The statement, "There are no atheists in foxholes," is an aphorism used to argue that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as when participating in warfare, all people will believe in or hope for a higher power.
The precise origin of the phrase is uncertain. Various sources credit Lieutenant-Colonel William J. Clear, or Lieutenant-Colonel William Casey, but the phrase is most often attributed to journalist Ernie Pyle. The line is used in the film Wake Island, which was released sometime in early 1942. In the book Ghost Soldiers, author Hampton Sides credits the origin of the phrase to "Father Michael Cummings,a Catholic missionary who volunteered to serve the US Army in the Philippines following the Japanese attack. He later died aboard one of the Hellships on the way to Japan. a. In the form "There are no atheists in the trenches", the idea dates back at least as far as World War I.
While primarily used to comment on the specific experiences faced by combat soldiers, the aphorism is often adapted to other perilous situations such as "there are no atheists on a sinking ship" or "there are no libertarians in a financial crisis", which however, is not quite analogous, as most libertarians become even more confident in their beliefs during financial crises, as they believe all significant financial crises are ultimately caused by government intervention.
The religious convictions of current US military personnel are similar to that of the general population, though the military are perhaps even a little less religious. In addition, the military forces of most nations quite clearly contain atheists. Though the term is occasionally used to incorrectly imply that all soldiers in combat are 'converted' while under fire it is most commonly only used to emphasise that many people tend to seek out a divine power when they are facing an extreme threat.
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, an atheist organization, opposes the use of this phrase. They have adopted the catchphrase of "Atheists in Foxholes" to emphasize that the original statement is just an aphorism and not a statistical fact.
James Morrow has been quoted as saying "'There are no atheists in foxholes' isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes."
The quote is also referenced when discussing the opposite effect — that warfare will cause some soldiers to question their existing belief in a God due to the death and violence around them.
The quote has also been used in non-military contexts. In September, 2008, in the depths of the financial crisis of 2007–2009, both Ben Bernanke and Paul Krugman popularized a version of the quote in reference to financial crises. They paraphrased Harvard professor Jeffrey Frankel, who originally wrote in the Cato Journal a year earlier, "They say 'there are no atheists in foxholes.' Perhaps, then, there are also no libertarians in crises."
- Thomas J. Reese, S.J. (May 31, 2007). "No Atheists in Fox Holes". Washington Post Company. http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/thomas_j_reese/2007/05/no_atheist_in_fox_holes.html.
- Cummins, Henry. "Spiritual Point". British Humanist Association. http://www.humanism.org.uk/uploadedFiles/cms/store//Humanist_Groups//ATTACHMENTS/Spiritual%20Point1%20no%20photo.pdf#search=%22%22no%20atheists%20in%20foxholes%22%20Lieutenant-Colonel%22. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
- "Oops! He Did It Again! Brokaw Repeats Canard, "There Are No Atheists In Foxholes" During NBC Evening News". Flashline (American Atheists). 2003-03-12. http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/atheist9.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
- Johnson, Chip. "GI turns to Islam to find God." San Francisco Chronical. Monday, March 6, 2006. Accessed Nov-22-2009.
- Books & Culture Weblog: Content & Context - Books & Culture, Christianity Today
- Fred R. Shapiro, Yale Alumni Magazine, "You can quote them" column, March/April 2008
- 21% of U.S. Military atheist or non-religious, Source: "America's Military Population." by David R. Segal and Mady Wech Segal. Population Reference Bureau, 2004. page 25.
- "Report on Chaplains." Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. Accessed Nov-22-2009.
- Justice, Faith L. (3 December 2001). "Interview: James Morrow". Strange Horizons. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2001/20011203/morrow.shtml. Retrieved 2009-11-14.
- Resnicoff, Arnold E. (June 28, 2004). "On becoming our own worst enemy". The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0628/p09s02-coop.html. Retrieved 2009-11-14.
- Allen, Joshua. There Are No Atheists in Foxholes. Rhode Island Monthly. April 2007 issue.
- "Religion: Atheists & Foxholes". Time Magazine. Monday, Jun. 18, 1945. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,775935,00.html.
- Frankel, Jeffrey (Spring/Summer 2007). "Responding to Crises". Cato Journal (Cato Institute) 27 (2). http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/jfrankel/CatoRespCrisesJun07+fn15&2.pdf. Retrieved 2009-12-17.
- Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
- A skeptical analysis of the phrase “There are no atheists in foxholes”
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