“Sure, you deny God now. But when you’re looking death in the face — when you’re sick or in an accident or staring down the barrel of a gun — you’ll change your mind. You’ll beg for God then. There are no atheists in foxholes.”
This is one of the most common accusations that gets leveled against atheists. The idea seems to be that our atheism isn’t sincere. It’s naive at best, shallow at worst. We haven’t really thought through what atheism means; it’s somehow never occurred to us that atheism — and its philosophical companion, naturalism — means that death is forever. As soon as the harsh reality of what atheism means gets shoved in our faces, we’ll drop it like a hot potato.
Now, the most common atheist response to this accusation is to point out that it’s simply and flatly not true. And it’s one of the arguments I’m going to make myself, right now, here in this piece. This accusation is simply and flatly not true.
If you go to an atheist blog or forum, and you make this accusation, you’ll be inundated with stories of atheists who have faced death: their own, and that of people they love. You’ll hear stories of people who have been mugged, people who have been in terrible accidents, people who have faced life-threatening illnesses. You’ll hear stories of people who have suffered the illness and death of dearly beloved friends and family members. I’m one of those people.
And we didn’t stop being atheists.
Thus begins my new piece for AlterNet, Why Atheists Don’t Turn to Religion When Faced with Death or Disaster. To read more about this “no atheists in foxholes” trope — and why it’s not only mistaken, but bigoted and ugly, a denial of atheists’ humanity and the reality of our experience with death — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!