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Pilot Mental Health and Religion

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Pilot Mental Health and Religion

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Old 11th Jun 2018, 18:45
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Pilot Mental Health and Religion

In the Spring 18 issue of Focus (UK Flight Safety Committee magazine), there is an article titled "Pilot Mental Health - The lived experience".

Included in it is a list of "complex factors involved" in mental health problems, described under headings Diet, Shift work, Inactivity, 24 hour connectivity, Financial strain, Complex roles, Social Interaction.

However, the one heading that caught my attention was "Lack of Religion" with the view that -

"as more and more people in the Western world turn away from organised religions it has been observed that an increasing number of people are experiencing a lack of philosophical understanding/acceptance of life, death and suffering".

I will freely admit that I have no religious belief, and would consider myself a fairly militant atheist. However, while having no personal belief in religion, I would not deny that religion may help some peoples mental health if that is what they believe.

But to suggest that "Lack of Religion" in someone who is quite happy in their choice of belief, would be a factor in mental health problems seems to me quite unlikely.
I do firmly believe in the "scientific method", and would be interested to know if the comments have a basis in research, or if it has just "been observed by" the authors - unfortunately there is no list of references at the end of the article.

I have a particular interest having gone through a period of mental health issues a number of years ago (definitely not caused by my lack of religion.... :-) )


Last edited by Ant T; 11th Jun 2018 at 21:30.
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Old 11th Jun 2018, 19:09
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Originally Posted by Ant T View Post
In the Spring 18 issue of Focus (UK Flight Safety Committee magazine), there is an article titled "Pilot Mental Health - The lived experience".

Included in it is a list of "complex factors involved" in mental health problems, described under headings Diet, Shift work, Inactivity, 24 hour connectivity, Financial strain, Complex roles, Social Interaction.

However, the one heading that caught my attention was "Lack of Religion" with the view that -

"as more and more people in the Western world turn away from organised religions it has been observed that an increasing number of people are experiencing a lack of philosophical understanding/acceptance of life, death and suffering".

I will freely admit that I have no religious belief, and would consider myself a fairly militant atheist. However, while having no personal belief in religion, I would not deny that religion may help some peoples mental health if that is what they believe.

But to suggest that "Lack of Religion" in someone who is quite happy in their choice of belief, would be a factor in mental health problems seems to me quite unlikely.
I do firmly believe in the "scientific method", and would be interested to know if the comments have a basis in research, or if it has just "been observed by" the authors - unfortunately there is no list of references at the end of the article.

I have a particular interest having gone through a period of mental health issues a number of years ago (definitely not caused by lack of religion.... :-) )

I believe the best brains on this subject is Sidney Dekker. Here is link which may shed some light on the matter.
http://sidneydekker.com/wp-content/u...erpent2007.pdf
However the issue reduces to one of complete lack v excess, no faith to blind faith.
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Old 11th Jun 2018, 20:21
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I suspect that this sort of science is "embryonic."
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Old 11th Jun 2018, 20:53
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This is a field I studied briefly when I started my doctoral work, as I was a 'fish out of water' doing my post grad work at Lutheran institution. I toyed with the idea of finding out how belief systems destabilize social structures, and cultures, or - do belief systems actually stabilize cultures, and advance stability in those who believe. My dissertation advisor made enough slanted comments on the idea that I chose a different path, but I had done some early research back in the 80s.

The polar problem(mentioned above) deals with how faith is taken to extremes in either negation of, or complete domination of an individual. I'm like most secular humanists that don't ascribe to a faith system, but do understand the need for faith systems for others. Example abound in history both ways. At the risk of interpreting and taking over a faith-based POV, each faith has proclaimed they are the one, true path to either enlightenment, some form or god, or spiritual rapture/everlasting life/ultimate existence. All of them. I guess, this is a means of securing the faithful to their POV, and those who aren't believers are either suspect, or lesser mortal beings.

While all of this strikes me as a lot of folderol there are plenty of people of all faiths who will go to great lengths to see that they adhere. Is that a more or less stable path, in terms of 'pilot mental health'? I am going to say - it depends. I"m sure that plenty of faith oriented pilots feel that they are completely stable, and those who are not faith believers consider themselves to be stable and well adjusted also. While we have clear evidence of faith based terrorism, and faith based murder on a grand scale, I can honestly say I've never heard of someone killing, or committing suicide because they did NOT believe in something. So, I guess - a lack of faith is not an indicator of imbalance, or mental health defects, but given the 'allah akbar' movement which killed thousands in NYC, and continues to kill people for religious purposes, I can honestly say that a belief in faith has been used(and will be used) to commit crimes, and shows a clear imbalance or mental defect when followed incorrectly. Sadly, the 'incorrect' followers are still in the belief system. This millennium it's one specific faith. In the previous millennium it was another faith based in S Europe.
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Old 11th Jun 2018, 21:31
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Here's another two great brains debating this subject:
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 11:34
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I don't know how many actually read Sidney Dekker's paper referred to in Post 2 above. Having read it I thought it worth just posting the abstract for information;

Abstract In dealing with inexplicable disaster, like the death of a child, we increasingly turn to the justice system for accountability and retribution. While seemingly sensible, criminalizing human error has a range of negative consequences. But it does offer “good” narratives of failure as the result of human fault—even at the cost of guilt. Such narratives allow us to pinpoint a cause: people made a rational choice to err and should be punished. This allows us to imagine ourselves in control over random, meaningless events. This paper traces Judeo-Christian roots of such regulative ideals in Western moral thinking, by examining the Genesis account of Eve and the Serpent, and St. Augustine’s interpretation of it.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 14:54
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You make a good point regarding criminalising error; more relevant than ever in our profession today. But as for looking to Genesis, it’s dubious whether piling guilt on the entire human race for eternity because of a minor act of theft by a long-dead distant ancestor represents a “regulative ideal”.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 15:23
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After some consideration and musing on this, I have to reject the position of the author where 'lack of religion' is sighted as a mental health factor.

My conclusion is based on these; 1. For the past two pilot generations, safety has been increasing steadily and according to the author, there has been a continued decline in religious followers during the same period. These two statements would seem to contravene his opinion that there is a correlation, or even more important to pilot mental health, there exists a causation between the two. 2. We know, and have abundant recent history that faithful following religious commandments(correct interpretation or not) caused the most horrific and deadly aviation events extant. Having said that, offering 'mental health' as an excuse in that case seems a bit gratuitous. 3. Purely from personal experience, it is my opinion that those without a faith, or spirit, or any connection to a religion get along in the world of faith and spirits much better than those who ascribe to one religion. It's been my pleasure to fly with, and hang out with people of many faiths without my lack of religion being a problem. The converse cannot so easily be said, as those with strong belief systems are in general much less tolerant of those who are different, and specifically those who are non-believers. Adding to that finally, by personal experience, the more strident the follower, the more judgmental and uncompromising by the believer of alternate points of view seems to clearly be the norm. I know this because I live in the bible belt, and there is often a current of 'us' and 'them' in situations where the only factor between two people is faith/spiritualism/religion, and lack of any of that. Which makes me rather sad in some ways.

If the author has some concrete examples of pilot mental health and lack of religious following, I am prepared to alter my opinion. In the absence of that, I say this is specious, argumentative, and without foundation.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 16:31
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I have no idea whether there is any correlation between pilot mental health and lack of religion and I suspect that your opposite correlation is masked by far more significant changes in aviation safety over the last few decades. However, mental health issues seem to be popular subjects these days and we are often given solid figures which relate bad behaviour in the young, including mental health issues, to the breakdown in our cultural values. These would include things like traditional families and traditional Western religion at least. I cannot speak for other religions because I don't know enough about them and all we tend to see are the significant fundamentalist and extremist wings which, to some extent, all religions suffer from. Whether these attract the mentally ill or cause it I wouldn't know. What we see are young people growing up within a state of confused values and when some of these go into safety critical activities like aviation we should beware. ( German Wings).
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 19:36
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Religion introduces the doctrine of Sin, a simple means of distingushing right and wrong. To steal is wrong, to kill is wrong. In the abscence of religion what means are there to enable us to teach essential values for society to live by. Most justice systems have evolved and developed from this doctrine of Sin. It has been the fault of the practice of religion for its abuse and misuse. History has shown and proven that. It`s abuse for use to gain power and influence. The arrogance of knowledge and our very own lack of humility about all that life are the reasons for the cultural chasm between men and ultimately between man and nature.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 20:01
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Originally Posted by Chronus View Post
In the abscence of religion what means are there to enable us to teach essential values for society to live by.
My father-in-law - who I would classify as a humanist - had far better morals than the ecclesiasticals that I know.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 20:04
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Chronus, sin is error (of a greater or lesser magnitude) with a moral element. It is not simple error.
Not every religion promotes Sin with a capital S (your narrow perspective is showing).
Most religions delve into a wide variety of views on what is, or is not, moral.

As to making of restitution, and justice, in the case of an error that is then presented as a wrong, as an injury, or as something with a moral element to it, a variety of cultures and religions take a variety of approaches. Some years ago I read of the internal justice system in Saudi Arabias wherein it was common practice, in the case of a death or injury, that even upon a judgment of guilt or culpability, the family of the victim is appealed to, to be merciful to the one found in the wrong. (I wish I understood that more clearly, but I don't).

As to faith helping to deal with painful things and loss; yeah, it's very helpful. I see a number of posts up there being unable to differentiate between religion and faith (the latter is intensely experiential and personal) and I thus am not confident that useful discourse is possible.
Also: it's not only the Judeo Christian cultural system that seeks justice.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 21:12
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I was brought up in the Christian faith. In my teens and in later life, having experienced a great deal of hypocrisy in those teaching religion I became increasingly agnostic, seeing religion of all types as a cause of, rather than a cure for, many of the world's problems, past and present.

We are actually here to pass on our genetic material, like all other living organisms in the universe. Enjoy life while you can, live and let live.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 21:23
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Surely, being human means that you have some idea of what is acceptable behaviour, if not for themselves, for their neighbours. This has got nothing to do with religion. The problem is, that when someone falls below the standard they have set themselves, what do they do about it, and the possible subsequent reaction to neighbours they may have wronged. Some quickly compromise by convincing themselves that they are no worse than the next person and allow their standard to drop. You would be amazed by how many people volunteer that sort of information when challenged to think more seriously about the meaning of life. Others let their failures niggle away inside until it shows up in more irrational behaviour and even mental illness. The religious narratives, over thousands of years, have tried to address that problem and many have found that the Christian narrative has, within its core, the only complete answer.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 21:25
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ShyTorque, Someone once said to me that, if I was letting a hypocrite stand between me and God, at least he was closer than me.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 23:12
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an increasing number of people are experiencing a lack of philosophical understanding/acceptance of life, death and suffering".
And how does this relate to pilots??

Why should we have a philosophical way of accepting death? Is that the same as a pilot who, when faced with an emergency he hasn't been trained for, releases the controls and says his fate is in the hands of his god? "Everything is pre-destined, this is the way god planned it".

Rubbish.
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Old 12th Jun 2018, 23:44
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Originally Posted by pulse1 View Post
I have no idea whether there is any correlation between pilot mental health and lack of religion and I suspect that your opposite correlation is masked by far more significant changes in aviation safety over the last few decades. However, mental health issues seem to be popular subjects these days and we are often given solid figures which relate bad behaviour in the young, including mental health issues, to the breakdown in our cultural values. ( German Wings).
If you would provide one minimal, marginal, or tenuous example, I'm willing to hear you out. I have provided an on-point example(s) in my defense. While I agree that there are many OTHER factors at work that would obviate a link to religion, there has to be something on which we hang our statements that lack of religion plays a part in mental health. I find it specious, but again - willing to hear anyone out who can come up with a link, any link, from any flight sector.

As far as GermanWings, this had noting to do with religion and everything to do with many things not religious. Unless you have some factors at play that would support a lack of, or adherence to a faith based organization, the best we can say about GermanWings is the guy was Kookoo for CocoaPuffs.
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Old 13th Jun 2018, 01:38
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Not being religious would be a better option for aircrew. Religion requires you to believe in implausible things without proof or questioning.

Pilots need to question and doubt, and operate in a scientific manner arriving at a conclusion based on evidence rather than starting off with a conclusion and trying to find evidence to support it while ignoring anything to the contrary.

Basic Navigation, read from the ground to the map. We don't imagine where we are on the map and look for features on the ground to support our theory whilst disregarding any which contradict it.

Blind faith and unquestioning obedience has no place on the flight deck.
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Old 13th Jun 2018, 04:10
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Originally Posted by Chronus View Post
In the abscence of religion what means are there to enable us to teach essential values for society to live by.
I don't need threats related to a mythical being (or beings, some religions have more than one deity) to keep me in line. I'm generally nice to people because I have my own standards.

I don't completely discount the existence of a higher entity because it's impossible to prove the negative. However, I want proof, verifiable to scientific standards before I'm prepared to believe. Proof, not faith.
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Old 13th Jun 2018, 04:48
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Originally Posted by krismiler View Post
Basic Navigation, read from the ground to the map. We don't imagine where we are on the map and look for features on the ground to support our theory whilst disregarding any which contradict it.
I do actually...
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