The statement, "There are no atheists in foxholes,"
is used to imply that many avowed atheists
really do believe in God
, and that in times of extreme stress
, such as when participating in warfare, the belief will surface, overwhelming the less substantial affectation of atheism.
The precise origin of the phrase is uncertain. Various sources credit Lieutenant-Colonel William J. Clear, or Lieutenant-Colonel William Casey, but the phrase is most often attributed to journalist Ernie Pyle. The line is used in the film Wake Island, which was released sometime in early 1942. In the book Ghost Soldiers, author Hampton Sides credits the origin of the phrase to "Father Cummings," a chaplain present during the raid at Cabanatuan in 1945. In the form "There are no atheists in the trenches", the idea dates back at least as far as World War I.
- In a September 30 2001 opinion column in USA Today, Kathleen Parker, writing about the September 11 terrorist attacks, wrote, "There are no atheists in foxholes, we've always known. There were none in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, we can guess.
- On the September 4 2005 broadcast of the Good Morning America television show, in a segment about Hurricane Katrina, co-host Bill Weir stated that there are "no atheists in foxholes or hurricane zones." American Atheists demanded and received a retraction.
- A November 14 2005 article for conservative news site CNS News offered further insight by interviewing a number of atheist veterans who had organized to march on Veterans Day. Rick Wingrove, Virginia director of American Atheists and an Army Vietnam War veteran, was quoted as saying, "What better day than Veterans Day to show that we served our country, too.
- On the April 5 2006 broadcast of the Today television show, in a segment about "God, America & War," Katie Couric said, "Perhaps you have heard the expression, 'There are no atheists in foxholes,' and the men who have occupied the oval office have also turned to a higher power." American Atheists has demanded a clarification and apology.
- The phrase is used in the film The Omen (2006). The character Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) says it when he is showing Robert Thorn his photographs which foreshadow some of the characters' deaths.
- The phrase is also used in the Oliver Stone film Any Given Sunday (1999), by the team chaplain of the fictional football team Miami Sharks. The line is believed to have been ad libbed by the actor in the part, Anglican Bishop Steven Raulerson.
- A March 12 2007 article written by nationally syndicated columnist Suzanne Fields, prominently used the phrase to attempt to discredit various politicians and the Democratic Party by casting non-theism in a strongly negative light.
- From fiction writer James Morrow: "'There are no atheists in foxholes' isn’t an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.
- From fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut, in his 1990 novel Hocus Pocus: "The sermon was based on what he claimed was a well-known fact, that there were no Atheists in foxholes. I asked Jack what he thought of the sermon afterwards, and he said, "There's a Chaplain who never visited the front.
Organizations and awards
One organization, the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
exists to support atheists in foxholes. The group, headed by a combat veteran and West Point
graduate, is composed of, and run by, atheists in the military. On Veteran's Day 2005, MAAF and American Atheists
hosted military atheists in a march on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
In October 2006 the Freedom From Religion Foundation gave Philip Paulson its first "Atheist in a Foxhole" award at its annual convention in San Francisco. He attended although he was barely able to travel, as he was dying of cancer. Philip Paulson, an atheist and a Vietnam Vet, filed suit against the city of San Diego to remove a cross from atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, which was on property owned by the city. He won, but the case was appealed. Mr. Paulson died on October 25, 2006. The case is now in the U.S. Supreme Court.