The United States Department of Defense recently acknowledges humanism as a faith system. This is a major development for the secular and atheist community which has been pushing for this to occur for years. This likely came about due to the hard work of Jason Torpy’s Military Association of Atheist and Freethinkers. This also removes a roadblock and will open the door for humanist chaplains, allowing fine individuals like Jason Heap to serve those troops who are secular in the military. This post is an analysis of this monumental change in the secular world and United States government.
“After a decade of our positive outreach and communication of the struggles humanists have faced in the military, we wish to convey our sincere appreciation for the chaplains and endorsers who recommended these changes and made this advance possible.”
“Always treat people as ends in themselves, never as means to an end.”
“My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
Jason Torpy at The Reason Rally in the summer of 2016.
On March 31, 2017 the United States Department of Defense officially recognized a number of belief and non-belief systems that previously it did not. Included in the recognition is heathen, other religions, deism, humanism, no preference, no religion, and none. Over 100 new additions of various Christian organizations were added to the Faith Code list in how members of the military can be recognized. This is a significant development for the atheist community and something they have pushed for years to occur. Let’s look at how this change happened.
How the Change Occurred
The change which happened in late March was made public in late April of 2017. The Armed Forces Chaplains Board (AFCB) recommended to the Secretary of Defense that humanist and other classifications for the non religious be formally recognized. The AFCB consists of the Chiefs and the Deputy Chief of Chaplains of each branch of service. In the process of making this accommodation the codes which list what the Department of Defense (DOD) recognizes have also been reclassified to Faith and Belief. In 2014 the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers successfully added humanism to the list of religious preferences recognized by the United States Army. In the process of making this change the Faith and Belief list eliminated the “No Religious Preference.” Previously that was used to lump together everyone who did not fit into the listed Faith Codes, which amounted to 25% of the military population. When one thinks of the challenges that exist in the military culture with issues like rape and other topics; it will likely take years for this to change and be accepted. To read more about this development you can read The Friendly Atheist’s take, and additional articles here and here.
Influence of Jason Torpy’s Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
I don’t believe this would have come about had it not been for the professional leadership of Jason Torpy and the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF). Jason Torpy serves as the President of the MAAF. Jason originally hails from Marietta, Ohio and he joined the military in 1994. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point where he was commissioned as an Army Officer. Jason’s earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Management. He was a member of the Army’s First Armored Division in Germany, Kuwait, and Iraq. Jason served his country well and left the service at the rank of United States Army Captain in 2005. He also obtained a Masters Degree in Business Administration from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to being the President of the MAAF, Jason also sits on the boards Secular Coalition for America Educational Foundation and the the American Humanist Association. Today Jason calls the Washington, D.C. area his home. If you want to read more about Jason you can do so here, here, here, and here.
Jason has been a strong advocate for the non religious and secular from a military perspective. He has dealt with fundamentalism in his time in the military and also at West Point I believe. Jason has taken the lead on this humanist chaplain issue and for a significant amount of time pushed for humanist chaplains to be embraced by the military. I view this significant change as a result of Jason’s hard work and advocacy for many atheists and secular members of the military. Jason has been their voice and he speaks frequently on the topic of atheism and the military. You can often find him appearing at rallies, traveling the country and being involved in atheist education programs at any of the military academies. The reason why the acceptance of humanist is good for the secular community I will explain next.
How this is Good News for the Secular Community and Why Humanist Chaplains are Needed and Not Far Off
There are many reasons why this is good news for the atheist and secular community. In my opinion the best reason is that in acknowledging humanism this change by the DOD reflects the growing amount of secular troops in the military. One of the many items on my pile to write about is what is happening at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas with the large and growing presence of humanist meetings at the MAAF chapter led by Vikki Gettman. The meetings originally went from a handful to an average of about 1,000 today. I have read several articles about it and its an interesting development in the secular community. You can read one article about it in this United Coalition of Reason article. This reinforces that in my opinion. The growing secular presence needs to be acknowledged. The secularization of the United States is leading to the growth of more secular communities. The DOD had to acknowledge it as the ranks of secular troops in the military is growing.
Another point to highlight is that it means that the secular community is being more accepted. This is healthy and good for them, as they become more integrated in the military. That acceptance is needed for them to thrive more and be accepted. I personally think this is a by-product of the ending of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) which helped open doors for the many in the military to be themselves. The further acceptance of secular members of the military will mean less discrimination in the course of time. Atheists and secular individuals face substantial discrimination in my opinion, and its something that Christians need to own and acknowledge. Its part of the reason why as a Christian I keep calling it out. Its one thing to talk about faith but its another thing to deny others the right to practice what they believe or don’t believe. To read more about atheist discrimination by some evangelicals I would encourage you to read, “The Issue of Christian Discrimination Against Atheists.”
By adding humanism to the Faith Codes and reclassifying the list this also opens the door for the next development that is long overdue. That is the practice of allowing humanist chaplains to serve in the military. The Wondering Eagle has long supported secular chaplains for secular troops. I wrote about this topic in “An Overview of the Effort to have Humanist Chaplains in the United States Military; Why this Christian Supports that Endeavor.” By making this change I believe that a serious roadblock has been removed and the the effort to have humanist chaplains has been substantially improved. What you will begin to see in the course of time is many military identifying themselves as humanist, or other. As their ranks grow they will need to have skilled and trained people who can give them emotional support. That is going to come in regards to having humanist chaplains. The last I heard is that Jason Heap is in litigation against the United States Navy (USN) to become the first humanist chaplain. With this change by the DOD, I wonder how long it will be before Jason Heap can begin to serve secular troops in the military. After all just because you have no faith doesn’t mean you don’t have needs. Deployments are stressful and difficult. There are still family issues that need help, along with financial and mental health issues that still need to be addressed. Those issues that I listed are the reason why this writer supports humanist chaplains. It is morally wrong to deny serving American troops who are secular the support that they need to do their job. My prediction is that you will see humanist chaplains in the next two years. I wonder in light of this development if Jason Heap will have a quicker resolution to the lawsuit. I sincerely hope so, as I believe fine individuals like him and others should have the right to serve those in the military who are secular. This blog still supports Jason’s efforts in that regard, and it wishes him well.
As always I invite your critique or comments. If you read this and you are secular in the military I am especially interested in hearing your thoughts. Furthermore, this blog would like to tell de-conversion stories from Christianity once a month. If you read this and you de-converted I would be honored to tell your story. It can be done in your name or anonymously, whatever you prefer. That’s it for the day and as always guys thanks for reading. If you read this and you serve in the military, thank you for serving.