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Dec 22 2010

Are atheists unfit soldiers?

The US military seems to think so, at least from their Mandatory Soldier Fitness Tracker survey that measures a soldier’s competency in areas like Family, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual. Justin Griffith, an outspoken foxhole atheist, wasn’t shocked when he flunked the Spiritual section, but was appalled when he was referred to counseling because of it. Here’s a snippet from his results:

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.

Make sure you read Justin’s full piece describing the test, because it makes these results even more revolting. Apparently not believing in a higher power or considering yourself spiritual means your life lacks purpose and meaning. Who wrote this crap, and why is it being used by the United States government?

Kudos to Justin for being outspoken about this. It takes immense bravery to speak out as an atheist, especially in the military. Hopefully this will gain enough attention that something will be done about it.

PS: And in case his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the one organizing Rock Beyond Belief, a secular concert/extravaganza in response to an overtly Christian concert held at his base earlier this year. I’ll be speaking there, along with awesome people like Eugenie Scott, Hemant Mehta, Margaret Downey, and great musical guests. Make sure to show him some love!

43 comments

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  1. 1
    Jeffrey A. Myers

    One would think that being a soldier and having the willingness to fight and die for your country and your unit would be sufficient proof of a belief in and ‘connection to something larger than yourself.’It’s a shame they hate us so. Even when we just sing jingle bells.

  2. 2
    Dave Morgan

    Sigh. It’s frustrating to hear about something like that. Atheism isn’t a sickness. I’d contend it’s more likely to be a cure.I hope this gets a lot of publicity (their server seems to have went down, so maybe it is?), because it shouldn’t be something that goes unnoticed.

  3. 3
    n0name

    I think this is actually adequate. No army needs soldiers that think too much. They have to follow orders after all, stupid or not.

  4. 4
    Jim

    <sigh> We get rid of one ridiculous restriction to our military (DADT), and discover more buried beneath. When will the restrictive, discriminatory, and idiotic old policies be removed for good?</sigh>

  5. 5
    Aaron Harmon

    I think it has a good motivation, which is to help prepare soldiers for the emotional toll of war. However, I think questions like “Do you feel a connection to a being greater than yourself?” are inappropriately biased towards certain religions views.

  6. 6
    Aaron Harmon

    Actually good soldiers need to be very intelligent and capable. They are not zombies.

  7. 7
    Georgia Sam

    A couple of random thoughts:I don’t remember ever being subjected to anything like that when I was in the Army, about 40 years ago. Apparently things have changed, and not for the better.Maybe the military thinks atheists in the ranks are a problem because they think for themselves and are less likely to accept what they’re told without questioning it.

  8. 8
    n0name

    Well, I don’t think they need to be stupid. Just easy controllable and not too smart.

  9. 9
    n0name

    well I guess it should read “easy to control” sorry.

  10. 10
    Georgia Sam

    Another random thought: I wonder if the Army’s criteria for emotional, social, and family fitness are as arbitrary and stupid as its criteria for spiritual fitness.

  11. 11
    Anti-Crusader

    I guess I’ve been lucky, because most of my higher ups in the army (from drill sergeants to platoon sergeants) haven’t been blatantly religious at all.There are more atheists in the military than people may believe. There are a lot of dog tags out there claiming no religion. This whole Mandatory Soldier Fitness Tracker is farce, really. Nobody takes it seriously, and nobody should. I commend the Sergeant for being an outspoken member of the atheist community. His example will definitely be followed by a whole lot of other godless soldiers in the future, I can assure you. Me, being one of them.

  12. 12
    Azkyroth

    Make up your mind.

  13. 13
    Rick Crismore

    How can you not be stupid, and yet not too smart at the same time? You’re just full of contradictions. The modern military needs smart leaders, not your average jailbird highschool dropout. In fact the army hasn’t had any trouble with their recruiting numbers because of the economy, therefore it’s hard to join with just a GED, unless you have really high ASVAB scores (I scored a 93 out of 100 and 50 is considered an A). I’m joining the army at the end of January, and I too scored low in the spiritual section, and proud of it!

  14. 14
    Steve in SA

    I never saw such a test in the Air Force, at least not in an official grading system like this. When I first joined, going to church was encouraged in a passive manner much like smoking was at the time (during breaks in basic training, you either got to stand at “rest” in formation, or go to the smoking area away from formation to smoke, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people started smoking because of it). If you went to church, you were able to miss an hour of the weekly GI party in the dorms (hint, a GI party isn’t as fun as it might sound, it meant cleaning up the dormitory). In later years, we had to put up with the prayer from the Chaplin at every official function. All in all, though, I think we had it better than other service branches

  15. 15
    stoppingby

    they are unfit. religion is about war and the oppression of minorities. the curiosity & logic that come with atheism has no place in the military.it’s a compliment.

  16. 16
    Playathomedad

    It’s worth noting that the idea of “feeling connected to something greater than oneself” can apply as easily to country as to religion. Nationalism is only a half-step from religion, after all. The link between the two is exactly what the “spiritual fitness” assessment is about.

  17. 17
    April

    I’m pretty sure a more accurate descriptor for that kind of strength would be “Emotional”. Spirituality has nothin’ to do with coping ability IMHO.

  18. 18
    L.Long

    As stated above…’stupid enough to be controlled and smart enough to be potty trained’…Sounds like the average religious person to me. Ya I don’t think much of adults who have imaginary friends they talk to for advice.During Vietnam I had 2 choices Canada or military.So I decided to go into the air force,where I worked hard to make it possible for OFFICERS to risk their lives for stupid reasons. In the army etc you get to risk your life to further the carriers of officers that stay behind-nice and safe.So yes they don’t like THINKERs in the military, they may not think the hill is worth 500 lives despite what some dumb-arse politically motivated general thinks.

  19. 19
    Mike O'Brien

    I remember having an issue in Air Force basic training with our Ethics training. It was done by a Southern Baptist Minister who was an Captain. He got a little upset when I announced that being gay wasn’t a bad thing or unethical just because his book defined it so, since not everyone believes in his book. I have a coworker who tends to use the word “Atheist” as an epithet. I haven’t had a chance to confront her yet, but will doing so this week.

  20. 20
    kjell fostervold

    Following orders doesn’t make you ‘easily controllable and not too smart.’ Following obviously illegal or immoral orders? You could make a case for that, depending on your point of view. But the basic argument that people in the military take orders, and those who take orders either don’t or shouldn’t think for themselves… therefore the military wants a bunch of robots/zombies is blatantly fallacious. Not to mention that if you have a bunch of low-functioning follower idiots, as you seem to think all military folks are, that would make it EVEN EASIER for an immoral or illegal order to be followed without question. You have no idea what you are talking about, you can’t quite seem to make up your mind, and you are arguing from a demonstrably false point of view with an obviously fallacious argument predicated on stereotypes and bias. Please just stop digging the hole now.

  21. 21
    Bob

    Maybe we can have a DADT policy for atheists. Then in 10 years time repeal it to allow atheists to serve openly in the military. Worked well in changing the attitudes about G&L in society in general and the military specifically.

  22. 22
    Valis

    “In fact the army hasn’t had any trouble with their recruiting numbers”Um, no. In fact they are struggling so much to find anyone willing to join they have resorted to recruiting criminals and people who are medically unfit.http://www.alternet.org/blogs/…I am so sorry to hear your circumstances are so dire you have been forced to join the military. My sympathies.

  23. 23
    Patrick Marchi

    I never took such a test during my time, and the issue of faith came up far less frequently than the issue of sexual preference. In two years I had exactly one discussion regarding faith with my comrades, whereas sexual preference was discussed…well, basically every freaking moment with those clowns.

  24. 24
    Sam Barnett-Cormack

    I agree with those who feel it is well intentioned but dumb, or indicative of biased views and ignorance. There are even religions that don’t involve higher powers… but the net effect is crazy. Spirituality is not a good category to examine, because it’s virtually impossible to look at it in a non-biased way. It will always be coloured by the socialisation of those composing it.

  25. 25
    Cassandra

    It’s not just atheists who have trouble in the armed forces. Wicca recently had a huge fight on their hands when it came to placing a pentagram on one fallen soldier’s headstone. They won, but it was a huge fight.In other words, perhaps the military only likes Christians. And it prefers straight ones (although at this point, tit’s out of luck on that count).Maybe the military needs DADT for spirituality or lack of it.

  26. 26
    UrsaMinor

    It is my understanding that the current U.S. military has more than a little fundagelical undercurrent to it, and that religion’s influence is growing. This might have something to do with testing soldiers for their “spirituality”.

  27. 27
    Tim Smith

    http://www.maaf.infoThere are a lot of us… we all get subjected to this BS at one point or another.

  28. 28
    Lilla Bertalan

    “You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life”You are right. Because I don’t NEED a sense of meaning and purpose in my life, because I have GROWN UP. Will the religious ever get it?! I suspect not.Besides, what the hell? Lacking that kind of arrogant self-importance sense might actually be a good thing, because it decreases the reluctance to die – hence, atheists are less likely to be cowards/traitors. Whoever wrote this shoots themselves in the foot.

  29. 29
    Rmguest

    “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….”Jeez, this reads almost exactly like a horoscope! Seems a rather odd way to assess an individual’s fitness to serve. Sad, really. Apparently the “god on our side” dimension must be maintained.I’d be interested in seeing the rest of the survey but the link (still) keeps timing out.

  30. 30
    Annie

    “Atheism isn’t a sickness. I’d contend it’s more likely to be a cure.”I couldn’t agree more. I have been saying for years that some day belief in a god(s) will be viewed as a mild form of mental illness.

  31. 31
    CommanderSquidlet

    Theist privilege strikes again!

  32. 32
    Sam Barnett-Cormack

    It reads to me like a lot of category-based personaliy tests, listing the characteristics that will put someone in a category, but using “may” as a matter of honesty because not everyone in a category will have any given characteristic.

  33. 33
    Sam Barnett-Cormack

    More to the point, a sense of meaning and/or purpose needn’t be religious or theistic in basis. You can believe in something nicely abstract and non-supernatural, like “the greatest good to the greatest number”. Religion and god(s) aren’t necessary to anything listed in that feedback paragraph, to my mind. It’s the old “religion is necessary for morality” argument again…

  34. 34
    zen

    Except when you’re defending against religious zealots.

  35. 35
    zen

    better watch out that her and your boss aren’t in the same prayer group

  36. 36
    Bruce Coppola

    Even grown ups can have “meaning and purpose in life”. Some examples:-Raising a family-Making a positive difference in the world-Success and fulfillment in one’s chosen career-Making and keeping friends-Creating art-Making scientific discoveries-Cultivating one’s intellect-Influencing the next generation as a teacher or mentor*None of which requires a deity.–*Or in my case, as a bad example. :)

  37. 37
    Philip

    “Something greater”, yes. “A greater being”, not so much.

  38. 38
    Joe_JP

    “meaning and purpose in your life” and so forth doesn’t require belief in God. I also can see someone who believes in God doing poorly on some of those questions. Being “spiritual” does suggest belief in God, though I’m not sure the core being of what they are going for there necessarily requires it. I guess this is a question of “what do they want to hear” as well.

  39. 39
    Thomas Everett Haynes

    I took all those tests, failed the spiritual section completely. Luckily my unit sucked and in 3 years never followed up.

  40. 40
    Tromper

    Recalling the words of a famous coach what he preferred in a football player, “smart enough to learn the plays, and stupid enough to think it is important.”

  41. 41
    Svlad Cjelli

    Of course atheists are unfit soldiers: They won’t get into the foxholes! =D

  42. 42
    Skywalker

    Not to mention that if you have a bunch of low-functioning follower idiots, as you seem to think all military folks are, that would make it EVEN EASIER for an immoral or illegal order to be followed without question. In my county, that’s exactly what the leaders want.

  43. 43
    Skywalker

    My country’s military does precious little of that.

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