Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When Ill Fortune Befalls an Atheist

Like Many other atheists, I'm been told by theists that in a crisis, I will turn to God  (or in my case ''return'' as I was also once a God-believer) and beg him for help. This  assertion reminds me of the adage that ''there are no atheists in foxholes'', because in the extreme danger of combat, all soldiers fear for their lives and supposedly pray to  God for deliverance. That assumption is wrong.  There are indeed atheists in foxholes. In fact there is an it organization comprised of  such non-believers: Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

This unwavering resoluteness obtains with their civilian counterparts as well.. In my own situation, namely three cancer operations plus the removal of a kidney all within one year, I can attest that not once during that time did I ever consider renouncing my unbelief for the simple reason that I find no evidence for the existence of a supernatural being.  In other words, just because of difficult or  even life threatening health circumstances, why  should I abandon reason in favor of superstition? Any hope that I had for recovery  was based on my trust in the skill of the surgeons and the other members of the medical team who were involved with my case. And they are the ones who deserve the credit for the favorable outcome of my surgeries, not some imaginary sky-daddy.

But what about atheists whose family members or friends are stricken with a serious condition? It's one thing for the patient him / herself to refute the existence of a supreme being, but many (most?) theists think that the wish for the victim's well-being is enough to cause these loved ones to re-evaluate their own non-belief and instead resort to prayer for a successful outcome.  On that  they couldn't be more wrong.  My wife who's also an atheist and  who lovingly saw me through this critical period confirmed that all the while she remained steadfast in her non-belief for the same reason I did.

At this writing, I'm fortunate enough to be in remission. However,  that status can change any time, and I know that no beseeching of an imaginary supreme being can make that reality go away.  To put it another way, when there is a genuine commitment to critical thinking in the face of adversity, God-belief doesn't have a prayer.


Jack Vance said...

That's a powerful story. I'm glad to hear that you are in remission. Hopefully, that will be the end of it. I suspect you have some relatives or friends patting themselves on the backs for their prayers, but you are right to point out that it is the healthcare providers who made the difference. I don't have a problem with people who do pray in these situations, but they need to understand that not every atheist is going to relapse into religion when the going gets tough.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your support. Actually, as it turns out I didn't mind all that much when some of the co-congregationalists of the temple where I'm a member said that they would pray for me. These folks went out of their way, literally, by making a long drive to the hospital to visit me,and kept in touch with me when I got home to see how I was recuperating. In other words they sincerely showed that they cared.

Alan said...


Read both posts and can definitely relate to the 2nd. Although I have experienced the joint (and mutually reinforcing) incompetence of people and computers my whole adult life, the four surgeries in one year really gave me pause. What an ordeal. But my answer to the atheist-in-crisis question is that coping is practiced and developed, like a muscle. When my end comes, 5 or more years from now, I will have the courage to face it without fear, because I have practiced for decades. Religious people are stuck in a state of weakness, fear, and dependency -- and religions encourage it. So of course they're terrified as death nears and long for the rabbi's comforting presence. BTW, Pat Tillman (you know who he is, right?) said he in fact wanted an atheist in the foxhole with him, concentrating on their situation, as opposed to a praying lunatic who's no help at all.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your response. We're both at the age where it's only practical to contemplate what dying will be like and whether it will be sudden or prolonged. I would like to think that if I'm faced with the latter and am still competent, I will turn off the lights myself. That's the termination benefit of atheism: no fear of punishment by a likely nonexistent sky daddy for making life's ultimate decision.