Marine Corps labels nonreligious Marines “at risk”

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation has teamed up with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to change a US Marine Corps policy that calls a "lack or loss of spiritual faith" a risk indicator. 


FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos an August 9 letter requesting the U.S. Marines stop violating the freedom of conscience of nonreligious Marines. FFRF's letter follows one sent by MRFF earlier this month requesting the offending clause in the order be changed.

The order lists factors that could lead to "loss of life or diminished functioning." Under the "guidance/moral compass" category the U.S. Marine Corps lists "lack or loss of spiritual faith" as one of four risk factors.

"It is deeply offensive and grossly inappropriate for the military to suggest that Marines are at risk because they 'lack spiritual faith," Seidel wrote. "Imagine how it feels to be told by the military that your reasoned, intellectual conclusion that unsupported religious claims are untrue is dangerous 'risky behavior' that requires monitoring."

Written By: FFRF
continue to source article at ffrf.org

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  1. Religious fervor has been exploited for thousands of years to motivate soldiers. The rough life and potential moral dubiousness of being a soldier is far easier to handle if God is giving his approval. Perhaps I am being a bit starry-eyed, but I like to think that a society built upon rational secularism would have a greatly reduced need for a military. I suspect that the Marines’ real objection to a rational, secular worldview is that recruiting and retention would suffer. No disrespect to the service intended, but business is business, right? An organization will invariably act in it’s own interest.

    • In reply to #1 by Matthew Lehman:

      Religious fervor has been exploited for thousands of years to motivate soldiers. The rough life and potential moral dubiousness of being a soldier is far easier to handle if God is giving his approval. Perhaps I am being a bit starry-eyed, but I like to think that a society built upon rational secul…

      I can’t speak for the American military but I have a little experience of the British. Religion rarely rears its ugly head, what motivates many british soldiers is a love of the job, the challenge and a sense of professionalism. Bear in mind that a relatively few soldiers have a front line combat role – most are in the supporting arms. It is true however that a real motivator for many young men and women, rightly or wrongly, is the opportunity of adventure and combat.
      I would also argue that the need for a military doesn’t diminish when a society is built on rationality and secularism, rather when potential enemies’ societies are also built on rationalism and secularism. For that we may wait some time…

  2. Well, I have not heard of any newly atheist soldiers, who have gone and shot up a mess hall as a protest at the mistreatment of their co-non-religionists. Or for that matter any atheists in the Afghan or Iraqi forces who have shouted “God does not exist,” before blowing up themselves and their comrades.

  3. The UK Armed Forces are focussed on professionalism and the desire to serve one’s country. When undergoing officer training for Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force in 1988, a group of us, about 6 if I recall, were able without any comment or hindrance to swear a non-religious oath. The fact is death is always around in the military life and everyone was free to deal with this in their own way. Despite my declared atheism some of the most interesting and dedicated people were the padres who tended to anyone who made the request. Non-denominational guidance was always available

    • In reply to #5 by Jos Gibbons:

      Being a non-religious soldier makes you more likely to die in combat than a religious one? Now they’re just making stuff up. Empirically falsifiable stuff!

      I suspect that’s taking into account getting shot in the back

  4. I was an atheist soldier in an infantry platoon made up mostly of atheists. I think there were about four devout people in the whole outfit. People who say there are no atheists in foxholes or think that atheists are more “at risk” do not know what they are talking about. As a U.S. soldier I never was discriminated against as an atheist although I have heard that is not always the case.

  5. “FFRF has submitted an open records request to the Marine Corps to verify if their claim that the risk factors are based on scientific studies is accurate, and learn more about the policy.”

    That is the correct response. While there is a (probably justifiable) knee-jerk reaction against this, I can image a situation where this might actually be true – specifically, loss of faith during a time of war. I could see it as a sign of despair, pre-PTSD. As I understand it (and I may be wrong), the horrors of WWI trench warfare resulted in a profound loss of faith in Europe.

    If a previously religious person suddenly loses their faith, it’s reasonable to ask why. (If they didn’t have faith to begin with, it seems less likely.) And if it has to do with the trauma of war, then it’s reasonable to ask how that might impact their performance.

    We can’t have it both ways – demand evidence based conclusions for everything else on the one hand, and then reject them when not convenient. I’m not saying that’s the case here. It’s probably just plain old bias. But demanding the evidence for the statement is a reasonable approach, and if it isn’t based on evidence, then demand it be removed.

    • In reply to #11 by downshifter:

      I can image a situation where this might actually be true – specifically, loss of faith during a time of war. I could see it as a sign of despair, pre-PTSD.

      Sigh. Read it again. It doesn’t just say “loss” of faith. It says “lack or loss” of faith. “Lack” implies it applies to more than just people who CHANGE their stance but to people who also ALREADY thought that way to begin with. I agree that a sudden change of mind over long-held beliefs can be an indicator of PTSD, but they didn’t phrase it that way.

      • In reply to #12 by Steven Mading:

        Sigh. Read it again. It doesn’t just say “loss” of faith. It says “lack or loss” of faith.

        Aww, don’t sigh! Things will be alright!

        I did read it. I was using the PTSD off-the-cuff hypothesis as a specific example. It is just a possible scenario that came to me as I was reading the article. I was not saying that it is the ONLY possible scenario. Down below I also said, “(If they didn’t have faith to begin with, it seems less likely.)”

        But this is something that can be tested. Demanding evidence puts us in a stronger position. If there isn’t any evidence, they’ll probably just drop it to avoid the headache it would cause to defend it. If there is, then it can be analyzed.

    • In reply to #11 by downshifter:

      That is the correct response. While there is a (probably justifiable) knee-jerk reaction against this, I can image a situation where this might actually be true – specifically, loss of faith during a time of war.

      I think from the viewpoint of a trench in WW! or looking with hindsight at the levels of competence of the generals and politicians directing operations, loss of faith in authority figures is understandable.

      Mindless “faith” in authority statements and leadership, probably provides better jihadists or cannon fodder.

  6. Re #11 by downshifter

    Cannot comment on the loss of faith in Europe after WW1. What seems to be the accepted case is that there was a significant increase in the belief in spiritualism and a rise in consultations with mediums and the participation in seances

  7. In reply to #13 by refuteist:

    Really, that’s interesting, do you have any citations? I’m having a hard time with that being the case, I’m countering with an equally baseless – It “seemed to be the accepted case” that a great deal of people lost their faith because of the war.

    Cannot comment on the loss of faith in Europe after WW1. What seems to be the accepted case is that there was a significant increase in the belief in spiritualism and a rise in consultations with mediums and the participation in seances

    • Declining church attendance might not be a consequence of the impact of WW1 or WW2, the Great Influenza and the Great Depression.

      I think there was some mention of this significant trend of decline in church attendance post WW2 mentioned in the book ‘The God Virus’. There may be references in the footnotes.

      Seeing as religious faith is pretty much dependent on periodic revival via church rituals then faith would likely decline in the absence of this normal psychological support framework for maintaining belief.

      Pretty much all community institutions, including churches, showed a similar massive decline in participation post WW2. If there had been prominent community atheist congregations around at that time then they would also probably have experience a plummet in membership.

      There was some interesting discussion of this decline in community involvement by Robert Putnam. He believes the effect is a consequence of TV broadcasts, being much more psychologically compelling than radio. The measurable post war collapses in community institutions are a global phenomena that tends to be synchronised with the introduction of TV broadcast networks.

      Electronic media is very significant. Radio is basically the reason Hitler came to power, but TV is much more effective at fomenting mobs. Mitigated slightly because dictators now need to also be physically attractive, more difficult on HD TV than on radio. Especially as so many of them are unusually short etc.

      It will be interesting to see how things work out with interractive narrowcast broadband internet supplanting traditional broadcast radio and TV. Participating in community social institutions formerly required inconvenient physical attendance at some particular time and place, like church on Sundays. Then there came a time when people just stayed home and watched colour TV, then VCR & DVD. And now we have social institutions potentially unconstrained by time and place, via internet.

      I think Putnam is partly right, but there could be other changing factors that haven’t been examined. Like even more significant changes in exercise and nutrition. E.g. Increasing use of cars, long commutes for work, kids no longer walking to school, changing diet and consequences for NCDs and general tiredness and lack of motivation to exercise and participate. TV is more attractive in that context, than for the outright quality of programming content compared to the alternative attractions of community participation.

      Plus TV seriously impacts on the quality and amount of sleep. Everything might just be a consequence of inadequate sleep. It might be hard to keep the faith when one doesn’t get enough sleep to consolidate the belief patterns. Not all that different for learning anything.

      In reply to #14 by alaskansee:

      In reply to #13 by refuteist:

      Really, that’s interesting, do you have any citations? I’m having a hard time with that being the case, I’m countering with an equally baseless – It “seemed to be the accepted case” that a great deal of people lost their faith because of the war.

      Cannot comment on the…

  8. How could you sign up for the Iraq and Afghan wars if you did not have a religious hatred that would allow you to kill civilians and torture people who had never done anything to harm your country. I would think atheist marines in this age would be extremely rare.

    • In reply to #17 by Roedy:

      How could you sign up for the Iraq and Afghan wars if you did not have a religious hatred that would allow you to kill civilians and torture people who had never done anything to harm your country. I would think atheist marines in this age would be extremely rare.

      Well some of us, such as myself, joined prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Secondly the majority of us did not kill civilians or torture anyone. No one wanted to kill civilians, discerning between a civilian and a combatant wearing civilian clothes, which was always the case as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda do not have uniforms, was a major part of our training. Thirdly from a amoral, military point of view killing civilians and torturing people is counter-productive in a counter insurgency as it motivates the people to fight you even more. Lastly the fact that the people we fought and are fighting in Afghanistan did not harm our country is disputable. Al-Qaeda certainly did. As for the Taliban, most of us viewed the fight against them in two ways. The first they were simply trying to prevent our dealing with Al-Qaeda and second they imposing a strict, Dark Age-like theocracy on a people who wanted either a secular government or a considerably more moderate Islamic government. In the second it was not a war of Islam v Christianity as you implied in your post but a battle of Dark Aged theocracy v modern secularism. So I dispute your assertion that atheist marines and soldiers would be rare as fighting for secularism against an armed totalitarian theocracy is a more accurate description of the West’s involvement in Afghanistan. That being said I think it is certainly time to quickly wind down the war in Afghanistan as we seem to have over stayed our welcome.

  9. Religious faith correlates to unquestioning acceptance of authority. Questioning authority is unacceptable in both the military and religious faith. So, aside from the fact that religion’s foundation is based on caring for the true believers and demonizing others, a necessary paradigm for motivating killing of other human beings, it’s in the interest of the military to screen out any who question authority, whether it be a commanding officer or a priest. Any who exercise moral judgement independent of higher authority are a risk to the cohesive functioning of the military hierarchy, and so to the effectiveness of the military. So of course those with lack or loss of faith are a risk, because at some time or other, they learned that authority is fallible.

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