U.S Army Major Ray Bradley calls himself a Humanist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we know that’s not synonymous with “atheist.” It’s atheism + ethics. It’s what you’re for instead of what you’re against. And people who use the “Humanism” label feel it’s a more thorough description of who they are — atheist just isn’t enough. (Dave Silverman, on the other hand, is an atheist, not a “Humanist.”)
The military, however, doesn’t recognize the difference. They allow soldiers to wear dog tags that say “Atheist” but not “Humanist.” Why not? Who knows. But Bradley is trying to fix that.
Maj. Ray Bradley is applying to be the first humanist recognized as a “distinctive faith group leader” by the Army. In the meantime, he can’t be designated as a humanist on his official records or dog tags, although he can be classified as an atheist.
Bradley said he applied for the change to his record after learning that “atheist” was now an officially recognized choice for soldiers. His request was ultimately rejected by the Army Chaplain Corps, he said, which didn’t respond to a request for comment. Bradley believes some of the resistance comes from a lack of familiarity with humanism.
“I don’t think the chaplaincy really understands the difference between atheism and humanism,” he said.
The Army currently has no humanist chaplains or laypersons authorized to perform limited chaplain duties, a position roughly equivalent to a deacon or elder in a Christian church. A soldier at Fort Meade, Md., has also filed the paperwork seeking the designation, which is a more formal process in the Army and Navy than in the Air Force, where a humanist lay leader is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., according to Torpy.
Incidentally, that Fort Meade soldier is Cpt. Ryan Jean, whom I mentioned here.
I’d love to hear a good reason from military officials as to why they won’t allow the label, but there really isn’t one. It’s just ignorance on their part. It ought to be a quick fix. And yet, when it comes to non-religious people in the military, there’s always some sort of resistance when they try to assert themselves.