A Foxhole Atheist Speaks Out December 9, 2008

A Foxhole Atheist Speaks Out

Benjamin Tupper, an atheist captain in the Army National Guard, recently shared a story about a friend of his from Afghanistan on National Public Radio.

It’s a sad story, but two aspects of it stood out to me:

  • There are indeed atheists in foxholes. We need to correct anyone who says otherwise.
  • There can be a powerful bond formed between two people when they realize it’s more important to be kind than to be right.

Religious debate was friendly and civil between the two guys. It didn’t sound like Tupper or Fayez were hellbent on converting the other to his line of thought. That allowed their friendship to flourish.

Then there was Fayez, one of our Afghan interpreters, who was the most eloquent in explaining the pillars of Islam. One night, I described my faith — that men could do good deeds without interference from God — and my fear that religion caused much of the strife we witnessed daily in Afghanistan. This was met by a chorus of condemnation. Fayez floored everyone by interrupting to say that they all should consider the possibility that I was right. This was a brave thing to do in a country where, even today, people face death for questioning Islam.

It would be dishonest to say that, in the shadow of his tragic and cruel death, I’m now a believer in the afterlife. But I can say, if there is such a thing as heaven, Fayez surely belongs there.

Of course, the NPR headline-writer ignores the focus on the friendship, choosing instead to highlight the author’s lack of faith:

There ARE Atheists In Foxholes

Not really the point of the story… still, its good to see NPR airing the essay.

(Thanks to Ben for the link!)

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  • SarahH

    It’s heartbreaking to lose someone close when you honestly don’t believe there’s anything after death. For me, the grieving process takes much longer, and it’s definitely more painful, but it feels healthier than pretending or trying to convince myself that there people still exist literally somewhere.

  • Gabriel

    Damn skippy there are atheists in foxholes. The time I was in depoled in Kuwaite in suport of Opperation Iraqi Freedom I was an atheist. Also the only service member’s that I spoke with who thougth it was a good idea to be there were evangelicals who said we were there to spread the word of chist and I was even able to be an out Atheist with them and it didn’t matter. A few statemetments back and forth and then back to work. One of the few places I have ever felt safe to ecpress my atheism. Fuck all of these born again christians who don’t serve the country. I am sure that the atheists are willing to serve. Please. Please. Please.

  • I heard this on my drive to work this morning. It made me smile. It was a sad story, but uplifting too.

  • From a matter of logic, it would seem that the claim that there are no atheists in foxholes is less about proving the existence of a god than it is about humans’ willingness to lie to themselves to avoid or reduce fear.

    And except for those who believe us to be immortal, we’re all living in foxholes, aren’t we?

  • Tim Bob

    true story atheists in foxholes. I’m one of 3 at my unit. the funny thing is when we hunt drug smugglers, when we take them onboard they all immediately grab the crosses around their necks and start praying. we never catch atheists. hehhe all the drug smugglers i’ve ever snagged were catholic. ; P

  • Polly

    I heard this story yesterday on the way into work in the morning. I couldn’t believe they were actually telling the story of an atheist.

    I literally laughed out loud, alone in the car, when Tupper said that, sitting around together drinking tea, the only thing the Afghani Muslim soldiers and American Xians could agree on was that he was going to Hell.

  • Adam Jennings

    I am one of the 3 or 4 atheists and about another 10-14 agnostics/deists in my unit.

    We also have the other side of the coin. But most of those people live less moral lives than us atheists. We don’t do one thing in the light and another in the dark. A friend of mine has a pretty open relationship, but his partner and he know about it. At the same time, I used to work with a couple Christians that would be two different people. One at home. Another away.

    I like the way he ended the article. Giving sincere concern for his friend without bowing to the beliefs of others.

    I am glad that more of us are getting our words out. I was approached last year and told that there are no atheists in foxholes. I wanted to punch the guy, but he definately outranked me so I bit my tongue.

    I don’t know if I’d do the same a year later.


  • Jeff Dubin

    I was also really pleased to hear that piece. Thanks, Hemant, for posting it. Tupper used different language than I would have–to me, “I hope that if there’s a heaven, my friend is there” is a meaningless statement–but regardless, I give him credit for the compassion behind it.

  • misanthropope

    “no athiests in foxholes”? there are ONLY athiests in foxholes. anyone who really believed that God as it is presented in the major cults, “knows” he is no safer in the foxhole than out of it.

    nobody anywhere believes in god. that’s the funny part. it’s “the emperor has no clothes” and that’s all there is to it.

  • Excellent piece.

    I am currently a “Foxhole Atheist” currently deployed in Iraq. It is nice to see that I am not alone!

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