“There’re no atheists in foxholes,” religious people like to say. What they mean, of course, is that when you’re in trouble, the idea of a deity becomes more inviting. I’ve always thought the comment smug, to say nothing of beside the point, since belief does nothing to prove that a deity actually exists. So, while I can’t speak for atheists, I’m proud to say that I’m one agnostic who hasn’t found religion in the foxhole.
Mind you, I can see the attraction. Twenty months ago, I was abruptly widowed, and everything I expected about the rest of my life changed when I was still relatively young. Then, five months ago, just when I thought I found a group to identify with and maybe give me new direction, that was snatched from me, too. Under the circumstances, it would be reassuring to think that all the loneliness and existential angst had some purpose and that all had happened for the best.
The trouble is, I can’t reconcile these ideas with the senselessness of what I’ve lived through. If anything, my recent life seems evidence of randomness, of the stark fact that the only purpose is what I choose to adopt, and that even self-chosen purposes can be punctured by chance. To insist on an external purpose in the face of such evidence seems nothing more than wish-fulfillment.
Anyway, assuming that a deity exists, what would she/he/it/they think of my new-found belief? It wouldn’t be based on a sincere faith; it would be based on being frightened. Nor do I think much of a deity that used fear to gain followers.
The situation all comes down the familiar problem of pain. Endless pages have been written on this subject, but it amounts to one simple, unanswerable question: how can you reconcile the idea of a loving deity with all the hurt that’s in the world?
Suggesting everything is part of a larger plan doesn’t answer the question. Nor does the suggestion that, without suffering we could never appreciate happiness.
No matter what you answer, you’re still left with one of two situations, assuming that a deity exists. Either that deity has no control over how things operate, or that deity is amoral. In both cases, that deity is by definition unworthy of worship.
Instead of wrestling with such problems, it’s simpler – more logical, and more in accordance with my observations – to believe no one’s in charge. Far from encouraging me to find religion, if anything the last two years have nudged me from neutrality closer to outright atheism.
And if you suggest that the last two years were intended to teach me a lesson, all I can say is that I have more pride than to acquiesce to the machinations of a bully, no matter how powerful and no matter how badly I’ve been mugged.
You might call that perverse. Personally, I call it self-respect.
So, please, no smug talk about what happens in foxholes – especially if you’ve never been in one.