Atheists in Foxholes: No Miracles Required by Bruce Monson (April 2002)

This issue of Freethought Today debuts a new column. You will meet some people in uniform who allegedly do not exist–the atheists, agnostics and freethinkers among the men and women who serve in our armed forces and work for our fire and police departments throughout the country. We hope this column will put to rest the polemical claim frequently heard in times of national strife, that: “There are no atheists in foxholes!”

It was on a Sunday around 11 a.m. when my fire department engine company responded to a teenage female having difficulty breathing. When we arrived, there were about fifteen people, mostly teenagers, crowded around a girl who was sitting on the porch hyperventilating. I was able to determine, from her presentation and history, that she was not having an asthma attack or other serious respiratory compromise, but an anxiety attack. For the next 20 minutes I sat with this girl, coaching her breathing, speaking calmly, holding her hand–just basic TLC.

Success! Her breathing returned to normal, after which she felt a little tired, so we had her lie down on a sofa inside. As she lay down, the girl suddenly told me, “You know, you should come to my church with me!”

Now, as a person in a position of trust, I have to be careful about what I say to people while on duty. I also knew it wouldn’t take much to rekindle this girl’s anxiety attack, so, smiling, I replied, “Uh, I don’t think that would be a very good idea.” I then attempted to change the subject back to her breathing, but she persisted, adding, “No, really, you should come to my church with me! It’s a wonderful church, it’s New Life . . .”

I had to call in a report to my base hospital, so I took this moment to do so. While I was in the next room on the telephone another girl said to me, “Yeah, we really would like to have you at our church!”

After this second invitation it dawned on me that we had walked into a Christian group meeting! This wasn’t to be the end of it, however. When I returned to the first girl to give her some final instructions about “controlling her breathing,” she continued with her mission: “You know, you really do need to come to my church.” And then, putting her hand on my arm, she added, “It’s OK, I used to be a bad person too!”

I was stunned by this insult and asked her if I was a bad person because I don’t go to her church? She immediately responded that she “hadn’t meant it that way.” Maybe. In either case, I told her that I have already been where she is, and have no desire to go back; and that she has much to learn and I hope one day she comes to understand that.

What disturbs me most about this event is not what the girl said about me, but what she said about herself–that she “used to be a bad person,” but now that she accepts Jesus, she’s suddenly “good.” Nonsense! She was undoubtedly a “good person” to begin with, and she would be so regardless of the religion she professed, if any at all. While the particular religious beliefs of these young people may be a great source of happiness for them, it is a shame that their church leaders teach them that anyone not believing as they do is “bad” or in need of “saving.”

We should also ask why, in accordance with Mark 16:17-18, the “laying-on of hands” by her Christian friends didn’t help this girl, but the care provided by a heathen humanitarian did resolve the problem–no miracles required.

Freedom From Religion Foundation