How to Prevent Soldier Suicides? Christianity, Says Military

Just read the first paragraph of this article and you’ll see yet another problem with the U.S. military:

A recent edition of the U.S. Army’s suicide prevention manual advises military chaplains to promote “religiosity,” specifically Christianity, as a way to deter distraught soldiers from committing suicide, which in recent months, according to one veterans advocacy group, has reached epidemic proportions.

You can see the official Suicide Awareness for Soldiers 2008 (PPT) presentation at the U.S. Army center’s website.

Here’s what the presentation notes say:

Chaplain may want to state the following: Spiritual faith looks outside of oneself for meaning and provides resiliency for failures in life experiences. Religious belief adds the dimension of a supportive community to help one deal with crises. Both can be expressions of a relationship with God, or a higher power, that is everlasting. The bottom line is that Soldiers should not base their reason for living in the success of a relationship with another human being!

Soldiers need to take care of each other and rid any thoughts of survival of the fittest. Almost all religions adhere to some form of Christianity’s Golden Rule, or the Categorical Imperative of Immanuel Kant.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has battled the “rampant proselytizing” in the military for years now. They say that this presentation “is not only an unconstitutional promotion of Christianity for the soldiers who are mandated to attend it, but for the behavioral health providers and non-Christian chaplains who must present it.”

The military is emphasizing the wrong ideas, anyway. The soldiers don’t need God. They need closer relationships with other people; they need to talk to someone who can comfort them and listen to what they have to say; they need medicine.

Or they should just not be sent to fight in unnecessary wars…

(Thanks to Sandra for the link!)

  • mikespeir

    The Categorical Imperative!? Oh, yeah, that’s the way to live. Sure!

  • Epistaxis

    The bottom line is that Soldiers should not base their reason for living in the success of a relationship with another human being!

    That’s disturbing.

  • christi

    Soldiers suffering from PTSD or depression need REAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL help. Giving them god pills is a doing them a huge disservice and preventing them from healing.

  • Justin jm
    The bottom line is that Soldiers should not base their reason for living in the success of a relationship with another human being!

    That’s disturbing.

    Yes, it is. Everyone bases their reason for living on the success of relationships with other people. Sociability is a part of being human.

    And what is up with the presentation notes asking soldiers to “rid any thoughts of survival of the fittest?”

  • River

    Religion didn’t help me when I was suicidal; in fact, it made it worse.

    My family is military all-around (I’m the only one of my siblings who isn’t), and I worry about their mental/emotional health. The military does little to promote esprit de corps other than giving lip service.

    I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about the rise of suicide, PTSD, and such, but what makes me feel the worst is how soldiers are expected to “suck it up” and stay strong on the outside, with signs of weakness vilified. I’d feel horrible about this in an abstract sense, but this is my family….

    And then this sort of stupid “take a pill” attitude married with a flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause… your body’s not your own in the military, will they take your mind, too?

  • dfledermaus

    If you look at James Dobson’s Focus On the Family site (or better yet, Mikey Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation), you’ll see that they are as much focused on the military as they are on the family. They have been recruiting middle and upper grade officers for decades and their influence in the the military and the DoD is pervasive. This is very dangerous because many of these officers are dedicated to a higher calling than their oath to defend the Constitution. If we ever have a military coup in this country, it will come from these people.

  • zoo

    Christianity’s Golden Rule

    The what now? Christianity didn’t invent it you know. I’m also not quite sure how you’re going to pound this and things like “turn the other cheek” into soldiers’ heads then send them off to do things completely contrary to that. They have enough trouble with it already. Nor can you erase memories to prevent this from retroactively causing guilt.

    River:

    I’d feel horrible about this in an abstract sense, but this is my family.

    Considering how much of a stigma mental illness still has, even simple depression, amongst the general public (those who have one are weak or weak-willed, overdramatic, attention whores, and on and on and on), I can only imagine how much worse it is for a soldier with that added pressure. People like to forget that being in certain professions doesn’t make one stop being a person.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    People in the military are at increased risk of depression leading to suicide as compared to the civilian population. They are frequently taken away from their homes and familiar surroundings on short notice, deployed to areas with people who are strangers to them, and often have to work long hours under harsh conditions. There is also a lot of pressure to not screw up and make mistakes — and it’s human nature to make mistakes from time to time.

    Religion, in turn, preys on that exact sort of depression. It promises (but does not deliver) acceptance, hope, love, and forgiveness. Of course, the only love and hope and forgiveness it can deliver comes from an imaginary figure; the interlocutors of that imaginary friend are frequently among the most judgmental, conformist, and least accepting of people to be around. To be sure, at their best, religious communities can offer those things. But there’s nothing special about the religion that makes those communities worthwhile, those good things come from people, not dieties.

  • http://maxhavok.blogspot.com Jason

    I cringed at “Christianity’s Golden Rule” too.

  • Todd

    Justin jm:
    “And what is up with the presentation notes asking soldiers to “rid any thoughts of survival of the fittest?””

    Seriously. Isn’t that the basic premise of war?

  • Dennis N

    Statistically, I’m sure most of those committing suicide are already Christian. It is not like all the atheists in foxholes are killing themselves, while all the Christians are perfectly happy.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    From a Christian perspective isn’t g0d the answer to any perceived problem whether it be suicide, lustful thoughts, homosexuality, loneliness, whatever? Never mind that the perception of a problem may be more of an issue.

    On a lighter note they should take some pigs out whenever they go on maneuvers. Everybody knows that mental illness is caused by demons and demons can be commanded to enter pigs and then commit suicide. A handy pig may act as a demon deterrent to suicidal thoughts. Also they have an excellent sense of smell and are highly sociable.

  • tgr

    Well if soldiers follow the Golden Rule, they have to be suicidal to be able to fight the enemy…

  • tgr

    Statistically, I’m sure most of those committing suicide are already Christian. It is not like all the atheists in foxholes are killing themselves, while all the Christians are perfectly happy.

    Actually, suicide is much more frequent amongst nonbelievers. There can be a difference to a factor of ten between nonbelievers and people with very strong religious affiliation, IIRC. No guarantee the same applies to people in the military though.

  • Polly

    Maybe suicidal feelings are the correct response to killing other human beings with whom you had no prior conflict or business?

    Or they should just not be sent to fight in unnecessary wars…

    Or refuse to fight in such.

  • Chal

    Or refuse to fight in such.

    But that is suicidal, no?

  • Luther

    tgr,

    Actually, suicide is much more frequent amongst nonbelievers. There can be a difference to a factor of ten between nonbelievers and people with very strong religious affiliation, IIRC. No guarantee the same applies to people in the military though.

    Do you have any data from a reliable study and source?

  • Jason R

    One thing that people need to realize is that the military has lowered their standards for new recruits. One side affect of this is generally lowered mental stability. I’m not saying this to disparage or degrade our military people, I’m ex military.

    Suicide is a tragedy, but injecting religion will only make things worse. The military needs to make sure that personnell know that going to counselors or psychologists isn’t a bad thing. When I was in the military going to get mental help was frowned upon as people were afraid their superiors would think they were too unstable to get their jobs done.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Soldiers need to take care of each other and rid any thoughts of survival of the fittest.

    That looks like a cheap shot at evolution, and a very ignorant and stupid one. In a social species, cooperation is an essential component of fitness. This is in an official Army publication?

  • Vincent
    The bottom line is that Soldiers should not base their reason for living in the success of a relationship with another human being!

    That’s disturbing.

    Actually, I agree with the above.

    Your reason for living should be internalized, not based on any one relationship. Perhaps you should base it on your relationship with the rest of the world, or with your community even, but certainly not with success of one relationship. If your marriage fails it’s not the end of everything.

    What it should absolutely NOT be, is based on your relationship with an imaginary friend.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    tgr, I’ve seen some statistics of suicide rate by nation that do not support your assertion. The UK has something like 14 per 100,000 suicides and a religiosity of about 65%. The USA has a suicide rate of 25 per 100,000 and has a religiosity around 90%. However Sweden and France (15% and 50% religious respectively) have higher suicide rates of 28.5 and 41.2 per 100,000 respectively). This is far from 10 times the suicide rate but certainly a figure that warrants further research.

    Figures are from the World Health Organisation 1999 data and Adherents.com

  • Vincent

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=6FB3E41EFE6FD935B017F7DF831F3330.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=25493

    http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/reprint/161/12/2303.pdf

    Here’s a couple studies I quickly googled on religiousity and suicide rates. Both conclude that religion lowers suicide rates because religious people attach more social stigma to suicide than do non-religious people. Seems to me the military could do a lot to stigmatize suicide without turning to religion.

  • tgr

    See for example Religious Affiliation, Atheism and Suicide, especially towards the end (where it says that Latter Day Saints have 7 times lower suicide rates compared even to the surrounding religious population).

  • Brooks

    I don’t get it. Why is it comforting to believe in a sky god that claims to have the power to save you but lets you get shot at while it sits up in heaven?

  • Stephan

    On Religious Affiliation, Atheism and Suicide:

    Haha, they didn’t control for MARITAL STATUS.

    Why don’t you go look at the ties that has to suicide rates?

    http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/visualizations/male-suicide-rate-per-marital-status

    But yeah, it is the religion I’m sure. Nothing about having someone to love you. Ugh.

  • penguinsaur

    Of course their comitting suicide because they dont have enough jebus in their life, can’t possibly be that they’re being shot at on a daily basis on the other side of the earth from their homes and family in a 100 degree heat.

  • Stephan

    By the way the Religious Affiliation, Atheism and Suicide study showed the statistical tie between religious affiliation and suicide is INSIGNIFICANT! The p value is 0.34, and generally you are looking for values less than 0.05…

    I hate it when papers make claims their own data don’t support.

  • http://newref.blogspot.com James

    If the military wants to proselytize the soldiers, then I 100% back them handing out copies of Shane Claiborne’s “Jesus for President.”

    (It is a liberal Christian book that, along with advocating active nonviolence, encourages Christians in the military to desert and refuse to fight.)

  • Randy

    I would like to see the suicide rates for military personnel broken down by service and possible duty station (if it hasn’t already). I say this because I’m ex-Navy, I’ve been in war zones, at sea for extended periods, etc, etc. Of the three ships I was on only 1 person tried to kill himself and that because his supervisor was hasseling him.

    When I finally got to a shore station, USSTRATCOM, run by the Air Force, the suicide rate was terrible! I noticed the difference in dealing with those who are constantly in trouble. The Navy discharged you while the AF kept you around to hound you and harrass you til you screwed up again.

    I think the lowering of the bar is a key factor. They needed bodies for combat and sub-standard soldiers come with extra baggage and need extra supervision.

    Just glad I never had to deal with religion while I was in (other than a couple of bible-thumpers at USSTRATCOM).

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  • Scribe Thoth

    I think that what people have to understand about Army Depression is that most people in the Army already feel isolated–away from Family, away from friends that one grew up with before the Army, and sadly the isolation is worse when you are depressed here due to the fact that there is no-one there for you most of the time. The idea of belief in a god if it helps some reach out to others in the army is worth the value of human life even if what is believed isn’t real. And there needs to be a correction since the person is not in the Army or at least AMEDD. The Army does NOT force anyone to take a pill either in the god type or antidepressant.

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