Comments on the VFW Chaplain’s Handbook


Veterans of Foreign Wars

Office of the Chaplain

Duties and Functions

Information and Resources

Department of Pennsylvania

Notes to Chaplains regarding Pagan veterans

INTRODUCTION: I would like to begin by thanking the Department of Pennsylvania, Veterans of Foreign Wars for creating and providing this document. It is understood that the amount of time, thought and hard work which went into its creation was considerable and I would like to thank all those responsible. It will, hopefully, be understood that my comments on this document are offered with the greatest respect for those who created it. Further, please understand that my comments are in no way a criticism of Christianity, Judaism, Islam or any other faith.

RE: Page 1, para 2: “It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible.”

Many Pagans will find this quotation abhorrent as the King James version of the Bible contains numerous attacks, the most famous being, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

Page 1, para 3: The Veterans of Foreign Wars recognizes that if our nation is to remain and be a permanent example of freedom and justice in our world, God must be an essential part of Americanism. The highest role a nation can play is to reflect God’s righteousness in national policy and promote God’s purpose in all of life’s relationships.

Pagans will, for the most part, agree with the basic principle. Differences will arise due to some basic assumptions behind the statement. The first assumption is that divinity is singular. The second is that that singular deity is male or masculine. And the third is that this singular, masculine deity is Jhvh; the god of Torah and the Bible. For most Pagans the Torah, along with the Talmud, the Bible, the Q’ran and other such books are interesting but are alien and confrontational to our beliefs.

Page 2, para 2: “The modern chaplaincy’s roots and origin are essentially in the medieval church.”

If one is speaking about the role of the priest who accompanied armies as both a warrior and as a religious leader, those roots are far older and are essentially Pagan. The Egyptians, Hittites, Egyptians, Babylonians, Breton and Britannic Celts, Huns, Goths and many other ancient Pagan peoples are all recorded as having followed this model.

Page 5, para 2: “We must be reminded that the Veterans of Foreign Wars is inclusive in nature, embracing all religions and faith groups within its ranks. The Chaplain, being non-sectarian and non-denominational, must minister to the spiritual needs of all without regard to either affiliation or non-affiliation.”

This statement of high purpose is to be lauded. The question arises, however, how a Chaplain can minister to the spiritual needs of Pagan members when they know so little of our various belief systems and beliefs. For example, many Pagan groups believe neither in Heaven nor in Hell but in the reincarnation of the soul. Some accept the concept of a place of rest between incarnations (the Elysian Fields, the Summerland, etc). Without knowing of these beliefs and having at least a minimal understanding of them, how can a Chaplain adequately meet their responsibility to Pagan members?

Page 9, points 4 and 5: “The Chaplain should always be aware of the ecumenical nature of the Post’s membership and offer appropriate non-sectarian prayers. …Modify the prayers to your need at the event or to wording that is comfortable to your speaking.”

This is highly commendable and will, it is imagined, create some difficulty for Chaplains where the belief systems of members vary widely. What is important is that the Chaplain attempt to ascertain the religious views of each member of their Post, especially the active members.

Page 13, Commander’s comments #1: As a brave man/woman he/she marched away with the abiding faith in his/her God…”

An alternative substitute for Pagans might be “Gods.”

Page 13, Chaplain’s comments: “O God, Father of us all, we here extend these final earthly tributes to our beloved comrade. Welcome him/her to Thy house to rest in peace…”

This, again, imposes the basic assumption of a single, male divinity. It also assumes the concept of heaven. Neither of these reflects the basic beliefs of the vast majority of Pagans. It also ignores reincarnation.

Page 14, Chaplain’s comment: “Our comrade is in the hands of our Heavenly Father, and ‘God giveth His beloved sleep.’

Yet again there are concepts utterly alien to most Pagans; a single male divinity who resides in “Heaven”

Page 18, Prayer of Committal: “Gracious and Merciful God, into Your hands we commend Your departed child __________ in the sure hope of the Resurrection. This body we commit to the ground (or elements of creation or the deep of the seas), earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds do follow them!”

Again we find reference to a singular male deity. And here we are faced with the concept of The Resurrection which is totally alien to Pagans and many others along with a dismissal of reincarnation.

Page 18, Lord’s Prayer -This is a New Testament prayer which ignores not only Pagans but Jews, Moslems and all other faiths.

Page 2021: Great Bible Chapters/Where to Find/Selected Scripture References/Suggested Scriptural Readings

It is admitted that Pagans do not have a sacred book, that what we use is lore passed down from a teacher to a student ad infinitum. But this list also ignores the Torah, the Q’ran and other sacred texts.

Page 22, Chaplain’s Calendar – Addendum of Pagan holy days (please note that some of our religious groupings follow a principle similar to that of the early Jews in which a day starts at sundown of the preceding day i.e., the Jewish Sabbath starts as sundown on Friday and goes until sundown of Saturday.

Yule, the Winter solstice on or about December 21

Inbolg, February 1

Eostre, the Vernal equinox, on or about March 21

Beltaine, May 1

Leitha, the Summer solstice, on or about June 21

Lammas, August 1

Mabon, the Autumnal equinox, on or about September 21

Samhain, October 31

In closing I would like to thank each and every person who has taken the time to read this critique and to consider the reasons for which it was prepared. That reason being that there are roughly 5,000 Pagan women and men serving on active duty at this moment. Over a hundred of them are currently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Also note that there are a number of deceased Pagan veterans, a number that is climbing rapidly. One of these, Abraham Kooiman, a World War II veteran and Wiccan, is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, along with his wife, Rosemary, less than a hundred yards from the Administration Building there. Since the beginning of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq we have also begun losing fellow Pagans in combat. One example is that of SGT Patrick Stewart of Nevada, killed in combat in Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was struck by multiple rocket propelled grenades.

It was the death of SGT Stewart and his widow’s struggle with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, aided and assisted by the Governor and Adjutant of that state along with the American Pagan community which resulted in the Department of Veterans Affairs finally, after over eleven years, authorizing the first Pagan Emblem of Belief for use on VA issued headstones and headstones in federal and state veterans; cemeteries (see VA Form 40-1330 or http://www.cem.va.gov/).

Additionally, it would be completely irresponsible to offer criticism without an accompanying offer of assistance. Therefore, should it be thought that I can be of any service whatsoever in this or related matters, please feel free to contact me, either directly or through my post.

Sincerely

Charles Arnold, Life Member

VFW Post 6393

Lower Makefield, PA 19067

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About paganveteran

National Coordinator of the Pagan Veterans Headstone Campaign and current National Commander, Pagan Veterans of the United States of America. Author, writer, poet, speaker and general disturber of the peace.
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3 Responses to Comments on the VFW Chaplain’s Handbook

  1. Connie says:

    We tend to not teach, but just be, in our family. I find it very hard to not use ‘God’ as a word for divinity. It is simply an easy handle that our kids understand. As they get older, and even now, as they ask questions – and they do – I answer as appropriately as I can. We are not raising the kids to be pagan, we are raising them to be open minded and educated. Where they go from there is their business. I bring this up because one thing that turned me away from Christianity – and made me attempt to turn my back on all things spiritual – was the bias and exclusive attitude of Southern Baptists. It was accepted to be prejudiced. I just couldn’t take the “I’m right and the rest of you are going to hell” attitude. My dad was Catholic and a good man – they were condemning him?! I don’t think so. Fortunately, deity is stronger than my negative attitude, and won me over again with nature. Eventually I found pagans and a community to belong to. Our chaplains ought to keep things open and educational. If a soldier does not connect with one group, he/she could be connected to another – and if this means taking a Christian to Pagans, or vice versa, so be it. If the chaplain was knowledgable and involved he/she would understand the true needs of the soldiers and serve accordingly. I recently saw a great quote (but of course cannot find it now) but it went something like: “Spirituality is man’s connection to the divine; religion is crowd control” To me, this is wisdom!

    btw – our way of teaching is a bit confusing to the kids. My daughter used to have the idea that God, as talked about by her 5-6yo peers, was a big statue in the sky, and she thought that was ridiculous. We talked 🙂 And their idea of afterlife is pretty all-inclusive. Some people go to heaven, some are reincarnated. Ghosts, angels and fairies (the cute winged Disney variety) are considered to all be related. The kids are convinced that our cats’ angels (they passed away in May this year) are still following us, can sometimes be spotted in the shadows, and might just be responsible for our finding new kittens in our new backyard.

    Having an open mind to all varieties of spirituality means we have more miracles in our life. 🙂 Knowledge is a good thing, and chaplains, as well as all religious leaders, should keep this in mind.

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