Mandatory Army survey says atheists are unfit to be soldiers

I’m a bit furious about a mandatory survey that I just took. The survey, Soldier Fitness Tracker (SFT), measures individual soldier’s competency in four areas: Emotional, Social, Family, and Spiritual. As a foxhole atheist, I was a little annoyed at first, but I’ve learned that I’ve really got to pick my battles on some issues. This quickly turned into one of those issues. According to the SFT, I’m unfit to serve in the U.S. Army because I’m a non-believer.

Soldier Fitness Tracker scores

It gets worse, but before I share the rest of my results, I’ll briefly touch on how these scores were calculated.

The four categories were tested across several pages of questions. The spiritual questions were awkwardly phrased, and soldiers are directed to answer on a scale of 1-5 (‘not like me at all’ through ‘very much like me most or all of the time’ [paraphrasing]). One such question is “My life will have a lasting meaning.” I thought about it… well, Abraham Lincoln’s life had a lasting meaning, but then again I’ve never heard of his father. I’m not Abe, but I suppose there is a possibility that I could do something in my life that has lasting meaning, so… I’ll go with 2 out of 5.

The next question was “I feel connected to a being that is greater than me.” Jokes about my wife’s pregnancy aside, this is certainly 1 out of 5. ***EDIT 24 DEC 2010: This question was actually: “I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.” I was paraphrasing from memory, because I was unable to retake the test and get the exact wording. The questions have since leaked.*** Another easy one: “I’m a very spiritual person”. You can see how my scores added up. Note: the slight dip on the ‘social’ scale isn’t due to the Spiritual questions, it’s because I answered a few questions about career progression honestly (I’m not 100% sure I’m going to re-enlist, etc.).

Here’s what the survey says about me:

- A red bar means that you face some significant challenges in this area. This means that you should focus most of your attention on this area, though you should also note that placing too much emphasis here could result in other dimensions dropping. The key is to properly balance where you need the most development with the areas you are already doing well in.

You may click here at any time to connect with a counselor who is ready to assist you with a problem that requires immediate attention. Also, you may dial 1-800-XXX-XXXX to speak with someone immediately.

Spiritual Fitness

Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal. Change is possible, and the relevant self-development training modules will be helpful. If you need further help, please do not hesitate to seek out help from the people you care about and trust – strong people always do. Be patient in your development as it will take time to improve in this area. Still, persistence is key and you will improve here if you make this area a priority.

The screen before this had a blurb “Do we have permission to use your data anonymously in an aggregated manner? These results may be used by the U.S. Government and/or the public.” I clicked ‘yes’ hoping that I could help to show that there are soldiers who are ‘good without god’. This likely backfired. Now I’m fairly certain that I’m a statistic that is being touted as ‘proof that we need more funding for the chaplaincy’. Not to mention, the HIGHLY offensive manner that my results describe. Spirituality has nothing to do with being a Soldier. That is a private matter for soldiers, and in no way should any command be evaluating how ‘fit’ a soldier is based upon his beliefs (or lack thereof). This is disturbing to say the least.

I called the phone number listed at the end there, and it was a counseling service “One Stop”. They cater to psychological emergencies (minor and major), and they didn’t really understand my issue. It wasn’t an appropriate place to take my problem. So I fished around for the help desk number for the people who design, evaluate, and implement the Soldier Fitness Tracker. The lady who answered my phone call seemed very reasonable, but I did get the ‘drop in the bucket’ feeling. She promised to pass it on to her higher ups, which is all she can do. But that’s not good enough for me. This survey needs to be radically changed, or dropped altogether, and it needs to happen now.

In no way do I speak on behalf of the Army, but I refuse to take this kind of insult any longer. My statements are editorial in nature, and reflect my personal experience and opinion. However, in the spirit of Richard Dawkins’ Out Campaign, I’m not hiding behind anonymity. Not only am I an active duty U.S. Army Soldier, I’m also an atheist. I’m equally proud of both descriptions, and I’m honored to be one of the thousands of foxhole atheists who have fought or are currently fighting for our country and our constitution.

-SGT Justin Griffith
Fort Bragg, NC

Print Friendly
About Justin Griffith
  • Georgia Sam

    I am a veteran and an atheist, and I salute you for speaking out. Apparently the military is pushing religion at its people much harder than it did when I was in. Keep up the good work.

  • Diane

    Thank you for letting the public know what’s going on. I too am an atheist, and I applaud your decision to take a stand against this ridiculous assessment test.

  • Vanessa Robertson

    As a non-religious and apathetic agnostic, I also encountered silliness in the military regarding religion. I had four sets of dog tags in a row made because I wanted them to say “none” for religion, but they always came back “non-denominational.” I had to let it go because I knew the person operating the dog tag stamper either could not comprehend that I had no religion or wanted to be sure that my body would be disposed of in a manner that would not disturb the attending chaplain or other airmen. I can respect the latter sentiment; I would be dead at that point and beyond the ability to care. In this case with the SFT, I think they are coming from the point of view that the soldier may have lost a previously-held faith, which could be a possible indication of depression or warning sign of suicidal thoughts (two major issues in the Army right now). Many entities of the federal government have recently had “resiliency training” which is along these lines (though, when I took it at DHS the religious overtones were less noticeable or non-existent). This doesn’t seem to be that offensive; so what if someone thinks you could or should work on this this aspect of your life? You don’t have to do it and it’s not being transmitted to your supervisor or commander.

    • Justin

      Actually, you raise a few points worth addressing here.

      First of all, I had a similarly hard time changing my dogtags to say “Atheist/FSM” instead of “NO-REL-PREF”. I kept refusing to wear them at inspections, and it fell on willfully ignorant ears.

      However, you are way off if you are saying this is geared solely towards soldiers who have lost a previously held faith. I have lost Christianity, so is this at me? Also, it shouldn’t matter if a soldier comes to atheism or agnosticism while in service. That does not mean they should ‘work on’ their Soldier Fitness in that area.

      You raise the issue of suicide as well. Many statistics cite high-school suicides overwhelmingly dominated by homosexuals. I’m willing to bet that these numbers would correlate thusly to the extraordinary suicide rate the military is experiencing. The military is a different story, yes. True enough. Keep in mind though, some of the most vociferous opponents of DADT’s repeal were the Chaplains and religious commanders.

      Also. “So what if someone thinks you could or should work on this aspect of your life?” I suppose I’d feel this way if I hadn’t READ THE RESULTS. Those were insulting and disturbing. Also, they are likely to directly influence the Human Resources $$$ that fund the insults, and also religious programs like Rock the Fort (see entire website for more on this subject).

      Thank you for your candid commentary though. Honesty (brutal as it often is) is very important. We are likely going to have to ‘agree to disagree’ here on most of these things. Thanks for sharing, though.

    • pasta

      Did any atheists even READ the wording of the test before bitching???

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      I am a spiritual person.

      My life has lasting meaning.

      I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.

      The job I am doing in the military has lasting meaning.

      I believe there is a purpose for my life.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      Apart from “i am a spiritual person” atheists should score just fine. What is really so horrible about these questions?

      The military’s suicide rates are rising dramatically, and so these questions are NOT aimed at outing atheists, but rather at identifying people who may be at risk because they have lost their connection with humanity.

      Honestly as an atheist, I do feel a connection to something greater than myself. How about the universe? The circle of life, 4 billion years of life on Earth? You don’t need to be superstitious to NOT think that you are the center of the universe.

      Also, based on the careful wording of this survey I would sooner say that the military is trying to force Wicca or Pantheism on us, not Christianity. Just because we want them to remove Religion-specific language, we shouldn’t demand that they completely IGNORE the importance of religion and spirituality in so many soldier’s lives…particularly with suicide rates as high as they are now.

      “At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. ”

      I am an atheist, and I have humanitarian beliefs, principles, and values. This atheist would score just fine on the “spirituality” part of the test.

      • Justin

        You are commenting on a 6 week old post, and all of your questions have already been addressed. Also, this story goes a lot deeper than this one blog post.

        Apart from “i am a spiritual person” atheists should score just fine. What is really so horrible about these questions?

        False. Read here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/05/smoking-gun-proves-mandatory-army-spiritual-fitness-test-is-religious-test-unconstitutional/ <— For unconstitutional nature of the test. Also, what are these results being used for? To justify the allocation of government funds and resources for ‘SPIRITUAL FITNESS’

        Also read the logical explanation for the answers to those questions you listed:

        I understand that some of you out there, atheists included would answer differently on these questions, but I’m aware of many that answer even ‘lower’ Spiritually. Just so you know, there were several pages of questions, all on a sliding scale of 1 to 5 (1=not like me at all, through 5=very much like me). Additionally, out of the pages and pages and pages of questions, only five were about Spirituality. Which is given equal weighting with “Family” “Social” and “Emotional” (the “Physical” aspect is implying that all soldiers exercise already, and this GAT/SFT nonsense is supplementing it holistically.)

        Let me make this clear. I did not answer ‘all 1′.

        In fact, let me show you exactly how and why I answered each question. (Emphasis mine)

        1) I am a spiritual person.

        This one is easy. 1 out of 5

        2) My life has lasting meaning.

        Here, I had a problem with the awkward construction of the question. What do they mean by ‘lasting’? As I said before, I thought about it, and answered logically and honestly. I thought about Abraham Lincoln, and how his life definitely had a ‘lasting’ meaning. But then I thought, “What is Abe’s father/mother’s name? Nobody remembers them…”

        Then I looked at my own life, and decided that I’m not currently on par with historical figures (including celebrities, etc…basically even famous people.) HOWEVER, I did see that it was possible that my life could hypothetically become important and ‘lasting’ in this sense. But I doubted the likelihood, based on sheer statistics.

        So I answered 2 out 5

        3) I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.

        This one is again the victim of awkward sentence construction. Not to mention it reeks of theological woo. This sentence doesn’t make sense to me. How am I supposed to be “closely connected to all humanity”? Is that even possible? 6 Billion of my closest friends all live with me on Earth?

        If I am closely connected to all humanity, then how do I reconcile the fact that is potentially my job to kill some of them? This is disturbing, illogical, and I want it to go away.

        1 out of 5

        4) The job I am doing in the military has lasting meaning.

        Again, we are looking at the metaphysical implications of the word ‘lasting’ unless you mean that word as ‘historical’ (which is how I chose to take it. Because reality is well, real.) I’m not Patton, Yorke, Powell, Churchill…etc.

        Is it possible that someday my military career will have LASTING historical impact? Yes. Is it likely? No.

        2 out of 5

        5) I believe there is a purpose for my life.

        This one is better. Yes there is certainly a purpose for my life. There are a plurality of purposes, to include serving my country, being a husband (father in the next few weeks), standing up for what’s right… etc.

        And even if we are talking about “I believe there is a purpose for life in general”, I still say yes. As I choose to understand the world, life (all forms of it) have at least this one purpose: to make more life. It is my responsibility as a human, as an earthling, as a conscious being to act in a way that is conducive towards more/better/longer life in all reasonable ways.

        5 out of 5, and would have been 10 out of 5 if I could.

        Okay. So, given that lengthy explanation of how I answered (which I think is a reasonable way to answer), how could I *not* be offended by this results screen:

        Lastly, it seems to me that you are not a military member. You don’t seem to understand what this really means for us on the ground. Did you know that there are already troops who are forced to go to chaplains based on these 5 goofy tests, and that the chaplains tell them they need to get born again? Do you know that the vast majority of people complaining about this test are Christian soldiers?

        You really need to take the time to read this letter from a soldier (one of 26 in his unit that faced this exact same treatment):

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/18/spiritually-unfit-soldiers-forced-to-see-chaplains-to-get-born-again/ <—- from here:

        Before I tell you, Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF of my total outrage at the U.S. Army for grading me as a “Spiritual Fitness failure”, I will tell you a few things about myself. My name is (name withheld) and I am an enlisted soldier with the rank of (rank withheld) in the United States Army stationed at Ft. (military installation withheld). I am in my early-to-mid twenties. I have been deployed downrange into Iraq and Afghanistan 6 times. I will deploy again for my 7th time very soon; to Afghanistan and more combat. All of my deployments have been very heavy combat assignments. I have been wounded 4 times including traumatic brain injury. I have earned the Combat Action Badge, the Bronze Star and multiple Purple Hearts. I have fought in hand-to hand- combat and killed and wounded more than a few “enemy combatants.”

        M[y] religion? I was born a Methodist and guess I still am one. I’m not very religious but consider myself to be a Christian. I don’t go to chapel services that often although I go every now and then. I can’t stand the chaplains as most of them are trying to always get me and my friends to “commit to Christ” and be far more religious as well as they try to get more and more soldiers to get more and more soldiers to be the same type of “committed Christian”. I cannot count the number of times that these chaplains and my own chain of command has described this war we fight as a religious one against the Muslims and their “false, evil and violent” religion. I am a Christian and therefore neither an agnostic nor an atheist though many of my fellow soldiers are such. Now to the point. I, and everyone else who is enlisted in my company, was ORDERED by my Battalion Commander to take the GAT’s Spiritual Fitness Test not very long ago. Let me make this CLEAR, we were all ORDERD to take it.

        After we did, our unit’s First Sgt. individually asked us all how we did on the test. There was NO “anonymity” at all. None of us were ever told that we did NOT have to take this Spiritual Fitness Test nor that we did NOT have to tell our FIrst Sgt. what our results were. A bunch of us “failed” the SFT and when we told that to our First Sgt., per his disclosure order, he further ordered us to make immediate appointments with the chaplains so that we would not “kill ourselves on his watch”. None of us wanted to do it but we were scared. None of us wanted to get in the shits with our First Sgt. who can and will make life miserable for anyone who might have said no to him.

        They keep saying that this is all to stop us soldiers from killing ourselves but THIS degrading SFT “failure” only makes it worse. Two of my battle buddies who I KNOW are thinking of ending it all were a million times worse off after failing this SFT and being called a “spiritual failure” and then ordered to go see the chaplains. I felt like a total coward for not standing up to my First Sgt. but I did what he told me to do. I was scared to tell him no.

        So I went to see the chaplain. When this chaplain told me that I failed the SFT because it was “Jesus’ way of personally knocking on my door as an invitation for me to come to Him as a born again ‘REAL’ Christian” so that I could be saved and not burn forever in Hell for rejecting him, I thought of 3 things. First, I thought of the fact that I was already born a Christian and did not need to be born again. Second, I thought of my battle buddy (name and rank withheld) who took a bullet for me in his face during the Battle of (name of Iraqi battle withheld) and that he was the same kind of Christian as me and this chaplain is telling me that my battle buddy (name and rank withheld) is burning in hell for all time. Third, I thought how I wanted to blow that fucking chaplain’s head right off.

        Thank you, Mr. Weinstein and MRFF for listening and standing up. A bunch of us saw you on MSNBC. We also read about the enlisted guy at Ft. Bragg. Please tell Sgt. Griffith at Fort Bragg that he speaks for many of us who can’t handle the consequences if we spoke out. We have all read the letter you sent to tell the Army to stop this Spiritual Fitness Test. It cheered us up alot because that making us take that test is WRONG and using it to send us to the chaplains against our will is also WRONG. Please tell your lawyers at that big law firm company not to forget about those of us who want to speak up and thank them all but cannot. (Name, rank, combat MOS, military unit, military installation withheld)

        Or, if that’s not enough… Why don’t you go take a look at the Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center?
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/02/05/us-armys-virtual-fitness-center-opens-says-atheism-faith/

        Or how about you take a look at a typical Spiritual Fitness Guide? It’s 67 pages long, and 4 of them do not have bible references. 2 of those pages say ‘This page intentionally left blank’.

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/spiritual-fitness-guide/

        Please don’t comment here again unless you read these links. It’s not because you aren’t welcome to have intelligent and open discourse (that’s certainly allowed). It’s because all of this is easily found here, and dealt with quite thoroughly. I guess I need to put up a FAQ, but I’m pretty busy… Military schedule, first child’s birth any day now, festival planning, media inquiries, etc… I’ll put one up in a few weeks.

  • Scott

    I would like to thank you as an American and as an atheist.

    “You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values.”

    Beliefs – I’ve pretty much figured that out, thanks for coming.
    Principles – Got those too dick.
    Values – Probably not something you would agree with but yes asshole I have values without God in my life.

    What a shitty test. I’m glad you are saying something!

  • samantha

    Good luck! The US needs people like you – I hope you can make a difference. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/GET-REAL-Gay-Atheists/115755265153668?v=photos&ref=sgm#!/pages/GET-REAL-Gay-Atheists/115755265153668 Lewis Breland

    SPC Griffith:

    As a member of the United States Navy and a VERY HAPPY atheist, I stand by your side. There are hundreds of stories like yours all over the military. The Chaplaincy is a fraud and, as far as I’m concerned, illegal as per the US Constitution. You know personally my own struggle with religion in the military, but this is pushing it much too far. It’s degrading to tell soldiers that they MUST have something wrong with them if they don’t have faith in a magic man in the sky. Perhaps we’re good without God. Perhaps science, reason, literature, art, music, and human relationships ARE ENOUGH for us to net only get by in life, but to enjoy life to its fullest.

    Proud to serve with you, Justin!

    Cheers!

    Lewis

    • SPC Julia Rutledge

      @Lewis: I agree 100% that the chaplaincy is unconstitutional, and believe it does more harm than good. If we’ve done away with publicly sanctioned prayer in the public schools, why on earth do we still have Christian prayer at every damn ceremony? And why are we required to assume a position of respect especially for said prayers? (Which I never assume, but remain in the position of attention “as I were”.)

  • http://www.sirisuk.org Nick Nakorn

    questioning belief is seen as a bad thing…good grief; makes you wonder how the military make decisions at all..

    as a lefty almost-pacifist atheist I would say that would I not?

  • Garold Stone

    As Venessa Robertson suggested — many people with a religious bias, i.e. most people and probably the SFT staff, will not see anything wrong with the SFT’s presumptions about a “higher power” … Therefore, with self-preserving caution (vice martyrdom) at each step — you could consider contacting People For the American Way and/or Americans United and/or the ACLU to advise them about your experience with the SFT and seek their guidance and assistance for your own actions going forward; they may also help you understand whether to expect help or hindrance from your home-of-record federal Representative and/or Senators. The fault of the SFT is not that it includes “spirituality” (which is an actual belief system of most people) but in creating self-fulfilling, god-centered “spirituality” category unto itself. The question is how such a survey could be redeemed by reshaping it to acknowledge not only the “spirituality” demographic, but also the “secular” demographic for whom non-supernatural values of well being and compassion for others do not involve any “higer power”. In any case, the entire SFT and its academic antecedents need to be investigated. This is a heroic undertaking against a deep prejudice — the same prejudice that prevents a secular person from being elected to public office.

  • Jim Short

    That is truly an outrage. Thank you for fighting the fight. Think of it as a way to deepen your relationship with something larger than yourself (the Army). You’re getting more spiritual already.

  • JohnAtl

    Let me preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect and gratitude for those who defend my freedom.

    Religious people are better suited to be soldiers than non-believers.

    1. The military relies on soldiers who will unquestioningly follow orders. Non-believers are, by their very nature, skeptics and thinkers. That’s not what is needed when you need someone to go into harms way and follow orders. This is also why people who score highly on tests like the Wonderlic Test are rejected for service as law enforcement officers. Law enforcement groups don’t want questioning, they want following.

    2. Religious people think they get a second chance. Religious people believe they will have another life after they die. This can embolden them to enter situations they might not otherwise enter.

    3. If I recall correctly, the Christian bible teaches that one should support one’s government. Again, this reduces the amount of questioning that a soldier would do.

    4. Religious soldiers believe that God is on their side. That makes it easier to perform the duties required of a soldier, including killing people.

    5. Thinking that there is an afterlife makes it easier for parents, families and friends to send their loved-ones off into battle. If they don’t come back, the religious believe they will be reunited at a later date. If everyone thought this is their one and only life, much more thought would be put into the battles we fight, and the act of volunteering for service.

    • Justin

      I see your line of thinking, but it is absolutely not true. I’m an atheist, and I will unquestioningly follow the orders of my superiors. In the hypothetical circumstance where a direct order contradicts ethical behavior (such as being ordered to kill innocent civilians, or blow up a dam, etc.), the Army has clear guidelines: do not follow these orders. Your line of reasoning would only come from somebody who hasn’t been in the military. The military relies on strict adherence to a chain of command, and the rules and regulations for a reason: It works.

      Also, I don’t think believers are without logic and reason by default (except for the specific issue of religion.) But, if to follow on your logic that seems to pronounce all believers as illogical and irrational people who listen to people without questioning things… That doesn’t sound like a very good soldier. I wouldn’t want them in my platoon, anyway.

      Your arguments insult both believers and non-believers. But I appreciate the dialog, and you are welcome to continue a discussion here any time.

      • JohnAtl

        Justin: In your first paragraph, you contradict yourself:
        “…I will unquestioningly follow the orders of my superiors.”
        “…where a direct order contradicts ethical behavior…the Army has clear guidelines: do not follow these orders.”
        “The military relies on strict adherence to a chain of command…”
        You can’t have it both ways. You can either unquestioningly follow orders, or you can evaluate orders and situations. When you evaluate you think, and when you think, you aren’t unquestioningly following orders.

        To help those who follow orders feel better about following orders, the military coins phrases like, “collateral damage.”

        Believers are adept at not questioning fallacies, while simultaneously dismissing credible theories. For instance: they believe that Noah rounded up two of every animal (all of the millions of non-aquatic species, which would have to include plants, fungi, etc.) and road them around in the ark, but they scoff at evolution for which there is overwhelming supporting evidence. If you want someone to follow your orders, you really want a believer.

        • Amii Lockhart

          Interesting argument and counter-argument. In the end, I think I side with Justin, though. Malcolm in the Middle had an episode that illustrated pretty well that unquestioning compliance will only get you so far in the military.

          And though it is hard for me to unravel how the religious can think critically regarding non spiritual issues, its clear that they can. It’s not ignorance that keeps them clinging to their religions.

        • Jo

          JohnAtl, clearly you have never served in the military. There is no requirement for any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine to follow an illegal order no matter who issues it. Never. Examples of illegal orders: killing a lawfully surrendered POW, burning a house full of civilians, and the list could go on.

          I am an athiest, and a former Naval Officer and Aviator. I have no reason to believe that there is any god, savior, magical sky fairy who makes this a better world. The bible is an interesting book of authoritarian fairy tales written by authoritarian men seeking to consolidate and hold power indefinitely in their societal structures.

          The chain of command exists to relay orders of all types from top-to-bottom and to allow those on the bottom to have issues addressed by the men and women at the ‘bottom’ by those in their command most able to deal with issues, it does not exist to issue illegal orders and in fact can mitigate them by not promulgating them when they are, in fact, illegal. So the “thinking” does not have to be done by those at the bottom when all works out as planned. However, every soldier is taught the “rules” of warfare and gets some idea of what the consequences of violating them are.

          Justin, I find this “survey” to be offensive in the extreme, and am glad that you have been able to bring it to the attention of the world via the internet. Hopefully, by shedding light on this you will send the roaches who put it together back to the dark hole they issued from to force it on the American people, and especially the men and women who are putting themselves out at the pointy end of the spear.

    • ian

      100 per cent right . People who are supid enough to believe in the tooth fairy, father christmas, satan god or jesus , will also be stupid enough to be willing to voluntarilly get their balls blown off.

      • Elbers

        @ian That was great my friend i laughed my ass off

  • Mike

    It seems to me that this is exactly the kind of thing you want for the military. Follow me here for a second. If a person is an atheist, he tends to think more about the world around him looking for actual answers to questions he has. Good Soldier don’t think, they act. I can see that people that are alien to the kind of thinking that atheists enjoy that questioning the world around you and being open to change based on evidence leads to questioning orders.

    Not that I would agree with this, but I can see where they’d think of it.

    • MarkNS

      This may be somewhat true for a private in the infantry but in many other trades the military wants people who can think and evaluate situations. As well, one must know when an order is illegal as every member of the military has a duty to disobey those orders. Yes, once a low ranking member has expressed valid concerns about an ordered course of action he must then follow it unless it is illegal then he must not follow it.

      I was a military officer for 27 years and I was expected to think about ALL orders I was given and express concerns with them as I was getting paid for my judgment and decision making abilities. So, perhaps the lowest ranks should be religious/obedient while the higher ranks should come from the ranks of us unbelievers…works for me.

  • Rhea

    Maybe the military wants religious soldiers because they’re used to doing what they’re told without questioning absurdities such as talking snakes. There could be such a thing as being too rational to be a soldier… but that leaves the guns and nuclear weapons in the hands of the irrational ones, which doesn’t make me feel secure.

  • http://nilknarf.net/j.shtml Doug Franklin

    Thank you for speaking out, Justin. There have been many stories about discrimination against atheism in the military, and I have my own from 1966-1968. Not a new problem, but a worsening one, I’m afraid.
    My dogtags have “non-pref” on them, no amount of insistence could change that.
    Again, thank you.

  • ian

    Well, theres some good news !
    I am unfit to join the wanky US forces (A)because I have a brain B) have learned how to use it C ) would prefer not to have a bullet in it

  • Navin Johnson

    As a US Navy Vet, I remember being on board ship and needing to seek
    advise for personal issues. As an athiest, I found it disheartening
    that I had very little choices in this matter, and I would always
    be referred back to a chaplan. To be honest, I was young and I was scared to admit to the chaplan I was an athiest. I did not want to be treated or looked at differently for my non-belief. The chaplan would try to help and but would usually interject with relgion. I tried to weed that out and try to make sense of what he was trying to say. I did find a senior chief onboard I could talk to when I had the time (and so did he.) But, other sailors of belief had a much easier time getting advise.

  • http://centersolid.blogspot.com/ Sean Asbury
  • http://jlandl.blogspot.com Jenny Creed

    Spirituality gets a bad rep for its connection to organized religion, but chances are you’re a spiritual being even if you give it another word. The survey for example asks if you “feel any connection to humanity” or words to that effect, and I’d be afraid to meet any person who says no to that. Admitting that you exist in a social context with other people in it isn’t exactly bowing down to God because the Man tells you you have to.

    And if you believe there’s any meaning, any point, any ghost of an idea to anything in this world, I’d say you have a healthy, growing consciousness, and that you’re showing a degree of spirituality.

    I’ll say it’s a poorly thought out survey that assumes a Judeo-Christian ideal as the standard measure of spiritual awareness, though.

    • Pepijn

      I don’t think “existing in a social context with other people” has anything to do with spirituality… That’s the problem with tests like the one described, and discussions like this one. “Spirituality” is an incredibly vague concept. Somebody would first have to give me a very concrete definition of it before I could say whether I considered myself spiritual according to their definition. I certainly have never seen a clear and consistent definition of it that everyone could agree on.

  • TC

    I’m a social scientist and a vocal atheist. I see little problem with these questions. My guess is that scoring low on these items is predictive of a variety of behaviors the military would rather prevent.

    People who believe their life has “no purpose” or who don’t feel life has “lasting meaning” are probably more likely to commit suicide, for example.

    The question you need to ask is whether this assessment tool has been validated. That is, does it generally predict what it purports to predict? No assessment tool is perfect, of course, and each is merely one tool in a toolbox. But has the military validated this particular instrument?

    • Justin

      Um. I didn’t just report the questions. Look at the RESULTS. It said:

      Spiritual Fitness

      Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal. Change is possible, and the relevant self-development training modules will be helpful. If you need further help, please do not hesitate to seek out help from the people you care about and trust – strong people always do. Be patient in your development as it will take time to improve in this area. Still, persistence is key and you will improve here if you make this area a priority.

      That’s unacceptable. That’s offensive. That needs to be changed. Additionally, you are unaware that the results of this test are being used for Human Resource purposes. Meaning, they are spending money as a direct result of these tests. So every single atheist / agnostic / humanist / nontheist is directly contributing to the coffers of the chaplaincy.

      Also, if you have no problem with the question “I am a spiritual person”, how do you consider yourself a vocal atheist?

      Thanks for the honest commentary, contrasting opinions are always welcome here (except for trolls of course), so your disagreement is well-received. Keep it up.

      • TC

        My point is that if those specific questions are predictive of maladaptive behavior, then I’d have little problem with them as both a scientist and atheist. My suggestion, then, was to find out if the military had validated the instrument: Does it predict what it purports to predict?

        Social scientists have specific methods for determining that sort of thing. Has the military used those standard methods to validate their instrument?

        Frankly, the paragraph you’ve quoted there as the result is not offensive to me. The “spirituality” section of the survey does not look like it was designed to measure spirituality at all. It looks like it was designed to measure hopelessness. The response you received would be appropriate for someone who is hopeless.

        As far as my answers go, I am not a spiritual person, but my life does have meaning, I am connected to the world, the job I do has lasting meaning, and there is a purpose to my life. And I’m as atheist as they come.

        What does the content of the “relevant self-development training modules” look like? Because that’s the part that could be truly offensive.

        • Justin

          I understand where you are coming from. But your personal way of answering as an atheist is likely different from other people’s ways. I did not say that my answers were all “1 out of 5″, and you can see on the graph that this is reflected.

          I mentioned my reasoning for answering “My life will have a LASTING meaning.” That phraseology is bizarre to me. I mentioned the Abraham Lincoln angle, as his life clearly has a lasting meaning. I then decided that it’s unlikely, but not impossible that my life will have such a lasting meaning. Therefore, I chose ’2 out 5′. A similar treatment with each of these questions was given, in my head. I couldn’t even tell if these questions were the ‘spiritual’ section, until I got confirmation from outside sources (see following post).

          And as far as the ‘hopeless’ aspect, I somewhat agree. But there were several pages of that stuff in the ‘EMOTIONAL’ section. I really do think that much of this test could be useful. However, it needs to be changed drastically, with whatever good bits about Spirituality left over from the purge going into ‘Emotional’ and ‘Social’ and ‘Family’.

          You hinted at the training being possibly offensive. You were right about that. There is the 12 steps to folding the Flag the Christian way… a whole host of other things wrong with it too. A complete transcript of the training has leaked at MAAF.info

  • Frank S

    Although an atheist I don’t think I could kill people. I don’t need a god to tell me “thou shalt not kill;” its pretty frickin’ obvious on its own merits. Its disruptive to society. Its an uneconomical burden on the killee’s clan and countrymen as well as the killer’s. Every person killed takes away from 100′s of lives. And many who’ve killed are never the same again.

    Humans evolved for millions of years to gain a natural aversion to seeing the insides of other humans. Surgery aside, we’re better following our instincts on this.

  • Corinne

    I never knew that soldiers were subjected to this sort of evaluation. Thank you for bringing that awareness to me. I agree with you that this is a practice that needs to be changed immediately. I will be following your journey and will offer any assistance I can. I have already shared this story with my entire address book, as well as Facebook. Your decision to speak out is admirable and just plain gutsy.

  • http://larianlequella.com LarianLeQuella

    I salute you SGT Griffith!

  • Vanessa Robertson

    Hi Justin,

    I don’t think that we necessarily disagree. When I said “lost a previously held faith” I meant more like “recently lost a previously and strongly held faith because of some situation the Army had put you in.” My little brother is separating from the Army on the 5th after two 16 month deployments to Iraq as a sniper scout, so everything I see from the Army that looks like it is trying to help mitigate the consequences of seeing things soldiers can’t unsee and doing things they wouldn’t normally have to be in a position to choose to do gets a pass from me. But it is kind of rude and if you were offended, especially if the Army is somehow using this test to show the need for more chaplains, by all means let it be known! And you are, so good job!

  • Yvonne

    Wow, I definitely failed the spiritual. Good thing I’m not a soldier! I claimed Wiccan on my dog tags when I was AD-USAF; now I claim athiest/wiccan. =) I didn’t see too much to really offend me on the survey, though, only a couple of spiritual questions. Wasn’t that bad. however, I entirely agree there’s too much religion in the DOD.

    As a lieutenant I made the audacious suggestion that we cut the prayer out of the agenda for the Air Force Ball to save time and nearly got my head chewed off by the other committee members. I dunno; it made sense to me. Why were we praying at an official function?

    I suspect that the attitute towards religion will change, as the attitude towards homosexuality and women in service has been and is changing. It will take some time for our less-religious generation of young people to make the ranks and take the positions of responsibility to make these changes, but the pervading attitude is definitely moving that direction.

    Cheers, Justin, and kudos for being openly athiest as an enlisted man in the Army!

  • Max Goller

    It is truly disappointing just how far down the religious rabbit hole the military has gone. Stories like this along with open proselytizing at the Air Force Academy and elsewhere are disturbing at best. As a retired Navy veteran, I can tell you that it hasn’t always been this bad. I remember distinctly serving on an equal opportunity board where the base commanders seriously considered banning church members from visiting our base because they were seen to be aggressively pressuring servicemen to attend their church services. My best wishes go out to you in this noble fight.

  • Joe American

    They are using the Masonic control paradigm. Basically creating the American version of suicide bombers. Dumb people who will find meaning and value in what the Army tells them to do.

    They want you to believe that the Army is for the greater good.

    Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

  • The Happy Atheist

    Holy crap! That flag folding prayer bit in the ‘training’ section is positively disgusting.

  • Prairie Kittin

    Onward Christian Soldiers! This frightens me more than I care to think about!! Seriously. Let’s bring back the Crusades or start our own xtian jihad. Fight in god’s Army and kill the infidels!

    That’s one small step away from enacting Heresy and Blasphemy laws.

  • watchtower

    I visited the Army CFT website http://www.army.mil/csf/resources.html and read the “Goals_Book” (AE Pam 350-1-2 ● 15 Dec 10)

    Page 5 defines Spiritual Fitness: You build spiritual fitness by developing and strengthening a set of beliefs,
    principles, or values that sustain a person beyond Family, institutional, and societal sources of strength.

    …”a set of beliefs, principles, or values that sustain a person beyond”… is a clear indicator that the Army does in fact want their soldiers to believe in a deity or higher power.

    Page 25 Caring father and Role Model for son: “I teach him about ethics morality and the Bible”

    Didn’t mention a Daughter…that’s odd enough, but another clear indication the Army is pushing a religious agenda.

  • JuJoo Guppy

    …Really?

    Wow.

    Seems to me I’d rather have an Atheist at my side these days anyways, at least they wouldnt have religious guilt on top of any personal conflicts.

    Then again, if you get Christians like those during the crusades…

    Keep standing up for yourself, thats really screwed up. Thanks for your fighting and sacrafices for this nation, also.

  • Steve

    We need a legal opinion: Is service in the armed forces an “office or public trust under the United States? If so, the Army’s “spiritual fitness” requirement is unconstitutional. See Article VI, the last sentence: “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This language is rarely quoted, but it predates the First Amendment.

    This is an issue that should go to the Supreme Court.

  • Andrew Bates

    SGT Grifith,
    I am troubled by some of the deceptive and misleading information in your blog post.

    For example, you failed to mention that the spiritual portion of this test is optional, whereas the rest of the test is mandatory. Your blog post implies that you were required to take it.

    Also, the questions on the spiritual portion of the test do not require a belief in God, as the few questions you revealed demonstrate.

    It appears that you intentionally failed the test to make your point. You gave yourself a 2/5 for “My life will have lasting meaning.” Is that an anti-atheist question? I thought atheists argued that their lives did have lasting meaning. Why only 2/5?

    I believe in a strong separation of church and state, and I was also highly skeptical when I saw that there was a spiritual portion of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Test. I was a little reassured to see that the spiritual portion was optional, and that the questions in the spiritual portion did not promote a belief in God(s). Apparently, you did not let these facts get in the way of a good story.

    Why did you feel the need to misrepresent the test in this blog post? Is it worth dishonestly smearing the army to score points? As a soldier, you should be ashamed, and you should correct this blog post. By making a dishonest argument, you will only undermine the cause you are trying to advocate.

    • Justin

      SGT Grifith,
      I am troubled by some of the deceptive and misleading information in your blog post.

      Yeah, I try to educate the hit-and-run troll commenters on these posts, but so many are uninformed and very defensive. I hope you aren’t like this.

      For example, you failed to mention that the spiritual portion of this test is optional, whereas the rest of the test is mandatory. Your blog post implies that you were required to take it.

      So much for hopes.

      Not a single bit of this test is optional. You failed to do even a cursory amount of checking your facts. The spiritual portion is VERY MUCH mandatory. Here is the relevant portion. I’m sure it was easy to miss on this website, what with all the giant red boxes around it.
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/files/2011/01/Article15.jpg

      Also, the questions on the spiritual portion of the test do not require a belief in God, as the few questions you revealed demonstrate.

      Again, you fail to do even a cursory amount of research. Swing and a miss.
      Try these: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/22/us-military-defines-spirituality/
      or: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/20/yahweh-or-the-highway-mandatory-army-spiritual-fitness/
      or: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/18/spiritually-unfit-soldiers-forced-to-see-chaplains-to-get-born-again/ <—– CHILLING

      It appears that you intentionally failed the test to make your point. You gave yourself a 2/5 for “My life will have lasting meaning.” Is that an anti-atheist question? I thought atheists argued that their lives did have lasting meaning. Why only 2/5?

      I’ve explained my answers quite thoroughly several times on this website. You are commenting on a post from well over a month ago, without even bothering to see if your questions have already been addressed. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/02/how-a-non-theist-soldier-fails-mandatory-spirituality-test/

      I believe in a strong separation of church and state, and I was also highly skeptical when I saw that there was a spiritual portion of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Test. I was a little reassured to see that the spiritual portion was optional, and that the questions in the spiritual portion did not promote a belief in God(s). Apparently, you did not let these facts get in the way of a good story.

      The spiritual portion of the test is not optional, so you are either lying or mistaken. You MUST complete all the questions on the GAT before you are able to hit ‘submit’. I don’t expect you to apologize for your tone or false accusations or even being so overwhelmingly misinformed. It’s okay, not everyone can be bothered to look into the things that they comment or rant about. I’m sure we have all done it at some point. If you do happen to reply again, please do me the favor and click on each of those links and please read the entire entry, they aren’t very long.

      Why did you feel the need to misrepresent the test in this blog post? Is it worth dishonestly smearing the army to score points? As a soldier, you should be ashamed, and you should correct this blog post. By making a dishonest argument, you will only undermine the cause you are trying to advocate.

      So do you feel really dishonest now? Your entire rant hinged on the fallacious idea that the Spiritual portion of the test was optional. So are you undermining the cause you are likely to advocate (separation of church and state, Army pride, equality, unity, constitutional values etc.)? No. You are not. Rather, you are just wrong. But please do take a look around those links, or do a bit more research and maybe you will come to see where I am coming from. Not to mention the 226 other soldiers on the litigation from MRFF, 96% of whom are Christians who feel like they were being told they weren’t Christian enough.

  • Andrew Bates

    SGT Griffith,

    I took the test over six months ago. Perhaps I took an earlier version. At any rate, I will accept your claim that it is mandatory, because this is not critical to the larger issue, which I should have articulated more clearly. My complaint is that your blog post does not accurately represent the following:

    The test is private, for the soldier’s own self-awareness. The results may be anonymously aggregated as part of a grand total with the soldier’s permission, but are not shown to the chain of command. The test is NOT used by the army to evaluate the test-taker for promotion, deployment, retention or any other career purpose.

    I would like for you to acknowledge that the paragraph above is essentially accurate.

    Your blog post has been shared via Facebook links etc as another internet rumor, giving readers the impression that soldiers are being evaluated as a religious test for career advancement. You should clarify that the results of the test are not visible to the soldier’s chain of command.

    I understand that the test is still objectionable symbolically, based on the message it conveys to test-takers. I agree that it gives soldiers a false impression that religious beliefs are necessary to be a good soldiers. I do not disagree with your complaints about that. I would support a clear-headed and and honest representation of that argument.

    However, I cannot support an exaggerated claim, such as the following from your original blog post: “That is a private matter for soldiers, and in no way should any command be evaluating how ‘fit’ a soldier is based upon his beliefs (or lack thereof).” In fact, the test IS private and the chain of command does NOT evaluate soldiers based on the results, as you imply, though you should know otherwise.

    Are you trying to improve the army, or undermine it?

    • Justin

      The test is private, for the soldier’s own self-awareness. The results may be anonymously aggregated as part of a grand total with the soldier’s permission, but are not shown to the chain of command. The test is NOT used by the army to evaluate the test-taker for promotion, deployment, retention or any other career purpose.

      I would like for you to acknowledge that the paragraph above is essentially accurate.

      First of all, I asked you to read a little more on this subject before replying. Specifically: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/01/18/spiritually-unfit-soldiers-forced-to-see-chaplains-to-get-born-again/

      Additionally, I never said it was for promotion, deployment, retention or any other career purpose in that article. I said it was offensive. I also said that the results ARE used to justify the allocation of money and resources, as CSF themselves admit. This means that MY answers are directly funding the ‘Spiritual Fitness’ initiative. A $30 Million Spiritual Fitness Center (mega-church) is being built on Fort Hood. Last year, 80 soldiers were punished for not attending one of the many Spiritual Fitness events (these are ALWAYS Christian rock concerts / gospel acts). And Fort Bragg spent over $100,000 on the Rock the Fort Spiritual Fitness concert that was the impetus for the creation of this entire website and festival.

      I never expected this test to directly affect anyone for promotion, deployment etc. If you read that link at the top of this reply, you’ll see how we both were sadly wrong. It certainly did affect 26 people in that guy’s unit. Was his command supposed to act that way? No. Does that justify even allowing for that type of situation to pop up in the first place? NO. This thing is a time-bomb and they know it.

      Are you trying to improve the army, or undermine it?

      Once again, I’d like to emphasize that your entire post is based on fallacious misconceptions / misunderstandings. And again, you end your comment with another personal jab at me, my intentions, and even implying that I am trying to undermine the Army that I love.

      I swore an oath to defend the constitution.

      Here is Article VI para 3 of the United States Constitution, (before we even get to the amendments! This is from the MAIN BODY):

      No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

      Are you trying to ignore the constitution, or undermine it?

      Now that last question isn’t fair, because I know that you wear the same uniform I do. You are just wrong, and that’s okay. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow. I actually enjoy being wrong about things sometimes. It’s very humbling.

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    One of the reasons I left the military as soon as I was eligible was that I was told that, as an open atheist, I had almost no chance of being promoted beyond O-3 with all that meant at the time. Even though I had good OERs and was selected early for O-3, as soon as my non-belief became known, I was often pressured to “get with the program” and “think of the men” as well as other, not so subtle threats.

    Yes, the military does evaluate personnel on illegal standards. But that happens throughout American society, doesn’t it?

  • onecrone

    I so appreciate the courage it takes to be principled in the face of such pressure!

    But, I read a compelling article about the change from matriarchal religions to patriarchal religions in our distant past. The impetus for this change was the imperialistic desires of leaders that required more soldiers for fighting. So the paternal, aggressive gods rose to prominence. It is very useful to the military to pressure soldiers into doing “their duty” (as seen by others} by truisms of “god-supported” causes and pearly-gate rewards.

    I’ve been thinking lately that the women, gay, and/or atheist populations make this a better world. Let’s let the aggressive religious straight white male population “have” the military and kill each other off. There are way too many of them, and they do insist on starting a war every generation to keep the war production machines in business and make fighting in a war equivalent to patriotism.

    • Justin

      I like your enthusiasm and support. However I disagree about some of the things you said. I have respect for all of my fellow soldiers, religious or not. I think you are over-simplifying and generalizing your descriptions of atheists as well as descriptions of theists. Additionally, logically it follows that if all religious straight white males would kill eachother off if they were ‘given’ the military, that would have happened thousands of years ago…

      I’m not about to do defend religion by any stretch, but I’m not going to attack it with strawmen either. There are much better reasons and arguments to make the case for atheism than the ones you presented.

      Feel free to engage other commenters on this site at will, as I encourage an open and frank discussion. We can agree to disagree and do it with respect. Please keep commenting here, if you wish. Thanks for the support!

  • jenni

    It’s a reaction of fear in the face of someone who is obviously smarter than oneself. Theists know deep down their beliefs are absolutely ridiculous, but they don’t have, or yet have, the capacity to reason beyond it, so they take their frustration out on those who have successfully done so. They feel threatened by atheists, because they know they’re probably more intelligent than them, which is usually true, not that all atheists are smart, but most smart people are atheists, or at least skeptics of some degree. Have you ever noticed how religious beliefs are always a more sensitive topic than political beliefs? That’s because with politics you at least can have some real picture of what you believe and have the ability to have proof to back up your claims.

  • B. Johnson

    ” Non-believers are, by their very nature, skeptics and thinkers ”

    Thank you for the compliment..

  • http://copyfreegems.com Gary Mont

    War; for the soldier, is about destroying and defeating the enemy.

    War; for those who start and orchestrate it, is 100%, a profit-making operation.

    While those who fight battles believe they do so to protect their families and their way of life, those who manufacture the war and the machinery of war know better. They consider the soldier to be an essential part of that machinery, and as any businessman can tell you, a perfectly tuned machine will definitely create more profit than a poorly tuned machine.

    Religion is a pre-tuning institution that has been creating good soldiers and great profits for centuries.

    A good soldier must be obedient. Religion is all about blind obedience.

    A good soldier must never question orders and religion has always been great at convincing people to believe in the unbelievable. A good soldier has faith that his superiors know best and believes that his failure to obey unquestioningly, any command given, will lead to defeat.

    Those who play the war game from back home, often find it necessary to sacrifice batches of soldiers for various reasons having generally to do with profit and loss, and religion makes this much easier by installing the belief of heavenly rewards for those who die in the name of God. A good soldier is always willing to give his life away on command, for he knows that God is waiting with a special reward for him in heaven.

    The Soldier Fitness Evaluation test is absolutely correct. Only the blindly religious should be recruited to fight the money-making wars of the corporate government and its industrial brethren.

    One would think the rest of us would be wise enough to already know all of this though. Of course, if that were so, there’d be no need for this post.

    And just for the record, I’m a military brat. I simply took the time to learn the facts, and shrugged off my patriotism before it could get me sacrificed for fun and profit by the real enemy.

    GEM

    • Justin

      I understand why people say this sort of thing, but it does serve to insult both Foxhole Atheists, AND my religious battle buddies. Religion has nothing to do with how fit a soldier is. It just has no baring at all. Religious people are not automatically stupid/easily manipulated on topics outside of religion. (And I don’t even think they are stupid at all. I used to be a creationist!)

      Also, what about history? Didn’t the atheists in the USSR fight successfully against the Christian Nazi’s? What about Vietnam? What about the western European nations of today that are largely secular / non-religious today (U.K. for instance)? What about Pat Tillman, or the 8,000+ currently active duty soldiers in the army who self-identify as ‘atheist’?

      When we are training for the Army, and when we are fighting in wars, ‘God’ doesn’t come up. War, fighting, communication, tactics, brotherhood, etc… these are the things we rely upon in the moment. When bullets are flying, an atheist doesn’t want to look over and see his religious counter-part praying, or reading scripture etc. He wants to see a fellow Soldier fighting back beside him. And guess what: that is exactly what happens.

      To imply otherwise is disingenuous and offensive to both sides.

      And just for the record, I’m a military brat. I simply took the time to learn the facts, and shrugged off my patriotism before it could get me sacrificed for fun and profit by the real enemy.

      Whatever that means, I’m not interested in having this line of argument play out in the comment section here. Thank you for contributing, and I do want to encourage open and honest dialog like the rest of your comment.

      -Justin Griffith

  • nick

    i stand by your side keep fighting the good fight,

  • Alan

    Just a thought…
    why should the army have any interest in god, what about the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”?
    The whole point of the army is anti-religion!

  • John Stepp

    I had to take this too. I had “the lowest score in the battalion” and somehow managed to get voted soldier of the quarter, never seem demotivated and keep morale high for other soldiers.

    Just because I don’t “love me some Jesus” doesn’t mean I can’t thrive.

  • JD

    I recently took a required college health course and in it, there was a self-examination questionaire that included high amounts of spirituality as an indicator of better health. I mentioned it on the course surveys and various other places through the school, but as far as I can tell, to no avail. It also asked silly vague questions like those you listed. I spoke to a fellow student who had taken the course on campus and he told me the teacher’s excuse was “When you take ten minutes and look at the ocean, that’s spiritual.” I enjoy pretty views as well, yet the “Do you believe in a higher power?” question didn’t seem to reflect my admiration of sunsets. It’s bogus. Thinking about things larger than ourselves put things in perspective, definitely. But can’t I ponder the immensity of the universe and be filled with wonder and NOT be led to believe in unicorns because of it? Deep experiences do not always equal “spirituality.” And certainly, spirituality does not always equal better wellness, as seen in 9/11.

  • jason

    That’s because they know your mentally retarded. You can’t even recognize your own soul. You’re to preoccupied with being “edgy and different man” You think you’re “just a little more aware then everyone else dude”. Stupid hippy get a life.

    • Justin

      Swing and a miss.

      LOL’d though. Excellent trolling. Maybe you have a bunch of hippies in the quiet suburbs of Boston that you live in (North Waltham, or Readville?) But the Army doesn’t have many hippies, we have rifles and tanks and things that kill people. Tends to keep the hippies out.

  • Andrew

    Quit the crying right now. I had to take that survey too, and I had similar results, being in a similar position (atheist). I read my results, said “huh” and then went back to work. I didn’t think about it until now. It didn’t bother me and it shouldn’t bother any atheist. It’s a survey. An anonymous survey. It didn’t go to your chain of command and it never said you were unfit to be a soldier. I also have dog tags that read “no-rel-pref” and I’m fine with that too–some other posters have opined about that. I work in a predominately religious workplace. I don’t want the Army to cater to me and you no one else should either. Quit your bellyaching, atheists, there are wars on. Serve your country, fight the good fight. We’re atheists. There is no belief to discriminate against. This movement is starting to be as bad as the religious ones. Hooah!

  • Godless Machine

    What I want to know is this: Who cares? I just don’t put much effort into being offended at what religious people have to say and I don’t understand why people (Atheists and “Christians” alike) put so much frigging energy into being offended at everything.

    Are you being discriminated over this? Are you going to be put out of the Army because of this? Come on…getting up in arms about this laughable survey has me shaking my head. What does it mean? Who cares if you got some generic summary about your spiritual health and then got a suggestion to fix it? Really? You’re offended by this?

    You were right: you should choose your battles more wisely. In my ideal world, Atheists are above stuff like this, but in reality, we’re just as whiny as everyone else.

  • zoop55

    I am really not surprised at this at all. After enlisting and going through the MEPS experience, I am finding that the military has an extremely conservative outlook.

  • Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM

    The real question should be about the validity of the scale. What proof does the military have that the items on this scale positively discriminate in favor of successful soldiers? How does one define a “successful soldier”? Who does the defining? Is this definition universally valid or does it only apply to soldiers in the current U.S. army, complete with its strong fundamentalist Christian bias? If force cohesion is an important part of what makes a successful unit, and the “spiritual” beliefs of the soldiers significantly affect this cohesion then should all force members be of the same religion? Should army only recruit U.S. style fundamentalist Protestant Christians for the sake of this important cohesion?

    In other words, even if the “spiritual” element of this scale were found to validly differentiate “good” from “poor” soldiers in the U.S. armed forces, is this a due to the existence in the forces of an unacknowledged prejudice that is antithetical to the human rights that the forces pretend to be fighting for?

    We could substitute other measures on that scale that could also measure things that prevent people being classed by whoever determines what is, or what makes, a “successful” soldiers: tests that measure skin color, gender, sexual preference, genetic race, and so on. How about a question which asks, point blank, whether the person has accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour?

    The relevant question is whether these characteristics are direct and immutable causes of someone’s failure to be a “successful” soldier or whether these factors are indirect causes mediated by the unacknowledged prejudices and biases of the command officers or the troupes?

    The final question should be how a five-item scale can have any statistically significant validity. The margin of error must be huge.

  • http://centersolid.blogspot.com Sean Asbury

    Keep up the good work Justin – I’m amazed at the traction this thread has! Very cool :)

  • Scott Smith

    Essayons! Keep up the fight.

  • mel

    I’m christian, and I’m not okay with this survey. Spiritual health and spiritual beliefs just aren’t the same thing. Thanks for speaking out.

  • SGT Vanderplas

    I took this test and found no problem with it. I’ve known a few soldiers who took their own lives, including one of my closest friends and I think these tests are absolutely necessary. I scored almost perfect on the spiritual fitness section even though I am a firm atheist. Yes, it was obvious to see what the “right” answers were, but I didn’t answer dishonestly. I think the spirituality questions are meant to be interpreted in a broader sense, too. How can one ponder the vastness of the Universe, or the complexity of Life, or the indomitable spirit and capacity for goodness of all Humanity without considering oneself spiritual? And how can this type of thought, in some sense, not be considered meditation?
    Now, I won’t deny there are some gross injustices in the Army that must be dealt with, and I’ve heard my share of horror stories. I think one that stands out here is the soldier preparing for his 7th deployment who had to withhold all of his information because of an overweening chain of command and a proselytizing chaplain. I haven’t personally experienced anything like this, though. I’ve been blessed with religiously diverse leaders and tolerant, professional chaplains.

    • Justin

      I took this test and found no problem with it… I scored almost perfect on the spiritual fitness section even though I am a firm atheist.

      Again, this is your experience and those were your answers. I’m sure you can understand how an atheist is more likely / pre-disposed to the way I did compared to a religious person.

      If you want to see how I answered read this:

      So I’m explicitly detailing exactly how and why I answered the way I did..

      I understand that some of you out there, atheists included would answer differently on these questions, but I’m aware of many that answer even ‘lower’ Spiritually. Just so you know, there were several pages of questions, all on a sliding scale of 1 to 5 (1=not like me at all, through 5=very much like me). Additionally, out of the pages and pages and pages of questions, only five were about Spirituality. Which is given equal weighting with “Family” “Social” and “Emotional” (the “Physical” aspect is implying that all soldiers exercise already, and this GAT/SFT nonsense is supplementing it holistically.)

      Let me make this clear. I did not answer ‘all 1′.

      In fact, let me show you exactly how and why I answered each question. (Emphasis mine)

      1) I am a spiritual person.

      This one is easy. 1 out of 5

      2) My life has lasting meaning.

      Here, I had a problem with the awkward construction of the question. What do they mean by ‘lasting’? As I said before, I thought about it, and answered logically and honestly. I thought about Abraham Lincoln, and how his life definitely had a ‘lasting’ meaning. But then I thought, “What is Abe’s father/mother’s name? Nobody remembers them…”

      Then I looked at my own life, and decided that I’m not currently on par with historical figures (including celebrities, etc…basically even famous people.) HOWEVER, I did see that it was possible that my life could hypothetically become important and ‘lasting’ in this sense. But I doubted the likelihood, based on sheer statistics.

      So I answered 2 out 5

      3) I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.

      This one is again the victim of awkward sentence construction. Not to mention it reeks of theological woo. This sentence doesn’t make sense to me. How am I supposed to be “closely connected to all humanity”? Is that even possible? 6 Billion of my closest friends all live with me on Earth?

      If I am closely connected to all humanity, then how do I reconcile the fact that is potentially my job to kill some of them? This is disturbing, illogical, and I want it to go away.

      1 out of 5

      4) The job I am doing in the military has lasting meaning.

      Again, we are looking at the metaphysical implications of the word ‘lasting’ unless you mean that word as ‘historical’ (which is how I chose to take it. Because reality is well, real.) I’m not Patton, Yorke, Powell, Churchill…etc.

      Is it possible that someday my military career will have LASTING historical impact? Yes. Is it likely? No.

      2 out of 5

      5) I believe there is a purpose for my life.

      This one is better. Yes there is certainly a purpose for my life. There are a plurality of purposes, to include serving my country, being a husband (father in the next few weeks), standing up for what’s right… etc.

      And even if we are talking about “I believe there is a purpose for life in general”, I still say yes. As I choose to understand the world, life (all forms of it) have at least this one purpose: to make more life. It is my responsibility as a human, as an earthling, as a conscious being to act in a way that is conducive towards more/better/longer life in all reasonable ways.

      5 out of 5, and would have been 10 out of 5 if I could.

      Okay. So, given that lengthy explanation of how I answered (which I think is a reasonable way to answer), how could I *not* be offended by this results screen:

      You may click here at any time to connect with a counselor who is ready to assist you with a problem that requires immediate attention. Also, you may dial 1-800-XXX-XXXX to speak with someone immediately.

      Spiritual Fitness

      Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal. Change is possible, and the relevant self-development training modules will be helpful. If you need further help, please do not hesitate to seek out help from the people you care about and trust – strong people always do. Be patient in your development as it will take time to improve in this area. Still, persistence is key and you will improve here if you make this area a priority.

      Not to mention the lengthy remedial training I have been doing (hours of online spiritual fitness training not sure how ‘mandatory’ this training is, but it’s certainly possible)… And trust me that training is absolutely swimming in religion. This thing needs to go.

      Now, back to your comment.

      I think the spirituality questions are meant to be interpreted in a broader sense, too.

      BS. We know this is BS, because we see what the rest of the questions look like on the civilian version of the GAT, which has vestigial smoking guns from the initial version of the GAT. Here they are:

      Also, why are you assuming they are meant to be interpreted in a broader sense? No other questions on the test have such ‘open interpretation’ policies, and there are no instructions given to justify this claim. Not to mention, the above evidence to the contrary (itself, just one piece in a pile of smoking guns). [pink flag #1]

      How can one ponder the vastness of the Universe, or the complexity of Life, or the indomitable spirit and capacity for goodness of all Humanity without considering oneself spiritual?

      Easily. Instead of resorting to religion / metaphysics, one can ponder in an intellectually honest way, using logic and reason, and properly applying the scientific method.
      Vastness of the universe: Check. Big Bang, Chaotic/Eternal Inflation, Cosmic Inflation, relativity (general and special), cosmic microwave background radiation… This is easy, are you sure you are an atheist?
      Complexity of life: Check. Evolution, natural selection, adaptation, sexual selection, genetic drift, plate tectonics/ continental drift… This is easy too, especially for atheists. [pink flag #2 for using a creationist / intelligent design catchphrase in defense of spirituality]
      Indomitable Spirit: now you seem to be talking about ‘human spirit’ or at least I hope so. Well then you might be saddened to know that you are completely wrong if you think that is what ‘Spiritual Fitness’ is about. It is 100% about religion, and the term comes from a 1987 DA Pamphlet for Chaplains etc. Here is the newest website from the same people who brought you the GAT: http://www.spiritfit.army.mil/ Or if link isn’t working in your area: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Xs10wSp0jdsJ:www.spiritfit.army.mil/+http://www.spiritfit.army.mil/&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&source=www.google.com
      As an atheist you should definitely be against ‘atheism’ being labeled a faith/religion, as they callously do. Also, this kind of goes against their (and now your) claim that this is about ‘the human spirit’

      Capacity for goodness of all Humanity[sic]. Check. Evolution, etc… There are many reasons why social creatures/species cooperate, I wont bother to list them here, because as an atheist, you should already understand this. [pink flag #3] Also, you can drive down to the festival and hear Richard Dawkins or Eugenie Scott talk about these things in April. Or just read any of their books? Lastly, you are whitewashing over the capacity to do ‘bad’ for all of humanity.

      And how can this type of thought, in some sense, not be considered meditation?

      We can just call it ‘thought’, no?

      Now, I won’t deny there are some gross injustices in the Army that must be dealt with, and I’ve heard my share of horror stories. I think one that stands out here is the soldier preparing for his 7th deployment who had to withhold all of his information because of an overweening chain of command and a proselytizing chaplain.

      Do you see how this kind of sounds extremely contradictory to your first sentence? (“I took this test and found no problem with it.”) Why are you defending an unconstitutional test, with KNOWN gross injustices, that is blatantly biased against non-spiritual / non-religious people? Especially when the results are being used (admittedly!) to justify the allocation of money and personnel for more ‘spiritual fitness’ for the army! That means MY answers are directly contributing to the justification of buildings like the $30 Million Spiritual Fitness Center on Fort Hood (aka megachurch), or the millions spent annually on Spiritual Fitness events that are almost invariably Christian Rock / Gospel concerts, some of which have been attended by soldiers under threat of punishment for not going….

      I haven’t personally experienced anything like this, though.

      I’m tempted to flag that as ‘Argument from ignorance’, but you had just explained that you are indeed aware of things like this. You accept that they are wrong, and that they are real situations. I’m still baffled as to how you aren’t against this test, despite your personal experience passing the test. This one is not a ‘slippery slope’, this is an avalanche, and the constitution that you serve and defend is being buried.

      “I’ve been blessed with religiously diverse leaders and tolerant, professional chaplains.”

      Blessed? And what does the religious diversity of leaders have to do with their abilities as leaders? Their religion should be private, and should never affect their leadership…

      You have now earned enough pink flags to make me suspect that you are not actually an atheist. You are commenting from a location only a few miles away from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness HQ, though you are also near Walter Reed so I’m not prepared to accuse you of working directly for them… but it is not adding up. There is a very real phenomenon of ‘liars for jesus’ that are being exposed across the nation, so forgive me if I mis-pegged you as a deceitful apologist. The only other conclusion I can draw from your comment is that you are extremely clumsy with your judgement of what is and is not ‘a spiritual thing to ponder’ and your assessments of the army’s intentions given the mountain of evidence contrary to what you write.

      Lastly, and possibly most importantly: Spirituality / Spiritual Fitness / Religion / Metaphysics / Theology etc… have NO baring on how fit or unfit a soldier is, and it is both useless and offensive to test for these things on the Soldier FITNESS Tracker, from the Comprehensive Soldier FITNESS department on their Global ASSESSMENT Tool.

      • SGT Vanderplas

        Don’t tell me what I believe or ought to believe. That’s exactly the attitude you’re trying to fight, remember? And don’t try to blast me with the same rant you smeared all over this site either. I read it before I posted. All you’d prove is that the silly disputes theists engage in aren’t exclusive to theists.
        Obviously atheism isn’t a religion and someone officially classifying it as such doesn’t make it so. My atheist beliefs (no, nonexistence of god is not a fact) are also characterized by individual rejection of organized beliefs; any organization of it is purely coincidental.

        • Justin

          Don’t tell me what I believe or ought to believe.

          I hope you didn’t feel that I was doing this. I was engaging in open conversation here.

          That’s exactly the attitude you’re trying to fight, remember?

          I remember. It is indeed one of the attitudes / situations I am trying to fight, though I am not alone. There are many fellow foxhole atheists, and even a lot of religious people who are also actively engaging this, and standing up for what is right here. Join us (?)

          And don’t try to blast me with the same rant you smeared all over this site either.

          I spent nearly 2 hours writing that reply to you. The only bits that were copy/pasted were in blockquotes (and the images were also from other posts). That reply was directly in response to your words…

          I read it before I posted.

          Keep in mind, you are commenting on a 2 month old post. This is the first post that I did about the GAT, and seemingly every person who has commented in the last month or so on this thread has not read any of my other posts. I am likely to close this thread to comments, because of the repetative nature of people’s drive-by commenting. I do appreciate it when people such as yourself do read a little further. If you were already familiar with the part that I quoted, you should easily be able to skip over it and then respond to the rest of it. I was interested to hear your replies to the ‘Complexity of life’ ‘vastness of the universe’ etc, portions. Though, we may very well agree on these things…

          All you’d prove is that the silly disputes theists engage in aren’t exclusive to theists.

          I’m not sure I follow here. But you know the saying, getting atheists to cooperate is like herding cats… maybe that’s what you were touching on. (:

          Obviously atheism isn’t a religion and someone officially classifying it as such doesn’t make it so.

          You aren’t seeing the point I was trying to make here. The CSF people are trying to say on one hand that this test is about ‘human spirit’ and *not* about religion. This is so that they can say: “See? This is all about nothing, even atheists have no problem with a mandatory human spirit test, because it’s not about religion at all! That’s all this is, your honor!” While at the same time they know full well that this is entirely about religion, and their bizarre attempt to be ‘inclusive of atheists’ on the new spiritual fitness website pretty much proves that this has nothing to do with ‘human spirit’. It’s like the guys at the new website didn’t get the right script. That’s the point I was making there, and it was in an attempt to explain better/further why I had a problem with this test (in reference to your first sentence in your first comment). I wasn’t telling you what to believe, rather, clarifying further what I felt (I know I used the phrase ‘as an atheist, you ought to…’ in the post elsewhere, but that was because you don’t really come off as an atheist, a point I made very clear with several specific reasons. The ‘atheism is not a religion’ piece is something that we both agree atheists should agree with… no?)

          My atheist beliefs (no, nonexistence of god is not a fact)

          Where is my pink-flagometer? Of course nonexistence of god is not a fact. We all know that you can’t prove a negative. For example, I can’t prove that god doesn’t exist, but you can’t prove that he isn’t a flying spaghetti monster. And you can’t prove that unicorns and fairies don’t exist, or that the universe wasn’t created last thursday by a deceitful trickster god who implanted false memories and false evidence of age for the planet… but we don’t believe in unicorns and fairies because there is no evidence for their existence. Are you new to atheism? Why would you make this point? We all know this stuff, and it was boring when I used to ‘debate’ creationists and used these lines back then. So boring that I now leave that stuff for google to handle for anyone seriously using such logic in conversations. Aren’t you tired of it too? It’s as tiring as the ‘You can’t see the wind, but you have faith that it’s there’ canard.

          Also, I don’t have ‘atheist beliefs.’ My lack of belief / faith defines my atheism, but I do concede that saying ‘I am an atheist’ typically says more about a person than ‘I don’t have religious beliefs’. But I refuse to accept things as factual / truthful that aren’t based in reality. I accept facts that are publicly verifiable, based on empirical data and logic, reason, the scientific method, etc. Belief is an ugly word for this too, but the english language isn’t perfect, and there isn’t a word for everything, so no red flag here.

          are also characterized by individual rejection of organized beliefs; any organization of it is purely coincidental.

          I’m not sure what this is about, but I’d like to hear more.

          Thanks for the discussion, and I hope you do continue to reply (atheist or not).

          By the way, easiest way to prove you aren’t a ‘liar for jesus’ is to say / type “I deny the holy spirit”- the blasphemy challenge, for ballsy atheists! (not demanding it here, just a thought. We use that on some message boards to keep certain flavors of trolls out.)

  • tedbohne

    has ANYBODY revisited the “god” business lately? It’s an ancient social control construct. nothing more. there isn’t a muon on earth ANYWHERE offering empirical evidence that any of this crap is true. Yet americans are steered like sheep every day with it. some wackos get cars for free from religious threats. it is, and always a tool of social repression. probably more so now than ever. hell, the catholics are digging up a dead poop to make a saint out of his corpse because some nun said he cured her of parkinson’s disease. ANY EMPIRICAL DATA TO SUPPORT THIS BILGE!!? more people have died in human history because of fucking religion than even money, which religious thugs steal by the hour. Mankind can’t make it even another century.

  • Toxis

    Well it seams that in order to be fit to kill people, oh, sorry, I mean ‘the enemy’ you have to be religious:)

  • Gregory

    I applaud the stand that your taking on religion and this man-made God worship. It is only a tool for control and destruction by religious leaders. It is something that all of mankind needs to know! I belive that we will eventually out-grow this primitive belive in a God and creator. After over 35 years of learning and teaching religious dogma, and studing religious history, I’ve been trying to get the truth out that all these teachings are lies and un-factual. As a matter of fact I wrote a six page Manifesto last year on religion and god-worship, breaking down many of my findings. Keep up the good work making your stand for the real truth!

  • pvtatheist

    i had to take a similar survey about three months ago to make sure we are fit for deployment but i was never ‘unfit for duty’ or anything because i answered the questions in the same fashion you did. however, it was necessary for every soldier to see a chaplain as well. i mean, talking to a lawyer and making a will is optional but talking to a spiritual man about religion is required? i found it to be ridiculous and a mild waste of my time.

    thank you for posting this and showing me that i am not alone among the rest of the god fearing army.

  • Rod

    You know JohnAtl,

    Based on what you say about believers making “better soldiers”, it sounds to me like believers make GREAT kamikazes! So would you give the order to a christian fundamentalist soldier to strap on a backpack filled with C-4 explosives with a hand-held detonator and run straight into a compound where armed terrorists were hiding out? It’s no wonder that muslim terrorist organizations are able to get young fundamentalists to carry out suicide bombings by telling them that when they die they’ll go straight to paradise. Not every person in the military is a private first class or a commando; what about the officers and the Generals who have to know strategy and plan out the missions before sending the orders down the chain of command? I guess the US military, particularly the Army and the Marine Corps(which have the highest casualty rates)would prefer to use christian fundamentalists as cannon fodder.

  • ranger

    My results were very similar. I was insulted. Thanks for taking the fight to the generals who want to push religion down our throats.

  • D’Arla

    Justin:
    Thank You so much for standing up for those of us that are Atheists!
    Back in the past, I was Dishonorably Discharged due to my being openly Atheist!
    You are most appreciated!!!
    Kudo’s to you for your Braverry both in Serving OUR Great Country and for Defending OUR RIGHT to Practice OUR Freedom of Religion or Lack of Religion!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X

%d bloggers like this: