Wednesday, March 21, 2018

There Are Only Agnostics in Foxholes


Like most folks, I imagine, I have always believed there is some plausibility to the proposition that there are no atheists in foxholes. If the shells were raining down on you, and your buddies were dying left and right, wouldn’t you be praying?

As a bona fide atheist, I have no fear of death as such. Dying unpleasantly I dread, and also dying “prematurely,” although that term is relative to what one cares about and has accomplished or experienced. Being generally pleased with the latter in my own life, I fancy I am “ready to go” at any time because, at my age, the future is likely to go worse than better as a whole.

Nevertheless all bets are off when I’m in a foxhole, literally or figuratively.

So it came as a surprise to me just now when I had the sudden realization that one’s likely behavior and feelings in a foxhole testify not to one’s (however temporary) belief in God but, quite the contrary, to one’s loss of faith. For if one truly believed in God, and especially in the kind of God who would sympathetically listen to one’s prayers, then … why would you need to be so fervently praying? Wouldn’t the person of faith be confident, even in, perhaps especially in, the most trying circumstances, and hence not need to be “reminding” the All-Knowing that little old you is in desperate need of assistance?

Of course the whole thing is nonsense to begin with. Why would God want to reward a selfish bastard for praying that He save your hide while ignoring all the others being blasted to bits beside you? And why would a Merciful One be allowing all that stuff to be happening in the first place? If there were a God, would there be foxholes (for anyone but foxes)?

But even bracketing the Big Problem, I think it enlightening to realize that real faith does not consist in praying for special consideration. So those folks who are praying in foxholes? – they’re not absolutely certain that God exists, but they’re surely hoping He does. That makes them agnostics, wouldn’t you say?