Secular Humanists in Crisis – Chaplain Services Monopoly of the “Spiritual Counseling” Arena – How We Can Initiate Change

May 10, 2014

“Would you like me to send a chaplain for you to talk to? Do you want last rites performed?” the nurse asked as she gripped my hands and looked deeply into my eyes. “No …no, thank you,” was my stuttered, polite reply. Inside I was screaming, and desperately needed to talk to someone…

 

This was the question I was asked after the doctor informed us that our brilliant, artistic, beautiful 21-year-old son was brain dead, and that we only had one hour before they would begin removing life support. How does the non-theist reply to this question? We filled out the hospital form that requests the patient’s religious affiliation, and had marked the little box named “Other,” scribbling in “Secular Humanist” for good measure. We also politely declined the kind Christian ICU chaplain as he made his rounds, Bible firmly in hand.

Though our “religious affiliation” had been clarified through hospital protocol, never were we offered a Secular Humanist chaplain to speak with. When we had to tell my 9-year-old son that his brother was dying, the sound that spilled from his lips arose from the depths of his being; this sound was my call to action. Today I issue yours.

 

Our family could have benefited greatly from the compassionate counsel of a professional who shares our naturalistic worldview. The United Sates military has recently set the precedent on this issue (not without pressure) by adding “atheist/agnostic” to their religious affiliation selection checklist. Approval to add Secular Humanist chaplains to the military’s chaplain roster followed soon after. Let’s use this momentum while we can to keep this very important, very humane ball rolling.

 

OBJECTIVE: To form an action committee to bring Secular Humanist counselors into Missouri’s tightly held hospital chaplaincies by identifying roadblocks and developing appropriate protocols for Secular Humanists interested in providing these services. By exploring hospital chaplaincy requirements, we will create a process for Secular Humanists to obtain them, or determine an applicable equivalency. Create and establish compliance protocols to ensure the hospital staff and chaplain services continue to offer Secular Humanist chaplain counseling to patients and families who have made their preferences known. We will promote the need for Secular Humanist Chaplains, while providing our findings and resources. Attempt implementation while seeking positive resolution and a permanent secular position within the chaplaincy community.

 

Lofty goals? Not when you look at the larger picture and consider that statistics show non-theism is on the rise. It is my hope that this will open the door for other non-Christians of different belief systems to also have their “chaplains” be recognized and given equal status within the “private” chaplain organizations. I hope this movement will extend to hospice care and our prison system. I have hope Secular Humanist counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals will consider being openly secular, for the benefit of their fellow non-theists in crisis. Facing possible discrimination, they will be the real heroes of our shared cause. The demand for Secular Humanist counseling is there and growing, and yet we are in short supply of appropriate secular grief and crisis-related support systems.

 

Thank you for your time; I understand how valuable it is. As you consider the road before us remember that illness and death are an inevitable part of our lives. Only in the face of tragedy do we learn how vitally important compassion from a secular counselor truly is.

Respectfully yours,

Nikki Moungo

 

Contact: Nikki Moungo

Email: nmoungo@gmail.com

Fax: (636) 220-6017

 
Nikki was a recent Guest Blogger on “The Friendly Atheist” with Hemant Mehta: http://bit.ly/1s8wnI2 Materials above contributed for use in the “Coming Out” campaign led by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Secular Coalition for America, the Secular Student Alliance and the Stiefel Freethought Foundation: http://bit.ly/1ntXNb3

Written By: Nikki Moungo

16 comments on “Secular Humanists in Crisis – Chaplain Services Monopoly of the “Spiritual Counseling” Arena – How We Can Initiate Change

  • When I had cardiac bypass, I didn’t have any family to see me in the hospital. I was asked if I wanted to speak to a pastor before I went into surgery.
    I asked to speak to a biologist………..



    Report abuse

  • About twenty years ago I needed to fill in an admission form at a large, public hospital. I left the question of Religion blank, as I felt that was the most diplomatic response. In those days we were not encouraged to be quite so assertive about our lack of belief. The nurse on duty pointed out my incomplete form, assuming that I had inadvertently overlooked that question. I mean to say, what if I were to die under the anaesthetic! When I told her that it was a deliberate omission she was stunned! I finally put N/A so that the form was at least complete.



    Report abuse

  • 3
    davidlewis says:

    In 1972 I was admitted to a UK hospital. I was asked what religion I was and answered “none”. The nurse said “don’t be ridiculous” and entered “C of E” which I suppose means the same. A few days later I was looking at the chart from the bottom of my bed and was told I was not allowed to read it. Maybe things have changed since then.



    Report abuse

  • 4
    bastet35 says:

    I was fortunate enough to have been born into an atheist, freethinking family. However, I have also been an RN and educator for 21+ years. I have seen, first hand, the TIGHT grip that Christian organizations have on grief and bereavement services…..and they will NOT release this grip without a fight. Honestly, this may require a case that goes to the Supreme Court.

    I have advocated for grieving, non-Christian families my entire career. I even returned to school and earned another degree in anthropology. I have VOLUNTEERED my time and expertise in order to train staff and also be a resource person…..so that grief and bereavement services can be grounded upon secular ideals…..these programs can easily add a family’s religion TO the foundation. However, as it stands now, the very FOUNDATION of such grief support services is based upon Christian dogma. This model leaves atheists and agnostics often feeling isolated and ostracized, during the times when they desperately need the kind and understanding support of their fellow human beings.

    My efforts to bring grief support to the “masses” has mostly been a solitary one. Other healthcare professionals see the problems, but they are too afraid that, if they speak up, they may lose their jobs. This is a very real possibility: if it weren’t for my meticulous documentation and will to fight the powers that be, I would have been fired long ago….simply for being an advocate for non-Christian patients. Their numbers are growing, rapidly.

    I advise all who are reading this…..yes, it may be depressing, but chances are high that we will ALL face tragedy in our lifetimes. We need to have these systems in place BEFORE you need them. Right now, we have a LONG way to go. If you think that this is a subject you can simply put off until later, you may find yourself in a shocking situation (as I did when my 22 year old daughter died last year).



    Report abuse

  • 5
    ewenfraser says:

    Perhaps you can take some comfort from the knowledge that when other atheists offer a kind word you know that they mean it. While prayers may be offered by well-meaning people it is hard to separate the empathy from the religious baggage. To me because prayer implies a total lack of thought and is almost certainly a hackneyed statement, it suggests a lack sincerity. People in a crisis need support and companionship from real people, not from mythical beings and invisible friends.
    I wish you and your family well.



    Report abuse

  • 6
    CdnMacAtheist says:

    My non-theist mother in Scotland & my anti-theist father in England had to wade through the UK social & health systems with their habitual presumptions of faith during their last years of failing health & deaths during 2001.

    That is why my clearly written Cdn Legal Will & Personal Wishes statements say that there will be NO religion allowed near me before any medical work or in recovery, nor before or after my death either in legal or bureaucratic procedures regarding organ donations or my ‘no-service’ cremation – or the secular humanist Celebration of Life gathering to be paid for out of my Estate.

    If any faithist tries to interfere with my mental condition at any time, they will be told – without any undeserved respect or unearned politeness – to eff off & to go infect somebody indoctrinated to be guilty, fearful, submissive & gullible…. Mac.



    Report abuse

  • In reply to #6 by CdnMacAtheist:

    My non-theist mother in Scotland & my anti-theist father in England had to wade through the UK social & health systems with their habitual presumptions of faith during their last years of failing health & deaths during 2001.

    That is why my clearly written Cdn Legal Will & Personal Wishes statements…

    You’re not taking any chances, Mac! It would take a brave cleric to hover around your bed. 🙂



    Report abuse

  • 8
    Stephen Mynett says:

    In reply to #3 by davidlewis:

    In 1972 I was admitted to a UK hospital. I was asked what religion I was and answered “none”. The nurse said “don’t be ridiculous” and entered “C of E” which I suppose means the same. A few days later I was looking at the chart from the bottom of my bed and was told I was not allowed to read it. Maybe things have changed since then.

    I cannot remember when I finally persuaded a nurse to put no religion or atheist on my admittance form but it was probably in the late 1980s, until then I had a similar response to David Lewis and, because of the refusal of nursing staff to accept my atheism, was regularly badgered by chaplains and goofy theist visitors. In those days we were also forced to suffer Sunday services, despite hardly anyone wanting them and often from preachers who objected to us reading our newspapers while they droned on.

    Things have changed and any patient who has made it clear they do not want to see chaplains or other theist visitors has legitimate grounds for complaint if approached by the hospital theists but the chance of support from the nursing staff is about nil.



    Report abuse

  • I am an old guy, in somewhat better than average health for my age, but of course my time will come soon enough. Just let them try to make me accept a chaplain. GO AHEAD! MAKE MY DAY!



    Report abuse

  • We in Latvia are being told that Christian Chaplain is qualified enough to talk to believers in any god, deists and atheists. At least in the hospital settings. Allthough the Law says that Chaplains can also represent Neopagans, but nothing for Jews, Muslims and non-believers.
    Of course there Psychologists, but our hospitals have too little money to treat everybody that needs it and Psychologists is the last of all luxuries on the list.



    Report abuse

  • 13
    collinskg200 says:

    An excellent post. As a former prisoner, it was depressing that the only groups who visited prisoners or offered a personal, friendly support were those grounded in religious faith. In one Scottish prison, several Muslims attended a weekly group run by the Salvation Army, presumably because neither their own religion nor anyone non-religious provided such a respite from the grind of prison life.

    This is to the shame of the non-religious world. I’m also a former Christian and I can testify (oh yes, brothers and sisters, I testify, hallelujah) to the deep, almost familial relationships I encountered in church, a network I’ve never encountered elsewhere. Too often, secular humanism appears dry, intellectual and massively off-putting to the agnostic.



    Report abuse

  • 14
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #13 by collinskg200:

    An excellent post. As a former prisoner, it was depressing that the only groups who visited prisoners or offered a personal, friendly support were those grounded in religious faith. In one Scottish prison, several Muslims attended a weekly group run by the Salvation Army, presumably because neither…

    I agree. It’s something that gets mostly ignored in the secular and atheist world. If we want a truly honest evaluation of why many people cling to religion the community and support systems are a big reason. A significant other of mine was an evangelical Christian. I was amazed at how much the people from her small church supported her on all kinds of day to day issues.

    There is a guy at Portland State University named Peter Boghosian (sp?) who is doing some cool stuff on outreach to prisoners and other communities usually only served by religious groups, Prof. Boghosian uses an approach based on reason and critical thinking — to try and get people to look honestly at their lives. I haven’t read any of the details but it sounds like a wonderful idea.



    Report abuse

  • In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

    . If we want a truly honest evaluation of why many people cling to religion the community and support systems are a big reason. A significant other of mine was an evangelical Christian.

    Atheism doesn’t have that same unifying force that is tapped into by the various brands of religion. Perhaps being a member of the Humanist Society would serve the same function. I’m not sure about Humanist Societies across the globe, but I think the numbers are very low over here. It doesn’t have much clout.



    Report abuse

  • 16
    Fiorenzo says:

    A lot of Italian Catholic organizations systematically follow every situation of pain (drug addiction, jails, hospitals, …) and they transforms with success the pain in the gold and in the power.
    Where is the State? You could wonder.
    It has been swallowed by the gang that keeps cupola in Rome but not in the Italian territory.
    So the superstitions that are contained in the holy book aren’t the only motive of discussion.
    We can fight the superstition, but what can we do against those who exploit the superstition to satisfy their greediness and thirst of power? (Also when the sorrow dominates the scene.)
    You can be sure that they will defend their business at the cost of the life (but if the State is in their hands such a thing won’t be necessary).
    Somebody in Italy is trying to propose the secular rites (and I help for what my little possibilities allows me), but the competition is almost impossible.
    “They” are everywhere in the vital points of the State and certainly try to prevent every move that can undermine their business. The holy book is a pretext. Money is the true theme.

    Only when the most unscrupulous of those Catholic organizations provoke public scandals (give a glance to the Italian newspapers) policemen and judges arrive, especially if the scandal involves political parties. Probably with great satisfaction of the Vatican which probably inwardly rejoices at every occasion in which the administration of the secular State gives scandal: what a great revenge for them! What a satisfaction against those that had accused them of not being able of to conduct a State in modern epoch! And in front of such satisfaction who cares if a bad Catholic organization has been discovered; it was perhaps trying to achieve the “secondary” purpose of to put the secular State under a bad light by compromising secular administrators.

    Nevertheless some scattered results have been achieved for merit of diverse subjects, for instance the UAAR. Some Halls dedicated to secular rites have been built here and there. Now the problem is the maintenance, and the scarcity of request due to the scarcity of information.

    My best regards to all readers of this website.

    Fiorenzo.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.