We Should Stop Saying There Are No Atheists In Foxholes

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Why This Cliché Needs To Be Buried

People say there are no atheists in foxholes. A lot of people think this is a good argument against atheism. Personally, I think it’s a much better argument against foxholes.
Kurt Vonnegut

We seem to live in a time filled with world-ending threats. Turn on the news and hear of your impending doom: environmental destruction, nuclear war, biological terrorism, starvation, economic collapse, asteroids, solar flares, cancer, and a host of both real and imagined problems exist.

People looking to capitalize on the fear that this produces will sometimes refer back to the old adage “there are not any Atheists in foxholes.” Meaning, in a do-or-die situation everyone will turn to religion. The underlying assumption is that everyone who has turned their back on faith actually believes in God, but that the cynicism they have surrounded themselves with only melts in a situation that requires divine intervention. Some have taken this literally and talk about the overabundance of religion in the military, while others use it to attack Atheism as a concept.

Nope, not buying it. There are several faulty assumptions and factual errors this statement forces us to believe.

First is the idea this is an attack on Atheism. It is actually an attack on Christianity. God wants you to have faith in Him “Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” If you only call out to God because you are in crisis, you don’t really have faith, you are just desperate. This is a different version of Pascal’s Wager, where you decided on your deathbed to succumb to religion because the opportunity cost of roasting in hell is greater than losing some dignity to recite some words. Faith needs to be a consistent factor. For someone to claim to be truly religious they need to believe all the time, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Shouldn’t Christians be angry at those who pick and choose when to believe in God and are more likely to forsake Him when things are going well? If you had a friend who only called when they needed help moving, you probably would not call them a friend, but a freeloader or parasite.

Second, just because someone cries out “oh God” or “help me God” does not actually mean they believe. This has more to do with the vocabulary of a culture than a particular religious view. One in four Americans does not have any faith. That is tens of millions of people. But I am sure we would find a large percentage of them saying “God darn it” or “oh God” or “God help me.” This is because these expressions have been associated with certain situations or feelings. When people are saying these expressions they could just be saying “well this is terrible, I am scared, and I hope it gets better.”

Third, it is factually incorrect. There are Atheists in foxholes. Currently, over seven percent of U.S. military personnel in combat zones are officially listed as Atheists. Several armed services have stopped requiring incoming soldiers to pledge to God in their allegiance speech. Even the army doesn’t truly believe there are no Atheists in foxholes.

Research has shown nonbelievers are less likely to be panicked with “death anxiety” than believers. Additionally, research has shown that nonbelievers actually strengthen their beliefs rather than turn to religion. If anything people become more likely to believe in science when faced with overwhelming odds. While there is a bit of a discussion on why that occurs it could be because you trust what is in front of you, what has worked, as your salvation.

There seems to be only one consistent factor that determines if a soldier becomes more religious, which is if they disliked the war they fought in. This may mean that while there are Atheists in foxholes, religion becomes a way for people to make sense after experiencing the horrors of war without having confidence in the cause.

This expression needs to disappear. It has become a rallying cry to mock Atheists as hypocritical but it really mocks the very notion of faith and the conviction of the service of our armed forces. There are Atheists in foxholes.

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