A piece in Huffington Post blasts the Marine Corps for considering, the author writes, “those who do not profess a religious belief or choose to leave their religion are to be considered a potential hazard to themselves and the Corps and be placed under greater scrutiny than their peers.”
Let’s back up. At issue is a Marine Corps document that deals with, among other things, identifying Marines who might be prone to engaging in risky behavior. It reads:
It goes on to list 11 categories of these potential risk indicators, including such things as relationship problems, substance abuse, financial problems, and off-duty activities that include high-risk or anti-social behaviors. One of them has to do with Guidance/Moral Compass. It reads:
It is easy to see how a loss of spiritual faith might be a warning signal, since it could mean that a person is suddenly bereft of a belief system and community that provided great support. It is equally easy to see why the author, who works for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is irate at the inclusion of lack of spiritual faith as a marker. Plenty of people without any “spiritual faith” have a thought-out worldview from which they derive meaning and morality. Interestingly, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry concluded that people who profess to be spiritual but do not adhere to any one religion are more at risk for drug use and mental health problem than people who identify themselves as agnostic, atheist or religious.
It seems pretty clear that the determining factor in terms of mental health is not religious or spiritual faith but the presence or lack of a thought-out a worldview. So would it not be more accurate for the military — and the culture at large — to think and speak in terms of “worldviews” when dealing with practical, this-earthly-life issues? The question at hand was not religious in nature. The task was to identify indicators that would lead to risky behavior. And, in terms of mental stability, it is the fact that a person thinks about the role of individuals in the greater scheme, about the fact that individuals belong to a greater body of humanity — that is what’s important, not whether the framework is religious, humanist, or atheist.
Ron Eastes, a military chaplain we spent time with at War Eagle in Iraq, talked about working with soldiers “not of my faith, atheists, soldiers who understand the world differently.” When they came to him for counseling, it was not their lack of faith that put them at risk for problems. It was a bad marriage or financial issues. Similarly, Pat McLaughlin, with whom we spent time at TQ also in Iraq, talked about atheists whom he regarded as models in terms of their ethics and behavior. Would both have liked to see these men and women come to share their faith in Christ? Absolutely. Did either of them see in their lack of faith a cause for concern in terms of the stability and safety of the unit? No.