Moral Injury

Is it ever right to go against conscience?

Readership: All
Author’s Note: The last section, “Takeaways”, was written by Jack.
Reader’s Note: This post introduces the theme for May: Life Scripts.
Length: 1,150 words
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Moral Injury refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression which produces profound emotional shame. The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma. Distinct from pathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal event.

Moral injury is a concept that’s been around for about a decade. It’s included in the Trauma literature in psychology. The concept is currently used in literature to describe the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs.

Here, I want to tell a story about a man I knew in the army. It epitomizes the concept of moral injury.

I met a lot of Texicans during my time in the military. A Texican is someone who is native to the state of Texas, but they have a Mexican cultural and ethnic background. They usually come from several generations of Texans, but their distant ancestry is from Mexico. They are fiercely loyal and patriotic.

His story starts out during the 9-11 attack. He had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Economics, and then 9-11 happened. So instead of looking for a job, he decided to enlist as an E-6 (staff sergeant). Most college graduates try to get in as an officer, but he wasn’t there for the job benefits. He was in it for the action.

I was already in the military when 9-11 happened, but I reenlisted three more times.

So by the time this guy came into my office, we were already ten years into “The War on Terror”. He told me about his experience in Afghanistan.

He and his unit were assigned to secure a road that goes through a valley. He was manning a 50 cal.

He saw a group of Taliban that had set up a bottleneck in the road to prepare an ambush. So one day, a convoy comes along the road. He phones his superior officer warning of an imminent attack. He told his officer that he can see what’s happening, and that he can stop it before it happens.

But the answer from the brass was always NO, because they had to “follow the rules of engagement”. Basically, the rules of engagement forbade us to initiate a conflict without a provocation. It required us to be attacked first, before responding with armed force. In reality, this means we have to sacrifice a few of our guys before we can deal with the situation.

This went against everything he believed. He joined the military so that he could “kill the bad guys” and save the lives of his comrades. He wanted to tell his children about acts of heroism and how he had done something good for his country. But he couldn’t do this because the rules of engagement required him to sit back and watch a few guys die before he could do anything. This demoralized him so much that he plunged into a crisis of belief.

There are a number of themes woven throughout this guy’s experience. But basically, everything he believed about life — the army, the country, patriotism, the rules, trusting and obeying authority — everything failed him at that moment. He felt like he had wasted part of his life serving in the military, and he decided that he wanted out.


Recently on Σ Frame, there’s been a few posts about this kind of thing – how following the rules leads to bad outcomes, God’s seemingly erratic concept of justice, all the confusion that surrounds these issues, and strategies about how to deal with certain dilemmas. (See the list of links below.) I thought this talk about Moral Injury fit right into this theme.

In addition to those military veterans who have endured severe psychological trauma, there has been another war being fought on the home front. This war may not compare to Afghanistan or Iraq in terms of mortal casualties, but the spiritual death toll is just as bad, if not worse, in terms of the sheer numbers of people affected.

I’m talking about those guys who go through the wringer in their marriages, and then get cuckolded, frivorced, separated from their children, and stripped of everything they’ve worked for in life.

I’m talking about those children who grow up in broken homes and never get to experience God during their childhoods.

When these men finally stumble across the Red Pill, they realize that the truth about sex and relationships is much different than what they ever believed before. And if their broken marriage wasn’t heart breaking enough, the Red Pill is even more filthy and rotten. I can totally understand how following certain Red Pill precepts, even those that conform with Christianity – assuming the sale, enforcing frame, dread game, selective defection, Tit-for-Tat, etc. — would go against the conscience of a man.

Some men just can’t swallow a pill this bitter.

And then there’s the aspect of ability. They can’t just “learn game” and “get their lives together”. They can’t just snap their fingers, or read their Bibles, or follow some ad hoc magical formula, and “become a better man”. Enter Jason’s rejoinder here.

All this demoralizes them so much that they plunge into a crisis of belief. Everything they believed about life — the presumed goodness of women, the Soul Mate Myth, being The Nice Guy, the sanctity of marriage and family, faith and loyalty, following the rules, trusting and obeying authority — everything fails us in our modern culture. Men feel like they have wasted part of their lives seeking after marriage and family, and a lot of men bite the bullet in one way or another.

It is a huge let down. Men are pressed into acting against their good consciences in order to get good results, and many men don’t know how to rebuild their self-image around this afterwards.

(I don’t intend any disrespect to veterans by making this comparison, but only to say that the conditions of our modern western culture result in Moral Injury to men!)

Exit Questions

  • Which is more ethical — “pre-emptive strikes” or “following the rules of engagement”?
  • Is it ever right to go against conscience?
  • Why isn’t the trauma surrounding divorce considered to be a Moral Injury?


This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Choosing A Profession, Culture Wars, Enduring Suffering, Handling Rejection, Health and Fitness, Holding Frame, Introspection, Military, Models of Failure, Moral Agency, Politics, Psychological Disorders, Psychology, Purpose, Self-Concept. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Moral Injury

  1. Elspeth says:

    What I described here is like a paper cut compared to what Scott has laid out. Nonetheless it hints at it a little. I still can’t honestly say I would do things differently.

    It drives me to my knees. It keeps me humble about who I am without Christ. So the injury is not without its benefits.


  2. I worry about having to get results vs stepping into the heart of darkness.

    Your article is spot on.


  3. Red Pill Apostle says:

    It’s interesting. Nothing has caused me to question my faith in God more than my marriage. Nothing has caused me to understand God’s goodness to me more than my marriage.

    Liked by 3 people

    • thedeti says:

      I had seen men and women do difficult things in their marriages. Particularly my parents. Dealing with not being well to do, scrimping to get by, my mother’s health problems. But I wish someone had sat me down and told me that I would have to do very, very difficult things as a married man. My commitment to God, my marriage, my beliefs, all have been severely tested and tried. Only through marriage do I finally know what it means to die to self. But marriage has brought benefits I would never otherwise have known.

      Liked by 6 people

      • Red Pill Apostle says:

        It is through marriage that two aspects of God have been intimately made know to me. One, in my most distraught times, in the midst of months of sexual rejection, what kept me from divorce was the thought that I cause worse suffering for Christ every day of my life and I am still His only because His covenant is good. I have been given a glimpse into the pain my sin causes God. Two, though marriage I have 2 amazing boys that I love dearly. They try my patience and are in need of discipline. The discipline aspect of fatherhood is not fun for me, or them, but it is necessary for them to mature into God fearing men. Just like their “suffering” through discipline will lead them to be better people, my suffering in marriage has caused maturity and wisdom that I would not have otherwise.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. professorGBFMtm2021 says:

    This is the main problem,people think just cause you know how to do something,you’ll get the results you want everytime!I have never been afraid of talking to anybody,but has it gotten me everything I want?No!This is the problem with so many thinking you just become redpill or christian&suddenly you’ll have ”barrels of money&tons of dedicated friends”(A certain independant preacher said that around ’64!)!Is this true to anybody here or have you expericened one fight after another like myself?Jason did’nt think if he said the right thing or thought the right thing his dreams of marriage would come true?Redpill&orchristianP.S.Some fellow in pennsylvania said this once:”If we don’t hang together,we surely will hang separately”Now you see why I stand up for the least of my brethern as much as the greatest of my brethern?Hence why I did’nt like that nathan warhorn guy who talked to dal’insinuating things about him or even rollo!Should others learn this from myself is the takeaway,right?Is anything I just said surprising coming from myself or what should be expected?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oscar says:

    Which is more ethical — “pre-emptive strikes” or “following the rules of engagement”?

    Threatening another person with death makes deadly force moral, therefore the rules of engagement were immoral.

    Is it ever right to go against conscience?

    That depends on whether ones conscience is aligned with God’s moral law, or not.

    Why isn’t the trauma surrounding divorce considered to be a Moral Injury?

    Because you’re being forced to violate your conscience by breaking your vows (’till death do us part). Not only are you being betrayed, but you’re being forced to betray yourself, and possibly your children, which is even worse.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. 7817 says:

    I can relate to what you’re saying Scott. After learning some of the things from this part of the internet, I tested them enough to realize they are true without going against my conscience. However, I believe I lack the capability to fully implement the knowledge in a beneficial way, although it’s helped.

    One effect of it all, either positive or negative, has been that I just can’t listen to average church bloviating about women and relationships anymore. Now that I have proven to my own satisfaction that the average church position is a lie, my tolerance of their idealistic female view of relationships baloney is near zero. I don’t make a scene of course, but just can’t abide sitting there nodding my head along with everyone else.

    Learning the truth is terribly painful and leaves some wounds that don’t really heal, I agree with you. What is the alternative though? Most people here came looking for answers. Well, we found them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: A Literal Military Stand Down | Σ Frame

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