US Army Survey: Atheists Unfit to Serve?
Sergeant Justin Griffith recently took a mandatory US Army survey called the Soldier Fitness Tracker (SFT), which was apparently meant to judge each soldier’s level of emotional, social, family, and spiritual fitness and recommend ways to improve those levels. Can you guess which level was the lowest for Griffith, who happens to be an atheist?
According to the SFT, here’s Griffith’s problem area:
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 â€“ 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.
Apparently Griffith went wrong when he answered pragmatically when asked to indicate how much he agreed with phrases like “My life will have a lasting meaning.” First of all, “lasting” is a bit vague, no? Second of all, even many theists should understand that in the grand scheme of things, most likely no one will know their names a few generations from now. Griffith gave it 2 out of 5.
More worrying is the next statement Griffith says he had to judge: â€œI feel connected to a being that is greater than me.â€ Sure, there are atheists out there who could buy into a Dirk Gently-esque Interconnectedness of All Things, but even that wouldn’t really count as a “being,” would it? No, “being” implies a singular persona, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not feeling a connection to such a thing.
I’d be interested in knowing what the other questions are. Presumably there’s nothing in there that would allow a non-believer to positively respond to the accusation that he “may lack a sense of meaning and purpose” in his life. (For those who don’t know, many non-believers do believe that it is an individual’s responsibility to find meaning and purpose in his own life, as opposed to having meaning thrust upon him by an ancient text or charismatic leader channeling the aforementioned greater being.)
And not being connected to a greater being doesn’t mean that non-believers don’t feel connected “to something larger” than themselves â€“ those are two different questions. I feel connected to something larger than myself every time I blog here on Skepchick, but I don’t pretend that the skeptical movement is a being. So, it sounds to me like this survey fails thanks to extremely poor wording due to an assumed monotheistic outlook on the part of the writer(s).
I’d like to know how the army plans to use the results of this terribly worded survey. No one stepped from the shadows to strip Griffith of his rank, but he does mention that prior to seeing his scores he agreed to have his data included in an anonymous aggregation to be used in some undefined manner. He now worries that it will be used to increase funding to chaplains or in other ways meant to increase the spirituality of the troops.
Instead, let’s hope the Army gets enough feedback from disgruntled troops to direct more funding into crafting surveys that more accurately judge the fitness of their soldiers.