“Reverend Atheist”

pale chaplain
Maybe not Rev. Gunslinger

What?  Oh, of course!

Rev. Atheist, like Rev. Humanist and Rev. Freethinker.

Why Not?

We hear a number of agitated faithful ask, “How can you be an Atheist/Humanist/Freethinker and be a Chaplain, or call yourself a Clergyperson?  You can’t DO that?”

Here is my abbreviated reply:

1)  Actually, I can and I do.

2)  Though a secular is by definition a non-theist, non-supernaturalist, we need to take a closer look at what “Reverend” means.

For example, I was trained as a minister and received a Master of Divinity degree from an accredited seminary.  I was ordained by a recognized denomination (Presbyterian).  This means that I had 8 years of Religious Studies, Bible, Counseling, Psychology, World Religions, etc. and then served as a Chaplain for twenty-five years.  I “gave back” my ordination, but continued to work as a Chaplain.  Not a problem.  Then, I was ordained by the Universal Life Monastery in Seattle (mail order, ten bucks—much cheaper than seminary!).  So, technically, I can still call myself “Reverend” or a “Minister,” though I am not a theist believer. I rarely refer to myself as “Reverend” but often as a Chaplain.

What does the word “reverend” mean anyway?  One deserving (perhaps) reverence or respect.  A member of “the Clergy.”

What does “Clergy” mean?  “Ordained for religious duties.”

What are “religious duties”?  Depends on whom you ask!

Ah, that’s the rub!

Those who say there can be no “Atheist Clergy” already have their own definitions that exclude pretty much ALL Clergy not of their special faith.  One whom they “revere” and consider a leader in “religious duties” represents Their God (their definition of God).  So, these folks would probably not accept or “revere” Other Clergy, such as Imams, Rabbis, Gurus, Priests, Priestesses, etc.

See the problem?  I think it’s fairly clear:  Some will only revere, respect and honor those they consider, they believe, are “ordained” or “called” by The One True God. . .Their God.  All others are Imposters, Actors, Fakes.

I think this is the foundation and the context for denying Secular Chaplains and Secular Clergy access to the honorable table, to full inclusion (whether military chaplaincy or any other kind of “ministry”).

So I would suggest that the next time you hear someone question the use of these professional titles by secular representatives, simply point out that they are doing the Work of Good, “called” by the natural instinct to do good and to help with compassion and justice.

In my book, a person EARNS respect and any “reverential honor” through education, experience and content of character.  It cannot be bestowed “from Above” or by a Committee.

I think this could be a very interesting discussion!


4 thoughts on ““Reverend Atheist”

  1. This is great. I have felt “called to ministry” my entire life, so much so that we moved overseas to be missionaries. Recently becoming atheist, we have decided not to return to the mission field. My family took the news incredibly hard, saying that I am forsaking my ministry. I felt like I needed to “come out” completely to them, and things only got worse. In trying to explain how I still feel like what we would be doing is ministry, they were just completely dumbfounded and had no open-mindedness towards it whatsoever. I’m grateful for posts like this that make me feel less ridiculous 🙂

    1. You’ve taken a huge step with earthquakes of emotion for everyone. The “exodus” from faith can be the “genesis” of a free life with many choices in helping others. Wouldn’t it be nice if “ministry” actually meant simply that: helping others, here and now, with no sectarian otherworldly agenda? In that sense, I imagine you will find that your talents and skills in service are needed in many places by many people, faith or no faith. I wish you a courageous path forward.

  2. I agree. The truly revered are those who behave in a way that inspires my reverence. Title doesn’t matter. Formal ordination is not enough. There’s been numerous studies about how we perceive “bosses” at work. Those who wield their title as a source of their power tend to receive little reverence or influence from their subordinates. Many times the “boss” gets respect only out of subordinates fear of losing their paycheck. Perhaps a test of pure reverence is how much goodness and influence a leader has with others when there’s nothing to take away or no formal power over followers. Lao Tzu wrote something about the best leader is one who makes the people believe they are leading themselves. I liked the topic you picked and what you had to say about it. thanks

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