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Weekly Poll: Are You An Atheist Who Has Ever Been In A 'Foxhole'?

By May 31, 2012

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It's all too common to hear people insist that there are no atheists in foxholes, or in whatever disaster is occurring. They would know better if they simply bothered to do a little research instead of relying upon popular prejudice: quite a few atheists have been in foxholes -- either real ones or metaphorical ones where their lives have been in grave danger. They remained atheists.

One of the most important things to remember about the tired old canard of there not being any "atheists in foxholes" is how this expresses fundamental disrespect for atheists. Either it says that atheists have weak convictions that change as soon as danger rears its head or it says that atheists only adopt atheism so long as it appears to be safe to do so.

Does any of that actually describe you? If you're an atheist who has been in a life-threatening situation, what was your reaction?

January 24, 2008 at 12:10 pm
(1) Forrest Prince says:

I narrowly escaped with my life just a few months ago when my eighteen-wheeler rolled over, crashed upside down, and burned. I was pinned inside for a few minutes before it started burning, but I managed to get almost all the way out by myself before passers-by helped me the rest of the way. I was barely able to crawl — one of the vertebra in my spine had been crushed, and my left leg hurt so bad I was sure it was broken (it wasn’t; it had only been mashed real bad from the steering wheel). Point is, I came this close to cashing in my chips.

People say “you must have had an angel on your shoulder that day”, or some other inane faith-based platitude, and I just reply No, it was dumb luck, the heavy steel construction of the truck cab, and the assistance of ordinary people that saved my life that day. Sometimes I even counter the religious clap-trap with something along the lines of “If suddenly my truck had stopped rolling over and miraculously righted itself, well, then you’d have had my attention.” But so such happened because miracles do not, and cannot, happen.

I’m still an atheist, and coming close to death in a truck wreck has only increased my appreciation for life. It certainly has not given me any reason to start believing in the god idea.

By the way, I also served in the U.S. Navy 1979-1985, as an “atheist on a flight deck”. Close enough?

January 24, 2008 at 12:13 pm
(2) Forrest Prince says:

Oops. Last sentence in 2nd paragraph should read “But no such thing happened…”

January 24, 2008 at 12:17 pm
(3) Jon says:

I had two tours of duty as a Marine Corps infantry officer in Vietnam. The only thing I ever remember asking for while in the “fighting hole” (as we refer to them) was more ammunition and entertaining the thought that I really wished I had dug the hole deeper.

January 24, 2008 at 3:05 pm
(4) Mike says:

If caught in a deep hole for a long time one can understand why a person’s mind might turn to religious (or some other kind of) fantasy, if only to relieve the pain. To presume that some immediate, relatively brief difficulty, no matter how dangerous, would turn a rational mind away from it’s clear understading of reality, just when it is most important to keep it’s wits about itself, is idiotic.

Having said that, we are all stuck in a reality that is externally meaningless and purposeless, which demands a belief in some sort of fantasy, but the mystical kind is so self-delusional, so self-unaware, that it is necessarily excluded.

January 24, 2008 at 6:40 pm
(5) Ron says:

(“you must have had an angel on your shoulder that day”) I have a theory. If the angel were sitting your shoulder, Your eighteen-wheeler Would never have rolled over in the first place! My brush with death was an out of control aircraft. I was too busy looking for a way to save my a## to think about a religious conversion!

January 24, 2008 at 8:28 pm
(6) Jamie G. says:

My “foxhole” remains mostly metaphorical….I’m a cop. But some days the sh*t hits the fan and the last thing on my mind is crying out to a make-believe sky daddy.

January 24, 2008 at 9:56 pm
(7) K says:

The near-death experiences in my life have never converted me to theism. Years ago I came very close to drowning in a swimming pool and experienced the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel thing. I remember thinking, “so that’s what your brain does when it runs out of oxygen!” It was a very mortal experience.
And after a bad car wreck I got a lot of the “There must be someone watching out for you,” comments but I knew my seatbelt saved me, not some top secret super invisible space angel body guard floating around somewhere.
I never once considered an after-life or facing a mystical being. Atheism, for me, means enjoying the life I have and doing my best to make it a long one. Life, not the after-life, is the reward for living well.

January 25, 2008 at 3:43 pm
(8) james h waters phd says:

it also suggests that one only adopts religious belief, if one is skeptical, when one is too scared to think straight anymore.

January 25, 2008 at 4:04 pm
(9) Aspentroll says:

I would go out on a limb and say, “There
are no atheists on Death Row, either”.
I would say this because a person awaiting
his execution will have a very long time
to imagine that maybe, just maybe, he can save his ass from hell by accepting Jebus. This is a normal statement from
fundamentalist xtians, this is what they believe.
And many times during his stay in Death Row, the resident psalm singer, the guy with his collar on backwards, who gets a salary from the government to push his confusing views on inmates usually of sub-intelligence, will swing by with a copy of the “good book”. He will tell them that they can escape hell by accepting god or Jebus into his life. I guess it may sway most people toward christianity when they know that in about an hour they will get their neck stretched or hear some pills drop or get their ass severely burned in some scary looking chair or the new way lethal injection.
The Fundies should now imagine that when they die and go to their heaven, they will have to share it with some pretty unsavory characters, rapists who committed murder, Hitler, Sadam Hussein, all the Popes down through centuries, because all of these people were god fearing individuals doing what they thought was right.
Hey, give me hell any day to staying with that bunch.

January 25, 2008 at 5:25 pm
(10) John Hanks says:

I was in a near head-on crash in France. Things happened so fast that I really didn’t have time to think about G-d’s plan for me.

January 25, 2008 at 5:27 pm
(11) John Hanks says:

I think it is safe to say that some people were scared to G-d after the 911 stunt. They were too scared to think and to lazy to find out.

January 25, 2008 at 5:42 pm
(12) Tom Edgar says:

Please bear with me, I served on a British Tanker in WW11 and penned this little item many years ago. All situations true.The action was off the coast of Florida Jan 1944
My Mom is my God.
No Atheists in foxholes will you ever find
The Mission Padre intoned sententiously

More appropriate words he could have chosen
When addressing cynical Merchant Seamen

Well, at sea shovels are very hard to find
Then digging watery holes so unproductive.

The Padre saw our glances skeptic
And our supercilious smiles at his invective

When next you’re in some dire sea storm danger
To HIM you’ll call to save you from the Devil

I then recalled from years before, my big fright
A wartime tanker, dead calm sea, clear dark night

On lookout for any phosphorescent torpedo line.
Whether missed or seen could end your time.

Then off the starboard bow, I saw the deadly sreak,
Coming straight and true and heading straight at me

No time to reach the phone, nor ring the bell
To the bridge I turned, prepared a mighty yell

But with legs like jelly and throat constricted
My voice had gone, but’twas just as well, as then

I saw two more killer trails.With death to come
I could only manage a squeaky Oh!Oh! Mom

On came those fearsome wakes to strike home,and
Reached our crashing bow wave foam, then turned

Without reducing speed, taking it in their stride.
For Gratis, very playfully, they surfed a ride

You may think Dolphins cute in aquatic shows,
But not when imitating enemy torpedoes.

Believe me I lived through the London Blitz, was bombed out. Been fired at by Iraqi and Iranian citizens. At sea for seven years and you don’t stay at sea long even in peace time without being exposed to danger. Never once have I been tempted to embrace religion.
Tom Edgar Australia

January 26, 2008 at 1:01 am
(13) Tom Edgar says:

Ps. Not wising to be pedantic, just factual. The action with the Dolphins
was January 1945 not 44.

January 26, 2008 at 11:28 am
(14) Mike says:

I’ve got to say it’s been a real pleasure listening to you all!

January 26, 2008 at 3:03 pm
(15) Mac McCain says:

I served a year of combat in Viet Nam back in 1971. I find the comment that there are no atheist in foxholes insulting. It infers that we are all cowards and that in the face of danger we suddenly convert. Quite the contrary, I never once saw a case where someone’s religion made him more couragious in battle and certainly not more pious in the daily stress of combat. Though many were so thankful to god for getting them through tough time after the fighting was over, none were ever able to explain why their god got them into the predicament in the first place

January 26, 2008 at 8:51 pm
(16) Daniel says:

When I was 17 years old my girlfriend at the time had to undergo an operation. I was terrified and recall lying in bed while looking at the ceiling and asking “god” to look after her and let the surgery go well.

I can say now, in hindsight, that I was still young and when I think of it today, I can only laugh about it. It was very stupid of me to think like that.

January 28, 2008 at 10:58 am
(17) Tim says:

I rode out a Cat 3 hurricane in a mobile home. The eye of the storm passed right over me. I had walked a mile to get to that trailer, through wind so hard that it blew the rain through my closed eyelids; wind so hard that I had to lean against it to keep from being blown down. Since then, I’ve been in five or six major hurricanes, including the one that got forgotten after Katrina hit (Ivan). I’ve also been in car accidents, suffered a tib-fib fracture on a cold and rainy night and even passed seven kidney stones. It offends me when people suggest that something other than wits, planning, patience and coincidence got me through all of these situations. I’ve never served in the military, so I’ve never been in a foxhole, but I’ve known atheists who served and one of them said this: “There are no holes in atheist foxes!” I know that my Southern Baptist in-laws hope that with each scrape I get into I’ll “see the light,” but every time they’re disappointed and they’ll keep on being disappointed.

January 28, 2008 at 2:54 pm
(18) Drew says:

Hello. I am an Army Reserve officer in an infantry regiment in the least religious Canadian province, British Columbia. Discussions about religion have come up twice in the last year amongst the officers of my unit, because one of our charismatic and vocal senior officers is agnostic, and not shy to talk about it. As an atheist activist, I have noted with satisfaction that when he makes scathing comments about religion, they are met with agreement by not just some, but most, of those who are listening. Those with no comments may be religious, or they may not be – but it has surprised and encouraged me to observe that amongst this group of soldiers, religious belief is probably a minority position. I have confirmed the atheism or agnosticism of at least three other junior officers from these discussions. Also, when I was doing recruiting work, the choice of the religious “swearing in” and the non-religious “solemn affirmation” by new soldiers was split almost evenly in half, suggesting that half of the non-commisioned soldiers now joining are atheist, agnostic, or non-religious.

January 30, 2008 at 4:56 pm
(19) J-Wo says:

For fun, why don’t we just reverse the maxim and say “there are no theists in laboratories”.

I think if we analyze the situation, people in the grip of life-threatening fear–in which they know that they are relatively powerless to change–will often compensate for that lack of power by evoking something/someone that will hopefully save them. Among those who have survived (we don’t get to talk to the dead), those who are primed to feel gratitude toward a specific mythical deity will usually credit it with having saved him/her, which is very appealing to his/her religious community for propaganda purposes. Religious speech is creative poetry and those who can belt it out are rock stars.

As for the laboratory (or the court room or the betting parlor), any situation in which the most valuable outcome is the one that yields the most unassailable fact is one in which wishful thinking is relegated to irrelevance. Whatever theism could disingenuously construe as valid is evaporated like dew after the morning sun has risen (you like that?! that’s poetry, it’s what religion is but pretends not to be, sort of like how hucksters should just come out and say they’re illusionists and just entertain instead of bilk).

February 21, 2008 at 1:04 am
(20) Gecko Roamin says:

Ivan was in 2004, a year before Katrina. Did you mean Rita?

February 21, 2008 at 2:24 pm
(21) phrog says:

I took that as Ivan was soon forgotten after the likes of Katrina.

I served in the Military in the Viet Nam era, but did my time in Germany. I was openly Atheist but knew of only one other with like beliefs on our post. I’m sure others were there, just not out. The hardest part was in basic training. Those not going to church Sunday were given a shit detail. So guess where I spent Sunday Morning, yup, among the prudes in the pews.

March 2, 2008 at 7:28 pm
(22) Elle says:

I was a proud atheist for years. But last night I was in a really bad car accident. I feel asleep and when I woke up the car had been totalled. I thought I was dying and started crying out to God. Once I was on the stretcher, I was right back to being atheist. But that threw me into an identity crisis because I really LIKED being atheist. Maybe it’s impossible for some people to ever shake off religious conditioning, too bad. God really sucks :(

March 12, 2008 at 2:07 am
(23) Zack says:

I was a proud atheist for years. But last night I was in a really bad car accident. Comment by Elle — March 2, 2008 @ 7:28 pm

You were in a “really bad” car accident last night, and tonight you’re online posting on a message board?

Either the accident wasn’t as bad as all that, or you really love the internet.

March 12, 2008 at 3:12 am
(24) matt says:


I feel you on that one. After two sundays of cleaning the barracks I started attending what they called buddhist services. It actually was pretty cool. No god, no preaching, and I find meditation very relaxing. Unfortunately, due to theistic bigotry, the services were shut down shorty after I left. Ft. Benning has a real problem with that. I remember while I was there a captain said to me “Buddha isn’t going to answer your prayers, you need Jesus.” I was speechless…

March 13, 2008 at 5:26 pm
(25) JimboB says:

I’ve been in several car accidents… two of them were quite severe. On one occasion I passed out while driving (I still don’t know why), and apparently drove off the road and rolled my car upside-down. I walked away without a scratch. On another occasion, I lost traction going down an icy hill and slammed into a telephone pole. Once again I walked away with no serious injuries. In neither occasion did I invoke a deity, vainly hoping he/she/it would protect me. The only thought going through my mind while hurling toward that telephone pole was “If I survive, I’m gonna be late for work.”

May 31, 2012 at 3:26 pm
(26) Dean J. Smith says:

Open-heart surgery. I was amused when the hospital chaplain swung by a couple of days after my surgery, it was the first time praying even crossed my mind and it occurred to me he was a little late.

June 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm
(27) JTL says:

I was in a rather large earthquake where the building was starting to come apart and the ceiling was falling in. I was on the third floor of this building. It seemed as if I was going to die in the building’s collapse. As soon as I was sure that I was going to die, a feeling of peace came over me and I was no longer afraid. There were no thoughts of any gods or religion in my mind whatsoever. I did not suddenly begin to pray or shout out for some god. I’ve been shot at before and I’ve been in some very dangerous situations. At no time did I convert to Christianity or any other religion. The phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” is bullshit. There may be some cowards in foxholes, however.

June 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm
(28) Perry says:

My near drowning experience, in my early 30′s, was VERY meaningful, and I have related to it many times now up to 68. At the time that the white light began, and at the moment that all the pain and panic disappeared, I was surprised! My life to then had included a lot of fast motorcycles and risky behavior. The clear thought that I remember as a quote, was: “I’ll be damned, I never thought I was going to drown!”

I had no further conscious thought until my wide open eyes focused on the ripples of the sandy bottom of the bottom of the pool below the rapid. Again, an exact quote: “If you can see that, you don’t have to die.”

I pushed off the bottom and reached help on the surface, and had a very rough balance of the day!

Notwithstanding being “damned”, an expression I picked up from my dad, there was nothing in the experience to suggest that the paranormal was involved.

I love holding the knowledge that at a certain point of pain, fear, and hopelessness, our beautiful brain shuts off the bad stuff. At least mine did.

June 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm
(29) James Morgan says:

I wasn’t an atheist when I arrived in Korea as an infatry platoon leader in July, 1952. I was when I left in 1953.

June 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm
(30) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

I have always been afraid of heights (phobic proportions)! I often wondered if, while standing at the door of an airplane, at 10 to 15,000 feet, would I experience any religious impulse.

If I was concerned about anything, it was putting my foot on the tiny platform welded to the landing gear below the door.

See for yourself. Goto

I have now jumped four more times.


June 1, 2012 at 11:38 pm
(31) MaryL says:

With my parents, I rode out a hurricane in a double-wide mobile home. It went right over us. The back side of the storm was a lot worse than the front. That was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever experienced. Those things spawn tornados that sound like trains as they go overhead. And they make the house shake; as the major wind gusts do, too. I was scared (we all were), but that didn’t affect my atheism. I can’t see why it would.

June 2, 2012 at 7:08 am
(32) OZAtheist says:

Hi Grandpa,

I watched your video clip – my you are a handsome devil.

I have never been silly enough to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane, but have had some very scary experiences that, non the less, did not have me searching for a deity to seek solace from.

June 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm
(33) Ron says:

Hi grandpa. watched your video. I was a recreational pilot for a little over 50 years. during that time I had 3 engine failures. But, I never once, NEVER ONCE EVER had any thoughts about jumping out of an airplane. If it was on fire, maybe, but otherwise, NO!

June 3, 2012 at 5:01 am
(34) John Conolley says:

I was stabbed eight times in the Columbus Circle subway station. I could feel the blood pouring into my stomach. I very nearly died. I had emergency surgery without benefit of anesthetic. They cut my belly open, cauterized it, cut it deeper, cauterized it, cut it deeper, cauterized it. My heart stopped, both lungs collapsed, my core temperature dropped to 95. At no time during or after any of this did I even think of God or praying. It just never occurred to me.

June 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm
(35) D.B. says:

Thanks for the great stories! Very inspirational.

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