Tuesday, August 23, 2011

There are no atheists in foxholes

I promised more posts… I really didn’t deliver. Sorry about that. At first I intended this to be a rebuttal of some things I had read online (see my previous post) but when I went back and read it again I realized that this is really about me. It is about what I think.

Now I do not have the comparative religious or philosophical education that some bloggers on the subject seem to have, so I can only speak from what I know and believe.

There are no atheists in foxholes. That is what I titled this post. For a bit of background I am a USAF retired SNCO. Despite that I am not offended by the aphorism. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers has a problem with it. If you would like to see their website is can be found here:


They have a campaign to dispel “that old myth”. Frankly I think they are missing the boat and need to be a little thicker skinned. Everyone knows Atheists serve; there are numerous famous examples from Pat Tillman to Ernest Hemmingway. The saying has far more to do with religion and the religious than it does with Atheists.

Wikipedia (not the greatest source, I know but it will do in this case) says, “The statement ‘There are no atheists in foxholes’ is an aphorism used to argue that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as when participating in warfare, all people will believe in or hope for a higher power.” I would call that a fair definition. It is an argument and a flawed one at that.

The first problem is the scope fallacy as in “all people will”. The argument is then proved false by simple anecdotal evidence. (yes another fallacy) But if there is even ONE person who does not react this way then “all people will” is demonstrably false. Some people in times of extreme stress or fear reject God, this is particularly true when witnessing the horrors of war. Some will conclude that no just God would allow such suffering.

If we change the scope to “some people will believe in or hope for a higher power,” then the argument might be true except that if it only affects “some people” then the unaffected group in the proverbial foxhole would be atheists.

So after establishing that the aphorism is a false argument one must consider who is making this argument. It is certainly not the Atheist. It is rather the religious who make this argument which says more about religion than about Atheism.

The statement this makes to me is that Religion is based on fear. When the religious argues that “there are no Atheists in foxholes,” they are basically stating that anyone made afraid enough or who suffers enough will turn to religion. Although, most religions claim to be based on peace and love they assert here that it is fear that drives people to them.

In my first post I talked about how it was conquering my own fears that led me away from religion. Here we have a religious argument that says that fear is what drives people to it. I agree. I choose not to be afraid.

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