I thought this article on the positive effects of religion in combating PTSD was interesting. On ships you don’t really get anywhere near combat on deployment, but readjusting to the “real world” can definitely be a challenge. I’m religious myself and have definitely relied on my faith both during and after deployments. According to the study in the article, those that attend regular religious services are 24% more likely to readjust to life after deployment succesfully.
I’m curious to see if this will get picked up in either the Christian or mainstream media – there’s definitely an audience for the message that God helps soldiers get through tough times. I am curious how much of the correlation results from the rituals associated with religion. It may be that just having a place to go and people to talk to helps with PTSD and readjustment. One-on-one therapy and support groups are useful tools but can be relatively intense psychologically – going to Church (or other religious service) is a chance to sit somewhere and be quiet and reflective for an hour or two. Many soliders and sailors I’ve met are relatively introspective people – they don’t like being the center of attention, and Church might give them an opportunity to reflect on their experiences without feeling like the focus of scrutiny by anyone but God.
It may also be that religion provides a useful framework to help cope with the thorny emotional and moral issues associated with warfare. According to the study, “Understanding the military’s mission” provided a 10% gain in reentry success – implying that a secular, humanist viewpoint of warfare might provide a similar psychological benefit to religion.
Atheists don’t go to Church – but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a psychological benefit from gathering once a week to reflect on morality, sing songs with friends and family and listen to a speech about ethical conduct from a trusted mentor. And then break for lemonade and cookies.