We’ve all heard it– that six-word phrase that inspires believers (you can always tell they’re inspired by the way they nod and make the affirmative humming noise) but makes our eyes twitch and our teeth grind. Six unassuming words, strung together to create an inordinate amount of animosity between two already divided groups.
“There are no atheists in foxholes.”
I will be the first to admit that the only foxhole in which I spent any time was the one I had to dig in Basic Training. During the six and a half years I was enlisted, I was deployed once, and that deployment was spent working in an Optometry clinic. If you’re expecting me to apologize or show even an ounce of shame for that fact, let this be the first of probably many times I will disappoint you. I went where I was told to go, did my job and did it very, very well. I have exactly zero reasons to feel bad about it. My strength is in my brains, not my brawn, and I used that strength to the benefit of myself and those around me. If you see fault in that, the problem is yours; not mine.
Why, since my short military career more closely resembled “Scrubs” than “Black Hawk Down,” does the foxhole cliché bother me? Obviously it doesn’t apply to me, right? Wrong. There is so much more meaning to this phrase than the words themselves. It implies that anyone who has not sought a deity, will immediately do so if put in peril. It foolishly assumes that anyone who has not already done so has simply never experienced anything frightening, tragic or painful enough to ask a deity for help. It is, by far, the most insulting combination of words that anyone has ever tossed in my direction with regard to my disbelief.
Who are you, or anyone else, to decide where my breaking point lies? How would you even begin to fathom through what hardship I have and have not already been if I do not open my mouth to tell you? How can you make any sort of judgment as to how I would react to anything- good, bad or ugly? You are only doing so based upon your own experiences and your own reactions, and that is not only wrong, but wholly and grotesquely unfair. Just because you take comfort in the belief that a divine presence is looking out for you and need that comfort to make it through difficult situations, ( or just finding your damn car keys) that says nothing about my needs whatsoever. I have experienced fear, tragedy and pain without even once glancing skyward. I came out of every bad experience in my life on the strength of my own will, my knowledge that nothing lasts forever, and the help and support of loved ones. Saying anything less would only be false modesty, and there is no point in that except to make me seem more humble than I really am. In other words, it would be a lie. For me, to concede that my successes are the result of divine intervention is to concede that I am incapable of rising above challenges on my own, and belittles the efforts of those around me who may have helped in that success. I dare anyone to call me arrogant for it. There is no arrogance in giving yourself credit when you earned it. There is, however, a massive amount of blatant assholiness in a person who expects me to give credit for my accomplishments to an invisible man.
Do I think people who do seek the help of a deity are weak? As much as I’d like to say, “No” to make you feel better, I’d be lying. Actually, I was lying when I said that I would like to say, “No,” if you really want to know the truth about it. It is not my job to make sure you go through life feeling good about yourself, so I, frankly, don’t really care if you are offended by my opinions. The cold, hard fact of the matter is that I do consider deity worship a weakness. If I said, “I cannot make it through my day without whiskey. Every morning, before I start my day, I have a bit of whiskey. Every night, before I go to sleep, I have more whiskey. If I feel troubled, I have some whiskey. If I am sad or lonely? Whiskey. If I am happy? Whiskey,” you would say I had a dependence on alcohol. Now, replace whiskey with prayer. Granted, the prayer might be better for you than whiskey, but dependence is dependence just the same. You do not need either thing to get through life; it’s only a habit you’ve convinced yourself you cannot live without. I am living, breathing proof that you can live just fine without a deity.
Will I condemn you for that weakness? Absolutely not. I am shamefully dependent on caffeine. I only have one cup of coffee or soda in the morning, but I feel like royal ass if I don’t have it. I could stop, but I don’t want to. That’s my weakness, and everyone has at least one. The only shame is failing to admit it. Will I condemn you for trying to project your weakness onto me? You can bet the farm on that one. I have been through too much and come too far to let anyone hand his baggage to me and expect me to carry it. I am not you and, as that has been working out splendidly for me thus far, I see no reason to change that fact. Keep spouting this bit of nonsense if you like, but remember that while you are huddled in your foxhole on your knees with your eyes closed, asking an invisible man for help, the atheists will be returning fire. You know? Doing something useful that might ACTUALLY save your life? In other words, you can cram your condescending foxhole cliché squarely up your fourth point of contact, have a Coke and a smile, and shut the f*** up.