General Marty Dempsey: There Are No Atheists in Foxholes

dempsey3Almost exactly a year ago, US Army General Martin Dempsey was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the top ranking uniformed member of the US military and primary military advisor to the President. Known for his humility and his penchant for singing, he was not as publicly known for his faith — something that appears to be showing now that he is retired.

Appearing at Duke University on September 8th, now-retired Gen Dempsey spoke of his experiences with morality, religion, and faith in the US military — including his agreement with the belief that “there are no atheists in foxholes” [emphasis added]:

“You know that thing about ‘there’s no atheist in a foxhole?’ It’s true,” Dempsey said.

There was none of this, ‘oh my gosh you shouldn’t be praying in your uniform, let’s keep separation of church and state’ — you go into something like Baghdad, you’re going to say a prayer before, during and after.”

The timing was surely a coincidence, but General Dempsey’s statement about the importance of faith — including the nonsensical claim of church/state separation prohibiting military prayer — came just days after his alma mater at West Point appeared to rely on that very concept to restrict the ability of their football coach to pray with his team.

More importantly, it has been noted here many times that military leaders have frequently called on their troops to rely on their moral compass — without finishing the sentence and telling them upon what to base that moral compass, or where that moral compass is supposed to point.

General Dempsey finally finished the sentence, when he

said his Catholicism was important in defining his moral values as a leader in the military…

He stressed to the largely Catholic audience that organized religion is an important way to develop a moral compass.

While he wasn’t overtly religious while in uniform, General Dempsey didn’t aggressively avoid association with faith, either, as some have been wont to do. For example, in an era in which many people said all you had to do was “shoot straight” to be in the military, General Dempsey actually emphasized character over competence. He similarly preached on the need for “moral courage.” He didn’t shy from taking the stage with the Christian Duck Dynasty family, he actually used the words “Merry Christmas” (shocking, isn’t it?), and he even scolded people who didn’t know the words to “God Bless America” as he led them in song.

Interestingly, General Dempsey took his post immediately after the repeal of DADT, and then left his post immediately before the DoD lifted the ban on transgenders (but after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had made known it was going to happen). Given the apparent importance of his faith, morality, and character — things that men of faith find at odds with the social push for sexual liberty — it would be interesting to know if that timing was (yet another) pure coincidence.



  • And yet there ARE atheists in foxholes.

    • @Donalbain
      No offense intended, but given the context it is kind of funny that your link for “atheists in foxholes” goes to a “page not found” error. The MAAF is actually .org, not .com.

      Also, the MAAF is atheists in the military, which isn’t exactly what either Gen Dempsey or that cliché refers to. The cliché is not an absolute truth. But there is some truth in it.

    • @Donalbain,

      Just because you post a website of an association that describes themselves as military atheists, does not prove that there are atheists in foxholes. I would argue that there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole, because there is no such thing as an atheist. God has revealed Himself to everyone so all are without excuse (Rom 1:19-20), which is why (self-described) atheists are called fools for obstinately evading (moral sense) the truth of God’s existence that they suppress (Ps. 14:1).

      As a Christian, I can make knowledge claims (Prov 1:7) because I have justification for my beliefs (Prov 19:7-8) while the atheists cannot. If a self-described atheist were to make any knowledge claims, they need to first justify knowledge, and apart from God, there is no knowledge, which is why their arguments will always be circular, and absurd. An atheist cannot account for logic or moral absolutes, unless they borrow from my worldview, because the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for intelligibility.

      Just Ask Jason Torpy, as the President of the Military Association of Atheists, he will not debate the issue, as he will evade this at all cost. If he did, I will not have to prove God’s existence, because Jason will. Guaranteed.

      Very Respectfully,

      Psalm 19:1

    • And yet I, and many others ARE atheists and you are a liar.

  • He claimed that there are no atheists in foxholes.
    There are lots of atheists in foxholes.

    What is it called when someone makes claims that he knows to be untrue? And are there any rules about it in some sort of big book of magic?

    • @Donalbain
      You could just as easily say he’s being anachronistic because the military doesn’t use foxholes anymore. But that is equally pedantic.

  • OK. So you are fine with him lying about the soldiers he worked with. Always good to see your moral compass at work.

  • As a son of a WWII Marine who served on Guadalcanal during the height of the fighting, if my dad were alive today, I am sure he would agree there was no atheists in foxholes then! Not when the bullets are flying and Japanese bombers are bombing you night and day to try to destroy the airfield there called Henderson Field.

  • What I’ve learned from my atheist foxhole friends is they did pray (sorta), it was more like “I wish those fly-boys would hurry up and drop some bombs on the gooks so we can get the hell out of here” kinda of prayer. Not looking for divine intervention; they knew there wasn’t much hope on that front. Gen Martin could have easily consuetude (not lied) our troops may have really been praying for god to smite the bad guys when they were asking for their buddies with bigger guns.

    But really, in the big scheme of things whats the diff? Bombers, guns or gods…help eventually came for some lucky fellas.

    There isn’t going to be a go-along-to-get-along Military anymore. Troops seem to be standing their ground, whether believing or disbelieving these days. My guys are pretty much in the “Meh” pile, if Johnny wants to pray, ok lets pray; Bobby says leave me out of it, ok Bobby is out. All respected positions.

    Are we making mountains out of mole hills here or is it just Mikey Weinstein, LGBT sinners, the deplorables (grin) and democrats/liberals against the religious right? Just wondering.