By Bernadette Chlebeck and Phil Cunliffe
There are a lot of beliefs out in the world that hurt no one and atheists are going to have to tolerate. People have the right to their beliefs. Such as the virgin birth, or that Jesus is magic. Having those beliefs really doesn’t hurt anyone and can give individuals comfort during difficult times. No one should dictate how someone seeks relief during times of personal struggles. Their beliefs may even result in getting a Keurig coffee maker on December 25th.
But there are beliefs that we should stand up to. Chaplain Patrick McLaughlin, author of No Atheists in Foxholes Prayers and Reflections from the Front could have written a book solely describing his experiences on prayer and how it helped him and others. McLaughlin crosses the line when he chooses to go in the direction that all people who fight in wars should not only believe in god but believe in his god. I wonder how many soldiers were left out or hurt even worse because they only had McLaughlin, or others like him to turn to during difficult times.
The fact is there are atheists in foxholes. 295,000 active duty personnel who consider themselves atheist, agnostic or without a religious preference. Only about 8,000 out of 1.4 million active duty members in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force identify themselves as atheists, and another 1,800 say they are agnostic, according to the Defense Department.* Ft. Bragg hosted Rock Beyond Belief an event where approximately 2,000 people attended. Pat Tillman, who gave up a career in the NFL to join the Army, was an atheist. Clearly Atheists serve and are on the front line.
What is not clear is how much harm is being done to soldiers by chaplains like Mclaughlin, who are put in a role of providing guidance and comfort but chose not to see the world beyond their own beliefs. Prayers do not comfort everyone and we should not tolerate military chaplains whose beliefs are harming soldiers and their families.