Christians in Foxholes

A couple of days ago, my mom asked me to accompany her to a Wednesday night Lenten church service, even though she knows I don’t believe in God. When she had me alone in the car with her for the twenty-minute drive, she seized the opportunity to either try to convert me, or try to make me feel guilty for not believing, or both.

It seems that whenever I simply say to someone “I don’t believe in the deity of your religion,” I have deeply offended them. Hearing me utter such blasphemy makes people suddenly feel defensive, and my nonbelief gives them the need to recall all of their own reasons for belief and relay those undeniable facts back to me. If I have no immediate response, then I am wrong and their beliefs are safe. Luckily for my mom, all of her arguments are completely based off of personal experiences and her feelings, which can’t be empirically refuted, so when she rattles off all of her personal examples of God’s presence, I have no words for her. . . and she thinks she’s won.

So during this car ride, she offered as examples multiple times in her life when she saw a lucky or emotionally influential coincidence as a sign from God, and of course she didn’t forget things like answered prayers and God’s wonderful and amazing influence in her life. But there is one thing that she continues to bring up in these conversations that bothers me to no end. And she’s not even the only person to have said this to me.

My mom has had a hard life. She has had a pretty terrible marriage and has been separated from my dad for years, and in the last two years she has lost both of her parents (you can read more about that here). For her, religion is her coping mechanism. God is a real person to her, and his perceived presence acts as an anchor in her life. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that one of her mantras for me is “If it weren’t for God, I would have turned to alcohol a long time ago. Or I would have been suicidal.” Or this, or that, or on and on and on.

In a different place and with different people and on a completely unrelated topic, a friend of mine echoed her words: “If I hadn’t been a Christian when I was in high school, with what I was going through with depression, I would have killed myself. I’m sure I wouldn’t be here.” Of course, it’s somewhat of a spin off of the classic saying “There are no atheists in foxholes,” but I can’t help but take offense to it.

A simple rearrangement of their words would sound this way: “If I’d been an atheist–like you are–at ___ point in time, I would have killed myself!” How am I supposed to respond to that? Thank you? I’m sorry? I’ll try to not be an atheist when I’m feeling down? I’m so proud of you for relying on a religious security blanket for keeping your sanity (somewhat) intact?

My mother usually likes to follow this announcement with the warning that when my life gets tough, and I have no one to turn to, I will find [her] god. What she, and my friend, don’t know, is that there are atheists in foxholes. I don’t think my life so far has been quite as tragic as hers has, but as you know even from just reading this blog, it’s not easy either. I’ve had my bouts of depression for one reason or another, and in the more recent ones I’ve been very conscious that in order to get through it I was relying on myself and not on God. Intellectual honesty can be intimidating, especially when it means that without religion, life’s security blanket is suddenly gone. But I would rather know the truth, face life’s hardships, and get myself through it than rely on and beg a trans-dimensional deity for comfort–not to mention that an all-powerful god would have been the one to put me in the foxhole in the first place.

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27 Replies to “Christians in Foxholes”

  1. Hello!
    I was reading this and I wanted to tell you that not all Christians believe from life experiences. Take me for example. I just got out of school. I always ask questions and never stop searching till I find a perfectly logical answer. What I look for first in the Bible is whether it is able to explain all my questions. And I have to say that it does. I still have questions that I am working on.
    But you have to realise something. Even if I am able answer every simple question you have in life from the context of the Bible, if I ask you to fall down on your knees and accept Jesus as your savior, you will not. There will still be that element of choosing to surrender to something that will change the way you live. In today’s world people always call Christians cowards because they are scared to face life in reality. This is not true. It takes exceptional courage to believe in something truly and to spend your life following it, especially for the young generation who have such unlimited access to information.
    I am not against you. I really respect your opinion. In today’s world what we need is a clear undersanding. Instead of looking at what others talk about Jesus, look at what the scriptures say themselves. A lot of the teachings today are wrong. It is not somebody’s problem. Instead of pointing fingers we must go out and learn it for ourselves. That’s what I did. Read that bible on your shelf once more. I believe the scripture is able to stand for itself. This time read it without judgement and if you are ready to, ask God to show himself in those words if he is really true. It won’t do any harm, will it? I hope you will consider searching once more. Not based on what the world thinks but your own personal search. If it helps in anyway, I just started a site where I talk about Christianity. It’s not perfect and it does not have all the information. I will be adding more posts in time but I am happy to answer any number of questions you have.
    I will be praying for you and I hope you find the truth
    God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can understand where you are coming from it’s hard when other people push their religion down your throat. I grew up in a super religious family so I can understand the pressures and them not understanding where you are coming from. It’s hard to try to get people to understand things and open their minds and mainly the older generation. I would just try to ignore what other people say and stay true to myself and what makes me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm…How about next time your Mom tells you all this you say that it’s evidence her belief is based primarily on wishful thinking – at a time she needed support she convinced herself there was a magical person there to look after her, because she couldn’t cope with the truth? Tell her that now she has something more tangible to support her – a real-life loving family. Tell her it’s time she showed some trust in them (and you) rather than clinging to the idea of the wizard that lives on a cloud.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry that you’ve dealt with your fair share of attempted conversions. I think that’s the biggest mistake many Christians make. They forget about relaying the love of Christ to others and instead try forcing them into this relationship. But, this was actually a helpful post for someone who is Christian and may have used a similar phrase as that a time or so. Thanks to writing!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Instead of God being the “solution,” I often wonder if it’s the stringent and compulsory belief in Christian messages that ushers some followers down a road of despair. “You are a sinner if you leave that miserable marriage.” “You will be punished if you experience intimacy with your loved one before marriage.” “You should feel ashamed of yourself for watching that movie on reincarnation.” “You shouldn’t allow that Muslim to share her beliefs with you.” “You may love that brother of yours, but if he doesn’t change, he’s going to hell.” “Remember, you are wretched, helpless, broken.” The Christian message is the perfect recipe for depression. In my case, it led me to have an unhealthy relationship with myself, my loved ones, and the world around me. I only wish that I had then, the consolation that I have now, as a rational thinker who trusts in science, nature, medicine, my own abilities, and the comfort of my loved ones to get me through the difficult times in life, and not on the arbitrary intervention of a capricious supernatural being.

    Liked by 11 people

  6. Regarding my own belief in God:

    While God could be described as my “coping mechanism,” I believe in a god because the more I see of the world, the more I am convinced that such an all-powerful being must exist.

    It’s like planet-hunting: I can’t see God with the naked eye, but I can observe the effect that an all-powerful being known as “God” would have, and thus conclude that such a being exists. (That’s how scientists find planets outside of our solar system: they look for all the effects that a planet-sized object would have on its surroundings, and conclude that, at a particular place in the cosmos, there is a planet.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Turning it around like that does make one stop and think! Of course, I have personally known and attended church with christians who later took their own lives, so being a christian is no gurantee that one won’t take their own lives. Your mom certainly knows that this is true and probably knows a christian who has taken their own lives.

    You could comfort your mom, who is still in shock, by telling her that because you no longer believe in God, you recognize that this is the only life that matters and you want to live this one life to its maximum potential. So when you get into a tough spot, which we all do, you are not going to end your life, but work through the issues and you want her to be a part of your life when that does happen.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I suspect we all know people who committed suicide, if not directly because of their religion, it still played and plays a huge part in the process. You feel you simply cannot measure up no matter how you try, god doesn’t love you, your family keeps at you to “get over yourself” and “pray to God to ease your depression” (like that’s gonna help), and one day it’s just too much.

      Religious people do seem to take blame far more easily for their own “failings” and mistakes. Mea culpa, every damn day of their lives.


  8. I agree with Jim, turning the phrase around is quite an mind-opener. Very insightful on your part. I can almost hear your mother speaking–the message is so, unfortunately, cliche-ish. I totally agree with your assessment of the “God-saved-me-from-my-suffering” theme that we still hear so much from Christians, young and old. What astounds me the most is that with most of these testimonials, the testifier is always one who was close to suicide, on the streets, homeless, alcoholic, drug addict…it makes one wonder if the church hasn’t become a halfway house for those who can’t do for themselves! and in an ironic twist it has become that hasn’t it. The church is for those people as you so rightly put it: need a “religious security blanket.”

    I met with my Lutheran group last week as a matter of fact. I might add, I think of you each time I do so. They know I’m not in the Christian faith, but I consider myself a very spiritual person. This past meeting, the Lutheran pastor said that God brings forgiveness to people when they are at their lowest moment and suffering and all. I asked him what about those people who aren’t suffering? In other words, what happens to your god–who as you, closet, very well said–puts folks in the foxholes to begin with? What happens when folks are happy and satisfied with their lives, when they realize they have piloted their lives and chartered their human course quite well without his help? The pastor absolutely refused to answer that question. He simply said, but God brings forgiveness to them…. “Forgiveness for what?” I asked. He changed the subject. I went in the kitchen for another beer.

    Great post.
    Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What happens when folks are happy and satisfied with their lives, when they realize they have piloted their lives and chartered their human course quite well without his help?

      This is a VERY good question as it most definitely points out the core reason why so many turn to god. They are NOT happy They are NOT satisfied. They feel they are unable to pilot their lives through the misfortunes, sadness, and fears we all experience … so they turn to a “higher power” that they believe will give them what they need to face … LIFE.

      What disturbs me is when believers think we are ALL like them. We’re not. Many of us are happy and living our lives quite well, thank you very much.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. A very good point. And people love following many of the senseless rules that come along with religion since they feel that following said rules gave them control over their own lives. The problem is when they want to enforce these rules on everyone else because everyone is the same apparently.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Without a Deity to pray to, I have to look inside myself to find the answers. Very empowering.
        Without a Deity to tell me what to do, I have to rely on myself and my community for the answers.
        Without a Deity to take credit for the good things that happen to me, I get to take the credit for myself..
        Without Satan messing up my life, I have only myself to blame, but not wallow in it. God ain’t helpin’ there, either.

        Without a Deity, I get to be an adult, on MY terms. That is a very empowering feeling, too.

        And without a Deity to please with the hope (and often a thin one) of heaven–maybe–someday–and a heavenly reward, even though I know this is all there is, I get the rewards now.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. When I lived at home, we had a family who lived near us: the woman was a Jehovah Witness, and her husband was not. The rules are that you really really need to get allll the family involved, but he wasn’t having any, nor were her kids.
        She was, as you say, wandering, looking for a religion that would suit her.

        Eventually her husband lost patience with the entire process, and left. He found religion (she was named Patty) and divorced his wife. She soon sold the house and disappeared, the ex-husband gave up on his new religion and decided to become a monk, and the last I heard was living in a cave somewhere in the mountains.

        To me this was a perfect example of a conflicted “christian” family coming unglued. And yet there are plenty of people who are comfortable in their faith (and there are many) and their lives, don’t seem to have any trouble with it, it’s part of them, and they’re happy.
        I think it’s what you bring to your faith, or your religion, not the sect, cult, or church you espouse. Your own inner core keeps you whole. And if you’re an unstable person to begin with, religion surely isn’t the answer, nor the solution. People like that would be unstable in any setting, and often trying to follow a particular belief just makes it worse.


  9. Being a recovering drunk and someone who should have died many times, I have a bit of a different perspective. God did save me when all my self will couldn’t or wouldn’t – and I didn’t believe in God until then. Today, I have no doubt. For an example of someone who didn’t, read Jason didn’t make it on my blog yesterday – there are links that tell more about Jason. We’re all broken.
    God’s plan works if it’s followed. Given the results we live in today by not following it, you’ll be hard pressed to convince me otherwise. Imagine the world if we were other centered as Christ calls us to be, not self centered like expressed above. I’m talking about following Christ and not just claiming to be a Christian. Read the red letters and tell me if you can do it on your own. Christ was counter cultural in his day and he still is. Ever wonder why?
    As far as atheists in foxholes, maybe there are some and foxholes are a true winnowing event. I just haven’t met any, and I deal with a lot of folks in foxholes in my service work.
    I enjoy this blog and the comments, but like most athiest bolgs I’ve read, it seems focused criticism and not building. There’s a distinct absence of hope.


    1. The work Atheists do does not have atheism tied to it like many Christian charities, for example for many who work there, Doctors without Borders is atheists doing good work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cool. There are many secular charities that do great work. We of the West subsume what Christ has taught us (which was a 180 from existing norms of the time and human nature) as human nature.
        What we in the west define as evil (even as some worship Mao, Che, Vlad, et. al.) is survival of the fittest playing out.
        We can’t presume Godly characteristics as being human just because we agree with them.


  10. Of course she’s going to try to make you feel guilty. That’s something mothers are amazingly good at (my own mother is a prime example of that. Not in relation to my unbelief, but other matters). I feel that whenever a person says things like: “Without God, I would have killed myself/become an alcoholic/become a drug addict, etc….”, it shows you just how lowly they think about themselves. It’s your mom’s own achievement that she didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs or suicide during times of extreme peril. It’s a great thing she didn’t, but to give credit to god for it is to diminish one’s own belief in oneself and to not realise that she’s stronger than that. It’s sad to see, but with people like your mom it’s hard to convince them that they are not made of glass, are not fragile, should not subservient to a higher power that thy believe steered them away from becoming a person they didn’t want to become, and should have more respect for themselves. By the way, if you want to read something regarding “atheists in foxholes”, I would recommend “If this is a Man” and “The Drowned and the Saved” by Primo Levi. They are memoirs of the authors time in a concentration camp during WWII, where he was sent as a Jew, but was actually an atheist. He also documents how he never turned to religion during his time there because it would have only been false consolation. Happy reading 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Turning that phrase around really gives it a nice perspective doesn’t it? Absolutely a great point. When evangelicals say they can’t wait for the rapture and hope they are around to see it when Jesus returns, I think, wow! Then you can watch and revel all of us sinners burn and witness all that misery and destruction of the tribulation. Then you can point your fingers and shout see, see, I told you so! Watching all your non believer friends and family suffer and burn will be so wonderful.

    Liked by 7 people

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