Atheist Returns From Foxhole (August 2002)

Although I am nearly a year late, please let me now take the time to publicly apologize to Ms. Kathleen Parker, whose guest editorial in the September 30, 2001, USA Today, chastised us atheists for being so silent (and nowhere to be found) in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Expounding on the effects of war, Ms. Parker also asserted, “there are no atheists in foxholes.”

I hope Ms. Parker will accept my belated apology for not being as vocal and as visible as I should have been, but you see, as an active duty Air Force officer, I’ve just returned from a one-year assignment at Prince Sultan Air Base, a base located in a remote part of the Saudi Arabian desert. While she was busy praying to her god, singing her many religious songs, marveling at the ubiquitous “god bless America” signs, and writing an editorial that questions the patriotism of approximately 30 million Americans, I was busy taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom, the war against terrorism. I’m sorry I was unable to come out of my foxhole long enough to make my presence known to her, but I was rather busy defending the very freedoms that she would like to see compromised.

When I joined the military, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps Ms. Parker is (or was) unfamiliar with this document, since the entire premise of her article is to “reconcile the legal separation of church and state with the marriage of god and country.” I’m surprised a journalist seems so ignorant of the wording and meaning of the religious clauses found in the First Amendment. The marriage of god and country that she advocates is precisely what our founding fathers wanted to prevent. They understood such a marriage might increase the probability of a theocratic society emerging: something akin to a modern-day Afghanistan or Iran.

What is tragic about Ms. Parker’s view is that she, as do unfortunately many other Americans, equates god-belief and patriotism as near synonymous qualities. According to their rationale, if you don’t share these “values,” you are not a good American. Even more tragic was her use of this catastrophic loss of life to promote her ideology while also attempting to ridicule her fellow citizens with no superstitious beliefs. Unlike Ms. Parker and her followers who feel you can only be patriotic in a time of crisis by shouting your belief from every rooftop, atheists understand that Robert Ingersoll’s axiom–hands that help are better than lips that pray–is the true patriotic response. But the ultimate tragedy, which Ms. Parker and her fellow believers fail to acknowledge, is that this calamity took place because of, and in the name of, theistic belief, not in spite of it. None of the September 11 terrorists were atheists–all were devoutly religious.

In over 20 years of military service, I’ve had the great fortune to travel to many spots on the globe and live in several countries. Those of us who have seen firsthand how societies have evolved in different parts of the world have an even greater appreciation for the democratic institutions and principles that have emerged in the United States. Freedom, and not religion, is what makes America so great. In this country, our Founders ensured our freedom was grounded in reason, not faith. Consequently, our form of freedom tolerates all religious beliefs, and yes, Ms. Parker, even nonbelief.

When I returned to the States, I found that Kathleen Parker has her own website. I was amused to see she proudly advertises that she received the 1993 H.L. Mencken Writing Award issued by the Baltimore Sun. According to her website, the judges praised her for “singing another note on the subject of family values and following the traditions of H.L. Mencken in attacking ignorance and stupidity with vividness and originality.”

Readers of Freethought Today will immediately recognize that H.L. Mencken was one of this nation’s strongest voices of reason over faith. In his autobiographical notes, Mencken writes, “religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration–courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.” Perhaps Ms. Parker should re-attack the ignorance and stupidity expressed in her own editorial with the vividness and originality of H.L. Mencken.

Freedom From Religion Foundation