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Military Humanist Chaplains?

Any topics that are primarily about humanism or other non-religious life stances fit in here.
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Fia
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Military Humanist Chaplains?

#1 Post by Fia » August 20th, 2010, 8:51 pm

The NSS newsline had this today:
Armed forces consider deploying "humanist chaplains"
The Scotsman reports "military sources" as being "sympathetic" to the idea of establishing an organisation to represent the interests of non-religious servicemen and women.

Non-believers in the forces, including a senior Scottish officer, hope the move will pave the way for the establishment of Humanist chaplains, who would offer support and consolation to those with no spiritual beliefs.

Currently the forces have 280 uniformed Christian chaplains as well as a number of civilian equivalents who cater for the needs of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist recruits.

An MoD spokesman said: "We do not discriminate on the basis of religion or belief. We respect people's religions and beliefs, unless they conflict with the Armed Forces' Core Values and Standards, and if there was a formal approach to establish a Humanist organisation we would look on such a request sympathetically."
I find myself feeling very much in favour of this idea. I know chaplains in the armed forces perform a very useful role, and although I might prefer trained counsellors, the chaplain role will be there for many years to come. We could even perhaps up the ante by training Humanists as counsellors...
I know some of you good people have served in the military, what do you think of this apparent offer?

Will any Humanist organisation step up to the opportunity, as there clearly seems to be one...
Are there any Humanists-in-the-military organisations who could work with, say, the BHA?

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Alan C.
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#2 Post by Alan C. » August 20th, 2010, 9:32 pm

I can't understand the need for "Chaplains" in the armed forces, (or the NHS) the bible, Koran et al tell you on the one hand; it's OK to kill folk but on the other hand it's a sin,
These so called "Chaplains" must have a bit of a dilemma no?

Humanist Chaplain is an oxymoron (IMO)
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Dave B
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#3 Post by Dave B » August 20th, 2010, 10:14 pm

Oh dear, I find myself agreeing with both Fia and Alan C. in this.

As a person, even before joining the RAF, I was never sure of the need for religion anyway. It was even more confusing for me that any god should be on the side of any person who was employed to go out and kill fellow humans. I did not think of it in this way then, it takes years of experience and consideration to come to rationalising one's thoughts in this area. But I was aware of the conflict within myself.

The reason any person joins an organisation that, ostensibly, is for defence but, inevitably, involves the killing of others to achieve that end are probably as varied as those people. Those that join only because they want to kill do not last long these days.

But, forgetting for the moment the rituals that any force, including those of atheistic regimes, employs to justify its actions there is always the personal angle, short of indoctrination that approaches total brainwashing. The individual, if he or she is a thinking person, reaches points where they have trouble justifying their actions, that will lead to the death of others, even if ordered by a legitimate command.

Chaplains have a pastoral function, though not all of them are any good at it. The armed forces cannot (yet) admit that they need a psychological support function, maybe even a philosophical support function, to help those members who reach a point of crisis. Chaplains are the poor best they have to offer and as an atheist I had no-one else to turn to to discuss ethics and morals. Let us rename this function "counsellor" for the moment, it makes more sense and is the way such people are often used. Humanists need guidance at times and telling them to "pray to God" for it is nonsensical.

But, this supposes that any such post will require a great deal of experience and some wisdom - a humanist chaplain/counsellor in the armed forces who is a pacifist is of little use.

So, I agree with Fia in that this is a function that is necessary in the armed forces, and I agree with Alan in that the concept of "chaplain" does not fit - but would the forces agree to "counsellor" I wonder?

The nature of the armed forces is changing, and will change more in the next few decades. Now is the age when junior NCOs in technical grades are liable to have degrees, and not necessarily just in engineering. Now is the age when the "cannon fodder" of yesteryear is giving way to an educated and self-reliant fighting man who is expected to operate on his own initiative part of the time. It is no good having an IQ of, say, 80 and basically be able to point a gun in the right direction and pull the trigger on order any more.

But, this "upgrading" of the fighting person may mean that you also have someone who will have more of a mind of his (or her) own. No serviceman is required to obey any order that is not "just and lawful" and, though they will still be trained to act as a united team, perhaps more will consider their orders before acting on them where possible.

With this the "counsellor" function will probably become almost essential - I am all for it.
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seyorni
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#4 Post by seyorni » August 21st, 2010, 1:15 am

Apparently we all agree with Fia and Alan C.
"Clergymen" -- especially Christian or Humanist ones, seem about as appropriate in the military as PETA representatives in a Butchers and meatpacker's union.

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jaywhat
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#5 Post by jaywhat » August 21st, 2010, 5:49 am

Before the counselling role comes into the limelight I suppose the chaplain was originally there (and still is) to lead the religious services to bless the bread and the wine or lead the call to prayer 5 times a day or give the last rights and so and so forth.
I guess a Humanist Chaplain might be at loss in some of this.

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Dave B
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#6 Post by Dave B » August 21st, 2010, 10:47 am

Jaywhat, you forgot that the priest was also expected to exhort the soldiers to fight because they were right and God was on their side etc. etc. etc. He was part of the system that gave them legitimacy to go out and slaughter men, women and children; absolving their sins before they even committed them.

Though not quite as before the current blessing of troops before they go into battle, that still happens (for those that feel the need for it these days - not compulsory), is part of the same thing.
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lewist
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#7 Post by lewist » August 21st, 2010, 2:28 pm

seyorni wrote:Apparently we all agree with Fia and Alan C.
"Clergymen" -- especially Christian or Humanist ones, seem about as appropriate in the military as PETA representatives in a Butchers and meatpacker's union.
My nephew's wife has an MSc in Animal Welfare and worked for a big slaughterhouse before going into marketing and then HR. I always thought it a bit odd.

The Highland Humanist Group (of the HSS) had the chaplain from Raigmore Hospital to speak a while back and he said he was open to the idea of Humanist chaplains in hospitals. I emailed afterwards to ask to be put on the list for training. I did get a reply to the comments I made about the hospital's patient handbook in the same email but I never got an invite to the training. When Maureen was in the Highland Hospice we told them we were Humanists and we had no chaplaincy support at all. The chaplain didn't approach us. I have a friend whose wife spent time there before she died and he has ongoing contact and support from them. I have had no contact from them since Maureen came home in May 2007.

I don't think it is at all satisfactory that the religious (and it's xtians we are talking about here) should have a support service and others should have none. That's what chaplaincy is about; it's support that's needed both for the terminally ill and their relatives and for members of our armed forces and their relatives. What 'support' is will differ according to the needs of different people.

I think what I am saying is that in both these situations, counselling is needed. Some can get by without it, some think they can and can't, some recognise the need and benefit from the outset. I think I was in the middle group. I suspect that those in the armed forces need this kind of service even more than others.
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#8 Post by Nick » August 21st, 2010, 3:38 pm

Quite so, Lewist. When you think that more Falkland veterans have subsequently committed suicide than were killed on active service, there is clearly a huge need for support. And though I am no expert, I'd guess that support should be given as soon as possible, rather than waiting for a problem to arise.

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Dave B
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#9 Post by Dave B » August 21st, 2010, 4:28 pm

Nick wrote:Quite so, Lewist. When you think that more Falkland veterans have subsequently committed suicide than were killed on active service, there is clearly a huge need for support. And though I am no expert, I'd guess that support should be given as soon as possible, rather than waiting for a problem to arise.
I am with you there, Nick. And it is not only the Falklands that have caused this problem, those that have left the forces after Iraq and Afghanistan have also suffered many problems, PTSD and depression amongst them. Some police forces have published figures concerning how many arrests for drunkenness and violence have involved ex-servicemen, they do not make good reading.

When the adrenaline of action finally stops flowing the reaction is so often to suffer a "down"; doubt, depression, guilt. That is the time that support is required, whether it be care, individual, de-briefing by skilled people or actual counselling. It is evident that such is not being provided to a sufficient level.
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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#10 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » August 21st, 2010, 5:24 pm

Dave B wrote:The individual, if he or she is a thinking person, reaches points where they have trouble justifying their actions, that will lead to the death of others, even if ordered by a legitimate command.
Yes, I can see that. Does that mean that they need help justifying their actions (if ordered by a legitimate command)?
Dave B wrote:The armed forces cannot (yet) admit that they need a psychological support function, maybe even a philosophical support function, to help those members who reach a point of crisis. Chaplains are the poor best they have to offer and as an atheist I had no-one else to turn to to discuss ethics and morals. Let us rename this function "counsellor" for the moment, it makes more sense and is the way such people are often used. Humanists need guidance at times and telling them to "pray to God" for it is nonsensical.
Of course. But what does make sense? What guidance could or should a humanist chaplain give someone who has reached a crisis? On what would such a humanist chaplain base that guidance?
Dave B wrote:But, this supposes that any such post will require a great deal of experience and some wisdom - a humanist chaplain/counsellor in the armed forces who is a pacifist is of little use.
One doesn't have to be a pacifist to have doubts about particular military campaigns, or to wonder whether the best advice to give a young man or woman who has reached a crisis of doubt, depression and guilt might be "Get the hell out of here!"
Dave B wrote:So, I agree with Fia in that this is a function that is necessary in the armed forces, and I agree with Alan in that the concept of "chaplain" does not fit - but would the forces agree to "counsellor" I wonder?
They already have "counselors" in the US Navy, although it sounds as though they're more like human resources managers and PR officers combined.
Dave B wrote: But, this "upgrading" of the fighting person may mean that you also have someone who will have more of a mind of his (or her) own. No serviceman is required to obey any order that is not "just and lawful" and, though they will still be trained to act as a united team, perhaps more will consider their orders before acting on them where possible.

With this the "counsellor" function will probably become almost essential - I am all for it.
With this, I'd have thought that the "counsellor" function would become almost impossible.

No, I wasn't sure at first, but I've decided that I agree with Alan C. I'm against this. If the armed forces need counsellors, then they need to admit it and do something about it. I think it would be wrong of humanist organisations to step in and help them out, by taking up the slack caused by a lack of religious chaplains. However, if individual atheists and agnostics, whether they happen to call themselves humanists or not, want to take on the role of non-religious "chaplain", or counsellor, or legal and ethical adviser, not linked to any humanist organisations [---][/---] well, that's entirely up to them.

I think the issue of humanist chaplains in hospitals (and universities) is a very different matter.

Emma

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Dave B
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#11 Post by Dave B » August 21st, 2010, 7:24 pm

Things to think about there, Emma - thanks.

I suppose that I should say that though I think war is something to be undertaken as an act of last resort I am not a pacifist. This is bound to have flavoured my thoughts.

This is getting OT. If the question of justification does not enter the mind of a serviceman at some point, when on active service in the territory of another, I would worry about the sanity of that person. Most will be able to cope with it, but those who cannot may need help, such unresolved dilemmas can put them and their comrades in danger. But they need to feel able to voice such to a person who they know is not going to take a disciplinarian's view of those doubts.
What guidance could or should a humanist chaplain give someone who has reached a crisis? On what would such a humanist chaplain base that guidance?
Good point, there is another way to look at this then - perhaps a counsellor needs to be more of a psychologist than philosopher. He or she does not need an "attachment" to any belief system, religious or humanistic. In that case I can happily agree that there should not be Humanist chaplains or counsellors, just counsellors.

Certainly the same goes for hospitals. In the forces training (which inevitably involves a degree of indoctrination) gives the individual some support, comradeship also provides support for a lot once a squad spirit is established. For the patient, especially those who have no family or close friends, some sort of support is also often needed. Those that are of a religious nature may find assistance from their faith, even if their belief is not covered by the chaplaincy service help may be available to find a suitable person for them - most hospitals keep a list of willing local "priests".

OK, so, following on from what I said above do humanists need a humanist to provide support? No, they need any trained or experienced person who can offer more than a few soothing words or a prayer.

This is one of the good aspects about such discussions - I don't mind saying that my opinion is now modified. We do not need Humanist what-you-call-thems in the forces or hospitals, but there is still a roll for an "independent" counsellor.

But bureaucracy would almost certainly demand that the counsellor needs to have some sort of "qualification" , how would this be achieved - qualified psychologists and counsellors usually have to work for a living and charge fees or earn a wage. The two hospital chaplains I have met have been retired vicars and worked for expenses only (and one spent all his time telling me his life story!) A third member of the team was a volunteer but had been "vetted" by the chaplains and was a registered hospital visitor. Perhaps that scheme might be the "way in"?
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jaywhat
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#12 Post by jaywhat » August 22nd, 2010, 6:57 am

It is time we discussed the difference between 'chaplain' and 'counsellor'.
Much of this thread has been about counselling.

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Dave B
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#13 Post by Dave B » August 22nd, 2010, 11:08 am

jaywhat wrote:It is time we discussed the difference between 'chaplain' and 'counsellor'.
Much of this thread has been about counselling.
Good point, jaywhat, a matter of function and perception.

To my mind a "chaplain" is a minister of religion who leads services and has, as all ministers do, a secondary function as a counsellor. The definition in my dictionary adds "attached to some private organisation . . " Some are good at this, others not so.

Since Humanism is not a religion, nor is it structured in any formal way, "chaplain" seems a bit of a misnomer, counsellor would be far more appropriate to me.

But are the armed forces and hospitals ready for such a concept, who would such a person answer to in terms of a higher authority. Would they need to institute a whole new, separate structure? This costs a change of perception and maybe money, two things which such organisations are often loath to contemplate!

Would any Humanist be willing to be included in the "Chaplaincy Team" for bureaucratic purposes?
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jaywhat
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#14 Post by jaywhat » August 22nd, 2010, 12:18 pm

In which case one has to consider the serious matter of training. Counselling is no mean feat.

At some time in the past (when I was BHA 'celebrant') this matter was discussed at length.
As a celebrant, an officiant (as we were called) or a chaplain (?) one should not be expected to counsel (in the sense we are using it) or be in anyway regarded as capable of counselling without sufficient training.

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Dave B
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#15 Post by Dave B » August 22nd, 2010, 12:26 pm

jaywhat wrote:In which case one has to consider the serious matter of training. Counselling is no mean feat.

At some time in the past (when I was BHA 'celebrant') this matter was discussed at length.
As a celebrant, an officiant (as we were called) or a chaplain (?) one should not be expected to counsel (in the sense we are using it) or be in anyway regarded as capable of counselling without sufficient training.
Very much agreed, jaywhat, which is why I mentioned, in an earlier post, that qualified people can command more money in private practice.

The college I attended a few years ago had a counselling service available one afternoon a week. Though it was not free it was at a reduced rate of £10/hour, rather than the £40 - £50 that a counsellor might ask in private practice.
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tubataxidriver
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#16 Post by tubataxidriver » August 22nd, 2010, 3:50 pm

The BHA is apparently looking at "humanist chaplains" at the moment, and there is also an initiative in Leeds to develop a network (against the wishes of the BHA, so it would seem).

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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#17 Post by Gottard » August 22nd, 2010, 10:58 pm

From the original Fia entry:
"Non-believers in the forces, including a senior Scottish officer, hope the move will pave the way for the establishment of Humanist chaplains, who would offer support and consolation to those with no spiritual beliefs."
Twisted sentence :twisted:
Again and again: religious beliefs ARE NOT TO BE linked to spirituality; spirit is just:Intelligence free of personal culture and time. Humanists have a spiritual dimension as well.

As for the "military counsellor" my thought gets stuck on the following consideration:
How do I reconcile 'critical thinking' with the military demand for 'blind obedience'?
The army may need specialist counsellors, it's understandable, but I think we Humanists have other priority matters to chew about. It's uncompromising to me.
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#18 Post by xmeltrut » August 23rd, 2010, 8:27 am

peneasy wrote:As for the "military counsellor" my thought gets stuck on the following consideration:
How do I reconcile 'critical thinking' with the military demand for 'blind obedience'?
I would imagine that is a problem for anyone serving in the armed forces who considers them self a humanist as well. Not to mention how you reconcile the idea of killing with your beliefs. I'm not sure a counselor could help someone to answer these questions if they don't understand the world view that the individual is coming from, hence what I would see as the need for humanist chaplains.
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jaywhat
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#19 Post by jaywhat » August 23rd, 2010, 8:53 am

...and I repeat that 'chaplain' does not = 'counselor'

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Dave B
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Re: Military Humanist Chaplains?

#20 Post by Dave B » August 23rd, 2010, 10:56 am

jaywhat wrote:...and I repeat that 'chaplain' does not = 'counselor'
Is it not, then, that there cannot be any such beast as a "Humanist chaplain" in the sense of the definition, but that does not deny the need for some form of counselling for those of a secular turn of mind. Are we in for another case of language drift - where dictionary definitions and traditional uses are ignored for convenience?
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