There is an absolutely fascinating article at WSJ.com about a Navy Chaplain in Afghanistan who is protected by an atheist soldier:
SANGIN, Afghanistan—They say there are no atheists in foxholes. There’s one on the front lines here, though, and the chaplain isn’t thrilled about it.
Navy Chaplain Terry Moran is steeped in the Bible and believes all of it. His assistant, Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Philip Chute, is steeped in the Bible and having none of it.
Together they roam this town in Taliban country, comforting the grunts while crossing swords with each other over everything from the power of angels to the wisdom of standing in clear view of enemy snipers. Lt. Moran, 48 years old, preaches about divine protection while 25-year-old RP2 Chute covers the chaplain’s back and wishes he were more attentive to the dangers of the here and now.
It’s a match made in, well, the Pentagon.
“He trusts God to keep him safe,” says RP2 Chute. “And I’m here just in case that doesn’t work out.”
Why does the Chaplain have an assistant? Apparently because Chaplains aren’t allowed to carry weapons so they have to rely on the troops around them and an assistant to provide protection. Assistants, however, aren’t Junior Chaplains so they don’t have to be of the same faith, or any faith, to do the job.
“They don’t have to be religious,” says retired Navy Capt. Randy Cash, who served 30 years in the Chaplain Corps and now is its historian. “They have to be able to shoot straight.”
In the case of Chaplain Moran and RP2 Chute, their theological paths diverged long before their career paths joined. Terry Moran grew up in Spokane, Wash., a Seventh-Day Adventist, a denomination that believes the Sabbath should be on Saturday, not Sunday.
I have nothing but sympathy for for RPS 2nd Class Philip Chute. It would be a hard enough assignment as it is without adding in the fact that the Chaplain is a Seventh-Day Adventist.
Lt. Moran takes the Bible at its word, rejects the evolution of species and believes the Earth to be 6,000 years old. He carries a large Bible with him into the combat zone, while RP2 Chute totes writings of Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and fierce critic of the notion that God designed the universe.
Philip Chute was raised a devout Baptist in Nova Scotia and moved to Greenville, S.C., as a teen. His avid reading of the Bible, however, weakened his belief that fact lay behind faith. Soon he was a “full-blown atheist,” he says.
Well that certainly sounds familiar. I’m telling you, reading the Bible can be quite an effective way to destroy your faith.
Of course they eventually had The Discussion and it apparently rattled the Chaplains cage:
At first the chaplain got the sense RP2 Chute was agnostic. “I can work with that,” Lt. Moran recalls thinking.
But a few days later RP2 Chute dropped the A bomb: He was an atheist.
Appalled, Lt. Moran contacted his fellow chaplains. He says he was simply seeking counsel about whether atheists can really be chaplain’s assistants. RP2 Chute is convinced Lt. Moran was trying to trade him in for a believer.
RP2 Chute was senior among Lt. Moran’s possible assistants. More importantly, he already had two combat tours under his belt, while Lt. Moran hadn’t yet seen a bullet fly. In the end, Lt. Moran says, he chose experience over faith.
Now you’d think, given that last sentence, that this would show that the Chaplain has a bit of common sense in him. Then you continue to read the article where it talks about how he has this bad habit of standing out in the open where snipers have been known to pick off Marines and you have to wonder why he would do that:
“Hey, sir, don’t get out of the vehicle until I lay down a sniper screen,” Gunnery Sgt. Mark Shawhan, an agnostic with a suspicion of organized religion, instructed Chaplain Moran before the patrol. “That’s where he’s been getting us, and when you cross the bridge—RUN.”
Lt. Moran wasn’t troubled. “I believe the Lord is going to protect us,” he said. But he wondered aloud whether to finish his Meal, Ready-to-Eat packaged lunch before heading to the armored vehicle.
Gunny Shawhan shook his head in disbelief.
When their turn came, the chaplain and his assistant bolted across the bridge and pivoted into a cornfield, where the minister stood upright. RP2 Chute shouted at Lt. Moran to get down. “Take a knee,” he yelled.
[...] During a pause to allow the minesweepers to check for booby-traps on the path ahead, the chaplain, wearing his prescription eyeglasses instead of anti-shrapnel goggles, sat down on the bank of an irrigation ditch, dropped his backpack on the ground and snapped a few pictures. RP2 Chute grimaced when he noticed. Insurgents have seeded the entire town with powerful explosives, and Marines step in the exact footprints of the man ahead to minimize the risk.
Lt. Moran says he follows the Marines’ safety instruction and wears a helmet, despite his confidence in the divine. But the way he glides blithely through battle is a constant source of worry for his assistant.
“All my training and experience doesn’t always help when the man I’m protecting isn’t afraid of being hurt,” says RP2 Chute.
Perhaps this will help explain why:
He laid out a selection of religious books: The New International Version of the Bible in desert camouflage. A book called Freedom from Fear. Two books promoted the protective powers of the 91st Psalm.
“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday,” the psalm tells believers. “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.”
As you can imagine there is often a certain amount of tension between the two men, but contrary to what many would think the atheist doesn’t try to undermine the Chaplains work. Though he has been known to add his own thoughts on it:
RP2 Chute looked on, his impassiveness masking his disdain for talk of angels. “It’s frustrating to listen to him tell people things I know not to be true, but I know it’s not my place to get involved when people come to him for help,” he said later.
There are times, however, when RP2 Chute feels he has to intervene and looses his own ample arsenal of biblical references, dredged up from his Baptist boyhood and doubting teenage years.
In August, the pair visited India Co. in dug-in positions on a ridge line overlooking the Helmand River. The company commander asked the chaplain to visit every foxhole. Lt. Moran did so, spending four hours in the mortar pit, fielding the Marines’ questions about the End Times.
The chaplain was struck both by RP2 Chute’s command of the Book of Revelation, and his refusal to take it seriously. “He’s familiar with the Christian doctrine, but he chooses not to believe it,” says the chaplain, a slender-faced, soft-spoken man with a fringe of gray in his black hair. “That’s what I find puzzling.”
On a visit to Kilo Co., a Marine asked for a biblical ruling on tattoos. Lt. Moran said the Book of Leviticus bans them. RP2 Chute disagreed. Leviticus, he said, says people shouldn’t get tattoos to mourn the dead.
“I don’t believe as Chaplain Moran believes,” RP2 Chute often tells the Marines during these visits.
It’s always entertaining when a True Believer™ is surprised by how familiar many atheists are with the Christian Bible. The assumption is almost always that we can’t have read it otherwise we’d believe it and, as demonstrated here, it’s difficult for many of them to understand how we could be well versed and reject it as nonsense.
It’s worth reading the whole article as there is yet another point where the Chaplain blissfully stands out in the open in a dangerous area while those around him scream at him to get behind some cover:
“No matter what situation you find yourself in on planet Earth, God will protect you,” he said after the patrol returned safely to base. “All He asks is that you trust and believe what He says. So, if I find myself in a combat situation, His promise of protection is still valid.”
I can imagine just how hard that makes the atheist job to keep the Chaplain’s ass safe. Not to mention the fact that if he succeeds the Chaplain will give all the credit to God.
You’d almost have to be a Saint to put up with that kind of gratitude…