Excluding Atheists from the Military Just as You Let Gays Openly Serve

Let me try this one out on you. The guy whose “Learned Helplessness” theories made it possible for Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell to make a killing (heh) on torturing detainees has figured out a way to make a killing–$31 million in sole source funds–himself: with an untested “Learned Optimism” program that claims to make sure those in the military who are on their fourth deployments in the most dangerous parts of the empire are happy being on those deployments.

Or at least don’t kill themselves or others because of PTSD.

But Martin Seligman’s program not only has not been proven to do what it claims to do, but it also has a built-in religious aspect to it, such that atheists have to undergo extra counseling because they didn’t answer affirmatively to the statement, “I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.”

That’s the story Jason Leopold tells in his latest article.

Soldiers fill out an online survey made up of more than 100 questions, and if the results fall into a red area, they are required to participate in remedial courses in a classroom or online setting to strengthen their resilience in the disciplines in which they received low scores. The test is administered every two years. More than 800,000 Army soldiers have taken it thus far.But for the thousands of “Foxhole Atheists” like 27-year-old Sgt. Justin Griffith, the spiritual component of the test contains questions written predominantly for soldiers who believe in God or another deity, meaning nonbelievers are guaranteed to score poorly and will be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.

Griffith, who is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, took the test last month and scored well on the emotional, family and social components. But after completing the spiritual portion of the exam, which required him to respond to statements such as, “I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world,” he was found to be spiritually unfit because he responded by choosing the “not like me at all” box.

His test results advised him, “spiritual fitness” is an area “of possible difficulty for you.”

The military, mind you, is trying to avoid admitting it has a First Amendment problem by refusing to say the word “spiritual,” even when that’s one of five core measurements.

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the director of the CSF program, has said, “The spiritual strength domain is not related to religiosity, at least not in terms of how we measure it.”

“It measures a person’s core values and beliefs concerning their meaning and purpose in life,” she said. “It’s not religious, although a person’s religion can still affect those things. Spiritual training is entirely optional, unlike the other domains. Every time you say the S-P-I-R word you’re going to get sued.

Now, I’m all in favor of trying to address our PTSD problem–though I’m skeptical that the way to do so is to “teach[] its service members how to be psychologically resilient and resist ‘catastrophizing’ traumatic events.”

But even aside from all the other offensive parts of this story, wouldn’t you prefer someone whose meaning and purpose in life was the military (or patriotism)? Doesn’t selecting for spirituality conflict, at least in some cases, with the trained abstraction of others that enables you kill someone else?

  1. liberaldem says:

    Barbara Ehrenreich did a fine job exposing Seligman in a recent book. I think the title is something like “Bright-side”.

  2. Thomas in SF says:

    The military has a point, but they have misidentified it as “spirituality”. I recently read in wikipedia that political activists exhibit less PTSD (and in fact fewer psychological illnesses generally) after torture than other prisoners, despite frequently tortured worse. Imprisoned and tortured political activists aren’t necessarily “spiritual”, but they do have a belief in something outside themselves which gets them through the tough times. This is what the military actually needs from their soldiers on the front-line: the belief that the danger and the death they face has purpose and meaning. Exactly how a soldier gets to that belief, can be either spiritual or philosophical.

    But as long as we’re still using the poverty-draft scheme of filling our ranks, the military is going to have to accept that some people are out there risking life and limb just because enlisting was the best choice out of a bunch of bad ones. They’re not doing it for their crappy family, theyr’e not doing it for America, they’re doing it because it’s the only way they’ll ever get into college.

    • bmaz says:

      I gots an idea: How about not sending these poor souls on repeated deployments in a fucking useless war in a god forsaken hellhole of earth solely to benefit the jollies of chickenhawk politicians and the rapacious military industrial and international oil and gas plutocrats? I would think that might have a hell of a lot more to do with sanity, mental health and positive attitude than this horseshit.

      • solerso says:

        seconded. lets cut the costs of treating PTSD in millitary personell by not deploying them in muderous illegal imperialistic wars.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          That would make too much sense. Besides too many friends of the PTB are now living offa warz. Seligman’s just a minor one.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      A variation on Pascal’s wager, which means if you’re facing death, you bet that there is a god, since there is no downside and the upside has a big negative consequence if you bet against it.

      However, my mom did not take Pascal’s wager. Facing her death (she knew she had terminal heart disease, and in fact died 4 months later but hadn’t told the family yet), she asked me if I believed in god. I said no. She agreed, and for the same reason: thinking there’s some supreme being who actually cares about individual humans seems like one of the silliest ideas humans have ever invented.

      I had thought my mom was some nondescript protestant who had agreed to raise us R.C., my dad’s religion. It is one of the fondest memory I have of my mom.

      Granted, she wasn’t in a foxhole with incoming fire, but she knew with certainty that she would die soon.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          Thanks for saying that but who knows. She never had to face live fire. She might not have reacted the same way. However, I found it a bond-creating moment.

      • elouise says:

        I have almost the same background as you.

        When my Mom was dieing I asked her if she wanted to see a Chaplin from Hospise. I just didn’t know how she felt. She screamed NO!!

        No, she wasn’t in a foxhole. She was seeing death in the face. And having seen what my dad went through, with the Catholic Church and the wars, she didn’t want any thing to do with it.

        I always agreed with her, I just didn’t know until that moment. We never talked about it. I Love her more for that.

      • Sebastos says:

        Isn’t it interesting that in making the Pascal’s Wager argument, they assume – baselessly – that if God does exist, He would want us to believe in His existence? What if there is a God of the Atheists, who has chosen to withhold evidence of His existence from humanity, and condemns to Hell all the lying scoundrels who from impure motives deceive themselves into believing in God, while opening the gates of Heaven to the honest few who remain atheists or agnostics?

        Believe it or not, I actually had to come up with the above “God of the Atheists” argument in the process of extricating myself from fundamentalist Christianity.

        Pascal’s Wager is an example of the Meme’s use of fear to dominate its hosts. Fear is one of its most potent weapons. I had read in Dante about Ser Branca d’Oria, who was so evil that his soul was ripped from his body and condemned to Hell while he was still alive; his body was left on Earth, inhabited by demons. When I abandoned fundamentalist Christianity, I was so severely in its grip that I genuinely feared that if I were wrong, the fate of Branca d’Oria might await me.

        That is an example of what the Meme can do to a human mind.

  3. Jason Leopold says:

    Thanks so much, Marcy, for slogging through the story and giving it more attention. Very appreciative. And thanks to everyone for taking the time to read it.

    • Peterr says:

      Jason, what do you know of the “subject matter expert” for the spiritual dimension of CSF:Chaplain Lt. Col Rodie Lamb. I can’t find a bio on him, but from bits and pieces around the internet, he seems to be a Full Gospel minister. Anything else you know about him?

        • Peterr says:

          Yeah, that’s all I had seen, too.

          But that history is something else. Makes me wonder who put Chaplain Lamb into that post with CSF.

          Note that of all the folks on the Leadership Roster of CSF, Lamb is the only chaplain. Putting a chaplain (especially from the Full Gospel church) in charge of the Spirituality part of CSF kind of undermines General Cornum’s attempt to claim that the spirituality stuff isn’t about religion.

          • Jason Leopold says:

            Yes. That’s a good catch and you’re absolutely right. I have to admit that I could not confirm that Lamb was actually in charge of the spirituality part of the program. I received conflicting stories about him and Douglas Carver.

            Earlier this afternoon, ironically, someone BCC’d me on an email sent to Lamb:

            Date: January 5, 2011 12:52:36 PM MST
            Subject: “spiritual”

            LTC Rodie Lamb, your program suggests people who aren’t “spiritual” (aka religious) enough are more likely to commit suicide or experience PTSD than those are “spiritual”.

            Do you have the statistical evidence to support that claim? I would like to see it. How have the people who have committed suicide scored on the “spiritual” segment of your test in comparison with those who scored poorly? Is there a statistically significant difference at 0.01 or 0.001?

            I have a FOIA request into DOD/Army seeking documents about how this was developed and who made the decision to on selection of certain individuals, etc. I’ll keep you updated as I will follow it up.

            Please let me know, if possible, if you hear anything on your end.

  4. Peterr says:

    Doesn’t selecting for spirituality conflict, at least in some cases, with the trained abstraction of others that enables you kill someone else?

    The phrase “cognitive dissonance” comes to mind.

    • shekissesfrogs says:

      Doesn’t selecting for spirituality conflict, at least in some cases, with the trained abstraction of others that enables you kill someone else?

      I heard it on right wing radio driving through some god forsaken area of Idaho near the craters of the moon. It was the only channel I could get.

      “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.” Isaiah 59:1

      Even if you’re wrong, you’re right.

  5. Suzanne says:

    The No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution is found in Article VI, paragraph 3, and states that:

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    are we not supposed to have a public trust in our military?

    • Sebastos says:

      Interesting. Thanks for pointing this out; I hadn’t realized that the phrasing was so broad. And if religious tests were allowed by the Constitution, they could be used to exclude theocratic fascists just as easily as atheists.

  6. hektor6766 says:

    An atheist can answer all of those questions very easily. Atheists are spiritual. They do feel a connection to all of existence. Their lives have lasting meaning on a human scale, and as constituent components, have been around since the creation of the universe, and will remain until its end. But don’t ask them to extinguish another important human life for greed or an angry or vengeful god. That measure is reserved only for those who would snuff out the light of human freedom and dignity. So there’s no reason an atheist would serve in the current military.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      Not all atheists are spiritual. I’m among the ones who aren’t. However, anyone who graduated from kindergarten knows how to answer those Qs. So just lie, if you really want to avoid the ‘spiritual training’ while remaining in the military.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          Of course. But having thought a bit about that issue, another one that doesn’t interest me except for the fact that most of the human race seems to be obsessed with it, I’m not spiritual in any way that others seem to define the word.

      • eCAHNomics says:

        Heh. I see you’re behind in reading the comments, so you’ll come across my reply at 21 & 27.

        I recently had a ‘discussion’ with someone half my age about the ‘meaning of life.’ It lasted all of 3-4 minutes. Neither she nor I felt there has to be one nor that one had to search for one.

        Sometimes intergenerational conversations can be very emotionally satisfying.

  7. Twain says:

    How do you convince supposedly sane people that they are killing for God? No wonder they’re so screwed up when they come home and realize what they have done and how they have been duped.

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    I think atheists are the most discriminated against group in the U.S. IIRC, there’s only one openly atheist in U.S. congress. The only advantage of being an atheist is that you can easily ‘pass.’ And since, unlike passing-while-gay, it doesn’t involve any part of my being that is essential (it is a Q I find uninteresting), it does not create any emotional conflict.

  9. jimbo says:

    Why not give these ignorant pos their $32M and send them on their way. They can get their money and a whole lot less damage will be done. And by the way, come out for atheism. Get off the fence and start being activist. Put an end to their horseshit.

  10. Romberry says:

    Leopold’s article is very, very sloppy and in parts just flat wrong. Seligman never exposed dogs to electric shocks when researching “Learned Helplessness”, he merely included references to the results of research of studies that had. And saying that Seligman’s theories “made it possible for Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell to make a killing (heh) on torturing detainees” is just crap. That’s not far removed from saying that doctors who discovered how to best revive drowning victims made water boarding possible.

    Learned Helplessness isn’t about torture. Learned Helplessness is about depression. Learned Optimism is about overcoming the effects of learned helplessness. Seligman is being maligned here as something he is not.

    This was a disappointingly bad diary. Never rely on anything written by Jason Leopold without checking it for yourself.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      What, in your opinion, would be a fair assessment of Seligman’s work? Is it not being used by the U.S. military? Does his approach not play into the spiritual training that troops who A the Qs in the ‘wrong’ way are forced to undergo?

    • bmaz says:

      Well, let’s see here. So Seligman did rely on dog electric shock data for his craptastic work, even by your own admission. And your analogy on the use of Seligman’s work is bogus, not to mention that learned helplessness was directly stated to be central to the Mitchell/Jessen torture program. All this crap, coming from a cluck that apparently does not even possess the mental acuity to discern who wrote what in the main post, pretty much renders your comment meaningless.

    • hackworth1 says:

      You failed to provide a link to purchase the book. I want to check it out myself, but I don’t know how to use the internets good.

    • Jason Leopold says:

      “Dr. Seligman is a nationally known psychologist who gained his reputation from experiments applying electrical shocks to dogs.” That was written by Byrant Welch, former president of the APA.

      Seligman himself describes the experiments he conducted on dogs. If you have evidence to the contrary I’ll gladly update the story. Seligman has also admitted that he met with Mitchell/Jessen/Hubbard at his house in December 2001, the same month the SERE techniques for use against detainees were being discussed and where his work on Learned Helplessness came up.

      In terms of the story being “sloppy” feel free to point out the errors/sloppiness. I have no problem correcting or updating.

      • Sebastos says:

        I used Martin E. P. Seligman’s Helplessness: on depression, development, and death (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1975) in a psychology course 30 years ago, and I still have my copy of the book. Seligman plainly asserts that he and his co-workers carried out painful shock experiments on dogs. From page 23:

        Here is the typical procedure that we used to produce and detect learned helplessness in dogs: On the first day, the subject was strapped into the hammock and given 64 inescapable shocks, each 5.0 seconds long and of 6.0 milliamperes (moderately painful) intensity. The shocks were not preceded by any signal and they occurred randomly in time.

        So Seligman and his co-workers have personally carried out painful shock experiments in dogs in the process of doing research on learned helplessness, by his own admission in his own work.

        Now I would like to know on exactly what Romberry was basing his statements to the contrary.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Why did Seligman invite Mitchell, CIA, Israeli intelligence and other folk to his house in Dec. 2001? I guess just wanted to regale them with tales how to end depression with “Authentic Happiness.”

      And by the way, Seligman did do experiments on dogs, so you are terribly misinformed, or for some reason putting out falsehoods, i.e., lying.

      In Seligman’s recent book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, he gives an account of the dog experiments he did with Stephen Maier. He felt bad about the experiments, knew they were cruel, but necessary to develop an animal model of Learned Helplessness. He wrote: “The day I found the answers to the major questions that needed animals to answer them, I would stop working with animals altogether.” (p. 15)

      Besides this quote, he speaks about the experiments at some length.

      In 2007, I asked Seligman in an email exchange:

      … given the controversy over psychologist participation in interrogations (a vote on competing resolutions is due at the next Council meeting), and the fact that your ideas and research were obviously used (you even asked them about it), what is your position on the use of your research by others, and on psychologists involved in military/CIA interrogations under the current administration?

      Seligman answered:

      The only “position” I am comfortable staking out is “Good science always runs the risk of immoral application. It goes with the territory of discovery.”

      All the anguish he’s expressed in the past year or so over his theories being used by the torturers is for public consumption and image rehabilitation.

      Finally, your jibe at Jason Leopold himself marks you as one of a coterie of Jason Leopold-haters, whose motivations seeking to malign a good journalist, especially when he hits the nail on the head, as in this article, are very bizarre, and at best, express an interest in political questions that is unable to transcend personal animus.

    • jdmckay0 says:

      Yo, Rom’a’dom dingle berry dude…

      Thanks for stopping by, farting in the place, and continuing on down the road.

      And thanks to Jason/Jeff/Peterr, whose sniffers once again demonstrated fine acuity. At least there’s one place here in Land uh’da Freep where shock conditioning has not conditioned the masses to whiff gasers and proclaim: SMELLS LIKE ROSES.

  11. hackworth1 says:

    It is essential that the US Armed Forces utilize any means necessary to manipulate the minds of its largely uneducated cannon fodder. Some of the cannon fodder is running away, freaking out, committing suicide, fratricide, getting super pissed off about being ripped off, cheated out of pay and benefits, suffering devastating injuries, left for dead, forgotten, lied to, dumped by their spouses, manipulated, etc.

    Whatever it takes. Emperor Constantine told them they were fighting for God in 300 AD and it helped then. It still works today.

    Our God is the real God. Theirs is a false God. Kill em all and let God sort them out.

    General Boykin

    • eCAHNomics says:

      “Learned optimism” can be just as much a psychological maladjustment as the opposite. There are objective circumstances that require an emotionally healthy individual to be depressed about. Like current U.S.

      • bobschacht says:

        There are objective circumstances that require an emotionally healthy individual to be depressed about. Like current U.S.

        There is a wonderful book about a Great Plains Indian community by an anthropologist, with a title something like “Fierce Hearts” (not quite the exact words) in which most members of the community consider themselves “depressed.” What do you do when the “normal” state is depression? In that community, they tend to say that you’re not a real “mensch” unless you’re depressed. IOW, if you’re not depressed, you just don’t understand the situation!

        Bob in AZ

        • klynn says:

          Thanks for your comments.

          You got me thinking about some of the orthodox traditions seeing themselves as the “suffering” church.

        • Sebastos says:

          IOW, if you’re not depressed, you just don’t understand the situation!

          I have a refrigerator magnet showing a street demonstration, with the caption:

          If you’re not totally pissed off, you’re not paying attention!

  12. donbacon says:

    This can be true

    I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.

    without this being true.

    the spiritual component of the test contains questions written predominantly for soldiers who believe in God or another deity

    At least it is for me.

  13. dsquib says:

    Personally speaking I would rather our military take in only those who do not believe our life on Earth is some kind of elaborate “test” for a life beyond, and ultimately disposable under the right circumstances. But hey that’s just me. :-)

    • ottogrendel says:

      Indeed. If we all thought this life was it, perhaps we would be more decent to each other?

      On the other hand, religion might provide a control mechanism useful for group survival.

  14. Jason Leopold says:

    @Peterr59: I should note that I was referring to the creation of the spirituality module regarding my reference to Lamb/Carver. Ken Pargament worked with a handful of chaplains in creating it and there are rumors that Lamb was involved but I could not confirm that. Your point about his involvement in leadership, however, does undercut Cornum’s claims.

    • Peterr says:

      On the CSF website, they list Lamb as the “subject matter expert” but don’t say what that is or what role Lamb may have had in developing the survey instrument. Lots of questions there.

      Pargament, on the other hand, looks like a very strong, very mainstream scholar in religion and psychology. His CV is here [pdf], and it’s filled with all kinds of major research grants from public (i.e. visible and transparent) and often highly competitive sources, writings for and editorial work with major peer-reviewed journals and publications, keynote speeches at major conferences and institutions, and academic work at BGSU that is what every dean dreams of seeing from his or her faculty.

      What Pargament would think of his work being used to potentially drum people out of the military, I don’t know. You might want to give him a shout at BGSU and ask him about it.

      More on Pargament here.

  15. Jason Leopold says:

    @Peterr66. Thanks for that, Peter. I reached out to Pargament a week ago but never heard back from him. Seligman tapped him to develop the spirituality portion and he did so in consultation with chaplains, grad students, West Point officials and ROTC. Cornum says the Army then “militarized” some of the questions beyond what was originally created. I’ve read Pargament’s 2002 article he co-wrote with Annette Mahoney on spirituality and religion. It’s very good. In terms of Lamb, I believe one of the MRFF researchers has some new info that will be out this week and then there was the brief mention of CFGC on scienceblogs. It’s strange that there is virtually no information on him available.

    • Sebastos says:

      Thanks likewise for uncovering yet another way in which religion is subverting science and secular civilization. I hope that you (and Marcy Wheeler and Jeff Kaye) will keep digging; I’m convinced that far more remains to be discovered along these lines. Seligman is not the only “positive thinking” psychologist whose work emits the stench of covert religious influence like a dead rat in a living room wall. Although I have not done the research to confirm it, I got a similar impression from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, 1990; the name is pronounced “chick sent me high”, by the way) and David G. Myers (The pursuit of happiness, 1992).

  16. Jason Leopold says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Thanks Jeff. That exchange you had with Seligman reminds me of what Mitchell told Soufan, as reported by Jane Mayer (and, perhaps not coincidentally, mentions dogs):

    Zubaydah was “like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while he’s so diminished, he can’t resist.”

    Soufan and the other FBI agent argued that Zubaydah was “not a dog, he was a human being” to which Mitchell responded: “Science is science.”

  17. msiddique says:

    Why would aethists want to go to war, when in most cases, wars are religious wars anyway? I sure do not!

  18. bobschacht says:

    wouldn’t you prefer someone whose meaning and purpose in life was the military (or patriotism)?

    Um, no. There are already too many who worship at the altar of the Military Industrial Complex.

    Now to read the comments.

    Bob in AZ

  19. sonofloud says:

    Take a step back cowboy…..gays are most certainly not allowed to serve openly. Obama has yet to announce a replacement policy for DADT, if he ever actually does.

  20. ottogrendel says:

    The power of positive thinking in the service of addressing shell shock? Why not just play some bagpipes, pass the brandy and wheel out the mobile army whorehouse?

    I remember a skypilot telling me in all seriouness how Jesus said it was OK to kill the bad people.

    ““They say there are no atheists in foxholes. But as we sat in those holes, praying that God would save us, I thought about the fact that the other side was doing the same thing. And then I wondered if God is just playing some kind of game with us. Pretty much I decided at that point there was no God,” Christian said.”

    and: http://www.rationalatheist.com/Articles/foxhole_atheist.html

  21. klynn says:

    Jason, great work.

    EW, thanks for posting on it.

    Peterr, nice catches.

    And without going into detail, from my own experience, I would conclude that the FOIA’s will have a high probability of revealing to you Jason that the spiritual component was indeed measuring a “faith” based element.

    I would be surprised that someone who is grounded in a faith would score better consistantly. For a Christian, eventually the New Testament verses that address “one another” acts of compassion, Christ’s greatest commandments – which include “love thy neighbor” and the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (especially the ones about the meek and the peacemakers) would eventually catch up with one’s soul and create remorse or spiritual conflict. Just the image of Christ on the cross suffering for all of mankind (a Christian perspective fellow posters) should create pause in ones call to military service if they are of a Christian faith. If not, then there should be concern that an individual may view their service in the military as service to God in a Holy War. Not a healthy perspective as history has shown. Now, I am sure this post will invite a host of negative comments informing me of Just War Theory from a Christian perspective.

    Christian churches of all backgrounds such as protestant, Catholic and evangelical, have struggled throughout history to develop scripture based views on war and peace. This is no easy subject matter of faith. It never has been. Therefore, I have some real deep questions about the conclusions of the spiritual fitness research and the spiritual fitness section of the survey. A survey indicates “definite” answers. War, peacemaking and matters of faith as related to those concerns cannot be determined through a survey nor can one’s spiritual fitness.

  22. klynn says:

    Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the director of the CSF program, has said, “The spiritual strength domain is not related to religiosity, at least not in terms of how we measure it.”

    “It measures a person’s core values and beliefs concerning their meaning and purpose in life,” she said. “It’s not religious, although a person’s religion can still affect those things.

    The language here is quite eye opening to me EW and Jason. Here is an example of why.

    More indications of “faith based” language and connections here.

    The language in this quote is language adopted by the Christian Community and the Government Faith Based Initiatives.