On “No Atheists In Foxholes”

Why the hell would you get all offended?
Is this something you atheists do?
A colloquial phrase
Said for decades, not days,
And it isn’t directed at you

It just means that whenever there’s trouble
Human nature determines, you’ll pray
Thus a foxhole will be
Wholly atheist-free
And that’s all that we’re meaning to say

So it isn’t directed at atheists
But at regular people, like us
And since turning to God
When you’re scared isn’t odd
There’s no reason to make such a fuss

Since we all turn to God in a foxhole
It’s no insult—it’s just what we see
So it’s all for the good;
We’re just misunderstood…

Yeah, it all sounds like bullshit to me.

Via Hemant, a recent kerfuffle over the phrase “no atheists in foxholes”–the foxnews version of the story is, of course, predictable, as are most of the comments there.

The comments that I want to speak to today, in particular, are the ones that say “hey, it’s just an expression, it’s not an insult to atheists, it just points out that when the shit hits the fan, it’s just human nature to look to a deity for help”. Yeah, we kinda knew what it meant, and the problem comes from the fact that it is both insulting and wrong. Not from any misunderstanding.

It reminds me of another “just an expression”, one my bigoted grandfather used to say. Let me preface this by saying I do not intend to equate the two, just to show the similarity in argument. My grand-dad, intending to compliment someone on doing right by him, would say “that’s real white of you.” Which, of course, was not at all intended as an insult to non-whites. It just meant that the attributes naturally associated with whites were honesty, hard work, integrity, and basic goodness, whereas the associated negative attributes were more what we expect to see in non-whites. Just an observation, you see; just a colloquial expression. Nothing personal, and certainly nothing racist.

When you use a phrase that is built upon an insulting falsehood, it doesn’t get to be grandfathered in just because it’s been around a while. Grandfathers can be bigots, after all.

And for those who are so kindly explaining to atheists how our reactions to the false and insulting “no atheists in foxholes” just show how thin-skinned we are… thanks. Really, thanks. That’s real white of you.


  1. J. P. DeMeritt says

    There may be some truth to the saying that “there are no atheists in foxholes”, but in my experience, many more atheists come out of foxholes than go in originally.

  2. says

    No atheists in foxholes? Do I conclude that the foxholes are full of Christians? How exactly do Christians reconcile, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, with the killing that occurs in war?

  3. Snoof says

    No atheists in foxholes? Do I conclude that the foxholes are full of Christians? How exactly do Christians reconcile, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, with the killing that occurs in war?

    Generally it’s either with as “mysterious ways”, “God is love”, “free will” or similar vague handwaving, or they claim it’s “thou shalt not murder”. This is usually followed up with the claim that the definition of murder is “illegal killing”, and thus the entire thing becomes a pointlessly self-referential.

  4. says

    A chaplain once said this to me in front of a lot of his high-ranking peers. I told him, “Close, sir… but you see there are actually no *chaplains* in foxholes.”

    Everybody laughed like a bastard… at him. Not only was it funny, it’s actually true. Chaplains are non-combatants, unarmed, and quite literally not supposed to be on the front lines.

    Though the war on terror yields many non-traditional ‘front lines’, if a chaplain somehow managed to find his way into a foxhole – a fighting position – it would cease being a foxhole. It would just be a hole.

    I encourage all of my fellow foxhole atheists to steal that line if they wish. Trust me, it works. You don’t just win the argument, you win the crowd.

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