Nice to see Keith Olbermann reads Global Dashboard. In January, shortly before MSNBC fired him, Olbermann did a story on the US Army’s ambitious resilience training programme, which I reported on back in October 2009. Olbermann reports that some atheist soldiers are objecting to the ‘spiritual fitness’ aspect of the programme, which rates to what extent soldiers feel ‘connected to humanity’ and guided by ‘a sense of meaning’ etc. Olbermann then quotes my interview with the programme’s director, Rhonda Cornum, where she says ‘every time you say the S-P-I-R word you’re going to get sued’. If you look really carefully under the photo of Cornum, you can see ‘Source: globaldashboard.org’.
To be fair to Cornum and the programme’s designer, Martin Seligman of Penn University, I would not say the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programme is ‘religious’, or ‘Christian’. Martin Seligman is Jewish, for one thing. But he does believe, and has evidence to show, that part of being a resilient person is having a sense of meaning in one’s life. That’s not the same as religion. I would have thought atheists could see that…
But I thought that the politics of wellbeing would get into these problems. As soon as a liberal government backs one version of the Good Life, it’s going to be accused of violating the freedom of conscience and religious belief. That’s the challenge facing pluralist, multicultural societies – how to create a sense of unity, cohesion and common values in our society (including in our armies) without being accused of forcing your beliefs onto other people. Still, this seems a pretty unbalanced news story to me.