Saturday, January 9, 2010

There are atheists in foxholes!

And that is a fact. Yet, the myth persists that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This statement implies that during times of extreme fear or stress, particularly in wartime, all people (without exception) will believe in or hope for a higher power.

The origin of this phrase isn’t clear cut, but there are many possibilities. Some sources credit Lieutenant-Colonel William J. Clear or Lieutenant-Colonel William Casey. Most often, though, the journalist Ernie Pyle is cited. In 1942, the line was used in the film “Wake Island.” The phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” was used at least as early as World War I.

Logically, any statement using absolute terms (such as “always” or “never” or in this case “no”) can easily be proved false. If you find even one atheist in a foxhole, the statement is false. A funny thing about this statement is that it doesn’t even specify a when or where, so if there are any atheists in any foxholes at any time in any place, the statement is false. In other words, there are atheists in foxholes.

To use a more statistical method, however, I can note that the religious conviction of current US military personnel tends to be less than that of the general population. And we can’t deny that there are a definite percentage of atheists within the general population itself. In fact, the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers has adopted the catchphrase “Atheists in Foxholes” to point out that the original statement is far from a statistical fact.

Why, then, does it persist as a cliché phrase used by religious and even media representatives? Perhaps it is because many theists believe atheists are in denial. That they actually do believe in a higher power but refuse to acknowledge the deity. From an atheists’ point of view, that logic doesn’t make sense because how can you deny something that doesn’t exist in the first place?

Quick joke (from Digital Bits Skeptic) to lighten things up a little:
While in your foxhole, did you ever have a moment when you decided that God exists?
a) Yes.
b) No.
c) I was too busy trying not to get decapitated to think about it.

In many institutions, as well as the military, the religious questionnaire only allows atheist respondents to declare their religious affiliation as “other” or “no religious preference.” More recently, other options have been made available, including “atheist” and “agnostic,” but in many cases the choices remain limited.

So there might even be more atheists in foxholes than we know about.

Related Links
Science Blogs
Digital Bits Skeptic
Free Thought Forum
Believer's Journey

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