Although I’m a happy humanist, I must admit that there are certain things I miss about church. I miss gathering with friends and family, swaying to the band, and feeling inspired. I also miss going out to eat afterwards, but I can do that anytime.
So, I’m delighted to hear that the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is offering “alternatives to church” programs during summer training at U.S. military academies. Nonbelievers and skeptics in the armed forces will now have a place to ask questions, connect with like-minded people, and reduce stress in their lives.
But of course, not everyone’s pleased, including former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt. When asked about the campaign, he said:
I think it’s sad how atheists are using a government forum and resources to openly recruit Christian cadets into atheism or secular humanism. What should Christian parents think, when their 18-year-old son or daughter is promised donuts, but gets a lecture about ‘letting go of God’ and proselytizing into rejecting their parents’ faith? Atheists define themselves by what they are against (God), not by any good they stand for. But the Bible says ‘the fool says in his heart, there is no God.’
I’m not going to get into the Bible-as-evidence part. We all know how that goes. What irritates me more is the idea that military humanists and atheists are trying to “recruit” new members. Freethinking requires no baptism process, no special prayer to confess, and no strict set of guidelines to follow. If a cadet attends the meeting and realizes he or she isn’t interested in giving up God, no one will condemn said cadet to hell.
Chaplain James Klingenschmitt has a point that atheists “define themselves by what they are against” (though I wouldn’t call a lack of belief being “against” something), but he doesn’t seem to realize that many atheists take their nonbelief a step further–into humanism. Humanists do define themselves by the “good they stand for.” Atheism says nothing about a person’s morals. Humanism does. And it seems to me that the MAAF is just trying to provide a place for humanists to congregate, a place that provides social interaction akin to the church but free of the supernatural stuff. No harm there.
In the meantime, I’m still looking for such a place in my civilian life. I’d have no problem waking up on Sunday to hear a good (secular) message, interact with friends, and eat afterwards. Best of all, I won’t have to pray for forgiveness if I decide to sleep in instead.