A Day to Address Military Suicides Becomes a Proxy For Religious Revival

Last Thursday, the Army shut down to focus on suicide prevention training. With skyrocketing rates of suicide, a problem stretching over the course of years, the Army needs to be addressing this.

Collaborating on these issues are experts in the areas of psychology, behavioral health, and, of course, religion.

Army Behavioral Health provides scientific approaches, including their “Shoulder to Shoulder” message of camaraderie and their “Ask-Care-Escort” (ACE) model of addressing potential issues. These approaches make good sense. In addition, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program focuses on improving soldiers in the area of physical fitness, family, emotional health, mental health, and spirituality. There is good work being done in several of those areas, but in the area of “spirituality,” things have started to go wrong.

Chaplains are leaned on heavily in these areas and religiosity is high. While having the sensible goal of attending to core values and beliefs, the Soldier Fitness program fails to accommodate nontheists. This can cause more harm than good.

Previous articles have addressed that suicide prevention is inadequate for nontheists and that chaplains are overly relied upon for professional counseling services. Reports from last Thursday included one of a candlelight prayer session for 800 in Texas and a lesson about submitting to “God’s master plan” in Kansas.

These instances of command-led, prayer-based training go far beyond the simple “Ceremonial Deism” that the law provides for or the personal religion that everyone should enjoy. American Atheists and the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers have called for swift and decisive action to show that these instances are exceptions and will not be tolerated.

You can read more about how I think the military ought to address these problems here.

About Jason Torpy

Jason Torpy is a committed humanist and vegan. He graduated from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree and from The Ohio State University with a Masters Degree in Business Administration. He served as a Captain with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq and now serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military.
**Comments at The Human Animal do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.**

  • http://twitter.com/dervilia8 Kelly Hogan

    We also stand a good chance of losing our clearance if we speak to a mental health professional about any issues we may be having, but we are allowed (and encouraged, frequently) to seek out the Chaplain  for “help” regardless of religion affiliation.

  • NotUsingRealNameForThis

    So it wasn’t just me who thought something was fishy. I’m a civilian working for the Army, and I had to attend one of the suicide stand-down things, too, and it looked to me like stealth evangelism. They had a ex-football player give a talk that had nothing in it about suicide prevention except a bit at the end where he said that one shouldn’t be ashamed to seek help. The rest of his talk was a mini-autobiography peppered with bits about how Jesus supposedly helped him.  I thought it was an inappropriate use of my time.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I suppose it could be helpful for Christian members of the military, but for non-theists or people of other religions, it would probably just make them feel more isolated than they already are.

  • Tinker

    Allow me to point out that some people may be MORE likely to attempt suicide if they believe in God. I was in that boat as a 14 year old. While over the last 30 years I have had my ups and downs I never again tried to ‘take the easy way out’ because I no longer believe there is something better.

  • Seamus Ruah

    Any chance they get, they’ll push religion as the answer to EVERYTHING.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

    Sending this article to the commander and chaplains in charge would be a good way to speak up. Sending it through the IG along with event details might be a better way to ensure it doesn’t happen again.