There Are Some Brave Atheists in Foxholes

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, has a great interview in The Atlantic about atheists in foxholes:

What services could military chaplains provide to atheists? Should they be handing out books by Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins?

Every military chaplain has to agree to provide mentorship and support to every service member. That’s part of the job description, even though 98 percent of them are Christians. They should be able to give general instruction in an open way and point the person in the right direction. At the very least, chaplains should be able to say, “I have someone you can talk to,” even if it’s a civilian or someone off post. They should know about national organizations and local groups that can help troops get to where they need to be.

That brings to mind the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. When you faced danger with the Army in Iraq, what were the thoughts that ran through your mind?

I should say, first off, that I was not a running firefight Army ranger. But I was in Baghdad when a mortar attack started to come down, exploding all around us. I was with two others, who also happened to be atheists. They were my friends and we were all together when the attack happened. We sought cover beside a building as the mortars exploded. There was a bunker 50 feet away through the open, so we busied ourselves deciding whether it was safer to stay in partial cover beside the building or run across in the open to get to better cover in a bunker. We decided to stay. And it was all right.

So there are atheists in foxholes. Sometimes we get hit, and sometimes we don’t. In either case, we’re worrying about how to complete the mission…

This weekend, Jason will be speaking at The United States Military Academy’s 12th Annual Diversity Leadership Conference at West Point — I’m glad the USMA is reaching out to Jason and they couldn’t have selected a better representative of our community:

He will be speaking on reforms necessary to better provide for atheists and humanists in the military.


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Guest

    I am a veteran.  I find it sad and upsetting that in a time when so many service members are struggling with PTSD and have taken their own lives, the military is providing Chaplains as the on site responders during crisis; when what we really need (ed) were highly trained behavioral health specialists.  

  • Trina

    Good story, and I hope it bears fruit.  To Guest, and all the other servicemembers and veterans out there, you have my support to the extent I can give it.    I have a Vietnam veteran in my family, and I know other veterans, from various time periods.  I’ve dealt with some PTSD myself due to other reasons, and have some idea of how nasty it can be.    A lot of those in war have worse PTSD than I dealt-with, and can only begin to imagine  what it takes to get through that.  (I also watch a lot of PBS)  I want to see good care for all the servicemembers and veterans, and though it seems there are some improvements, I don’t know how good they are, or whether they’re reaching people as soon as they’re needed.  This is an important subject – very important.

  • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but the point still stands.  Even if some atheists do pray in foxholes, so the fuck what? It doesn’t prove there’s a god. It doesn’t even prove that the atheist secretly believed all along. All it proves is that desperate people are desperate, to which I can only say: No shit, Sherlock.

    Deathbed conversions are meaningless. Foxhole conversions are meaningless. People are not themselves when they’re being traumatized, or when their brains are in the process of shutting down, or they are being pumped full of drugs. These are the same kinds of events that cause PTSD.  They don’t reveal a person’s true self.  They distort, or sometimes even completely destroy it.

    When Christians praise deathbed/foxhole conversions, they are admitting
    that they will accept conversions elicited via torture. They won’t actually kidnap you and waterboard you ’til you love Jesus (anymore) because nobody would accept that conversion as genuine (anymore). But if the torture is coming from an impersonal source like cancer, or an outside source like wartime, hooray! You secretly knew there was a God all along!  It’s despicable.

    • Adviser_moppet_23

      Well when you look at their history it’s no surprise that they still accept conversions through that method.

  • Rich Wilson

    Washington (CNN) - After almost being pulled from a graduation ceremony for refusal to lower the head during a benediction, a soldier is now allowed to attend but must instead stand at attention.

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/19/military-backs-off-threat-to-pull-atheist-from-ceremony/

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

    March 31st,2012     Fort Bragg     Dawkins & Co.   

    Rock Beyond Belief!

  • Toats McGoats

    Im an Atheist, in the worst part of Afghanistan.  Who/what do I look to when things are hard?  My wife, my family, my friends….and the gym.


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