The saying goes: There are no atheists in foxholes. Of course, it’s Christians who say that.

For those of us who are without god—atheists, skeptics, agnostics, humanists—we know that, if you have reasoned your way out of a belief in god, a crisis or catastrophe won’t make you a believer.

This past summer, my son had an accident. You can read about here in Brain, Child, if you want. (Or for frenemies, if you are nosey.) As I was driving to the hospital, I remember thinking, “Should I pray?’ It didn’t take me long to realize that this was a reflex, something I’d been trained to do as a kid, something I’d heard so many others do.

The truth was I realized how alone I was at that moment, driving to meet my son at the hospital. How alone my kid was on the helicopter, strapped to a board, scared.

But my faith was not with god, a god who allows children to suffer from disease and abuse and malnutrition. My faith was with the people who were taking care of my son—with the staff on the helicopter, with the doctors and nurses who checked him out, with the surgeon who would open him up and with the anesthesiologist who would put him to sleep—and wake him.

When we have a moment of crisis in our lives—or a tragedy—what we need most are the people around us. We need their support, their kindness and their expertise. Prayers to an invisible and impotent mythical man are ineffectual.

Yet you and I know that the majority of Americans do not think this way. Kent Brantly, the doctor who contracted Ebola, said after he was discharged from an Atlanta hospital, “God saved my life, a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.” Never mind that researchers have been working on a cure and a vaccine or that Americans risked their health in transporting and caring for him. The same god who allowed him to contract Ebola in his volunteer work also, apparently, cured him. That god allowed thousands of West Africans to die from the virus since the 1970s, but somehow managed to save all the Americans who’ve been treated here in the U.S.

All that makes perfect sense, right?

People who believe these things will continue in their slumber and perhaps pacify themselves with the belief that there is a god making all the tough decisions about who will live and who will die, who deserves to be healed and who is not as deserving. And they will feel “blessed” when god has saved them while others will feel betrayed when god does not answer their prayers.

But you and I will not feel betrayed by the universe.

And you and I will know who to thank.

And we will not offer prayers to those who are suffering.

Because we know that all we have in this universe is each other, and we must help when we can with words and actions. It’s not God who is “I am.” It is you and me. We are love, peace, grace, joy, strength, safety, shelter, power, creator, comfort. We have a beginning and an end, and we share the same middle–all the points in between. If you are reading this, we are connected by these words and by time and by similar world views.

We don’t belong to god. We belong to each other.


55 responses to “Foxholes

  1. Beautiful conclusion, Debbie! In regard to who gets healed through prayer and who doesn’t, I recently discovered the very irreverent Tim Minchin. He wrote a song about a Christian who tried to convert him based on the ‘miracle’ of his mother’s eye condition being cured. It’s worth the watch:
    (If that link doesn’t work, it’s Thank You God on you tube)

  2. I was appalled at Brantly when he said that. Appalled because he was a doctor and should know much, much better.

  3. Gosh! I LOVE this idea of still being able to pray, but not to a god. As a proclaimed atheist, prayer has been something that I’ve considered hypocrical of myself and have consciously stopped myself of doing because I had lumped the practice under a god. I liken this to having faith. (And this argument I have with my husband, a non practicing catholic, who believes that faith is also a religious term and to have faith means to believe in a god.) I believe that faith is having a belief in whatever circumstances it relates too… Such as I have faith that my son’s school will strive to give him the best education, or I have faith that my family will stand by me in times of strife. So thanks Deborah! You have made it possible for me to “pray again”!

  4. Totally agree with you, John. I was disgusted with Brantly when he kept thanking god for his recovery. A whole lot of people risked their lives to take care of him and nurse him back to health. The two nurses from Dallas, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, did the same thing. When are people going to wake up and realize that their imaginary man in the sky is just that: IMAGINARY!

  5. It never hurts to put positive thoughts, best wishes and/or “good vibes” into the world. I’m happy for my Christian pal’s prayers. I think they belong to me.

    • Aaron, i have to disagree. I think that often times Christians think that by praying, they’ve “done” something. In reality, praying does nothing at all, except possibly making the person praying feel better. Bring a meal, run errands, babysit kids, but do something REAL for someone who is having a hard time. In the case of a natural disaster, donate money, clothes, manpower. I’m not sure who originally said it, but it’s so true that “Two hands working accomplish a lot more than a thousand hands folded in prayer,” or something to that effect. You get the idea.

  6. I, too, was aghast that Brantly, a doctor surrounded by the doctors who had used every bit of their professional expertise to save him, stood there thanking, instead, his invisible sky god.

    Love this post, but I must say that little story block that ended with “You are mine” gave me the creeps. It struck me as some psycho captor speaking to a helpless prisoner in a horror movie. I guess I’m in a weird mood.

    On rare occasion I have embraced the Serenity Prayer, not as a prayer to any god but as a calming reminder to myself to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and do my best to make the distinction. I don’t consider that praying in a foxhole. It’s me talking to myself and preparing to face a tough situation as logically and sensibly as I can.

    • @PT I thought that little story about god, which I first saw on FB, was so far removed from the reality of what “god” really is (a voice that answers back, a hand that wipes the tears). The god was portrayed more like a lover. Yes, it was creepy, but it also shows how unrealistic some people’s conception of god is.

      I know there are many who don’t believe in god but continue to pray as a form of meditation. I think Sam Harris talked about that in one of his books.

  7. Thanks, Deb. I know you must hunker down in your foxhole following some of your iReport posts and such. Know that follks like me aren’t praying to a god for you at all, but thinking kindly of you, and hoping the idiots on the internet aren’t filling your inbox.

  8. This really hit home with me. A few years ago as I was being wheeled into the operating room while 4 months pregnant for cancer surgery I was terrified. It was truly eye opening to me that I never once said a prayer for myself or my baby. Up until that point I had been unsure of what my religious views really were but in that moment it all became very clear to me. I no longer believed in any of it and I was completely at peace with that and have been ever since.

    • @Kelly You must have been so scared. I hope you had a good support network. It is interesting that, in one of the most difficult moments of your life, your unbelief became clear.

  9. When others refer to god as the big man in the sky, I remind myself what “god” represents to me. To me god is all of the positive energy that makes up the universe. That energy flows from the hands of a surgeon, the sound of laughter from a child, the unconditional love of a pet, the greenery of nature, the ebb and flow of the ocean. When I am in need of prayer, I quiet my mind, connect and draw strength from the energy that comes from all of these positive sources that I call god.

  10. If there was a “God” then there wouldn’t be any “fox holes”…

  11. That was once again nicely written. I totally agree – if we only believed in ourselves and others, gods would be completely unnecessary.

    I won’t even begin to describe the amount of loathing I feel towards Mr Brantly. A prick, egotistic little twat… oops, I started anyway 🙂

  12. “We don’t belong to god. We belong to each other.”

    It’s that thought, right there, that I’d like to throw in the face of every religious person that says atheists can’t be happy/moral/fulfilled/decent human beings. I like it very much. There’s also another important thought, I think, that the shoe really is on the other foot. Religious people talk about being beholden to other people, and helping them with prayer, but when it all comes down to it, they really don’t preach accountability to people.

    And Dr. Brantly attributing his healing to god? It’s like telling everyone who screams at their TV it really works. He should have known better, and the people at home who prayed should have known better.

    • @siriusbizinus Thanks for your comments. I think you and Kathy expressed something that frustrates us all–that prayer isn’t action. It doesn’t help the person being prayed for–it only helps those saying the prayers feel better about themselves, as if they have helped in some concrete way.

  13. Hi Deb,

    I have always found that a major driving force behind the irrational beliefs of theists is profound fear. Fear of death, fear of judgment, fear of “evil” and fear of being powerless. So it doesn’t surprise me that it is at the point where people face their own worst fears – their mortality, threat to their loved ones and inability to (as you put it so nicely) bend the world to their will – that they succumb to their deep need to believe in an imaginary god concept.

    Praying to their imaginary god is surely not doing anything useful but for the person doing the praying it feels like it is, and thus it fills the need to fight against the fear. A co-worker (who is overtly Christian) recently recounted for me how his non-believing father had a terminal illness, but wasn’t changing his religous view. The co-worker told me he pressured his father to “accept Jesus as his saviour” (etc, etc) and his father finally gave in a couple of weeks before he passed. The co-worker seemed very happy with that outcome, and I asked him pointedly who did that really make feel better, him or his father? He admitted that it was more for himself, which I just left without further comment.

    The Ebola doctor and all the others who need to lean on “god” in times of fear, despite all their real-world knowledge, to me is just their way of saying that they are not courageous enough to face their fear without this crutch. I try not to judge them, as we all do what we must to get though life, but I do wish for a day when most people would not feel compelled to turn to theistic beliefs to face the hard parts of their lives.

  14. Chris, As always, some great points. I think, perhaps, if people didn’t lean on “god” so much, maybe they would lean on people and appreciate our common humanity. But maybe not.

    That is an interesting story about your co-worker. Maybe the father just got so sick of being badgered, he pretended to accept Jesus. Or maybe he did it as an act of love for his son. I might do that to ease my kid’s fear if I were in that situation. I just wonder if your co-worker really understood that he was pressuring his dad for himself. It reminds me of how the Mormons baptize some folks after death.

  15. Add me to the list of those who are put off by the “survivors” of chaos and disaster who assign their faith/religion as the link to that survival – what about the next person I always wonder….how did the person in the next frame get dealt a more difficult card than you? Less faith/religion?
    The response that “they are now in a better place” is equally off putting.
    Given the option, I think many or most would hold off on the better place for a while.

  16. Wow, all the comments above are moderated?! That tells you that most people may not be in agreement, but it makes the post look good. That’s what atheist do, they lie because the truth is inconvenient…maybe even threatening.

    • Shara, Did you try reading through other posts? Wow. There are Christians here, too. I moderate these comments because people (not you of course) can be disgusting. I do it as a courtesy to the others who write here with me.

      I love to approve comments like these. You show yourself. You show your ignorance.

  17. The most ironic thing about atheist is that they feel very strongly about the right to disagree with Christians, but they had when Christians disagree with them. Praise God that your son is well, though I’m sure this won’t be posted. As long as you know that God loves you, your family, and everyone in the world. 🙂

  18. Trust me, I’m going to let you post as many comments as you want.

    The “right to disagree with Christians”? I think you need to examine your assumptions. No, atheists don’t “ha(te) when Christians disagree with them.” That’s a pretty trivial thing to hate. Perhaps you are projecting onto us?

    Go ahead and praise your god. I’m not telling you to do otherwise. God loves me like he loves those who have been beheaded in Allah’s name. Oh, not that god? He’s your god, too.

  19. Your reply: “I moderate these comments because people (not you of course) can be disgusting.” At the end of the day, I think speaking against God, being that you cannot prove He doesn’t exist, is sheer ignorance and equally as disgusting (though I hate to use such strong words.) You may not think He is loving, but if God is real, then there must be some reason He made us. And if God made us and we insult Him and He does destroy us immediately for these kind of comments, then He’s a good God.

    How can you moderate opinions based on your opinion that it’s disgusting? I love the stateent: “If all truth is relative, or there is no truth, then my truth says that that is a lie.” Like Fiddler on the Roof – “You’re right, you’re right, and you are also right”. Somebody is lying and we can’t agree on who that is, so I’ll leave it in Gods hands.”

    Death is not a punishment when you trust in God. Death, appointed by God, (not suicide) is a doorway that takes you home. Suicide is saying, I refuse to learn, But life is a school: Check this out:
    (Let me guess, oxygen deprivation for such a significant amount of time caused her to hallucinate, never mind anyone else could not be without oxygen for that long….or maybe she’s maing it up.) Sigh. Praying for you. Blessings 🙂

    • I think speaking of god, using him as a weapon, shield, insult or badge is equally disgusting. Yes. Your arrogance in your belief in an offense to many of us. I didn’t seek you out to challenge your beliefs, however misguided I think they are. I know they are yours; they bring you comfort; they help you deal with the difficulties of living in a hostile world.

      You may not think my fairy is loving, but if SHE is real, then there must be some reason why she made us. And if she made us, and we insult her, and she doesn’t destroy us, then she is a good fairy.

      Sounds incredibly silly, doesn’t it? And, yet, that’s exactly what you say to us. Your made up man–your unique conception of what a deity is (because every person has her own idea), IS yours if the rest of us cannot see, hear, touch or feel. Your belief makes no sense, but I would not have told you that had you not come here with all your assumptions and hubris. And what, by the way, does your religion say about that? Live the word. Lead by example.

      I moderate comments because some of your teammates use offensive, vulgar language. Disagreeing, contrary to what you think, is not “disgusting.” I see that you were projecting how you feel, not me.

      Your fairy tale is yours, my fellow human. You are right in your own mind.

      Rather than pray, I hope you’ll use your time and energy for real good. Seriously.

  20. I would correct my typos, but your blog doesn’t allow editing.

  21. If your attitude is YOLO, then I’d be scared of death too. Very scared. I’d probably be mad at God about it as well. But I believe the world to come will make this world look like hell. If you want to talk science, then you would agree that some babies, not all, are born with crippling diseases due to choices of the mother. Yet we feel that an eternity living this way is ideal. How is that G-d’s fault, that in spite of all the science, some mothers still smoke and do drugs. But why not blame Him. After all He won’t get on this blog and shame you. You won’t know until your hoping beyond hope on that last breath, that something comes next. And you stand face to face with God. Makes you shutter? It should. The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. Not fear, like shaking in your boots, but fear like (understanding that He has the power to blot you out and He doesn’t). Respect for Him and faith in Him. I didn’t believe in God for a very long while, until a very simple question was posed to me, and I felt like an idiot for not believing in God ever since: “If God isn’t real then you can’t be punished for crimes against humanity and any other terrible choices. But what if you’re dead wrong? What if He is real.” He’s a safe bet, why be stubborn, just to be right? Is it worth eternity? Confessing to everyone that you don’t know is better than claiming that you know He isn’t real. Praying for you to have courage if any of what was said made sense. I do agree with you that it’s sooooo much more important to actually love each other than run around claiming to believe in God and not giving 2 cents about your neighbor. That’s what believing in Jesus (Yeshua) is all about. It’s like saying I believe in Martin Luther King. It’s believing what He stood for, that I can trust in the things that he says, not just the literal name. Believe and keep on loving. Your loving Him even if you don’t realize it!! 🙂

    • You should feel shame for what you wrote about mothers having deformed babies. The god you pray to is going to allow women to have deformed babies for smoking or doing drugs. Punish the innocent? All those years our grandmothers smoked and were told by their doctors, “It’s okay!” God. I cannot believe the freaking arrogance of some of you believers. Shame. You should feel that. How can you judge others? Oh. Right. Your belief somehow makes you better. Wake. Up.

      I can think of nothing more ignorant than believing our “soul” lives for all eternity in some idyllic place “out there.”

      Your shallow, trite words do not make me “shudder”. Stop making assumptions. I’m not mad at any of your superheroes.

      I am very familiar with Pascal’s Wager. Go educate yourself, Shara. Read. Listen. Study something other than church propaganda. Then come back and we will talk.

    • Atheists arent mad at god. but I am neither christian nor atheist, just a detached observer. People fear what they do not understand. Do I fear death? It is the unknown but i have learned if you are a good person (and maybe not a complete ass) in this life, surely you have nothing to fear. Am I saved? Jesus cant even save himself let alone all the millions of followers. It even says in the bible he will reject his own followers, what makes you think he is not going to reject them all out of spite? I dont play with fire, I live in my own flame. Fire can be symbolic for spiritual energy, or did you not know that?

  22. Check out the video, may change your life. I have to get back to my kids, so my not responding is not necessarily because I believe in what you’re saying. And you can bet if I believe that trusting God is a matter of life and death and I didn’t “go out of my way” to share it with you. I’d be a sicko. Care about others enough to tell them the truth. Shalom.

    • I think what you’ve written is even more evidence against belief.

      I saw the video–one of many that people have posted.

      Care about your kids enough not to brainwash them.

  23. Wow. Do we have a good christian here? I am loss at words – you OTOH handled this with grace. Ain´t if funny how being gracious is always expected of us but when the pious spit their venom it is just spreading the good word.
    Shara cannot be ashamed methinks.

  24. @saab93f Not sure what she was trying to accomplish in commenting. I think she just wanted to chastise us atheists. I thought this was funny: “…my not responding is not necessarily because I believe in what you’re saying.” Mormons baptize some of their dead, but because they’re not responding, the church interprets that as an “Okay! I’m in!”

  25. @Deb
    Maybe she´s scared that the lack of constant proselytizing equals giving in to faithlessness or even worse to atheism.

    It is always funny how the pious are offended and aggressive and even more so if we do not slump to their level of lowness 🙂

  26. @saab93f I don’t know. I think it’s that many believers think that stumping or selling god will get them brownie points. Frustrating how illogical their comments are…. :/

  27. Wow, I’ve been reading this blog for a long time and I can’t remember a more ignorant or arrogant commenter than Shara. Debbie, you handled that so much better than I would have. I don’t know how you keep from losing your temper with these foolish idiots.

  28. @Kathy. Thank you. I sometimes feel as if I am too harsh with those folks, but I get soooooo frustrated (and irritated) at the arrogance and ignorance–as no doubt you do, too….It’s funny, too, that they always say they want to help others, when they really just want to help themselves….

  29. Hello! I hope you can direct me to a post or write one up for me to help me with my young child. Of late, particularly this time of Xmas year, she gets into a very direct mode. “Santa is not real.” That I am perfectly ok with as well, Santa is not real.

    Now, when her Christian friends bring up God in their dinner prayer that she is attending, and of her own choice absolutely refuses to participate in, she will just say, “God is not real.” On some level, I am ok with that. But, she took my Santa explanation and twisted it to the god. “Santa is just a story that parents like to tell their kids. They know he is not real but they do it anyway, for fun. The kids will learn the truth one day.” Now, she has taken this “story” concept and told 2 parents this week, “You need to stop telling your kids stories about god.” She is only 5. But, still.

    I am all about allowing my child to say what she has to say. And, to allow her to be around people of differing views. And,if they bring up their views she has permission to say hers. She does not bring up santa or god as they are not routine topics in this house. So, if your kid can talk angels, my kid has the right to say, “I have never seen a person flying with chicken wings before. That is not even possible. They are 2 different animals!”

    i keep getting the argument that you are breaking another kid’s heart, (you being me indirectly via my child’s words), telling them their parents are wrong, etc. Well, when that child says, “Santa is coming to my house christmas eve,” then is he not imposing his belief on my child? “When he says, “Angels fly in heaven. My uncle is there.” Is that not imposing her beliefs on mine too? Actually, my child doesn’t talk about this stuff at all unless prompted. Doesn’t that say something?

    If god is so easy to believe in, then why is it necessary for all the mind-numbing brainwashing 4 times a day, prayer for breakfast, lunch and dinner then prayer at bedtime? Church on Wednesday and Sunday?

    Sorry, I digress. I know this post is making me sound heartless and selfish! I am trying not to be which is why I am asking for advice, your experience, anything!

    I just need some tools to help her 1) comprehend the difference between “us’ and “them” but then to understand, we are still human with all the same issues. 2) be a bit less authoritative 3) be considerate 4) whatever else you can add.

    Do you have something for me? I realize I lack the empathy skills needed to handle this subject tactfully. Nothing like being raised by alcoholics.

    This is the best I have come up with:
    “I don’t believe that he is real but it’s okay that you do.
    We can still be friends.”

    “We gonna have to agree to disagree.”

  30. @No Circ Your approach is similar to mine. If your child is involved in a conversation that involves god/religion, she has every right to voice her opinion in a respectful way. I told my kids that religion is a personal thing and should not be brought up, but that they could join the discussion, if they wanted. I also had a similar approach as you (and I like your response), which is basically: I’m okay; you’re okay. We can still get along and be friends. 🙂

  31. Even some ancient deistical individuals were logical about their beliefs: “I respect the deities, I do not depend on them.” – Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)

  32. Dear Debbie.
    Everyone needs religion. Not just Christians. See the humanist manifesto. ( Here, even John Dewey says humanism is a religion. Also see It’s because people know God exists…they just don’t want to admit it.
    If you want to chat, flick me an email at
    Rebecca 🙂

    • Rebecca, That makes absolutely. no. sense. “People know god exists but they just don’t want to admit it.” People know food exists, they just don’t want to admit it. People know that evil, jealousy, bacteria exist they just don’t want to admit it.

      Why, Rebecca? Why would people deny a belief in god if they really thought she existed? This is silly reasoning. Can you do better than this? Do not use external links to support your misplaced and misunderstood belief of atheists. If you are trying to reason why others might think the way they do, then use your own logic to present an argument.

      I think people believe because they 1. were told god existed as children and have not examined this idea on their own, and 2. they are too afraid of their mortality.

    • @rebbeccadevitt, I don’t mean to be rude, but your comment is asinine. Debbie is way too nice to say what she should say to you. Religion is a crutch for people who want to feel like someone is in control. Forget about the magical thinking and try a little logic.

    • Ive heard this claim before. Hate to break it to you, but just because you believe it is true, does not mean it is true. I guess some people are so accustomed to getting what they want they have to shove that round peg in a square hole. repeatedly.

  33. @Kathy Your approach works, too. Yes, “religion is a crutch”! It’s a little odd that some folks want EVERYONE to believe in god in order to validate their own belief. Somewhere in their brains, they must have their own doubts.

  34. I like telling christians that Easter is a Pagan holiday celebrating the goddess ishtar and Pagan rituals of birth an renewal. The maypole represents the kundalini or awakened soul or the unity of male and female. They usually respond with Paganism came after Christianity, yet there is still enough history left to shut some of them up. Even if there isnt enough history, I do know about Zorostrianism, the polytheistic religion that Christianity borrowed from the most. Shh dont tell christians, their religion is stolen.

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