During the defense of Bataan in 1942, an American chaplain, Fr. William T. Cummings, is reported to have declared, “There are no atheists in the foxholes.” But if one Army intelligence officer has his way, there will soon be chaplains to serve those atheists when they are not in foxholes. Capt. Ryan Jean is seeking to become a military chaplain who will serve his fellow atheists in the Army — an ironic course of action which raises fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the military chaplaincy.
Jean’s pursuit of service in the chaplaincy ostensibly began when questions regarding a psychological evaluation brought him to the post chaplain. An article for the Los Angeles Times explains that it was Jean’s belief in the purposelessness of his own life that brought about the events leading to his determination to become a chaplain:
Capt. Ryan Jean wanted to perform well on the Army's psychological evaluation. But he also wanted to answer the questions honestly. So when he was asked whether he believed his life had a lasting purpose, Jean, an atheist, saw no choice but to say no.
Those and other responses, Jean says, won him a trip to see the post chaplain, who berated him for his lack of faith.
"He basically told me that if I don't get right with God, then I'm worthless," said Jean, now an intelligence officer at Ft. Meade. "That if I don't believe in Jesus, why am I in uniform, because this is God's army, and that I should resign my commission in order to stop disgracing the military."
Jean says experiences such as that confrontation three years ago, when he was serving at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, have spurred him to seek Army recognition as a humanist lay leader — on par with Christian, Jewish and Muslim lay leaders who help military chaplains minister to the troops.
Click here to read the entire article.
Photo: Stained glass window, U. S. Pentagon, honoring the Four Chaplains, USAT Dorchester, 1943