Atheists in foxholes…

I’ve always heard that “there are no atheists in foxholes”…  According to Wikipedia this means:

“The statement “There are no atheists in foxholes” is used to imply that atheists really do believe in God deep down, and that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as when participating in warfare, the belief will surface, overwhelming the less substantial affectation of atheism.”

Is this true?  Do all atheists eventually call out to God – like when they are on their deathbeds?

I have to say no.  And, I say this because of the one atheist that I knew very well… and whom I watched die slowly… and all that went with that.  My father.  And, did I ever see him wobble on this?  Suddenly admit he was wrong and ask for God’s help?  No.  I didn’t.

Matter of fact, I watched him once go into surgery.  It was pretty major surgery (aneurysm repair) and considering all his health issues – he had a good chance of having complications, or death. They told him it was a more difficult surgery than open heart surgery.  Anyway, I was with him at the hospital.  And, after they had him all prepped for surgery I was talking with him.  When, in walks a priest and he says to my father, “hello.  would you like me to pray with you?”.  My father, said, “no. thank you”.  Part of me was thinking, “oh come on Dad.  What could it hurt?”…. but I just stood there, as the priest said, “oh. ok.  are you Catholic?”.  And, I’ll never forget, my dad looked up at him and without a hint of defiance or hesitation, he just said, “nope. I’m an atheist”.  The priest looked at me…  I looked back and shrugged my shoulders at him.  He left the room… and my dad just continued our previous conversation, like nothing at all.

At the time, I wasn’t sure if that was a wise thing to do or not, but, I did think, that took some pretty big balls.  It also shot that “no atheists in foxholes” theory to hell for me.  I mean, here was my dad… and he knew he could die, and he didn’t think twice.

And, it makes sense…  I mean… if you REALLY don’t believe in God… why on earth would you want to pray to him – even at death’s door.

By the way, my dad survived that surgery…. although, it wasn’t easy… and he didn’t actually pass away until a few years later.  When he did die, he knew he was going to die for a few months before he actually did.  He was on hospice care in my home…  and we had time for many many many talks… about life, and death.   Never once did I see him act like he was changing his mind about being an atheist.  I’m sure that in a way, he probably wished that he could.  I mean, lets face it, dying has to be a bit easier if you think you are going to a “better place”.  So, why NOT just repent and ask God into your heart at the last moment?  I tell ya why not…  Because he just didn’t believe.  Period.

Now, what really always amazes me… is how so many Christians will tell you about people who DO repent on their deathbeds.  TI can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve heard that go something like this:

Christian 1:  “did you hear Billy’s uncle so-and-so passed away?”

Christian 2:  “No, he did? Oh, that’s too bad.  Was he a Christian?”

Christian 1: “well, he wasn’t… but, so-and-so prayed with him just before he died and we THINK he asked Jesus into his heart just before he died”.

Christian 2:  “really?  Hallelujah!”

It amazed me, even when I was a child, how many times this happened.  No matter how “bad” the person was,  this always was the case.  Somebody always prayed with them on their deathbed, and we were always either 100% or 99% sure that they were saved “just in time”.  Don’t you think that’s a little bit convenient?  Both for the dying person, and for all their Christian relatives/friends? I don’t think I ever remember anyone in church ever asking that question “were they a Christian?”, and the other person saying, “no. they are probably in hell”.

People believe what they want to believe.

My own brother, (the one who went to church with me for years and isn’t all that religious anymore but, seems to have hung on to parts of it ) – tried to tell me that he thought our Dad might have done this.  ?!?  I was like, “what? when!?”….  He said, he talked to him and they talked about whether or not there was an afterlife and that he (my brother) asked him why he didn’t just ask God into his heart, “just in case”.

Interested, I asked what my dad’s response was and my brother told me that he didn’t say too much, but, he THINKS that MAYBE he DID think twice, and maybe he did ask him into his heart.   I disagreed, and told him about some of the conversations I had with dad where he was very matter of fact about his disbelief in heaven and hell.. and, about what he did believe happens when you die… which was nothing.  We even talked about his former near death experiences, when he did actually die on an operating table when he was 12 but was revived.  How I never got the  feeling from him at all about having any doubts.  But, my brother didn’t want to hear any of this really… and he tried to shrug it off and say, “yeah.. well.. ya never know.. I think, maybe he did believe”.

I just looked at my brother in awe… I dawned on me that he just really wanted to believe this. I guess, maybe… he really needed to believe this…  Just like all those other people at church when they spoke of Billy’s Uncle so-and-so or whatever.

I started to think that if my father didn’t argue with him, or tell him how he really felt – that maybe he did it for a reason.  Maybe he knew that my brother needed to have this hope.   That would be just like my Dad…  not to lie… but, to let you believe what you want to believe.

So, who am I do try to take that away from him?

But, you can’t make me believe he wasn’t an atheist to the end.

I’m sure, there are atheists  who DO change their mind… and call out to God when in their final hours… or accept Jesus into their hearts “just in case”, but I know of at least one atheist who did not.

And, apparently, he’s not alone…  I found a few websites dedicated to atheists in foxholes…


19 Responses to “Atheists in foxholes…”

  1. cipher Says:

    Have you ever heard an evangelical minister tell one of these stories? My God – the bad acting alone is enough to turn anyone with any taste into an atheist!

  2. samanthamj Says:

    Hey cipher –
    Ha! Yeah… I have. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

  3. cafedog Says:

    My older relationswere World War II veterans. They use to say this “their are no Atheist in Foxholes.” However this a dark humor phrase about being scared as shit about being underfire in a war zone.

    My Dad a Vietnam vet and a non-religious – ist(lol), said that when someones trying to kill you underfire, you dont worry about philosophy or rationalism, You just go with what gets you through it.

    “You cant always stand in a situation and think things out. Sometimes You pick up your bezerker sword and swing. and pay the concequences later… else you die”– my dads words scary me sometimes but they ring true.

  4. Kate Says:

    I have to agree, so far… I’m an atheist, I suppose. I have a spirituality but it’s much more along the lines of karma and Zen and balance. I don’t believe in a singular, humanlike being who drives this big ship wherever it’s going.

    I lost that belief when I was 12, though I’m not sure I ever really had it. I just know that it was taken from me, violently, at a church camp, and I stopped counting on a God as a source of support.

    And since then, I’ve been in a moment or two of serious illness or danger, and have never even been tempted to pray to a Judeo-Christian God.

    Interesting post… and thanks for the visit!

  5. samanthamj Says:

    Hey Dawg – =)
    Nice to “see” ya. Your dad’s words are good ones. Sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. And, I like the new tag… non-religious-ist… =) I dont’ especially like the “atheist” label either. It doesn’t really fit… and drags too many negative associations with it.

    Kate –
    Thanks for the visit, and comments. Sounds like you had a pretty bad experience (probably putting it mildly) when you were a kid at camp. Sucks. =( I hope you look around a bit and stop back again. I did like what I read at your blog so far.

  6. Kate Says:

    Ah, there’s a semi-story of it all on my blog somewhere, a post called “Summer Camp.” No need to dredge it up now.

    And, you’re bloglined, so I’ll peek in a time or two. 😉

  7. mary a. kaufman Says:

    Although it took my husband some twelve years and more after pulling away from the bonds of fundamental religion to finally and completely rid himself of the fear of God and hell, he never back-tracked. He knew he was going to die at least two months before he did. He died at home with only me to care for him. I was with him as he took his last breath and I can attest to the fact that he never once called on God for anything. Two days before he died, his only words were, ‘I love you’. The day before he died his only word was, ‘enough’.

  8. samanthamj Says:

    Kate –
    I went and read it… Terrible. I’m sorry there are so many jerks out there in the world, and that such a terrible thing happened to you. Glad you have made it thru, and are in a profession that maybe helps others from having such a fate – or can help those who weren’t so lucky and have suffered or are suffering their own tradedies.
    Also, thanks for adding me to your blog roll. I’ve done the same with you. =)

    Mary –
    “enough”. Yeah… I think that was probably pretty accurate. My Dad had had “enough” as well. I wondered if your husband also “pulled away”. It sure is a deep, embedded fear (hell) that we have to shed once we do. Glad he did. Thanks for sharing.


  9. tobeme Says:

    Very interesting. I believe that many people athiests or not are not fully grounded in what they believe and may hedge their bets at the end. Sounds like your Father is very secure in his beliefs.
    Thanks for sharing. I agree people believe what they need or want to believe.

  10. samanthamj Says:

    what they “want or NEED”… I left off the ‘need’, but, you’re right, sometimes, it’s not just a matter or “want”.

  11. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    Just because we do not fear death and do not fear any sort of God, does not mean we are atheists. {{smj}} is that all ‘god’ and religion was ever taught to mean to you? Something centered around fear and doubt? Bravo for the Courage of Heart your Dad displayed!! Being Truer to his own Spirit then he could have ever imagined or given himself credit for.

  12. cafedog Says:

    Religion is something centered around fear and doubt, by my observation.
    Fear and doubt is very human quality that helps to propel us.

    James Berk once compared science and religion and pointed out they are very simular.
    They are a both a means to seek out certainty.

  13. cafedog Says:

    Faith is an important thing. But there is a dark side to religion as well. This video poular link from god tube, representative of the evangelical side of christianity (it gor 5 stars):

    Its intended for teen agers, kids . I ask, is not based on fear?

  14. paulie11 Says:

    My father was a devout protestant christian right up until the end. I have heard this idea before, that there are no atheists in foxholes. I like to counter it with discussion of the battlefield effect. The concept of the battlefield effect is roughly this: In any given battlefield you have a certain number of soldiers marching toward their death. Odds are, most of them are praying. Of that number, a certain percentage are going to die. The rest are going to live. Therefore the percentage which survive to tell the tale are likely to interpret themselves as having been saved by prayer, even though an equal or greater number of those that prayed may have died.

    This was an excellent post! Keep it up. Here is a link to a poem by Jeffrey McDaniel on the subject

  15. samanthamj Says:

    My apologies for not responding earlier. I was gearing up for vacationn, on vacation, and the recovering from vacation recently… =)

    Paulie –
    Thanks for the comment and input. The “battlefield effect” makes sense… It always amazes me how people are so sure God has “saved them” or answered their prayers – when there are so many obvious people who do NOT get their prayers answered. I touch base on this again in a previous post (

    And to CafeDawg and SueAnn
    Unfortunately, yes, I have to agree with CafeDog’s comments. That’s exactly the biggest lesson I took away from church, religion, the bible and God…. – that is IS very much “something centered around fear and doubt”. Even the most loving of religious messages and stories lay on a foundation of fear. Promises of better things – only offered in conjunction with a pile of threats and fear.

    NO thanks. This is a huge part of why I stopped believing in the bible, God, and do not take my kids to church. I understand that is not how many Christians feel about religion – but, I don’t understand how they can decipher the “good” from the “bad” parts. How do you believe in one part of the bible or concept of God, and not the other parts?


  16. In response to “Is Satan Real?”… « Mom’s a religious nut & Dad was an atheist Says:

    […] I was also just sort of talking about this in a recent reply I made here on my own blog, where I asked “How do you believe in one part of t… […]

  17. chris Says:

    I’d like to add to my (cafedog) comment with the godtube link.
    I like and have learned a lot watching Godtube.
    Many Atheist have come out in the last two years or so, saying that they felt shameful or fearful to state their beliefs.

    But what i didn’t realize is many Christians have felt the same way!
    Many feel seem to feel embarrassed about talking about their faith, in certain social settings, because they feel they will be looked down on, as being superstitious or foolish.

    I’ve watch Godtube (from time to time) to dispel my own myths about what many christians believe.
    The link i gave above shows a very real corner of evangelicalism.
    But i am pretty secure in saying it doesn’t represent the vast majority of Theist practice.

    sorry felt i had to say my peice on that.
    with IMHO (hehe).

  18. dam Says:

    Hey. Interesting blog. I grew up in a similar situation. I liked this piece about believing or not believing in times of crisis. When my atheist grandfather was dying, my father & I asked him if he felt a need to pray or have prayer at his service. He held tight to his beliefs (or lack of).

  19. samanthamj Says:

    hey dam. thanks for the visit. I’m always amazed to meet people who can relate to my up-bringing… but welcome the company too. =)

    Is your father also an atheist like your grandfather?


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