It is hardly a secret that one of America’s most religious — or to be more precise, Christian — institutions is the military. Despite the juridical and rhetorical lip service paid to the separation of church and state, the military is a place where such separation is seen as inimical to institutional interests ranging from righteous conviction to unquestioning obedience.
While the military has long been associated with (Christian) religion, this connection has taken on added poignancy over the last decade. It should surprise no one that the military is well-served having “Christian” soldiers fighting “Islamic” extremists.
The military cannot of course admit any of this. At least not publicly. This explains its emphasis on “spirituality” rather “Christianity,” and is the subject of Barbara Hagerty’s recent NPR story on the Army’s “Spiritual Fitness” test. Without divulging the bases for its claims, the Army asserts that “spiritual” soldiers are more “resilient” and it is testing for this aptitude. An Army sergeant described the test for NPR:
[T]he 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: “In difficult times, I pray or meditate.”
[The sergeant] 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 [the sergeant] take a long computerized training module to teach him about different forms of spirituality, including prayer, meditation and attending church.
Camouflage, it seems, is not limited to battle. There are no monks in the military who teach meditation; there are chaplains who teach that “spirituality” is a matter of being Christian and attending church.
The obvious implication is that meaning, purpose, principles, and values are all dependent on this particular kind of belief, and that without it soldiers may find themselves adrift, unable to make sense of war. Worse yet, they may not feel connected to “humanity” and “something larger than themselves.” The irony here is so thick one hardly knows where to begin.