One of the many panels at the American Academy of Religion focused on “moral injury” — basically, the effect of having done, seen or failed to prevent acts that affront our conscience, our sense of right and wrong. Not confined to war, to be sure. Think gang members coming to terms with what they have done; think doctors who have had to make tough choices in triage, sacrificing one life for another. But probably far more abundant in war. In Soldiers of Conscience, a soldier talks about having shot a 10-year old boy because that boy was about to lob a grenade at his men. You can see it on his face and hear it in his voice: as justified as he feels he was, the memory of that child haunts him. My guess is that the effects of moral injury manifest when troops come home, when they out of the combat zone and start unpacking all they experienced. In many cases, a psychiatrist can guide them to recovery. In just as many cases, though, a good chaplain can help troops navigate the guilt and suffering triggered by the moral, ethical, spiritual and/or religious contradictions they have lived.
All of which gets us back to the question ‘why do chaplains provide counseling?’