Spirituality and Spiritual Fitness

Military Spiritual Fitness Overview

A new dimension of character and leadership development has made strong advances in the military in the last few years under the banner of “Spiritual Fitness” and related terms. This is part of the larger ‘resiliency’ program development. And these programs are part of the Army’s larger answer to mitigating post-traumatic stress and the epidemic of military suicides.

These resiliency programs are a comprehensive effort in all branches as well as the various medical commands and veterans affairs. Programs have a spiritual component as well as physical, psychological, social, and family elements. These programs are predominantly sensible, helpful, and science-based programs. Even the spirituality programs are based originally on secular and scientific positive psychology programs.

However, digging into the details, the “Spiritual” portions of these programs seem to many to promote god-belief and get the military in the business of dictating belief rather than facilitating religion and beliefs. The earlier programs in 2010 seemed strongly biased towards Christianity. However, with continuing pressure from the humanist community, the larger resiliency programs have expanded away from spiritual fitness and the spiritual fitness programs themselves have been made optional and less explicitly Christian. However, the money is still being spent, and humanists and other nontheists should be included in development to ensure we can be included in the benefits of the important, high-profile, and costly program. Answering objections by making the program to be optional justifies spending money to create benefits only for a certain privileged (religious) subset of the population.

One primary objection from the nontheist community is that the name “spiritual fitness” assumes spirits, souls, and other supernatural concepts. The definition used by the military says that “spiritual fitness” is about core values, beliefs, and the source of one’s meaning in life. The military’s definition doesn’t match any dictionary definition, but, more and more, the military is bringing their materials in line with their redefinition of the term ‘spiritual’. The term ‘spiritual’ should not be an obstacle so long as the content is truly inclusive and beneficial to all. The consolidated information and updates below are intended to show the scope of the programs and the ways to include humanists in these (and all military) programs.

Note on chaplains: Chaplains are generally not the ‘official’ proponents for these spiritual fitness programs, but they are often the chief advisors and sole resources provided. Chaplains currently provide, in practice, only the god-based/supernatural kind of spiritual help. Military leaders seeking to include nontheists in spiritual fitness must go outside the chaplaincy and the military for authentic representation of nontheists.


Spirituality programs are throughout the military

While the Constitutional principle of free exercise of religion is important, there is a troubling misapplication in promoting a religious form of “spirituality” as an important dimension of character development. Without careful wording and implementation, it is simply government-mandated religion. With careful incorporation of secular values and perspectives, there may be an opportunity to advance the military mission and strengthen service members through personal values that the military does not pass judgment on or enforce. The military’s “spirituality” proponents do claim to have such secular values and perspectives but they can never provide authentic support without engaging and including the humanist community. We should have a seat at the table to speak for ourselves.

  • Air Force Programs – Air Force Resilience Program have provided current materials that cover a 4-Cs approach: check yourself and your surroundings, control your reactions, connect to others, and Build confidence in your abilities, your leadership, and your training. MAAF has requested AF officials consider MAAF input with future “spirituality” program development and positive discussions are in progress. AF officials say the spirituality program is not yet in place but will include chaplain input during its development. MAAF is hopeful that the AF will keep discussions open to ensure the nontheist perspective is represented (Feb 2011).
  • Navy & Marine Corps Programs
    • Navy Task Force Resilient Final Report May 2013 – Recommends the Navy essentially adopt the Army CSF2 program. Also directs a review of the effectiveness of an already-published Spiritual Fitness Guide and Chaplain Referral Tool (linked documents not confirmed). This obviously conflates chaplaincy and spirituality so chaplaincy should be sure to use the secular rather than purely god-based definition of spirituality in their programs. The Guide itself does explicitly recognize nontheistic and divine approaches to spirituality. Page C-5 entirely conflates religion and spirituality, implying scientific basis to push religion on sailors.
    • Spirituality and Resilience – A Navy site defining spirituality separate from religion or belief in god. The image linking to the page is a picture of hands praying on a bible…
    • Resilience: What is it? – A Navy site defining spirituality as entirely religious dimension of resilience.
    • Marine Corps Behavioral Health offers a secular definition of spirituality, but provides chaplains as the only resource for resolution. (9/2013)
  • Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs Programs
    • Total Force Fitness on Facebook – The Department of Defense approach to “resilience.” This includes quite a combination of factors: Family, Organizational, and Environment, and Body and Mind. Spiritual is included in the Mind component. In a recent conference flyer, “spiritual” was broken down into service values, positive beliefs, meaning making, ethical leadership, and accommodate diversity. MAAF has reached out to offer perspective on their program.
    • VA Spirituality Center – Provides spirituality vignettes under the heading “God Understands”, shows pictures of prayer, and has two external links. One goes to a Christian-centric assessment and the second is to the Navy chaplain Christian prayer and devotional page. There is no apparent attention to nontheistic beliefs.
    • Military Medicine Supplement – Total Force Fitness Aug 2010 – 132 page document published by the Samueli Institute offering 8 dimensions, including a spiritual dimension defined through service values, beliefs, meaning, ethics, and diversity. The document states “belief in a non-physical dimension of life is a defining element of spirituality.” (9/2013)
    • Total Force Fitness – HPRC – “holistic concept where optimal performance requires a connection between mind, body, spirit, and family/social relationships.”
    • PTSD Coach – a brand new app providing a large variety of personal tools to track and alleviate anxiety. One activity is “pray.” Another suggests looking at erotica. After a full review, there seems to be no promotion of religion or bias, at least in the initial version. The PTSD coach doesn’t directly reference “spiritual fitness” but it is intended to resolve the same problem (PTSD and suicides) as the new resiliency/spirituality programs.
  • Other Medical Programs
    • MAAF has reached out to MEDCOM leadership and chaplains and received no response (Feb 2011)
    • Mayo Clinic article (non-military) – MAAF is following up on a Feb 2011 Mayo Clinic article advocating spirituality in stress relief. The Clinic provided excellent ways to improve one’s well-being and vitality, though one might be confused when lumping activities like reading, writing, or talking to friends into “spirituality.”
  • Army Programs – Comprehensive Soldier & Family Fitness (CSF2)
    • The Army’s new CSF2 programs including spirituality have undergone significant changes (Sep 2012 – June 2013). Those changes are under review by MAAF.
    • View the original Army Spiritual Fitness Manual from 1980. It includes good advice that was apparently ignored in later iterations: “Given the diverse sources of values and spiritual beliefs, a formal, objective evaluation of Spiritual Fitness is not possible.” In 2012 and 2013, the program changed to CSF2. The program has expanded most of the non-spiritual programs while the spiritual programs are largely unchanged. Reviews of 2014 changes are ongoing.
    • Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is gone into in detail below. Also see Army Stand-to composite article
    • Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center – The Army’s Installation Management Command posts a wide array of Christian resources along with the results of a random link aggregator for “others.” MAAF has reached out to ask what the idea of the site is, but has not received a response. Consequently MAAF has published a Chaplain Services Center at spiritfit.militaryatheists.org.
    • Spiritual Fitness Concert Series – mandatory attendance forced on service members for Christian concert series promoted under the auspices of “spiritual fitness.” The Army took essentially no action, declaring seven months after the fact that one enlisted person had acted wrongly and would be anonymously punished if the lower command saw fit.
    • Ft Sill Resiliency Training Campus is established to support the CSF concept and incorporates recreational, medical, and religious activities. This is a newly-opened facility (Sep 2010) and little information is available.
    • Media reports show a core religious focus on CSF in practice: DoD ArticleDVIDS (DoD Middle East PR article)
    • West Point Domains with Human Spirit – West Point expanded to 6 Cadet Leader Development Domains, with Human Spirit being defined as being “Secure self-identity and resilient in the face of adversity and change”
    • View 2010-2012 coverage of issues with the Army’s promotion of spirituality and the case for change.