Foxhole Atheists

You've heard the line, "There are no atheists in foxholes."  Actually, there are a lot.

Military members are a shifted sample of America.  Sure, there is diversity of home state, religion, education, skin color, and dialect.  However, it isn't a truly representative sample.  Because we have an all-volunteer military, our men and women are shifted culturally as a group.  They are more likely to be conservative, rural, religious, and married than Americans as a whole.  Military officers are shifted even further along those lines.  Within the Army, there are also differences in the roles they hold - the infantry are most likely to be white, less educated, and from America's heartland (rural and urban).  They also love what they do.

My men loved to fight.  In a slow period, you could see the anticipation building.  If it had been three days between active combat at any of our combat outposts (COPs), people would be on edge.  They knew it was coming, but didn't know when or where.  The next patrol could be a snoozer, or a doozy.  That day on the COP could be hot, dirty, sweaty, and lame, or full of shrapnel and bullets and fire.  There was always plenty of speculation on whether it would be the recoilless rifle or the DShK that started the next battle.

Having enjoyed over 100 "opportunities" to be in the middle of "enemy contact", I can tell you that I never heard a single prayer in the middle of it.  In fact, there wasn't a lot of talking at all that wasn't direct communication about the immediate demands of battle  (unless you count curses spewed in the direction of the enemy).  When the heat is on, men don't think about eternity.  They think about RIGHT NOW.  Where to move now, where to shoot now, who to help now.  It didn't matter what their declared religious preference was - or wasn't.  They were warriors fighting to survive and fighting for the men next to them.

The idea that "there are no atheists in foxholes" comes from the thought that people faced with death invariably reach for the supernatural.  While war does bring men more into contact with opportunities to consider eternity (the subject of the next post), actual combat doesn't give them time for that.  I already mentioned a few posts back that I only prayed for myself once during a firefight.  It went like this:

So there I was, minding my own business, wearing my PT uniform (shorts and a t-shirt), and sitting on the "burn sh***er" - essentially a wooden outhouse with a cut-off metal barrel under it.  All of a sudden, in the silence... "BOOM!!!", and the cracks and whizzes and thuds of bullets fills the air.  I looked up after a splintering noise, and saw A BULLET HOLE IN THE WALL.  So, I said to God, "Lord, if you're gonna take me now, please let me clean myself up and pull up my pants first."  I took care of business with a greater-than-usual urgency, and the Lord answered my prayer by not only allowing me to fix myself, but letting me make it out of the latrine.  

I peeked out the door and dashed over to a huge boulder nearby, which was clearly between me and the incoming rounds.  I played Frogger from rock, to metal trailer, to HESCO barrier, until I made it into the mortar living quarters.  I said to the guy standing at the doorway with his helmet on, "They tried to kill me with my pants around my ankles!"  He cracked up, even as the rain of bullets continued.

When it was over, I saw the impact point of the RPG, on the opposite side of another boulder that was about 15 feet from the latrine.  If not for that rock, I probably wouldn't be here.  Looks like God knew what to do without my input. 

Faith isn't something that is "use in case of emergency", like when the bullets fly, the pink slip comes, or the doctor says, "cancer."  Faith can make those moments make sense, even as they hurt you as much as anyone else.  Anyone can fight for their lives and the people around them, with or without faith.  It's not an adrenaline substitute - it's an ingredient for life that makes everything taste completely different.  For some, moments like this helped us see that.