians.
"Being a humanist is very common in Holland, so I don't need to explain what it is that I do. Here I do," said Eline during an interview in her cluttered office at the Dutch military headquarters, which was adorned with a Santa Claus doll wearing a hat with a cross on it.
"I definitely do not believe in a Christian or Muslim God or that it was a great spirit that has created this world. I don't know how we got here. That is the humanist view of the world. If you don't know something for sure, you don't follow it. We believe in what is proven. We may fantasize about the rest, but we don't take it as a given."
Given how difficult it is to get the American military to simply be neutral in religious matters and not be used by evangelical Christians for their own ideological purposes, I doubt that we'll see humanist chaplains become this common any time soon. Right now the military seems to seek chaplains based on the religious makeup of service members — more Christian chaplains for more Christians, fewer Jewish chaplains for fewer Jews. All chaplains, though, are expected to serve all members of the armed forces equally — a tough task for conservative evangelicals who feel called to explicitly favor their religion.
I wonder, though, if the military wouldn't be better served by more humanist chaplains? Of course there would always be a need for sectarian chaplains who can administer sacraments and lead congregations in particular religious rituals, but couldn't the other functions of chaplains be just as easily served by humanists who aren't beholden to any particular religious tradition, ideology, or system? Well-trained humanists might arguably be able to serve everyone on an equal level more easily — or at least more easily than some conservatives. It's something to consider, at least.