The devoutly religious are fond of saying “there are no atheists in foxholes“. As that statement underscores (and the above photo refutes), the devoutly religious say a lot of asinine, stupid things. Supposedly journalist Ernie Pyle coined these “pearls of wisdom” but there’s no evidence he ever wrote or said such a thing. Actually, the idea that war turns atheism into devout belief started a lot earlier.
Cowardice And Want Of Courage
French Renaissance philosopher, essayist and sly skeptic Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) quoted Plato as writing “That there are few Men so obstinate in their Atheism, that a pressing Danger will not reduce to an acknowledgment of the Divine Power.” Actually, Plato never said that. But, clearly people de Montaigne knew did. And it disturbed him. He continued: “What kind of Faith can we expect that should be, that Cowardize and want of Courage does establish in us? A pleasant Faith, that does not believe what it believes, but for want of Courage to believe it.”
Those very arguments stand today. FFS – what kind of faith or deity only reveals itself – or makes itself necessary – in the middle of chaos and imminent demise? That ain’t religion goosing the prayers, it’s pure animal terror. An atheist in a foxhole is no different from anyone else while bombs are blasting away on top of them.
That’s not a place where rational thought happens – religious or otherwise.
How about this variation on the theme: if you told a monotheist in that instant that they were wrong – there were multiple gods – and only praying to all of them would save the monotheist – what would the monotheist do? To whom would the monotheist pray? Would the monotheist cover that bet – and pray to whatever god it took to walk away relatively unscathed?
And, what proof is there that praying to this God-character actually does any good? Plenty of God-fearing-est deep-down believers have died on battlefields and in actual foxholes. Some even as they prayed for the God -character to quit being so mysterious and just save them already!
What conclusion shall we draw from that?
In fact, nothing demonstrates the utter hollowness of religious faith quite like war. Especially when combatants war for or over religion. Frankly, I find religious arrogance pretty galling. But then, I have to remind myself, what can you really expect from people who base their whole lives – and how they think about their lives – on religion’s magic, dogma and ooga-booga rather than its messages.
Imagine if Christians practiced doing unto others instead of just smugly mouthing the words.
If we put nonsense in its place – which, really, is the only place nonsense belongs – then, hell, yeah, there have been atheists in foxholes. Plenty of them!
On this VETERANS DAY, I’d like to salute – and say thank you for your service to this great country to – every atheist who ever put on a military uniform on our behalf.
My Dad, An Agnostic Who Turned Atheist
I knew one personally – my dad. Now, to be fair, my dad wasn’t an atheist while he served in the Air Force (my dad was a flight surgeon – a Captain). He was agnostic – something he claimed to have been most of his life. In the end, he became a full fledged atheist. But, that was always his suspicion. So, like a Mormon claiming a dead soul as theirs, I’m making my mostly agnostic dad a full fledged atheist (in a foxhole).
Happy Veterans Day, American vets! Thank you for what you’ve done – and we owe you so much more than we’ve delivered. Give us time, please.
We really are working on it.