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.

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