Monday, November 3, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 7

"There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes.
~James Morrow

I hate how patriotism has morphed in some places from being a feeling of national pride and connectedness to one's country to a "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentality. I feel a great connectedness to my country. I am informed about politics and I would never follow anyone blindly, and that's because I feel like it's my duty to my country to be informed and vote accordingly, and maintain a system of checks and balances to protect the country from ineffective or dangerous leaders. To me, that's patriotism. I support the values of my nation, I reject politicians who want to take it in a direction that conflicts with those values, and I feel incredibly lucky to live my life as a natural-born citizen of this country. As a part of that privilege, I have a responsibility to ensure that the country is for my children just as worthy of pride as it has been for me.

Rarely, that does include "foxholes" - Nazism was a worthy cause, for example, to go to war. I probably would have wanted to go and help if I had been born in that time period. Most of the time, however, war is pointless, poorly supported, and not a good solution for the problem at hand. If atheists are not found in the foxholes of those wars, it is because we are capable of thinking for ourselves, and that is an important aspect of patriotism in a modern democracy. True patriots do what they can to preserve the values of their country, and in doing so critically evaluate the motivations and justifications behind a leader's decision to go to war. If it is not justifiable and the motivations behind it are questionable, a patriot does not support it. Actual patriotism, informed patriotism, supports the country, not necessarily the leader. People who blindly follow a leader, regardless of whether their actions support the values of the country, and do what they are told is right, without thinking about it, are not patriots. They are sheep.

Supporting unjust wars is not an act of patriotism, and just because many atheists are smart enough not to fall for the "if you don't agree with the leader of the country, you are against the country" fear-mongering does not make them traitors or cowards. It makes them the ideal kind of citizen: informed, engaged, and capable of thinking for themselves. And treating them like pariahs for being that way is ultimately extremely destructive to democracy in a country. If a government supports blind faith in the government and accuses anyone with a capacity for critical thinking of treason, that encourages the kind of attitude that negates democracy and creates a nation of easily manipulated people - in the case of the US, fundamentalist Christians who already have a great capacity for ignoring facts that don't suit their worldview and following leaders without question. And considering the nuclear stockpile still available in the US, that is positively terrifying.

No atheists in foxholes? Maybe not when the foxhole only exists to support the agenda of a powerful human being, not to protect the integrity and values of a nation. And what, exactly, is wrong with that?


  1. Well said.

    I think the "no atheists in foxholes" quote has another meaning as well: that in times of danger, people will believe anything they think might save them. Again, this isn't an argument against atheists, it's an argument against situations so dangerous that they will warp people's minds like that.

    Actually, one strip of my comic "Abby and Norma" deals with this issue. I wrote it after reading a similar quote in a book I bought in Mexico.

  2. Hi Erika,

    I like your comic and it's been referred to before by some of my online atheist friends. (The anaconda bit did make me giggle.) And I agree that it does have the meaning your comic talks about, but I just get more worked up when patriotism gets warped into the sort of with-us-or-against-us situation I talked about above... and of course it's what I get worked up about that ends up here. :)