Defence Force removes references to religion in ‘character’ doctrine

Si Gladman / 08 April 2023

The Australian Defence Force’s newly released doctrine on ‘character’ is devoid of express references to Christianity, marking a clear departure from previous doctrinal approaches dominated by religious concepts.

Early this month, the Defence Force released the first edition of its Defence-wide Character in the Profession of Arms, describing it as the “principal text on character and character development in the ADF”.

The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) understands that the new doctrine on character replaces previous doctrine within the separate services, such as Army’s 2005 Land Warfare Doctrine on Character that included frequent references to ‘God’, ‘Christianity’, ‘religion’ and ‘faith’.

The removal of express religious references in the Defence document appears to be a blow to the taxpayer-funded committee of clerics, known as the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS), which oversees the Defence’s religious-based chaplaincy and advises military leaders on faith matters.

In the Navy, Army and Air Force, Christian chaplains have long held the monopoly on the instruction and delivery of ‘character development’ lessons during formative training for Defence personnel. It is not yet clear what impact the new doctrine will have for the role of chaplains in delivering character training to Defence Force personnel.

Defence documents obtained by the RSA under Freedom of Information laws last year revealed that RACS was “scanning” policy documents being developed at that time on character and ethics because the clerics wanted to “influence future programs”.

The documents also revealed that the Commander of the Australian Defence College refused to allow a Character Leadership Course run by chaplains and heavy in religious content to be offered to trainee officers in 2021. 

In an article for Rationale magazine last year, former Army Colonel and Defence Statistician Phillip Hoglin argued that the practice of embedding overt Christian concepts within the military doctrine of a secular country “should be strictly off-limits”, especially given that a majority of military personnel were not religious.

“Instruction on character from a Christian perspective is…redundant, obsolete, antiquated, divisive and simply inappropriate in this millennium,” he said.

“In 2022, the Australian Army should be culturally and operationally mature enough to know that good character and the character necessary to fight and win in war are not bound by religion. Accordingly, instruction and doctrine on the concepts of character should not be the domain of religion or religious chaplains.”

RSA president Meredith Doig welcomed the new doctrine as a constructive step towards much-needed modernisation of Defence Force culture and a move away from institutional attempts to prosyletise. 

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Images: Department of Defence/Commonwealth of Australia

All the more reason.