Sunday, September 2, 2012

No Atheists in Foxholes

Occasionally you will hear theists say that there are no atheists in foxholes. The implication is that we all know that God is real, and when the shit hits the fan we will shape up and accept God and ask him for help. Obviously military personnel are in danger and therefore they all must get real and accept God and make sure that if they do wind up dying they will go to heaven.

First of all, the whole premise is wrong. We are not atheists so that we can be free to sin, we are atheists because we honestly don't believe a God exists. There is no situation you could put me in right now where I would look to God for help, I don't think he exists so I don't think that such an action would do anything for me.

Apart from being simply incorrect, this whole notion is incredibly disrespectful to the atheists that are in our military by denying they even exist. This week I came across maaf, the military association of atheists and freethinkers. On the site there is a list of military atheists and many of them have a paragraph or 2 describing some of their time in the military and how they came across religion while they were there, I thought I would grab a few quotes (emphasis mine) from there for today's post.

Army Major David Schrier
Specialty: Anesthesiologist
Dates of Service: June 2003 - October 2009
Tours of duty: 28th Combat Support Hospital, Baghdad, August 2006 - February 2007
I spent six months in a combat support hospital. We took care of wounded civilians, insurgents, and military. Our hospital was mortared regularly, and praying about random explosions just seemed ridiculous. The individual people in the unit were mostly accepting of, or apathetic about, my atheism. However, there was a lot of overt religious emphasis from the unit command. The hospital chaplain, in particular, was naive to the concepts of religious diversity and freedom. He turned several mandatory "briefings" into a platform for proselytizing and preaching. He even tried to convert or preach to wounded patients, including locals and their families; these attempts were sadly comical, as they were overwhelmingly Muslim and almost never spoke English. My time in the Army, and in Iraq, served to cement my convictions about the folly of using religious dogma as guidance for personal policy and actions, and the high chance that religious doctrines can be volatile when placed in opposition to each other.

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Christine Legawiec
Board Member, Assistant Organizer of Wright-Patt MASH
Specialty: C-130 Pilot
Dates of Service: 1996-present
Decorations: Aerial Achievement, Meritorious Service, GWOT Service
Tours of duty: Kuwait, 2000; Balkans, 2000-2005; OEF, 2001-2005; OIF, 2003-2004, ONE, 2008
No atheists in foxholes? Really? So when things get tough I'm supposed to forget my training, put away my courage and just pray? No way. I have to count on me, on my crew, and on my fellow service members to do our jobs to the best of our ability. Our lives depend on it. If you stop performing the mission to pray, you are putting all of us at risk.

Army Specialist Dennis Bailey
Specialty: Cook
Dates of Service: February 2008 - Present
Tours of duty: Jun 2009 - May 2010, Mar 2012 - Present
For the most part my Atheism hasn't been an issue except during my last deployment. I was struggling with a lot of stress and personal issues. I let the command know that I needed some help and asked to speak to mental health. The next day the chaplain shows up at our site and proceeds to counsel me. I didn't get any help from him because I just couldn't take him seriously. I told him I was Atheist and all of his advice became about giving my problems to the lord. When he found out I was a non believer and having a rough time he saw the perfect opportunity to exploit my weakness and turn his efforts to converting me rather than helping me. I later got to see the actual combat stress and got the help I needed at the time, but the "help" from the chaplain only succeeded in discouraging me more.


  1. I'm really liking your weekend posts. I have a take on this too, I will probably do a post of my own and reference yours.

    1. Thanks :)

      This is one of those topics that has been sitting on the back of my mind for a while, but I'm fairly unconnected to the military so I wasn't sure what to say about it. One of the podcasts I listen to (can't remember which one) mentioned maaf recently and it gave me an opportunity to quote some soldiers directly.

  2. "There are no atheists in foxholes" is just as absurd as saying, "Christians don't really believe in an afterlife because they fear death." It's just a blanket statement where you assume what people believe, or don't believe.

    If, say a Hindu, was to say something like, "no one who is facing the possibility of death can possibly not believe that they will be reincarnated," the statement would be rightfully be considered just as absurd.

    1. I love the change in perspective there. Something that seems reasonable from your side of things might look silly from a different angle. I imagine most Christians wouldn't see your example as the same thing, but some might.

  3. Also if an atheist were to have a relapse in a battle that would not prove anything. The testimony of people, who are under extreme duress, is not reliable.

    1. That's a really good point, and an angle I hadn't really thought about. If you are justifying your worldview by pointing out that people under duress fall back on it then there is clearly something wrong.


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