In a recent news report, I learned that atheists are arguing they should have their own military chaplains.

The New York Times (April 26, 2011) tells us that among some 3,000 chaplains in the U.S. armed forces, most are Christians, along with a few Jewish and Muslim chaplains and even a Buddhist. There may be a Hindu and a Wiccan on the way.

Atheists are saying they, too, should be represented in the ranks of military chaplains. As the Times reports, “Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large—and largely underground—population of nonbelievers in the military.

“Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders.”

Apparently the atheists have decided to counter that argument that “there are no atheists in foxholes” by putting them in the base chapel.

Still, I wonder what an atheist chaplain would have to do all day. Would they spend their days encouraging soldiers and sailors not to believe in God? Would they sit through chapel services and shake their head every time God is mentioned?

What would an atheist chapel service look like? I can’t help but think about the old “Seinfeld” sitcom, which was described as “a show about nothing.” Wouldn’t that pretty well sum up what an atheist service would look like?

I mean, what would they use for a prelude? Maybe this song I found online, called “Going Nowhere”:

Nowhere
Can’t catch me I’m going nowhere
Nowhere
We’re all gonna be going nowhere.

Do you have a call to worship in an atheist service? If they don’t worship God, the alternative is to worship themselves, so I suppose the call to worship might be a rousing chorus of “Hurray for me!”

There don’t seem to be a whole lot of catchy atheist songs to sing—not that some bands haven’t tried out for that category—so I suppose the musical portion of the service would be fairly short. After all, how many times can you sing “Imagine” by John Lennon before it gets pretty tiresome? (I vote for once, but that’s just me.)

Likewise, I don’t suppose an atheist service is going to invest much time in the way of prayer. After all, they don’t have anyone to talk to.

I guess the sermon would be the major portion of an atheist chapel service, as the chaplain cheerfully discusses all the things he doesn’t believe in, and how life is aimless, meaningless, short and brutal; and when you die, that’s it. Somehow I don’t think you’re going to hear a lot of amens during that sermon. There certainly isn’t an invitation, as there’s nothing to invite congregants to do.

The best part of an atheist service would be the offering. If there is no God to whom you are giving, you can let that plate pass by without a bit of guilt or regret.

Hmm, come to think of it, I may have seen a few atheists in my services at offering time.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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