Study Says There Are No Atheists in Foxholes

A study entitled “Death, Trauma and God: The Effect of Military Deployments on Religiosity” was covered at the Economist, in which the authors noted

According to a working paper published this week by Resul Cesur, Travis Freidman and Joseph Sabia, a trio of economists in America, there is some truth to the adage that there are no atheists in foxholes. Or rather, wartime trauma often makes people turn to God.

The article refers to two different analyses conducted in the study, in which

They find compelling evidence that those who have served in combat zones and directly engaged the enemy are more likely to attend religious services regularly than are those who have not.

There is some degree of truth in the statement that “there are no atheists in foxholes”, as there is in essentially every cliché. It’s an interesting discussion on the impact of how facing one’s mortality affects one’s view of eternity.

Some atheists, however, see it as a slight against their relative moral character. In his attempt to “defend” atheists, then US-Army Sgt Justin Griffith demeaned chaplains when he tried to popularize the phrase “there are no chaplains in foxholes.” Even though he was, for a time, an MRFF “client”, his criticisms failed.

Outspoken atheist and former US Army Captain Jason Torpy has also bristled at virtually every mention of the phrase — including the last time it came up in research, as reported at Psychology Today back in 2012. Asked then to comment on research indicating the topic of death “weakened the disbelief” of atheists, Torpy instead took the opportunity to mock religion:

People would be better served by seeking comfort in reality,” he said. “Fantasy-based coping can only delay the inevitable reckoning with the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’”.

The funny thing is Jason Torpy had to dismiss scientific reality to make that statement.

Sure, there are those who maintain their disbelief even in foxholes, and there are even those who move away from God as a result of their experience in war. But that does not negate the fact that those who claim to not believe or not care can have their very philosophical foundation shaken by experiences with death and war.

There’s a reason, after all, they call it a “come to Jesus” moment.


One comment

  • The most interesting and insightful phrase of the week: “weakening of disbelief.”

    “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Been there, done that.