THERE ARE ATHEISTS IN
John H Williams
(Investigator 121, 2008
combat would change them, because there's a saying that there
aren't any atheists in foxholes, and I find that's not true. Even
in a battle zone there's still a fairly large number that's not
practicing a faith."
Angotti, Tikrit, Iraq.
"If someone is a
committed atheist, they're likely to stay a committed atheist."
Professor of the Psychology of Religion.
are - and always have
been - atheists in foxholes. An oft-repeated aphorism has, since World
War 2, annoyed and insulted non-believers everywhere, particularly
veterans and those currently on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
America's Pacific campaign, created by a journalist, Ernie Pyle, who
was shortly to be killed by sniper fire near Okinawa in April, 1945.
(Pyle also promoted the notion that those on active duty deserved what
became known as "fight pay" on top of their basic wage, and this became
law, resulting in a 50% bonus while in action).
opinion it's as
untrue and as mythical as is theistic belief: it implies that humans
are innately dependent children of a particular fatherly god, some of
whom develop a superficial disbelief until faced with a
life-threatening event when they'll 'revert' and call for divine help.
As Mormon leader, Gordon Hinckly expressed it, "In times of extremity,
we plead for and put our trust in a power mightier than ourselves."
have gone to their
deaths pleading for rescue by that "mightier power", and it's highly
likely that not one prayer or cri de coeur has been answered, unless
fortuitously. Veteran soldiers have observed that it's far more common
to hear the wounded and dying call out more often for their mothers
than for supernatural aid.
undeniable that life in a foxhole may well cause a profound sense of
disbelief, since it's self-evident that a mortar round kills
indiscriminately, and prayer, while perhaps providing solace, has
demonstrably no practical value.
disposition who believe that they'd been 'saved' need only to ask why
others (including those known to have strong religious beliefs)
perished and not themselves, to realise that chance was at work when
bullets and shrapnel 'sought targets' elsewhere.
the USA is known for
its strong Christian tradition, in which an estimated 226 million (73%)
of its 304 million (2008) have been assessed as Christians, there's
been no census question on religious beliefs for fifty years, and
estimates are based on surveys and reports.
comprise an estimated 14%: non-religious/secular (41 million), agnostic
(1.6m) and atheist (1.5 m), a total of 14%. Normally the ratio of
agnostics to atheists is 5 or 6:1, so these numbers are aberrant. The
Barna Group, a religious polling firm, found (June, 2007) that one in
four American adults in the 18-22 age group had no faith, so the
percentage of atheists in its military could well be higher.
that so many
Americans are non-believes, one would expect an antipathy to the
religious anodynes of the dominant culture in their armed forces.
Having a 'born-again' commander-in-chief who is prone to prayer
breakfasts with those who helped perpetrate the unwinnable Iraq morass,
causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands, is unlikely to enhance
belief and faith.
Bush Senior once
asserted (1987) that atheists shouldn't be considered citizens of the
USA, nor were they patriotic. A Gallup poll (2007) showed that fewer
Americans would vote for an atheist President than for a woman, a Jew,
an African American or a homosexual; however, 49% said they'd support
an atheist, the highest since Gallup began asking that question over
fifty years ago.
Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and American
Atheists, who sponsor Atheists in Foxholes, stridently counter the
fallacious 'foxhole conversion' axiom as "misleading, unfair and a
denial of the role of past and current atheists". While disbelief is
increasingly marginalized in America, they are active in debunking,
insisting on the separation of state from religion, and in demanding
and receiving retractions over religiously influenced media statements.
after Cyclone Katrina
in 2005, Bill Weir on Good Morning Australia said, "There are no
atheists in foxholes or hurricane zones." This was contested in court
by American Atheists, who forced an apology and a retraction from the
even a small dent in
the prevailing religious ethos is a struggle, but in 1999 a coalition
of the above-named groups, in conjunction with Freedom From Religion
Foundation and the Alabama Freethought Association, co-sponsored an
Atheist-in-Foxholes Monument at Lake Hypatia, Alabama. The monument's
in foxholes and countless freethinkers who have served this country
with honor and distinction, presented by the National Freedom From
Religion Foundation with hope that in future mankind may learn to avoid
that they're myths,
know they exist.
country's call with pride,
watchword, they bled and they died.
Bombed at Pearl
fought on to Berlin,
along with the men.
Still war keeps
Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo:
Where is the
eludes people so?
It's broken by
bearing crosses and creeds
hate and cruel deeds.
your work is complete;
cry, bigots plan your defeat.
By air, land
answer freedom's call:
Without god or
seek liberty for all.
Shiver to celebrate the
Memory of Atheists in
may be America's largest minority, Free Inquiry Magazine, Vol
atheists in foxholes"
JH, Demography of
Religions, Investigator #114