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Atheists and Foxholes

24 August 2012, 11:52

We’ve often heard it said, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ I do not for a moment believe it to be true. Atheists, who’ve either lived their lives as atheists, or become atheists through a matter of choice have done so for a number of reasons.

1.       They’ve been brought up in a country where very little, if anything, is known about Christianity. I use Christianity because it’s my faith. Most of Western Europe would fall into that category. I have met a number of people, from Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Hungary who are, to all intents, atheists. They know nothing about the Gospel and they’re mostly not interested. They also see the abuse committed by priests, after all (who hasn’t, by now ?) and infer from those stories, that that is what Christianity has to offer. It’s not very attractive, especially if you live in a first world country, where great strides are being made in all the sciences. They don’t reject God. If they think about Him at all, it’s as an oddity.

2.       People who have been brought up in a ‘tick the box’ Christian home. Dropped off at Sunday school every Sunday and, once they’d been confirmed, either lost interest, or rebelled. I fall into that camp. My parents were members of the Old Apostolic Church, that believed heaven to be in your head. They sent us off to Sunday School every Sunday, but here was the cruel twist.

We had to sit through the main service, about fourteen hours, if memory serves me, and then have Sunday School. As soon as I was old enough, I refused to be confirmed and announced I no longer believed in God. I waited for the thunderbolts that never came, and that reinforced my unbelief.

There are others who have been disappointed by God, or who are angry at Him, and they feel there is no God for, if there were, why did He let someone die, or not heal them, or fix whatever the problem was.

And people of reason, who believe that, with the knowledge we now possess, God is not only not feasible, but not even necessary. Carl Sagan was one of those.

Then of course there are the anti-theists, like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. These people do more than disbelieve in the existence of God, they vehemently deny it, and attack the very idea of God, the God of the Bible being the principal target for their attacks.

So now, I’m first going to speak from personal experience. The saying, there are no atheists in foxholes came about a result of men, ostensibly atheists, crying out to God when they were wounded and about to die. I don’t believe that validates that assumption. One of my girlfriends once said to me, ‘How can you say you don’t believe in God, but every time we make love, you say, “Oh God, oh God!”?’

I explained to her that it was merely an expression, and didn’t indicate any form of belief. Something far closer to home though, was when I was caught in a rip current and being dragged towards the rocks and knew I was going to drown, or be smashed onto the rocks. The waves were pretty big that day and I was stupid enough to think that I was a strong enough swimmer to overcome them. After all, I knew the golden rule: if you get caught in a rip current, swim with the current until you can get out. The problem was, this particular rip was taking me towards the rocks.

I was exhausted by this time, and pretty certain I was going to die. So, did I cry out to God to save me? No, I called out, ‘Oh shit, oh shit!’ A lifeguard saw me struggling and came to my rescue, but I don’t think shit would have saved me. So people in foxholes crying, ‘Oh God!’, when they get hit, is pretty much my crying, ‘Oh shit!’

People sometimes turn to God in a crisis and He answers them, but mostly that’s not the case. It seems God is eerily silent on those occasions. Jesus said, ‘No man can come to Me unless the Father draws him.’ And people in crisis are not usually being drawn, which is why there are so very few deathbed confessions. This excludes Catholics, of course, who feel that no matter how well they’ve lived, will be condemned if they haven’t been shriven.

I do, however, believe atheists, especially the virulent ones, such as the ones we encounter frequently on these pages, are more open to God than the average ‘good’ person, who goes to church occasionally and lives a good and decent life.

Atheists know they’re not right with God, whether they don’t believe in Him at all, or hate Him. They are under no illusions as to their relationship with Him. How do I know? I’ve been an evangelist for thirty two years, and the most difficult people to converse with, have been the theists. They know they’re okay.

Before I became a Christian, I was a militant atheist, and used to try and break down the faith of these poor Christians who would try and witness to me. I never succeeded, and it seems, neither did they succeed in converting me.

Later, it would seem that the seeds they planted actually germinated and grew, because thirteen years after turning my back on God completely, I surrendered my life to him.

So, if I went out on the street, and came across Eddy Deepfield or zaatheist, it would make my day. They would argue with me; they would belittle God; they would try break down my faith, but they would be talking to me, and in turn, listening.

And one thing I’ve learned on this site is this: these people are not monsters because they don’t believe. When they write on other issues, they come across as genuine, sincere, decent people. They would not beat me up, even if they tried to do it verbally.

So, atheists in foxholes? I think there are more than we would believe. But can we, by our words and manner, get them to believe?

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