The Big Picture Podcast 54: Are There Atheists In Today’s Foxholes?

The Big Picture Podcast 54: Are There Atheists In Today’s Foxholes? December 2, 2014


Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri and on this podcast, we seek to begin and hopefully sustain a conversation about current trends, ideas and issues in the Church and greater society.

On today’s podcast I’m going to change things up a little by combining the Big Picture segment of the show with the Great Cloud of Witnesses all into one segment, and also I’m going to let someone else do the talking, or the writing at least.

I want to read an essay that was recently published on a U.S. Air Force base web site, and I’ll explain why after I read it.

It was written by an Air Force chaplain. And here it is;

“Chaplain’s Corner: No Atheists in Foxholes: Chaplains Gave All in World War II”

By Lt. Col. Kenneth Reyes

Many have heard the familiar phrase, “There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole.”

Where did this come from?

Research I verified in an interview with former World War II prisoner of war Roy Bodine (my friend) indicates the phrase has been credited to Father William Cummings.

As the story goes, Father Cummings was a civilian missionary Catholic priest in the Philippines. The phrase was coined during the Japanese attack at Corregidor. During the siege, Cummings had noticed non-Catholics were attending his services. Some he knew were not Catholic, some were not religious and some were even known atheists.

Life-and-death experiences prompt a reality check.

Even the strongest of beliefs can change, and, I may add, can go both ways – people can be drawn to or away from “faith.”

With the pending surrender of allied forces to the Japanese, Cummings uttered the famous phrase “There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole.”

In one of my many discussions with Roy, he distinctly remembered a period on the “Hell Ships” – these were ships the Japanese used to bring POWs from the Philippines back to Japan. They were unmarked and thus ‘fair game’ for attacks from the allies from the air and sea. Of the 3,000-plus POWs listed on the ships, only 180 survived the journey.

“When our own planes were attacking us,” Roy said, “I remember Father Cummings calming us down by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and offering up prayers on our behalf. For a brief moment I did not hear the yells and screams of dying men as our boat was attacked by our own men.”

He went on to say, “There was a peaceful quiet during the attack that I cannot explain nor have experienced since.”

Later on during the trip to Japan, Cummings, after giving his food to others who needed it more, succumbed to his own need and died of starvation.

Everyone expresses some form of faith every day, whether it is religious or secular. Some express faith by believing when they get up in the morning they will arrive at work in one piece, thankful they have been given another opportunity to enjoy the majesty of the day; or express relief the doctor’s results were negative.

The real question is, “Is it important to have faith in ‘faith’ itself or is it more important to ask, ‘What is the object of my faith?’”

Roy never affirmed or expressed whether his faith was rooted in religion or not, but for a moment in time on the “Hell Ships,” he believed in Cummings’ faith.

What is the root or object of your faith? Is it something you can count on in times of plenty or loss; peace or chaos; joy or sorrow; success or failure? What is ‘faith’ to you?

The reason I read this to you today, aside from telling Father Cummings’ story and nominating him to the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, to which he is now so nominated and the world (certainly the Japanese army at the time) was not worthy of him, but the main reason I wanted to read these perfectly fine and appropriate words from a military chaplain is because this essay has been removed from the Air Force website and the chaplain, Lt. Col. Reyes, now faces a possible reprimand for writing it.

This is because a few atheists objected to his use of the phrase “there are no atheists in fox holes”, calling the essay an ‘anti-secular diatribe’ and ‘religious hate’ and demanding the Chaplain be punished.

Now, most of you if you haven’t heard of this are no doubt thinking, “Wait a minute, that’s absurd. All this chaplain did was quote an historic phrase, one that we’ve all heard and was repeated and made famous by President Eisenhower, no less.”

And you’d be right, it is absurd.

But the absurd is now the ‘new normal.

Even historical quotes are unacceptable in today’s world if they’re politically incorrect.

Now I want to give full disclosure here. Lt. Colonel Ken Reyes is an old college friend of mine. Kenny Reyes and I, years ago, were part of a large campus ministry and local church. We hung out and ran a lot of hoops and listened to old 70s Christian rock and more than a little Spyro Gyra and Earth, Wind and Fire. He’s a solid, faithful Christian man, and most importantly was one of many older Christian guys I saw take their faith and the Word of God seriously, and at the time were role models for me in my knuckle-headed youth. So I have a dog in this fight, I admit.

But I’m not sharing all this to defend my old friend. His faith is much stronger than those attacking him could realize, and he has all kinds of support from his fellow servicemen, friends and his beautiful family.

If I know Ken, a reprimand is a small price to pay for sticking to his principles, so he’ll be fine. Prayers for him would be appreciated, obviously.

And I’m not condemning the atheists who objected to what he wrote and are giving him trouble for it, because that’s what some atheists do.

Now, I could criticize the craven Air Force brass for caving in to a few obnoxious atheists, and the general move in all the military against religious faith and liberty, but a lot of good people are taking up that battle, so I’ll leave that alone for now.

No, I share this because as I say, the absurd, what even a few years ago would be unthinkable, is now normal, and in a few years, what’s unthinkable now will be normal.

So, as Christians we really need to wrap our minds and hearts around some hard reality. The enemy is moving fast, and too many of us I’m afraid, are unprepared.

So, in honor of two faithful men I admire, Lt. Col. Ken Reyes and the Great Witness Father William Cummings, I’m issuing a call to arms – spiritual arms. It’s time for Christians to put on the spiritual Armor Of God of Ephesians 6:10-18. And if you don’t know what that is, listen closely:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this week’s Big Picture Podcast, please go to my web site at and also check out our other podcasts and points of view on the E-Squared Media network at Wherever you go, leave a few comments and tell your friends, family and even you pastor about us.

See you next time on the Big Picture podcast. Be blessed!

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