Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorials and Foxholes

On this day, May 31st, we remember those who have fallen for our country. Sadly, it seems very few know this and see it as simply another Veteran's Day. I can't number how many mom and pop restaurants I passed by today that read "we thank our Veteran's for all they do!" They're apparently quite ignorant that it's more a day to remember what our veterans did. Two different holidays.

You may ask, what does this have to do with religion and the lack thereof? A lot. I had a lot to think of today, mainly surrounding a very difficult question: What is it that causes us to be so moved by those who gave their lives for a cause such as their country? I don't know about others, but something inside me moves me to tears when I stand by the grave of a 22 year old boy who died in war. It's a feeling of reverence and thankfulness.

But why?

Certainly this is nothing new. And certainly it is nothing exclusive to Western thinking nor Christianity. Even less foreign to Atheism. I did a simple google search of "Veterans and Atheism" and was surprised to find an organization for this very same idea.

There has also, as you'd find on that page, a long fight by this organization to deny the charge that "there are no Atheists in foxholes." For the longest time, even I bought this catch-phrase, believing that something in us still looks up at the skies when death comes knocking. This is far from true.

So then, what value is there in a man who does not believe in God and spirituality and the second-coming and all that jazz dying for his country? What value is there in an Atheist man who remembers such people dying for the country they now live in?

There is some value. For whatever reason, we evolved in such a way that caused us to be mindful of our history. For whatever reason, we remember and we record. We're sentimental, and we learn from lives we did not live but that came before us. This can easily become another philosophical debate on morality, seeing that the soldier is fighting for the ideals of his country and who's to say the other country isn't right? But I think it goes deeper than that still. This is a man, many men, thousands of men who willingly die for a cause.

Why? And why does this move us?

Unfortunately, I have no answers only emotions. I just hope it stirs the reader to think and feel as well.

For further reading, I found a article on the issue of Atheists in foxholes:


  1. The phrase "Danger-close knows no atheists" is a very valid and acurate sentiment. You must not be blinded by your own personal experience with a sect of a religious movement that you generalize to this degree. There is no love lost for the non-christian soldier, however in the face of mortal harm nearly all find there minds turning to help from greater forces. No one ever said it jad to be allah, buddah, satan or christ. It is only meant that those without faith tend to dwell on it in times of crisis.

  2. Are you sure about that? Sure, my bias does effect my way of seeing things but we all have our own biases. Yours is belief, correct?

    Apparently there are those who say such statements are completely incorrect. How accurate is it? I'm not being cynical, I'm actually being very curious because you have insight that I do not have. =) So what's your experience with non-believing comrades?

  3. I effectively fell into the non-believing category. Especially so when reviewing my "dog tags", as you would find the words NO-REL-PREF.

    Faith is a conjecture, one that is easily accepted as denied. It doesn't have a set of rules or rituals, it is simply an acceptance of a possibility without proof.

    The criteria for being of a religious persuasion has become entirely subjective that the faithful will denounce one another for various infractions of opinions, personal or group held.
    The great majority of soldiers I served with performed no religious duties while in theater beyond those of personal faith. They greatly disagreed from one to the other over nearly all the supporting details beyond the obvious requirements of their selected faiths.

    Back on the primary point; A grave threat to mortal life, real or perceived, has an effect on the actions of men. Within the moment it awakens most of them into a state of fear, and a symptom of that fear is manifest in a "God help us" manner. This cannot be taken axiomatically; however, it is the overwhelming consensus from those who've been in such a position. This does not mean any one God in particular, as I had stated before.

    What I am trying to say in so many words is that this is not a phenomenon that is symptomatic to Christians. Its not a tool of conversion. Its a matter of perspective that some will attribute to the very origin of religion itself (fear) or as a spiritual awakening of what was always within.

  4. That's an interesting conjecture Yuri. I think, to a degree, you are right. It does seem to be something primal in the response to look to something higher as a reaction to fear.

    But I still wonder if the statement is true because it's an all exclusive statement - no atheists. It's still a bold one that does not leave room for exceptions.

    I believe there are exceptions, and there are those who do not react by looking skyward or supernaturally. Unfortunately, I can not yet say I have outgrown this reaction. Even as an Atheist, I've still spent the majority of my life as a believer and was raised to seek God in times of trouble. So there's still something about the idea of a all-knowing Comforter and Heaven when such things as death brings its destruction through family.

    I can not see a reason to deny one who says they do not have such feelings or sympathies.

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  6. The maxim is not an axiom, as there are exceptions to everything. Human beings are capable of free will, and I am certain there have been those with the resolve not to think in that way, or those who simply did not without any prior thought.
    A great deal of what we believe in, and how we act in society, is heavily culturally dependent. Eastern religions and those of the West and Middle East are wildly different.
    The Shinto religion of Japan is more centric on the presence and value of the soul (Kami). There is little focus on the existence of a God. Considering the actions of Japanese fighter pilots in WWII can give a great perspective on this argument about the presence of atheists in combat.

    Atheism retains the capacity to participate in other religious philosophies as its main tenant is only the rejection of a "Creator God"
    In and of itself it is as much of a conjecture and an act of "faith" as any religion.
    Acceptance of these possibilities either for or against the existence of any spiritual forces easily falls into the realms of logical fallacy (argumentum ad ignorantiam).

    I think you are more of an agnostic than an atheist.

    (I need to remember to spell check, lol)

  7. Good points Yuri.

    And yes, I absolutely agree with you with it comes to conjecture amongst those who call themselves people of faith and Atheists. William Alston discussed this issue and seems to have coined the phrase "epistemic circularity." It's a marvelous topic and I've been contemplating having a blog about it.

    I do not choose the title agnosticism because I deny theistic belief, which is what atheism means at it's core. As said in my profile description, atheism doesn't necessitate that you deny possibilities, nor does it require you to believe there is nothing you do not know. There are going to be places and points in which we are all agnostic - without knowing.

  8. I am almost sad that you've left me with nothing more to say on this topic. It was good talking to someone about this, especially one whom had not established an unwavering alliance, or "fanboyism", towards a philosophy.

  9. Aw, haha, sorry Yuri. Thanks so much for the input! I'll be writing quite often so if you have anything else to add or question that would be marvelous. You bring something else to the table and that's cool.