If you serve your country, do you have to serve God?

It’s hard to know just how many people of alternative faiths are in the military; since the “humanist” designation is fairly new, there isn’t any data about how many there are across the services. Before, humanists only had the option of designating themselves as atheists or saying that they had no religious preference, which didn’t offer much nuance about what people actually believe. There are a handful of chaplains who represent alternative designations: four Unitarian Universalists, four from “unclassified religions,” and seven who have “no religious preferences.”

Bradley thinks specificity is important, though; not all non-theistic religions belief systems are created equal. “When you say you’re a humanist, it’s your life system, belief system; it’s what drives you,” he said. “Being a humanist means as much to an individual as being a Christian or a Muslim.”

But he’s not convinced that atheists need their own chaplain. “I would fully agree that an atheist chaplain is an oxymoron,” he said. “A-thesism is antithetical to the idea of chaplaincy.”

Crews agreed. “I would question how an atheist chaplain could fulfill his duties,” he said. “The motto [of the Army chaplaincy] is ‘for God and country’—how could an atheist fulfill that motto if by definition he does not believe in God?”