A chaplain and an atheist go to war…

It sounds like the set-up to a joke — and it is, in a way. The Wall Street Journal has a great profile of Navy Chaplain Terry Moran, a Seventh-Day Adventist, and his assistant, Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Philip Chute, an atheist, and their working relationship in the field:

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.”

Chaplains don’t carry weapons, which is where the assistants come in — and Lt. Moran’s trust in Divine protection can cause real headaches for RP2 Chute, especially when the former blithely stands in open view of the enemy, while his compatriots are scrambling for cover.

But Lt. Moran obviously brings comfort to the troops — everyone but RP2 Chute, that is. Chute’s own background as a Baptist (who knows his Bible passages) also makes for interesting disputes:

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.

Lt. Moran says he’s puzzled by Chute’s grasp of Christian doctrine but his refusal to accept it. For RP2 Chute’s part, he says he has a hard time listen to Moran “tell people things I know not to be true,” even if it’s not his place to get involved. I imagine this pair will go on confounding each other all over Afghanistan.


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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