Why Atheists Don't Turn to Religion When Faced with Death or Disaster
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And the desire to believe in immortality is the mother of all wishful thinking. Especially when we're immediately confronted by death.
So if atheists only converted to religion when they were on their deathbed ... that wouldn't be an argument for religion being a true and accurate perception of something in the real world. That'd actually be a strong argument for religion just being something people made up to make themselves feel better.
OK. Those are the most common, most obvious defenses against the "atheists in foxholes" accusation. But I want to add something more -- something that often gets left out of the conversation about foxholes and deathbed conversions.
I want to point out what an ugly argument this is.
What would you think if someone made this argument to a person of a different faith? "Sure, you believe in Judaism now -- but when your plane is going down, you'll turn to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Is that an appropriate thing to say? Or is it religious bigotry, pure and simple? Regardless of what you personally believe about Jesus Christ and his ability to comfort people during plane crashes ... would you renounce this argument as insensitive and tone-deaf at best, callous and inhumane at worst?
So how it is any different to make this argument to atheists?
The "You'll change your tune when you're looking death in the face" trope has a Schadenfreude quality to it that is truly ugly. It takes a sadistic, "I told you so" glee in the potential suffering of others. It has an almost hopeful quality that's deeply unsettling. "Someday, you'll be sick and dying with a terrible illness, or you'll be in a terrifying accident, or the person you love most in the world will be gone from your life forever ... and then I'll be proven right! Then you'll know the glory and majesty of the Lord! In your face!"
People will shamelessly and unhesitatingly say things about atheists they would cringe from saying about people of different religions. Many believers -- even progressive, ecumenical, "all religions have some truth and are all worshiping God in their own way" believers -- will happily say that atheists are immoral, that atheists have no meaning or joy in our lives, that atheists are just being trendy or rebellious, that atheists have no right to express our views in the public forum. And even the most zealous hard-core believers will usually approach diverse religious beliefs with more understanding and tolerance than they show to atheism. Atheism seems to unsettle many believers, to a degree that different religious beliefs generally don't ... and those believers seem perfectly willing to take out that unsettled feeling on atheists.
The "no atheists in foxholes" trope is a classic example of this. It's not just a lie. It's not even just an ignorant, absurd, colossally stupid lie. It's a bigoted lie. It's a lie that denies our most basic humanity: the fact that atheists love life, that we're deeply attached to the people we love, and that we experience fear and grief in the face of death. It's a lie that tries to depict us, as not just callow and naive, but as something less than human.
Please know that it's a lie.
And please don't tell it.