Alternet: Why Atheists Don’t Turn to Religion When Faced with Death or Disaster
Posted: 29 January 2010 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]
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found this on the net and thought it was a good essay.

Why Atheists Don’t Turn to Religion When Faced with Death or Disaster
The notion that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ isn’t just mistaken, it’s bigoted and ugly; a denial of atheists’ humanity and the reality of our experience with death.
January 29, 2010 |     

Sure, you deny God now. But when you’re looking death in the face—when you’re sick or in an accident or staring down the barrel of a gun—you’ll change your mind. You’ll beg for God then. There are no atheists in foxholes.

This is one of the most common accusations that gets leveled against atheists. The idea seems to be that our atheism isn’t sincere. It’s naive at best, shallow at worst. We haven’t really thought through what atheism means; it’s somehow never occurred to us that atheism—and its philosophical companion, naturalism—means that death is forever. As soon as the harsh reality of what atheism means gets shoved in our faces, we’ll drop it like a hot potato.

Now, the most common atheist response to this accusation is to point out that it’s simply and flatly not true. And it’s one of the arguments I’m going to make myself, right now. This accusation is simply and flatly not true.


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Posted: 29 January 2010 02:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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If truth rather than snappiness were the object, the line would be, “There are no unsuperstitious people in foxholes,” or “Anybody who is utterly helpless and in mortal peril will lay hold of any crazy idea that gives him or her hope of not being killed.” In the two world wars, every combatant eventually figured out that, unless the war ended first or he had the good fortune to receive a crippling but non-fatal wound, he would be sent into combat repeatedly until he was himself killed. In other words, it was a certainty that large numbers of people not in any significant way different in their character or circumstances from oneself were going to be killed: the only question was whether one was going to be one of them. Ordinary empirical measures, it was plain, could improve one’s chances to some degree, but not significantly beyond the chances of others. In such circumstances, it is natural that one lays hold of anything that gives promises of keeping one alive. E.g., “I was carrying this key in my pocket when the guy next to me got killed but I was spared: so the key must have saved my life, and now I can’t go into battle again without the key in my pocket.” Praying to God and making bargains with him are just another manifestation of the same desperation.

It is strange that religious believers would adopt this saying under the illusion that it reflects the prevalence of belief in God in human beings. What it reflects is the connection between fear and superstition, of which the belief in a God who will answer your prayers is one species.

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Posted: 29 January 2010 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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My take on it is this.  When we are under extreme stress we tend to revert to earlier thinking.  It’s not uncommon for mature, independent, strong people, when close to death to call out, “momma”.  That’s because when they were very small, their mother protected them and solved their problems.  Similarly, those atheists who were inculcated with religion as their authority and protector, as small children, but who made the logical switch as they grew up, may, when under extreme stress, revert to the childish behavior of calling out to a god.  Atheists who didn’t have that early conditioning are much more likely to use strong profanity without any religious connotation as a way of expressing their distress at the pain or liklihood of immediate death.

Occam

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Posted: 29 January 2010 07:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Occam - 29 January 2010 05:45 PM

Atheists who didn’t have that early conditioning are much more likely to use strong profanity without any religious connotation as a way of expressing their distress at the pain or liklihood of immediate death.

Do you suppose that that is this guy’s problem?: Best Of The Tourettes Guy (1 of 4) (YouTube)

[ Edited: 30 January 2010 03:52 PM by Kritikos ]
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Posted: 30 January 2010 03:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Imminent death is about the highest order stress situation this semi-evolved primate can think of.  So If I’ve had time to exhausted all the rational solutions to the problem of extinction to no avail and if I don’t have that good Buddha calm, I’m going to panic. 
If panic is a loss of rationality then a panicked atheist just might pray for salvation.  Although these last panicked moments may not be very flattering, somehow don’t feel diminished by them.

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Posted: 30 January 2010 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Hindus do not call out for Jesus, Christians do not call out for Krishna, Muslims do not call for Mary, and on and on. Most religions are culturally determined with mutually exclusive deities.

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Church; where sheep congregate to worship a zombie on a stick that turns into a cracker on Sundays…

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Posted: 30 January 2010 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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skuld - 29 January 2010 11:07 AM

Sure, you deny God now. But when you’re looking death in the face—when you’re sick or in an accident or staring down the barrel of a gun—you’ll change your mind. You’ll beg for God then. There are no atheists in foxholes.


Yeah, atheists might even change their minds and pray. But… will that change anything? Is God supposed to listen, or actually DO something?

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Posted: 30 January 2010 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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That’s where the foxhole theist argument falls down.  Its the same as saying that the possibility of conceptualizing about a god proves its existence.  What does a momentary wish-fantasy have to do with the understanding of a universal model?

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Posted: 30 January 2010 07:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well, I for one have had my life threatened on a few occasions, one of them being during a time where although I wasn’t “religious”, I would’ve told you that I believed in “God.” And in all of those situations, theist or not, guess what was on my mind- the circumstances that I was dealing with. “God” was never on my mind in those instances. I was solely focused on the situation at hand, and the fears that came along with them. For instance, one time I lost control of my car on the freeway where most cars were probably going around 60+ mph. The thoughts that came to my mind as my car was out of control was “S**t, I’m going to die.” and “Focus.”

The argument presented in that blog by theists reminds me of a fairly common Cold Reading trick used by “psychics.” When the psychic makes a statement about someone and the person says that it’s false or that they don’t know anything about it, the psychic then says that either “it will occur” (conveniently at a future time where the psychic can’t be called on it during the “reading”) or that it “did occur” during some time that the person wasn’t aware of or present to witness. This takes out any possibility of falsifying the statement. Interestingly, the theists that use that argument aren’t aware that they’re attempting to make a psychic prediction about what “will in fact occur” when there’s really no way to know of such things.

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Posted: 30 January 2010 08:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Quoting Michael Holloway:

Imminent death is about the highest order stress situation this semi-evolved primate can think of.

  At 79 I’ve had quite a while to think about that, and it’s not the case for me.  Severe pain is far more stressful.  Death is merely annoying.  Unless I’m in pain as I die, I imagine my last words will be something like, “damn” or maybe something a bit stronger. smile

Occam

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Posted: 30 January 2010 09:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Here the analogy of the foxhole is meant to express are the long cold hours and not the violent seconds.  In the seconds it will as likely be oh crap as oh god.  In the long hours the primate we all are will want to reach for that straw.
I hope my last audible words will be “S’bout time.”
So yes, atheist should be allowed to be primates first.  that’s the only way these deist guys get a break from me.

[ Edited: 30 January 2010 09:48 PM by Michael Holloway ]
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