Skip to comments.Atheists Complain of "Spirituality" in Army's Mental Health Program
Posted on 01/01/2011 2:50:50 PM PST by wmfights
Atheist organization Freedom from Religion Foundation demanded the Army halt a spiritual fitness program designed to combat stress because its diagnostic tool allegedly promotes religion.
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh Wednesday to protest the spiritual fitness assessment of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. The co-presidents say statements in the mandatory spiritual fitness evaluation tramples on the freedoms of nonbelievers.
The spiritual statements include: I am a spiritual person; My life has lasting meaning; and I believe there is a purpose for my life.
Barker and Gaylor called the assessment of nonspiritual soliders deeply offensive and inappropriate.
By definition, nontheists do not believe in deities, spirits, or the supernatural. The Army may not send the morale-deflating message to nonbelievers that they are lesser soldiers, much less imply they are somehow incomplete, purposeless or empty, stated the letter.
The Army established CSF to address the increased stress induced by sustained combat. The program is meant to enhance the resilience, readiness and potential of soldiers, family members and Army civilians.
The CSF uses Global Assessment Test to diagnose the soldiers overall level of physical and mental fitness. The assessment has a section titled Spiritual Fitness that questions soldiers on their personal support systems, motivation, and methods of dealing with stress, among other things.
Besides the survey itself, FFRF also criticizes the curriculum for those who score low in the spiritual fitness as overtly religious. Soldiers in the programs are told that prayer is for all individuals and to seek out chaplain guidance, according to the group of freethinkers.
Yet contrary to FFRFs claims, the program does attempt to acknowledge and cater to the beliefs of secular soldiers. According to the training manual, spirituality and the human spirit is defined, for the program purposes, as the essential core of the person.
The manual does make mention of religious practices such as prayer and talking with a chaplain. However, it emphasizes that prayer can be quiet thinking time. It also emphasizes that soldiers can talk with a fellow soldier for support rather than chaplains.
Army chaplains trained last month to participate in the CSFs spiritual fitness initiative say it is about protecting soldiers mental health in the event of a traumatic experience, not conversion.
"Most traumatic events have an element of soul wounding," said the Rev. Dr. Chrys Parker, an Army chaplain, in a statement about the training.
Parker asserts that chaplains are best equipped to deal with issues involving the soul.
"Quite frankly, the chaplains have the expertise on how to deal with the spiritual damage that is inherent in trauma," he said.
Thank you kindly for your reply, A_perfect_lady!
I'm going to try to address your points on an empirical rather than a theological basis. You'll recall that the empirical approach depends on observation, evidence, experience (including historical experience), and reason. Since you already do not believe in God, I imagine the theological approach wouldn't cut it with you anyway. So I'll try to spare you all of that!
RE: whether we humans do or do not have souls: You say, in effect, that "souls" are merely constructs of the human mind in response to a certain "existential anxiety." That is, since we cannot "comprehend" death, we proliferate "fairy stories" that are purely fictitious to assuage our angst. But then you have to answer the question: Why is this particular fairy story i.e., of the existence of the soul so ubiquitous, even universal, in all of human history going back as far as the human records go, back at least to the fifth millennium B.C.?
Were all these countless generations of mankind from all over the planet necessarily self-deluded? Alternatively, maybe they simply knew something about human being and existence that the modern-day, post-Enlightenment materialist denies in principle. Was all of mankind in error until Descartes and Newton came along to set the record straight?
What Newton effected was a system a tremendously useful one, I grant you that in effect reduced all of the natural world to a machine-like entity. It made Nature itself in the words of Alfred North Whitehead "a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly." Here Whitehead is saying what the Newtonian reduction leaves out of picture: any and all "subjective" experiences of mankind which arguably include the most important concerns of mankind:
Experience of "things" ["matter in its motions"] is modeled on the subject-object dichotomy of perception in which the consciousness intends the object of cognition [i.e., roughly the scientific method]. But such a model of experience and knowing is ultimately insufficient to explain the reality men approach in moral, aesthetic, and religious experiences. [And "religious experience" is universal, though the forms it can take are many. Atheism itself is a "belief system," though IMHO an extraordinarily impoverished one.] Inasmuch as such nonsensory experiences are constitutive of what is distinctive about human existence itself and of what is most precious to mankind [e.g., experiences of the good, beautiful, and just, of love, friendship, and truth, of all human virtue and vice, and of divine reality] a purported science of man unable to take account of them is egregiously defective. Ellis SandozFrom Whitehead's point of view, the Newtonian reduction of the natural world to directly observable material phenomena involves a prime example of what he calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness:
In the first place, we must note its astounding efficiency as a system of concepts for the organisation of scientific research. In this respect, it is fully worthy of the genius of the century which produced it. It has held its own as the guiding principle of scientific studies ever since. It is still reigning. Every university in the world organises itself in accordance with it. No alternative system of organising the pursuit of scientific truth has been suggested. It is not only reigning, it is without a rival.Or as Wolfgang Smith puts it, "Thus one begins by abstracting from concrete existence, and ends by attributing concrete existence to the abstraction. Or equivalently, one first cuts asunder what in truth is one, and then attributes an independent reality to one of the resultant fragments. But of course the error [i.e., the fallacy of misplaced concreteness] does not affect the reality: it only creates blindness."
And yet it is quite unbelievable. This conception of the universe is surely framed in terms of high abstractions, and the paradox only arises because we have mistaken our abstraction for concrete realities.
Or as my friend the astrophysicist has put it, "While scientific laws are tools of our mind, laws of Nature act in Nature. They are not to be confused. The difference is that of map and reality."
IF one "confuses" them, then one is in the grip of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. And I think atheists in general suffer from this condition.
We could put it another way: What is it that the human body "has" that prevents it from immediately succumbing to the inexorable pull of thermodynamic equilibrium? THAT is what constitutes its death. Which is tantamount to asking: What keeps the human body alive, for however long it lives?
The Laws of Nature are not the product of a "random" natural development. Rather they precede and structure the resultant natural development. They cannot be felt, or seen, or smelled, or tasted, or heard. Neither can the soul be so detected. But do we then say the natural laws do not exist, because they are not directly accessible to sense perception? If we cannot say this about the natural laws, then how can we be so sure that the soul is a fiction which also cannot be detected by direct sense perception?
At least as far back as classical Greece, the soul psyche was understood as the form i.e., the lawful specification of the body. It wasn't the case that bodies "had" souls; rather it was understood that the body manifests a pre-existent soul. In other words, the soul was regarded as a sort of "blueprint" for bodily manifestation.
Think of it: Each of us human beings is constituted by a vast pile of chemical compounds. Science can detect the chemicals. But science cannot detect, directly, the source of order that organizes these chemicals into a fully-formed, specific, functioning, living being a human person.
The "specs" for the person do not originate on the same plane as the person they describe. In short, the physical is ultimately ordered, structured, by something which is non-physical. And this is so, not only on the personal level, but also with respect to the entire natural order. Just because science cannot directly detect, via its own methods, this non-physical thing does not mean that the non-physical thing does not exist. That was what Whitehead was trying to indicate, with his fallacy of misplaced concreteness....
Well, that's the backgrounder for a more practical discussion relating to matters of crucial importance for our society and culture.
It is undeniable that the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitutional order it premised, invoked the Creator God as the Source of unalienable human rights. If an atheist denies God, then can he/she please explain to me what other secure foundation for human rights there could be?
I find persuasive Balint Vazsonyi's observation that there are only two basic political philosophies. The two are the Anglo-American, and the Franco-German schools of political thought.
The Anglo-American view posits the liberty of human individuals under just and equal laws. It sees human liberty as a gift of God, as is evident from these lines from Cato's Letters, by Trenchard & Gordon, a series of essays published in London largely inspired by Lockean political philosophy that was avidly read in the American colonies in the run-up to the Revolutionary War:
All men are born free; Liberty is a Gift which they receive from God; nor can they alienate the same by Consent, though possibly they may forfeit it by crimes....I find it rather amusing that this is perhaps the best description of libertarian philosophy I've ever come across, while at the same time recognizing that so many present-day libertarians declared themselves to be atheists. Few people nowadays seem to realize how very much they rest on the foundations laid by our ancestors. Yet they persist in resting on them, seemingly unconsciously, while at the same time heaping opprobrium on them.... This has got to be an indication of "insanity!" Or at least a loss of reason itself....
Liberty is the power which every man has over his own Actions, and the Right to enjoy the Fruit of his Labor, Art, and Industry, as far as by it he hurts not the Society, or any Member of it, by taking from any Member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys.
The fruits of a Man's honest industry are the just rewards of it, ascertained to him by natural and eternal Equity, as is his Title to use them in a manner which he thinks fit: And thus, with the above Limitations, every Man is sole Lord and Arbiter of his own Actions and Property....
Oh, the other political philosophy is the Franco-German model. Its heart lies in Marx, an atheist, and in the atheist French philosophe's idea of "egalitarianism." As we have seen from the French Revolution (so different than our own American one), egalitarianism is just another name for social leveling, having nothing whatsoever to do with individual rights.
The point is the Franco-German political model starts by abolishing God and religion, not to mention "souls." The Anglo-American model assiduously retains both from the foundation of our nation, and to the present day.
The current breakdown of American order stems from the seeming ascendancy of Franco-Germanic political principles at the expense of the founding principles of our nation, which are indisputably Judeo-Christian and classical in origin.
If you are truly an atheist, you have to be on the side of the Franco-German model. For it is the model that rejects, as a matter of principle, God and man himself, as an individual (i.e., as an "ensouled" being of incalculable worth and dignity in himself, for he is made "in the image of God"). The Franco-German model does not care about individuals, only about "groups."
Well, I've run on long. Sorry! But I hope something here might make sense to you, A_perfect_lady. Thank you so very much for your kind reply!
Oh, I meant to ping you to this.
Just use Christ then.
On a practical level, it seems that what FFRF seeks is exclusiveness in the recognition of their religion, and the banishment of any other religion (particularly the Christian religion) in the psychological assessment of the fitness of military personnel, despite the knowledge that religion plays a critical role in the mental health of many. FFRF apparently believes it cannot stand the presence of a competing religion, nor that it should have to. Ironically, this is precisely the sort of intolerance for which the Judeo-Christian tradition is so often severely condemned.
And, A_perfect_lady, your observation that [the human soul is] just something we came up with because we cant comprehend death, intrigues me. What do you find difficult about comprehending death? And, related to that, if the scientific mechanistic view of life (including the human brain) is that of an array of unguided chemical reactions and random neuron discharges, then what sort of positive knowledge can be claimed, and by what rule of logic can such a life-sense declare that it is anything but helpless to believe other than what it does, in fact, believe?
Thanks, betty, for your always illuminating thoughts, and thanks too, A_perfect_lady, for your contributions.
Either the third human on this planet came from the first two..
-OR- you must make up a bodacious Yarn..
There are many options for storys.. or you can resort to Occams Razor..
Atheists should only care about the ends, not the means. This method works and the science supports it.
Why not simply set up an alternative method based on atheism and let soldiers choose? That way we could compare outcomes.
I think most people just can’t stomach the idea that they will vanish one day, and exist no more. No, surely we humans are too wonderful for that, right? But yes I’m pretty sure that when it’s over, it’s over. The afterlife is pretty much like the beforelife.
The spiritual statements include: I am a spiritual person; My life has lasting meaning; and I believe there is a purpose for my life.
I don't think the last two are necessarily spiritual in nature, although they can be construed that way. You can answer no to the first one and yes to the next two and not be in any contradiction.
One could also say yes to the first and no to the next two and be placed on suicide watch. I'd like more information on how effective this "test" has been in protecting and helping soldiers deal with combat stress. Does it have scientific validity and if it does is it effective across all belief systems?
That’s curious and reasonable, but then evolution has endowed us with a need for God and religion in some form. Do you think we’ll eventually reach some level of scientific or technological superiority that we can eventually overcome the “god gene”?
It seems that history is rife with knowledge lost and in our modern world we seem more ignorant than ever, e.g. Global Warming.
“the map is not the territory” - Alfred Korzybski
snip: I dont think we have souls, no. Thats just something we came up with because we cant comprehend death.
Spirited: Rationalist Materialism is monism, which means that everything that exists is “nothing but” (to use the favorite phrase of evolutionary materialists) a “part of something else.”
In the case of materialism, everything is part of matter and the irrational, nonspiritual energy force that animates it. By extension of this view, mankind has no soul, spirit, mind, conscience or free will for he is “nothing but” a fleshy robot whose thoughts such as they are, are “nothing but” an emergent product of the brain similar to the secretion of bile from the liver. Another view is that thought is “nothing but” the firing of synapses and/or chemical interactions.
Materialism totally submerges man within nature (matter + energy), which means that there exists no possibility for freedom of mind, will, and conscience.
Now if rationalist materialism is true, then this claim-— “I dont think we have souls, no. Thats just something we came up with because we cant comprehend death”-—is either a total, though unwitting, refutation of rationalist materialism or it is “nothing but” either a secretion of the brain similar to bile or the chance firing of synapses and/or chemical reactions.
If I were a betting person, I would place all of my money on the former (unwitting refutation) rather than the latter.
Having spent a number of years as a chaplain in the US Army, one must understand the LEGAL and CONSTITUTIONAL place of chaplains in the military to understand this program and why it is no problem.
1. The courts have upheld the place of religious leaders (chaplains) in the military. The reason for this is that the US Constitution guarantees religious freedom AND religious exercise to every citizen. One must understand that religious freedom does not mean "I can pray or talk religion when I want to." It means you can FULLY practice all aspects of your religious faith. In short, to FULLY practice one's religion one must have that religion's FULLY authorized religious ministers/priests/rabbis available in order to do so. This is not about "10 commandments in front of town hall." That would be the topic of "preferential treatment in a government setting." The military chaplaincy is about "American citizens having their right of free exercise removed."
2. Therefore, given the appropriate presence of military chaplains, it is long acknowledged by military commanders that these highly trained officers in their midst have unique skills in areas such as counseling, family programming, morals education, law of war and just war, AND morale and esprit de corps assessment, and etc.
3. They, therefore, have a two dimensional task in the military: (1) religious leader (2) troop support. One is religious and one is not religious. On the "religious leaders" side, they cannot be part of a commander's "mandatory" attendance programs. On the "troop support" side, the commander can certainly require the attendance of troops. (For example, the battalion chaplain is typically the officer chosen to provide "suicide prevention" briefings to all troops. These are mandatory attendance briefings.)
4. "Esprit de Corps" (Spirit of the Unit) is an ancient concern of military commanders in that it is closely aligned with "morale." The morale of a unit is that sense of team unity that is radically energized to mission achievement and cohesiveness.
5. One cannot speak of "Esprit de Corps" without speaking of the "esprit" of the member. The "spirit" of the member, therefore, has to do with the morale of the member, with their "essential core" and its energy.
6. The "morale" of a unit is not a passing concern of a commander. It is one item on a checklist of battlefield preparedness that is a requirement, and one item on which this commander's fitness report will be based.
7. While the chaplain is certainly not the only member of the commander's staff whose mission touches on morale, he is one staff member who is trained is assessing the "core" of the individual and of the group. Like the commander, he visits among all the troops, speaks to many of them, and has eyes and boots on the ground in the midst of their circumstances. If they're down, he can see it. If they're up, he sees that, too. None of this, mind you, necessarily has anything at all to do with the religious side of his mission. Some of those he sees will, of course, be a part of the religious community in that unit, but many will not be. If the chaplain sees a depressed soldier, he doesn't ignore them if they have no religious affiliation.
Instead, he tries to help that soldier through a tough spot. Most times that wouldn't involve any religious discussion at all. He'd say something like, "Private Snuffy, what's going on, man?" Pvt Snuff might respond, "Wife back home is having trouble." "What kind of trouble, Snuff?" "Well, she made a mistake in paying bills and they're broke." "Snuff, why don't we get in touch with the family support group back in the states and have them contact her. They have all kinds of help resources. What do you think?" "That'd be great, Chappy." "Good...give me her name and number. I'll pass it on and set something up."
That, my friends, is a "spiritual (morale) assessment" and a follow-on response.
The freedom from religion foundation doesn't know didly about the job of the US Military Chaplain.
And that's what really should be taken away from this article.
I’ve seen people’s entire personalities changed or wiped out by drug interaction or head injury. The core is physical, I’m sorry, but it just is. Most of what you attribute to “soul” is really just personality.
I don’t think we have a “God gene,” I think we are just imprinted psychologically in a certain way because we are mammals. Our species has heavy parental investment. In other words, we must be taken very good care of that first year of life or we die. Unlike snakes who hatch and slither away in search of food, human infants can do nothing but cry out for help. We cry, and a big, powerful being whom we cannot see clearly (usually Mom) comes and helps us. We grow up with the unconscious belief that if you cry out, help will come. Lots of other mammmals have that too. I’ve seen a kitten sitting by her dead mother on the side of the road, crying out for help. Who is she crying to? Her mother is dead. Does the kitten believe in God? No, it just knows that if you cry out, help is supposed to come. (I saved that kitten, by the way. So no one gets depressed by this post.)
In saying “Ive seen” you again unwittingly refer to a self, a “chooser,” a “chooser” who chooses to believe that all that exists is “matter” even though matter cannot account for personality...a metaphysical concept— anymore than it can account for soul, spirit, mind, and free will.
Materialism is not new, nor is it empirical science. Going back to the time of the ancient Church Fathers, materialists were then as now, denying their souls and comparing themselves to beasts while the Stoics (vitalists) scoffed at them, just as their modern “New Age” counterparts are doing.
The brain is the computer used by the soul. When the computer malfunctions or is infected by a virus, its’ user cannot communicate.
I’m not trying to develop a “new, empirical science.” I’m telling you that the simplest answer is usually the right one, and the simplest answer is: the world is what it is. You make the best of the hand you’re dealt, and when you die, it’s over. Personalities are indeed just part of your chemistry. Even animals have personalities, and differ from one another. I have three cats. They have different personalities. They don’t have souls.
Nor can we think that the FFRF cares a diddly about the job of military chaplains. Their name (Freedom From) gives away their game. The FFRF wants all trace of religion (particularly Judeo-Christian belief) driven from the public common, and hope to enlist the aid of government in accomplishing that goal. Their pretense of equality is a farce; eradication is the object.
Thanks, xzins, for your thorough exposition on the scope and the breadth of the US Chaplains duties.
It's possible quantum entanglement and superposition play a role in the brain's function. Pieces of matter can be very far apart but function as if they occupy the same location. Electrons move about in an unexplainable fashion as if they are being influenced by forces outside the known universe, and can pop through insulators taking a mysterious route. We don't know how it all works yet. Reducing consciousness to just chemistry is oversimplifying the mystery.