Are There Any Atheists in Foxholes?

There are many crazy ideas out there, but the idea that all non-religious people are automatically atheists is patently foolish.

‘Fox-Hole Buddies, 14 October 1943’
‘Fox-Hole Buddies, 14 October 1943’ (photo: From the Photograph Collection, U.S. Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections, Quantico, Virginia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The title of this article is a reference to the classic theistic rebuttal about how atheists, put in frightening situations, will inevitably start believing in God.

Its origin is debated by historians. Many suggest it was part of a field homily given by Catholic U.S. Military Chaplain and Maryknoll priest, Fr. William Thomas Cummings, during the Battle of Bataan in 1942. Others suggest that Plato obliquely referred to the aphorism in his Laws.

Though a tiny percentage of atheists serve in our military and claim they’ve never thought of God while in the heat of combat, this is irrelevant. If some fundamentalist atheists are so committed to their illogical delusion that the universe simply magically started on its own that not even mortar fire and mustard gas can shake them from that idea, how could this defend their argument against God's existence? It simply means that fundamentalist atheists are intractable, misological and possibly misotheistic. Would the millions of wartime conversions to God mean that God definitely existed? This is preposterous logic. The same logic will have to hold for stubborn, self-blinded fundamentalist atheists as well.

But as all qualia must be ignored, as per the atheist's Materialist Imperative, we can safely ignore the claims of all supposedly foxhole-dwelling atheists. Further, as the atheist's Empiricist/Evidentialist Imperative demands proof of everything, we can similarly ignore all “supposed” atheists who make such irreligious claims without providing proof positive of their (dis)belief. Rules are more fun when the arbitrary rulemakers are forced to follow them along with everyone else. Otherwise, it just enforces and celebrates the arbitrary rulemakers' narcissistic delusions.

The question as to the supposed existence of atheists in foxholes is ultimately uninteresting and empirically impossible to verify. However, as one can't find a reasonable and rational fundamentalist atheist in everyday civilian life far from the battle lines, it's hard to imagine that any similarly disposed ones, no matter how insignificantly tiny their number, exist in foxholes.

In my conversation with Jason Torpy of the Atheists in Foxholes organization, he struck me as a person who was desperately trying to control his frustration at his predicament and eager to use illogic to prove his (non-existent) point. This isn't atypical of fundamentalist atheists who routinely think that being highly emotional (read: angry and embittered) somehow helps them be “rational.”

During the interview, Torpy insisted on equivocating the “atheists,” who make up a tiny, insignificant number of U.S. armed personnel, with the “non-religiously affiliated”, who are much more numerous. This is extremely bad logic and it took a tortuous, and torturous, bit of time for me to explain his mistake to him. When I refused to acquiesce to his wild claims that 35% of U.S. armed personal were atheists, he ultimately admitted defeat and acknowledged that the two terms aren't equivalent. This is very odd behavior for a man who has gone out of his way to establish an organization for “rational” people and represent them to suddenly lose the ability to think critically and correctly. But, after all, Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) author of The Jungle, warned us that, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In this case, as in the case of many fundamentalist atheists, it may not necessarily be their livelihoods at stake but something they might find dearer―their self-delusion at being “rational” and “logical.”

The Atheists in Foxholes website boasts a list of 200 personnel who claim to be atheists. As there's simply no way to verify their claims, the number can't be relied upon. But, even if 684,262.5 atheists could be found in the US military, as Torpy claims, why are there so few, if any, decorated military hero atheists? I suspect for the same reason why no atheist hospitals and schools for poor children can be found anywhere on the globe or in human history. In addition, as there are only 12 million atheists in America, for 684,262.5 of them to be serving in the Armed Services (approximately 0.0166%) this oddly disproportionate number is a sad condemnation of atheism. Why do they find it so hard to muster heroism and spirit of service?

If so many atheists exist in our military, Torpy would have been able to collect more than 200 signatures on his list. In addition, there are many religious traditions in the U.S. military, including military chapels and chaplains. If all of this “blatant religiosity” and “kowtowing to religions” was so abhorrent to the supposed “684,262.5 atheists serving in the US Military,” surely they would have disbanded with all theistic trappings at some point. And yet, here we are.

Torpy offered an explanation for this discrepancy claiming that atheists are “so abused” and “discriminated against,” that they are loath to tell anyone of their irrationality.

Several counterpoints come to mind:

  1. If it's so embarrassing and frightening for atheists to come out and admit their peculiarities, moral turpitude, misanthropy and misology, one wonders if the numbers Torpy reports with such certitude are at all accurate or just a product of his imagination.                                                                                                                                                            
  2. Why wouldn't an atheist tell another atheist like Torpy, that he didn't believe in God? Surely they must find succor in each other's company. If not, perhaps it's because atheists inherently distrust other atheists. This is a serious logical consideration and should be explored by sociologists and psychologists.
  3. Why would atheists need to be frightened? They certainly have been making a great deal of noise (read: genocide) in the past 200 years. It's hard to imagine that the very people who kicked off the Vendée Massacre, in which Catholics were specifically targeted and killed, are suddenly “shy” about admitting who and what they are.
  4. Admittedly, it's possible that Torpy is correct that atheists are reluctant to “out” themselves. When one considers the 250 million people dead at the hands of atheists in the past two centuries, I can easily imagine atheists don’t want to show their true colors. Perhaps this is merely a matter of the bullies now feeling themselves bullied?
  5. Of the 250 million dead at atheists' hands in the past 200 years, some were, of course, atheists as well — as in the case of the Red Genocide and the French Revolution, where atheists glibly and ruthlessly killed other atheists. However, I've yet to come across any instance in history where atheists were systematically hunted down by theists on a massive scale and, if there are any, to be frank, the atheists' 250 million body bags is the score to beat. Have there been 100 atheists killed because of their refusal to believe in God? (Show me.) 1000? (Doubtful.) A million? (Impossible.) When theists have killed 250 million atheists, then they can claim to be persecuted. Until that point, it's atheists who've been the most outrageous, egregious and, thus far, unapologetic, mass murderers in world history.

There will always be a small percentage of any population that hold stubbornly to crazy ideas (i.e., lunatic fringe). There are those who believe the Moon landing was faked while others believe AIDS and crack cocaine are government plots to kill people in our inner cities. There are yet others who believe the government has secret contact with UFOs. There are many crazy ideas in the nöosphere but the idea that all non-religious people are automatically atheists is patently foolish, as is the person who blindly accepts this as Gospel truth. In other words, it's yet another atheist myth. Holding dearly and vehemently to an idea, any idea, doesn't make it true. Truth can only be determined by examining a proposition logically and/or empirically.

Respect is due anyone who serves in the American military, theist or otherwise, but bad logic, lies, ahistoricity, misology, irrationality, truthiness and “feelings” don't deserve respect. They aren't the equivalent of truth—they are only an ersatz, anechoic and anemic substitute for atheists who pretend at the truth.