There are No Atheists in Foxholes

The phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” is not without controversy.  (In fact, one Soldier even went so far as to file an official complaint because an officer used the “discriminatory” phrase.)  The old saying, whose origin is unknown, isn’t meant as a moral conclusion or a statement of fitness.  It simply characterizes the belief that in extreme situations and faced with mortal danger, many people are open to the concept of some form of higher power.

There are certainly examples of the opposite truth.  A New Hampshire publication recounts the recent award of a medal to a World War II veteran.  Milton “Chris” Christian, an 84-year old vet, was presented with a Bronze Star for his service 60 years ago.  In the article, he says

“They say there are no atheists in foxholes. But as we sat in those holes, praying that God would save us, I thought about the fact that the other side was doing the same thing. And then I wondered if God is just playing some kind of game with us. Pretty much I decided at that point there was no God,” Christian said.

“For the rest of my life, I’ve tried to do the right thing. I raised a beautiful bunch of kids — and they truly are my greatest accomplishment. So I’m not worried about what’s next. If there is a God, I think he’ll know that I just did the best I could. That’s all a man can do.”

(Contrast Christian’s beliefs with those of Garrett, another WWII veteran.)

The military is made up of men and women of all belief systems, and men and women in the US military sometimes adopt other belief systems, just as they do in the civilian society from which they are drawn.  Mortal combat makes men neither religious nor a-religious, but it certainly brings the larger questions of life to the forefront of discussion, regardless what their beliefs may be.

Still, the sentiment about there being “no atheists in foxholes” isn’t completely without basis.  “Near death” experiences in civilian tragedies also stereotypically “bring people to God,” giving credence to the thought that those faced with the possibility of death at least consider the existence of something outside of themselves.  Stories abound about military Soldiers seeing the ‘greater power’ in a deadly or near-deadly encounter.  Take, for example, the story of US Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan T. Mathison, as recounted in the New York Times.

During a foot patrol,  Mathison stepped on a pressure plate designed to detonate an IED.  The pressure plate ignited the firing charge, but the bomb itself failed to explode, resulting in only a small puff and a few small rocks blown into the air.  As the investigation revealed the size and scope of the weapon (it would likely have killed the majority of their team had it worked), the Marines had the stereotypical (and “offensive”) reaction:

“Well, Matty,” said Lance Corporal Hickson, his voice rising. “You might want to stop drinking, stop cussing.”

Lance Cpl. Jacob M. Ohl, 19, interrupted. “Hickson was reading the Bible last night,” he said. “Been to church three times in his life, and last night he was reading the Bible.”

“I saved you,” Lance Corporal [Calvin] Hickson said.

“If this really was an IED, then you ain’t drinking with me,” [Mathinson] said. “Because I’m done drinking. I’m going back to the way I was before I joined the Corps.”

Not dying–when everything indicates they should have–made these men muse, even jokingly, about the existence of some higher power.

There may be atheists in foxholes.  Somehow, though, it’s unlikely Lance Cpl Mathison is one of them.


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  • Shall we also BAN anyone NAMED Christian from America? Seeing how it must ‘offend’ those who hate God.

  • These lost souls should read why they hate God so much. Its funny that they make such a huge stink about God being mentioned. If they truly were atheists, then they wouldn’t care. no one would be ‘offended’ if I placed an Ostrich Sign or flag in public, they’d laugh. Or if that Sergeant had said, “there ain’t no burglars in foxholes”, that man wouldn’t have filed a case. Talk about frivolous.

    are they also offended by the hamburgler? he doesn’t exist ya know. Oh, but if he were real and was going to judge your soul after your death according to your deeds, then I suppose someone would be offended. cause after all, no one wants to go to hell. But, if hell isn’t real, then what’s the offence and all the fuss about? LOL. Really its not funny, its sad, because those are ones that God told us about in Romans Chapter One verses 18-32.

    They SHOULD be scared. but they are sadly mistaken and too proud to be scared. They are in fact… king of cowards.

  • Benjamin Rush — your statements are a bit childish. It is a foregone conclusion that people have believed in deities [gods] for thousands of years. It is understandable that a child could be given a name that may have come from a religious book, or for that matter, handed down from generations. It is also not uncommon for people to fear what they do not understand. I also find that some things people do are ridiculous and frivolous, but its a free country so that’s why we have shrinks, lawyers and judges; hopefully to sort it all out.

    Atheists do not believe there is a god…period. Nothing else attached. Atheism is NOT a religion and has no holy book. There are atheists all over the world and many are familiar with more than one religion, and probably raised in one as well. Atheists do not care that people believe in a deity, most just want that belief to be a private matter not a public one. It is basically no different than a Christian [or religious person] wanting atheists to be quite too [like you!].

    Atheists are not concerned with the judgment or their soul, burning in hell or anything one reads in the Christian bible. Most atheists lead good lives, give to the poor, help at school, drink responsibly and pay their taxes and everything else Americans do in this country.

    I read your website and conclude you could very well be a religious zealot, purely by your statement “Wake Up AND TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” What exactly do you need to take back? Do you believe you have some special rights that non-believers don’t have? If you believe the things that atheists do are frivolous then why bother? You see Mr. Rush, there are a lot of issue to deal with for all of us to live as peacefully and comfortably as possible on this planet and not everyone is going to get their cake and eat it too. However, we must find an equal balance somehow and it can’t be done by fear or intimidation.

    No one has all of the answers, but with dialog and understanding there could be balance. Be sure to check your “King of Cowards” attitude at the door if you want to play again.

  • to the Atheist, how is my answer childish? Its correct. I just used childish things to point out an idea and make the point. And point was if something I KNOW not to be real is placed everywhere and someone told me that if I didn’t obey this “widget” (of course the Creator is not a widget) that I would burn in hell and I didn’t believe it, then Id laugh. I WOULD NOT CARE if traditionally they had been setting nativities up for 400 years prior to my birth. I would go about my day as if it didn’t exist, or make one difference in my life. But, most people cannot do that. Because it there is something to it, that they cant place. They cant understand the life behind its simplicity. So they want it out of sight, out of mind. God said this in Romans Chapter one. The people worshiped the creature more than the creator and did NOT want to retain God in their thoughts so he gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things that are not convenient.

    hose Atheists that claim not to believe in a God, get angered when they see a nativity or hear Merry Christmas or whatever. There wouldn’t even BE a Christmas if it weren’t for Christ. If anything, the Corporations should be thankful more than anyone for the fact that this is their best selling season on many items. Maybe not as much now with the economy, but certainly was when our economy was good. People were spending stupidly for one another. All for a day to Honor someone who claimed to be God.

    Again, id laugh at all of the non-sense if I truly believed it to not be real. I wouldn’t be angry. I don’t get angry when I see Barney on TV. or see any characters from Disney on TV. Or a display of them in a store. I don’t demand that the store remove them from their shelves or else …law suit.

    It’s not a childish argument. I actually find your rebuttal filled with a void of logic.

    If someone set a giant Cross on their private property, then it is their RIGHT according to the Constitution to do so. It is private property. Especially if that Cross cannot be ran into by a plane, pose no danger to electric lines etc, etc, etc. Yet, some people get offended at this. Again, WHY not LEAVE THEM ALONE if it isn’t real, and B) its on private land and C) it IS their right to have it up for whatever reasons they wish. The courts, government or any other private citizen truly have NO BUSINESS being in their life about this issue, yet there are cases all over the USA where this has happened.

    You should be concerned as much as the person being preyed on by the Government and whiney folks that get angry by viewing lifeless wooden poles placed in a certain design (I’m being sarcastic) for Gov being larger than allowed or ever intended, breaking laws to get things accomplished that are invasive, childish and IF there is no God, then apparently a waste of taxpayers money to have it accomplished. Those are ultimately YOUR rights being washed down the tubes as well. Eventually. Its only a matter of time before that cross or nativity becomes something YOU are fond of.

    The fact is, if it was a giant statue of Budda, no one would say a word and freedom of religion would Live on as is LEGAL in this country. But if it has anything to do with Christianity, everyone (actually a very small minority) get in a hissy fit and raise enough hell to have it removed, going against the constitution to do it, setting legal presidents and changing things for the worse. Leave it alone if it is of no value. That’s evidence that it IS of value.

    Also, this is just good advice: Don’t be so uptight and sensitive to someone else’s (especially a drill sergeant’s) comments about ANYTHING if you find it null and void.

    Because I only touched on a couple subjects. I have done this before and there are many roads that all lead to the same place in this debate. I’ve heard them all. But I haven’t ever heard a good one yet. The evidence is in Creation itself, its in the stars, in our eyes. Its incredibly ignorant to believe that all of this is an accident. The scientific probabilities are exponentially IMPROBABLE.

    Meaning, that if you took a marble and dropped it on the floor until it became a living, breathing organism, how many times would you need to drop the marble on the floor until that happened? Ok or say you lit a firecracker. How many firecrackers would it take to explode before life formed from out of the bang? Yet, with all of mans technology they still cannot create something from NOTHING. But God did. And where we did not like to retain God in our knowledge and He gave us over to a reprobate mind to do those things which aren’t convenient, he still wrote His laws on each of our consciences. So that we DO know right from wrong. You said so yourself. That you’re a basically good person. Compared to whom? Or what? Charles mansion or Hitler? We all are. Cain?

    You are aware that the Bible is 100% documented fact and is been proven beyond doubt to be accurate time and time again by historians, archeologists, theologians, doctors, scientists, there isn’t ONE place in the Bible that has been proven wrong and with the 100’s of proven future telling prophecies that have already come true, the probabilities of that alone are also exponentially improbable. And yet again, it happened. There is more evidence of God in the world He created and the Book He had written about Himself than all the men and all of mans books combined trying to disprove God exists.

  • Wow. That is a stupid rant. Nobody has sued anyone because they said merry Christmas. Nobody has sued anyone over private displays of nativities.

  • Well Don, I wouldn’t necessarily say “stupid” but maybe uninformed. The beautiful stars in the sky are made by hydrogen and helium over a long period of time and I’m happy to know this. Because I know how they are made doesn’t make them any less beautiful nor does it conjure any thoughts in my mind that an imaginary man in the sky made the hydrogen and helium and “poof” there are stars.

    Your childish comparisons of Barney and Disney characters and capitalistic corporations making money with regard to atheists perspectives during the holiday season are silly nor logical. Barney and Disney characters are real enough; imaginary gods are not real; well I don’t think I’ve seen a Zeus doll at KB Toys anyway.

    I also love Christmas time, and I know lots of atheists that do too and even support our local angel tree program; to help the less fortunate. Almost everybody is all warm and fuzzy inside and can’t wait for a present from loved ones…even if it’s just one little thing. Not saying everybody will get a gift or be warm and fuzzy, but I can only hope they will/do. I also don’t have any problems with nativity displays if that’s what make people happy. Hardly ANYONE talks about the “Christian true meaning of Christmas” nor do we need an imaginary man in the sky to appreciate life, love, liberty, health and happiness. I think the problem lies in the message and that everyone must comply “with a biblical view” and that is just not the case.

    BTW – my next door “Christian” neighbor has a cross above his front door, makes visitor take their shoes off before going in, goes to church every Sunday, doesn’t like Halloween (devil worship he says), but still treats his atheists neighbor just like family…guess we all aren’t that bad after all.

    I’m not aware that the bible is 100% documented fact; however, how can that be if a biblical scholar from NC says this:

    Only 8 of the 27 books of the New Testament were actually written by the authors to whom they’re attributed. Others are likely forgeries.

    The gospels provide remarkably divergent portrayals of Jesus.

    The message of the Apostle Paul and the message of gospel writer Matthew are completely at odds over the question of whether a follower of Jesus also had to observe the Jewish law.

    The Nicene Creed and the Trinity were constructs of the later church and are not found in the pages of the Bible.

    Traditional doctrines such as the suffering Messiah, the divinity of Christ, and the notion of heaven and hell are not based on the teachings of the historical Jesus.

    The commonly told story of Jesus — his birth, death, and resurrection is actually a composite of four vastly different gospel narratives.

    I can only assume that not everyone is one the same page or reading the same book(s) after all. So, Mr. Rush…can this biblical (Ph.D.) scholar be wrong?

  • watchtower,

    good response to passionate discourse. A few questions of my own though:

    You basically state that atheists in general are just as civil and gracious as Christians. I’m not arguing this statement, but I’ve never had a chance to ask an atheist this, and I not (intentionally) leading you into an argument, or trying to trick you. But, what is the generic atheist’s motivation for doing charitable actions? Generically speaking, Christians do those actions because we have submitted to our Creator, and He asks us to do those good actions. I submit that Christians are not doing a good job of following said rules, but I’m truly interested in knowing the source of the motivation.

    You mention the stars are beautiful. I agree, yet I believe they were created to be in the pattern we see them. In fact, everything that I consider beautiful is a created entity. I do not consider randomness beautiful, and I’d be surprised if anyone admires the snow on the TV when cable is out. So if the stars were created randomly, how can they be beautiful? If they aren’t random, and not created by God, then what are they?

    Finally, I’d be interested in your sources on the last third of your last message, especially what portions of traditional doctrines are not based on teachings of Jesus.

  • I am an atheist. My motivation for doing charitable works is pretty simple. I would like to live in a world where people are not hungry. I do my best to make that world come about. It is something I call “empathy”.

  • Well Dealer, I do not find our blogging debates argumentative at all. In fact, this is the first “Christian” themed website I find willing to debate the issue quite logically (for the most part).

    Like Donalbain I can empathize with the less fortunate, my motivation comes from my desire to make a better world…or at the very least, better than I have it. For you to better understand my position you will need a bit of background. Both my parents taught me kindness, courtesy and politeness. Neither parent was especially religious although my mom was an organist at many bases/local churches. My father was a Military man, starting in the Navy then switched to AF. We went to church when I was younger (60’s & 70’s) but I don’t recall learning much from these experiences. We did not say grace before eating and I don’t recall seeing a bible laying about the house; Christmas was pretty much the way I see it today. Growing up there wasn’t much talk about religion or god, not even through high school. In fact, I don’t even recall my friends having much involvement with church/religious happenings, but if they did it wasn’t obvious to me.

    In college I met many people from many faiths [religions] and each had their way of looking at the world. It was a very interesting time for me and I learned a lot. The most interesting thing of all was there was no proselytizing or judging by anyone (except the humanities professor). I came to believe that everybody had something to hold onto, yet keep it to themselves, share with friends or just to get thru life’s challenges. Some would say these were simpler times, and I tend to agree somewhat given todays world.

    Now the humanities professor. A small man with cobalt blue eyes and sunken eye sockets and wavy blonde hair. His entire course was set purely around religion and not much else. While he tried to convince us that we needed his teaching he most certainly tried to make us all Catholics. It was then I began my quest for no god(s). I complained to the Dean about this professor and ultimately I was given a passing grade to avoid this problem going public. At that time I made up my mind not to judge, so I decided to become kinda half archeologist and half investigative reporter.

    Over the years I became to know that most people just want to do the right thing and their “life experiences” makes them do it. Unlike you I do not need to submit to a “Creator” who asks me to do good action. I’m not discounting that a belief is a deity helps people get by as long as that isn’t forced upon another. An example of that force could be taken from this example from another section of this website “Chuck Colson on Engaging the Culture”

    A quote from Supreme Court Justice William Douglas:
    “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being…When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities…it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs”.

    The reason I disagree with this statement is because it destroys free will. It’s kinda like saying people can’t be/do good unless they have a god to make them. I also want to make my own traditions. I have witnessed greatness/goodness for many years by a lot of wonderful people. Not saying that they were all atheists, many are. However, it must be a personal desire to be or do good regardless of a deity.

    Dr. Bart Ehrman [] is the Ph.D I quoted.

  • I just realized I did not respond to Dealers questions about stars.

    I have not pondered too much why the stars are beautiful to me, but just accept the facts that’s the way it is, kinda like an artist’s painting. We know very little scientifically about how the universe was formed, but like everything else we’ve discovered I believe that one day we may know. But if we never find out for sure I’m happy with that too. On a different thought, it’s very possible I was told or read that the stars are beautiful over and over again and it just became the norm but I don’t know. I guess it’s no different in how people perceive other people, for example, how they look; how do I know what is good looking verses ugly looking? Was I taught this…I just don’t know.

    We truly do not know if the stars are created [by a deity] or if the pattern is random; and really, do we need to examine it that much? I guess there is a quest to “know” everything and that can be a good thing. I also believe that not knowing, at least for now, can be a good thing too…keeps the quest to find out alive.

    A final thought for you: It’s often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That said, what is the standard for beauty? It is my opinion this is a “learned” standard by a person’s surroundings, education, development, relationships and our personal interpretations of all of these. It can include the belief in a creator, but for me the creator part is just another unknown until we do know. I will not presuppose star creation beyond hydrogen and helium over a long period of time until I hear/see otherwise.

    By the way…my cat loves the snow on the TV; at least she seems to be cause I only see her stare at the TV during the “snowy” times. LOL

  • watchtower,

    sorry for the delay – I’m in the process of a PCS. Thank you for the full answer, you’re putting yourself rather far out there. Thank you for the logical assessment of these posts. I try to think logically about this, which is difficult at times, and I appreciate your opposing logic.

    I think I understand your viewpoint better now. It doesn’t make logical sense to me, specifically two points. You believe that most people want to do the right thing based on empathy towards others drawn from life experiences. I think that may be true in some locations, with some groups, but not as a general rule. What I see as a general rule of many people is a reflection of the society in which they are living. I believe philosophers have a tiered behavior pattern based on this, in which case performing to society’s standard is level 2 of 3, but it’s been 7 years since that class and all my notes are packed up right now.

    Case in point is areas like Fallujah post-invasion, or New Orleans post-Katrina, or neighborhoods caught in inner-city gang wars. The society established in those areas is much more self-centered. Another case is any toddler who wants a toy: “If I want it, and I can take it from you, it’s mine!” Such attitudes are changed through instruction in a society that promotes neighborly behavior. I submit that in many locations in the US, such a society exists because of our religious background.

    The second point I disagree with is your decision not to judge. I might need more information/precision on your views here though. You rightfully objected to overt, forceful proselytizing from your professor. I equally object to the same, but from the other side. Chuck Colson’s article specifically mentions the anti-religious tone of recent political changes. Your response to force is to retire from judging. My response is slightly different. I’m under command to not judge, and my interpretation is to not judge a person’s worth or value. Judging their actions is fair game, so long as I judge them in a manner that would help them. An example to explain: I think that promiscuity is wrong, and hurtful. A number of my colleagues are promiscuous. I should not judge them as so far gone that they are not worth loving, but I should encourage them to make choices that are good for them. I also should ensure that I listen to them, rather than just push my own agenda.

    You stated you don’t judge, yet you are trying to convince me that I shouldn’t judge either. Therefore you are judging me for judging others. Logically that doesn’t stand.

    I also agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think the stars are beautiful because they are something that we humans can not make on our own. There is a different between ‘how’ and ‘why’ that was not mentioned. There is a lot about the origin of the universe that we do not know, mainly how did it happen. I’m more interested in why it happened; but learning all there is to know about how does not help us learn the why. I know why I’m here: God wanted to create something so that He could love it. Rather humbling when I think about it; maybe I should think about that more often…

    Lastly, I’d love to look up your references, but I have a truck to catch in the morning.

    P.S. Funny note about your cat. Do you think our kids are going to know what TV snow even is?