U.S. Army Commissions Video Game to Help Train Army Chaplains March 7, 2013

U.S. Army Commissions Video Game to Help Train Army Chaplains

“Call of Duty,” “Ghost Recon,” “Band of Brothers,” and a long list of other video games glorify warfare and put players in the position of killing and laying out destruction. Putting aside for a moment the ethical implications of that, let’s ask who’s left out?

The Chaplains, of course.

So now, the Army has contracted the company Engineering and Computer Simulations to tackle the task of including the chaplain perspective in warfare video games:

Halo – Spiritual Triage? Holy Ghost Recon? Called to Duty? Fathers in Arms?

Amid ongoing challenges to its Spiritual Fitness training, the Army is expanding development to video-game-like simulations. The Army began its major efforts for so-called Spiritual Fitness in early 2010 after several years of prior development of “Resiliency training.” Their latest foray spends government funds for computer simulations to improve chaplain performance in combat. Much like other agencies, they want to provide simulated environments in which chaplains can perform in crisis situations.

As with prior efforts, nontheists have been left out and our efforts to reach out and participate have essentially been ignored. Upon hearing of the new simulation, I reached out through the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers to the Spiritual Triage team to ask about secular and humanist accommodations. The head of the Army Chaplain School, Chaplain Colonel David Colwell, questioned whether training of this nature could be effective.

He also provided an insightful comment about secular concerns:

It is certainly problematic if chaplains were to use their position to impose a certain viewpoint on someone … If I were an atheist or secular person, I would not want a chaplain coming to me in a moment of distress and laying some religious line on me that didn’t fit. That kind of approach is wrong; it is an abrogation of a person’s constitutional rights.

What he missed was not the religious or purely secular option, but rather the nontheistic options like Humanism. The implication above is that if a person does not profess traditional religious beliefs, then they should be left alone, essentially tossed aside. The proper response is to ask also if the person has a firm naturalistic and nontheistic approach. If so, providing support, counseling, and referrals tailored to their needs is the right approach.

For example, if a Christian chaplain approaches a soldier who says, “I’m not Christian. I don’t want your help,” the chaplain would normally ask if the person is Jewish or Hindu or has some other request. If the soldier responded that they were Hindu, for example, the chaplain would have training and materials to help the soldier. If the soldier responded they were atheist or Humanist, then the chaplain should have training and materials to help that soldier as well. While atheists and humanists have a certain diversity of belief that may complicate referrals, so do Hindus, Christians, and Jews. The Triage game should accommodate nontheists as well.

In addition, the name — Spiritual Triage — still gives the impression that a supernatural or divine approach is the only right approach. That is still problematic but can be worked around so long as the training itself supports everyone. The only way to do that is to take time to seek out and include the nontheistic perspective.

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