Saturday, January 15, 2011

Army's 'Spiritual Fitness' Test Angers Some Soldiers

Army's 'Spiritual Fitness' Test Angers Some Soldiers : NPR:


Griffith, who describes himself as a 'foxhole atheist,' says he grew angry as the computerized survey asked him to rank himself on statements such as: 'I am a spiritual person. I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all of humanity. I often find comfort in my religion and spiritual beliefs.'

'The next question was equally shocking,' Griffith says. ' 'In difficult times, I pray or meditate.' I don't do those things, and I don't think any of those questions have anything to do with how fit I am as a soldier.'

Griffith finished the survey, pressed submit, and in a few moments, he received an assessment: 'Spiritual fitness may be an area of difficulty.'

It continued: '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 to others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles and values.'

It concluded: 'Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.'

Then it suggested that Griffith take a long computerized training module to teach him about different forms of spirituality, including prayer, meditation and attending church. Griffith wondered, 'Is the Army saying my atheism makes me unfit to serve?'
On its own, absent of context, it doesn't sound all that bad. A few of the questions (at least one of which removed already) were clearly of a proselytizing nature, but most included references to spirituality and meditation that could be interpreted to be something other than Christian fundamentalism and prayer, at least enough that an atheist could still read them as being tolerant of other faiths and even absence of faith.

So why the fuss? Because we don't live in a world absent of context. When soldiers are ordered to attend "Christian rock" concerts, have "God and country" shoved down their throats by fundamentalists of higher rank, these sort of "suggestions" look like a way of skirting the prohibition inherent in the Establishment Clause.

Related: Military Religious Freedom Foundation
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