Chris Hayes Uses “No Atheists in Foxholes” Line June 2, 2010

Chris Hayes Uses “No Atheists in Foxholes” Line

***Update***: Hayes has apologized:

It’s not an on-air apology, but it’s better than Leonard Pitts non-apology.

Earlier tonight on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, frequent guest Chris Hayes (the Washington editor at The Nation) used the “no atheists in foxholes” line.

Video’s not up yet. I’ll put it up when it’s available.

Video’s up. Here’s the relevant portion:

In the meantime, @kevingreencorn on Twitter sent Hayes this image:

Hayes’ response?

Which is really the same thing Leonard Pitts said earlier.

It’s still not ok.

We know you’re using it as a literary device and not “stating it as fact.” But people think it’s true.

It’s not.

It’s slander and a disservice to the atheist men and women who serve our country honorably.

If we keep pushing that message, maybe they’ll stop saying it.

(Thanks to everyone for the link!)

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  • Lauren

    Sexy atheists in uniform! YUMMY!!! 🙂

  • Mel

    Awesome image! Thank you to all the men and women in service, all over the world, for their efforts and sacrifices.

  • SickoftheUS

    I feel as lukewarm about this as I do about gays in the military. The overarching problem is that the US has such a giant f*cking military in the first place – that it exists, that it’s draining the country dry, and that it’s used to commit violence in so many places around the world.

    It looks like the soldiers in the picture are in Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m angry that they’re there! The fact that their religious beliefs aren’t respected is a far distant concern, in my view.

  • It’s hard to utter the words “I’m sorry.”

    Maybe they should try “Mea culpa.” Then they’ll sound all intellectual-like and save face. The problem with sounding right as an alternative to being right is that, sometimes, people see through the BS.

  • Sarah

    Mmmm… atheist soldiers.

  • Grimalkin

    Seriously? After 50 years of civil rights, people STILL think “well, everyone else says it!” is an acceptable excuse to say something discriminatory? How is this even possible?

  • Miki

    *channeling Paris Hilton*

    That’s hot.

  • And I have a new desktop photo. Though I could just take a similar picture of my husband, I suppose. 🙂

  • BoomerChick

    If you listen, Keith says “YES!” after Chris casually insults atheists with the fox hole statement. I guess Keith had a good laugh over those irresolute atheists. There goes the little celebrity crush I had Keith.

  • Dan W

    Huh. Way too many people seem to think this phrase is acceptable, even after we show them that it is inaccurate and stereotypical. What a bunch of pretentious pricks they are.

  • benjdm

    Success! I got a ‘you’re right, I’m sorry’ reply after I sent this:

    “I saw your tweet that you ‘didn’t mean to endorse it as a statement of fact.’ That is immaterial; it’s still a slur. Do you think someone who said ‘that’s mighty white of you’ could defend themselves by saying they didn’t mean to endorse the view that all good deeds are done by white people as a statement of fact?

    You’re claiming that atheists’ atheism is cynical and dishonest a belief as the cynical and dishonest small government beliefs of politicians. I may not have been in a foxhole, but I did experience similar situations in the Navy. None of them caused me to begin considering characters I previously considered fictional (Harry Potter, God, Demons, etc.) as real.

    You’re really comparing Pat Tillman’s atheism to Bobby Jindal’s small government rhetoric? You owe all military atheists an apology. This is how military atheists behave ‘in a foxhole’:

    “As bullets flew above their heads, the young soldier at Pat Tillman’s side started praying.

    “I thought I was praying to myself, but I guess he heard me,” Sgt. Bryan O’Neal recalled in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press. “He said something like, ‘Hey, O’Neal, why are you praying? God can’t help us now.'”

    Tillman’s intent, O’Neal said, was to “more or less put my mind straight about what was going on at the moment.”

    “He said, ‘I’ve got an idea to help get us out of this,'” said O’Neal, who was an 18-year-old Army Ranger in Tillman’s unit …”

    And then he was shot and killed. No conversion – sincerely held beliefs remained sincerely held.”

  • Tina

    Well done with the picture and keep your head down guys, we want you home again, safe and sound.

  • Brian Macker

    His lies about libertarians were also “not ok”. These are government oil leases. One would expect the government to police their own leases, since there is no private owner to do so, or bear additional liability.

    Also minarchist libertarians main point is that the government exists mainly as an agent for national security. So they don’t have a problem with the government running a war. What they have a problem with is a government trying to micromanage the economy during a war. The reason is that it is impossible for a government to run an economy. Why that is true is a longer story.

    So not only is Chris Hayes full of it when it comes to atheists, he’s full of it about libertarians also.

  • SpencerDub

    [I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls. Nevertheless…]


    Nobody’s saying that these people don’t have a right to free speech. We’re not suggesting the government crack down on them because they were offensive.

    We’re saying that their words contribute to a perpetual climate of intolerance toward nonbelievers, and that the responsible, respectable choice of behavior for these private citizens would be to apologize. We’re not forcing them to do anything, so nobody’s freedom of speech is being curtailed. Indeed, I think you’ll find that many nonbelievers care deeply about the right of freedom of speech, even when such speech is objectionable. Just because you can say anything, however, doesn’t mean you should, and that’s what we’re getting at here.

    You’re right in saying that people around the world are persecuted and killed for their beliefs. That’s why it’s so important to fight intolerance when we can, and to deny it the opportunity to grow.

    Nobody’s being censored here. It’s not censorship to tell your racist neighbor that saying “No black person does an honest day’s work” is rude, offensive, and inaccurate. It’s not censorship to tell an anti-Semite that saying “Every Jew is rich and miserly” is rude, offensive, and inaccurate.

    It’s not censorship to say that “There are no atheists in foxholes” is rude, offensive, and inaccurate.

    Correction and civility do not amount to censorship.

  • Epistaxis

    Meh, it’s just a silly colloquial expression. I don’t think we ought to Take Offense, or we’ll be no better than the Muslims. Just snidely quote Vonnegut and move on:

    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.’

  • SpencerDub


    I would agree that there are bigger fish to fry, and this certainly doesn’t warrant a call to arms. I think this is the sort of situation where politely-worded correspondences can make a better point than getting all enraged. Nevertheless, while this doesn’t call for a massive mobilization (so to speak), I think it’s an important battle to keep fighting, just like the battle against the use of “gay” as a pejorative. Our objection needn’t be angry or uproarious– just present.

  • Mikey

    To everyone on Friendly Atheist, I would like to apologize for my previous comments. I’m sorry, I wish hadn’t written those comments in the first place, and I am ashamed of the tone and the content. I let my emotions get the best of me, and I really wish I could take those comments back. I have asked Hemant to remove them, hopefully he will.

    Once again I apologize to all of you, I know what I said was offensive, and I hope that you can forgive me.


    hopefully that was a better apology than Pitt’s 🙂

  • Revyloution

    Hrm. Hemants offence makes me think of the word ‘nigger’.

    It’s perfectly ok for one man of dark complexion to call another ‘nigger’. As a descendant of Norwegians, if I call a dark complexioned man ‘nigger’, then I might be looking for a fight.

    The gentleman on the Oberman show looked like the stereotypical atheist. The liberal dress, the nerd/cool glasses, the demeanor. Now, he might be a Jainist for all I know, but he looked the typical non believer to me.

    With the nigger example fresh in your mind, can atheists use the ‘no atheists in foxholes’ phrase with no insult intended? Can we laugh about the idea of being in a life or death situation and hoping there is a teleological assistance? I know I’ve heard a few semi-derogatory jokes about atheists and had a good laugh (the joke about the atheist orgasming and screaming ‘math!’ or ‘evidence!!’ had a good giggle.

    Words matter, but intent matters far more. I can say nigger, spic, whop, yankee, guero, chink, gringo, nip, kike, gerry, or any other racial slang. Anyone who knows me would know that I’m probably making fun of those who are ignorant enough to use race as in a prejudicial fashion. Those who don’t know me would probably be greatly offended. In the end, it’s not the words that are used, it’s the intent behind them.

  • Hmmm, interesting. The addition of the characters:

    ” sorry won’t do it again”

    wouldn’t have exceeded Twitters 140 character limit.

  • Laura Lou

    This is really uncharacteristic of Chris Hayes and in all other instances he shows himself to be progressive, good guy. Leniency and forgiveness is more than justified, especially since he did apologize soon later.

    Please update this post to reflect that, Hemant.

    Don’t be quick to anger.

  • Bob

    It seems to me that Army Ranger Pat Tillman was disparaged for his (and his family’s) atheism, not to mention the one account where Tillman supposedly remarked, “Your God won’t save you!” to one of his men as they fell under fire.

    The gun crew that shot Tillman was later found to include men who were improperly trained and one man whose eyeglasses were sadly out-of-date.

  • Claudia

    Update in order. Chris has given a more full and appropriate apology:

    OK: I shouldn’t have used “atheists is foxholes,” even as a referent. My bad.

    This is good enough for me. He got the point. I liken this to “That’s so gay”. Good people with no actual prejudice (and I seriously doubt a progressive like Hayes has anything agianst atheists) can end up using ill-advised comments out of old habit. He got the heads up and then the follow-up and has apologized appropriately. I’m pretty certain this will be his last public use of the phrase.

  • jmrunning3

    I saw this too, but I didn’t think it offensive at all. What I heard Chris saying was more of a false equivalency by comparing the “no atheists in foxholes” myth with the “no libertarians in a crisis” myth. He definitely could have picked a more politically-relevant comparison, but I felt hte overall point was made.

  • @Claudia: I don’t see the problem with “That’s so gay” much anymore. When people use it, they’re usually using it to describe something that is extremely homosexual.

  • Now I know why I’m single. Judging by the first few female comments, I should have joined the army.

  • Sunioc

    Mexicans are lazy. Nononono, I was quoting “mexicans are lazy.” I didn’t mean it as a statement of fact.

  • FreeThoughtCrime

    As there are no Christians in Heaven, it turns out there are no small-government disciples in massive oil spills.

  • Claudia

    @Claudia: I don’t see the problem with “That’s so gay” much anymore. When people use it, they’re usually using it to describe something that is extremely homosexual.

    I don’t really think its meant as a mere descriptor. So far as I’m aware whatever is being described as “gay” is meant to me denigrated. Its a phrase used in the pejorative sense, largely by 14 year old boys, except when its used tongue in cheek. Everyone’s level of sensitivity is different of course, but I think its about the same in terms of how offensive it is; well below N-word but still not quite acceptable amongst educated adults.

  • Neon Genesis

    Rachel Maddow pwns Keith Olbermann anyway. On a positive note, did anyone catch Rachel Maddow’s show one day during her Geek Week when she had the Natural Selection rap on her show?

  • Christina

    I know he already apologized, but I sent Chris the following email:

    Good morning Chris,

    I’m a daily watcher of the Rachel Maddow Show and I read The Nation regularly. I was disappointed to hear you use the phrase “no atheists in foxholes” on the Keith Olbermann show in your capacity as Washington editor of The Nation. The Nation’s founding prospectus from 1865 says in part: “[The Nation] will, . . . wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.” (emphasis mine). I feel that your casual use of an outdated slur against atheists doesn’t hold up to The Nation’s founding principles and hope that you will not use such language in your professional and public capacity in the future.

    Neon Genesis: I loved that rap!!! Everyone should watch a clip if it’s available on the RM blogsite.

  • sven

    I rather like the common phrase “There’s no believer in a thunderstorm.”

  • Neon Genesis

    Did anyone get an apology from Keith Olbermann for agreeing with Chris Hayes?

  • Scootah

    The phrase refers more to the propensity of irrationality in the face of extreme fear. To quote James Morrow, it’s not an argument against Atheism, it’s an argument against Foxholes.

    I understand how it must be frustrating for athiest soliders, or really any athiest who’s been through extreme exeriences and not been swayed from their rationality to hear this statement, especially if it’s directed towards them.

    But comparing it to the preconceptions associated with Judaism that were used for propaganda by the Nazi’s or ethnic slurs that implied a lesser degree of humanity? That’s just obnoxious and not a little reactionary.

    It screams of a victim complex and a desire to be a protected minority far more then any rational sense of having been wronged.

  • jasonorlandohawk

    “No believers in a thunderstorm?” Bah! I love a good thunderstorm, & frequently pray or sing worship songs during them! How dare you make sweeping generalizations about people of faith without bothering to ask every single person in a thunderstorm whether or not they are currently experiencing an increase or decrease in their faith?

    (And no, I’m not joking about the thunderstorm part. I’ve had people have to pull me back inside during lightning storms because I was so fascinated I wasn’t moving away from the danger. Some sarcasm may have been present in other parts of the preceding paragraph.)

    I think this is a classic example of a common problem in language: abstract vs. concrete language.

    Generalizations are, by their very nature, incapable of covering every circumstance, and are assumed in common language, to NOT apply universally, even if the statement being used may have an element of truth to it.

    The “No Atheists in a Foxhole” statement comes about b/c the military draws a large percentage of it’s recruits from Conservative homes & Rural homes, both of which are more likely to be religious (even if not all of them are). As such, when the most prevalent religion in the country is Christian, and the most common source of military recruits is from Christian homes, you will encounter an organization that contains a significant number of believers, even if the organization itself is secular in nature.

    That doesn’t change the fact that people from other faiths (like the practitioner of Islam that Stephen Colbert once interviewed) also serve in the military, or even that non-believers (agnostics & atheists) also serve as well.

    But, you’ll notice that it took me two paragraphs to make that statement. That’s a lot of typing just to clarify the make-up of the military, which was never even the focus of the original statements.

    As a Christian believer who posts on an atheist website, I get to hear all kinds of fun, sweeping generalizations such as “Religion poisons everything it touches.” Now, I could either assume that the people who make those statements sincerely believe there is no such thing as a moral religious person (which is blatantly false), or I could assume you are offering a general critique of religion as negative, even though in some specific cases, religion may actually be serving as a positive force.

    Here’s another example: “Priest = Child Abuser.” Statistically, this isn’t even close to true. The VAST majority of priests are honest & trustworthy & have never abused their position of trust in the community. The abusive priests are a very small minority of the Catholic clergy. And, while they may have done significant damage when abusing their position of trust, ANYBODY in a position of trust has the potential to do serious damage (see high-profile cases of abuse by teachers & doctors as examples).

    And yet, I’m almost certain that the common posters on this site will insist that the expressions of “Catholic Priest = Child Abuser” are valid and/or useful. Why? Because there has been a significant problem within the Catholic church that was covered up, & only by confronting the issue directly can the problem be properly addressed.

    Odd. A sweeping generalization can be both obviously false, poignantly true, powerfully useful, and a blatant insult to people if applied inaccurately to all situations.

    Curse you, human language! You are making peaceful communication impossible! (Wait. Was that another sweeping generalization?)

  • mouse


    This atheist really liked those last two bits A LOT. Nice.

  • John

    I find it difficult to understand why there is such a fuss over this. Anyone LISTENING to the conversation would realize that Chris was simply using that statement to show how preposterous it is. I understand that our young atheist men and women serving in the military may feel as if they are being taken lightly by this. We all stand willingly and compassionately with them as they struggle to work and live in an environment as openly hostile to non-Christian beliefs as the modern military is, but to turn on fellow progressives who work with us is foolish. We know that Chris Hayes and Keith Olbermann do not share this belief that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” And merely using the phrase is no sin. On the contrary, in the light they put it, the phrase holds less meaning and their context should actually be more offensive to those who actually do believe in this hateful adage. To Chris, I say, I get the joke.

  • John

    @jasonorlandohawk We’ll getcha yet. We’ll turn you to the dark side any day now. Hehehe. Nice comment, though. Very well put… For a Christian.. 🙂

  • I know this is like two years after the fact, but Chris Hayes stated on his show, March 25, 2012, that he IS an atheist:

    “You know, if someone said to me, ‘Are you an atheist?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, basically, more or less.’ I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about it in either direction. But if someone said, ‘I want you to list all of the ways you identify yourself,’ I would get through pages and pages before I got to that as an identity.”

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