So there are atheists in foxholes

Last week, my friend and colleague Rich Liebson, an Army vet, sent me a notice about a local church having a Mass for members of the Armed Forces.

Somehow, we started talking (emailing, really) about the old adage that there are no atheists in foxholes.

Rich recalled something he wrote a few years ago about an Army specialist who served in Iraq and was suing the Department of Defense, saying that his open atheism ruined his military career. He called the military a Christian organization.

The guy, a former Baptist, had become something of an atheist in a foxhole.

Oddly enough, Rich was reading Stars and Stripes yesterday, something he often does, and came across a letter from a staff sergeant in Iraq calling himself — you guessed it — an atheist in a foxhole.

He writes, in part:

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This is my second deployment to Iraq and I have traveled more than 8,000 miles “outside the wire” to several bases in northern Iraq. I’m a gun truck vehicle commander and responsible for securing personnel, supplies and equipment when in transportation between bases.

Every day that I leave the wire, I travel knowing of the inherent risks and, though I am confident that most risks to life and limb are negated by the armored MRAP and IED-defeating technology that protects me, I am not invincible; each new day could potentially be my last (literally). And although lately this has resulted in my near paranoiac fear of a catastrophic kill, I satisfactorily (and safely) complete the assigned task — as I have every intention of returning home to my lovely wife, who is also an atheist, and to whom I am faithful.

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There are more than 100 (pretty civilized) comments at the end of his letter, which are worth reading if you’re into that sort of thing.

Trying to get atheists out of the closet

When I was working on my book a few years ago — you know, the one about religious explanations for the tsunami — my editor suggested that I speak to some non-believers.

I wasn’t anxious to do so. I figured they would just crow about how something as awful as the tsunami was proof that there is no God or god.

But I went ahead and added a chapter on what non-believers had to say.

One of them was a fellow named Dave Silverman, who was then the communications guy for America Atheists, the most prominent atheists group (if there is such a thing) that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

I remember the talk well because Silverman was so eager to get at it. He was funny, bright and somewhat brash. He told me how much he loved to debate religious leaders on just about any godly subject.

When it came to natural disasters, Silverman skipped right over the central question of whether there is a God or god. He wanted to talk about why anyone would want to worship a god who made, or let, the tsunami happen.

I mention Silverman now because he has since become president of American Atheists and is the guy behind the controversial billboard that has gone up on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.

It’s the one that shows the Nativity scene beneath the words “You KNOW it’s a Myth/This Season, Celebrate REASON.”

Judging from the AA website, Silverman is having a blast going on TV and radio to defend the move and take on his God-fearing opponents. He insists — as he did when he spoke to me — that there are plenty of atheists out there, but they won’t admit it.

The comments on Silverman’s blog are interesting. There is a lot of debate about the tone of the ad.

One person writes: “I have to say that I also don’t like the billboard. A simple message wishing everyone a Happy Solstice or something with the web site would get the message out. Everyone knows we believe the whole Christmas thing is a myth. Why get people mad at us? How about being more civil? Let’s be part of the holiday tradition.”

But another says: “If we put up a billboard that was all things to everyone and addressed every single concern we have, it would be a cluttered mess. This billboard is targeted toward a specific audience: it is not meant to be all things to all people.”

Well, ol’ Dave Silverman has got people talking, just as he wanted.

So here’s a big Happy Nothing to you, Dave.

Who is that Dalai Lama guy, anyway?

I’m not at all surprised that Americans don’t know much about religion in general.

But the findings of a new Pew Forum poll are still kind of shocking.

45% of Catholics don’t know that their faith teaches that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ during Holy Communion?

53% of Protestants cannot identity Martin Luther as the father of the Reformation?

47% of respondents know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist?

43% of Jews don’t know that Maimonides was Jewish? (This might not seem like a big deal to non-Jews, but M. was one of the most significant figures in Jewish history.)

What do people know?

The Pew Forum asked people 32 questions about faith. The highest average scores went to…atheists and agnostics. This isn’t terribly surprising, given that non-believers tend to be very educated, but it’s still pretty embarrassing for all those who call the U.S. a “Christian nation.”

Catholics, on average, got only 14.7 questions right — fewer than Jews, Mormons and Protestants, not to mention atheists and agnostics. On the one hand, this is surprising because Catholics are generally a very educated group.

On the other hand, it’s well know that the quality of Catholic education for those who do not attend Catholic schools has been quite low for decades. And it’s long seemed to me that Catholics, in general, know less about faiths other than their own than other religious groups. Many Catholics, in fact, know little about Protestants — what they believe and why.

What else? I’m kind of surprised that 62% of Americans know that most people in India are Hindus. I would have expected 30% based on the other results.

And 51% know that Joseph Smith was a Mormon? Could have been worse.

Here’s a Pew Forum summary:

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Atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons still have the highest levels of religious knowledge, followed by evangelical Protestants, then those whose religion is nothing in particular, mainline Protestants and Catholics. Atheists/agnostics and Jews stand out for high levels of knowledge about world religions other than Christianity, though they also score at or above the national average on questions about the Bible and Christianity. Holding demographic factors constant, evangelical Protestants outperform most groups (with the exceptions of Mormons and atheists/agnostics) on questions about the Bible and Christianity, but evangelicals fare less well compared with other groups on questions about world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Mormons are the highest-scoring group on questions about the Bible.

Will Fido be ‘left behind?’

Say you’re a Christian who believes that when it’s time for the Second Coming, you will be raptured away to a better place.

When the time comes, who will take care of Spot and Rocky?

A retired businessman in New Hampshire has come up with a business that will — are you ready for this? — arrange for atheists to care for pets when their Christian owners disappear.

You can read about it on the website of Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA.

At first, I thought it was a joke for sure. But the tone is serious (I think) and there is a mechanism for people to pay $110 for the care of their pet (as long as the Rapture takes place within 10 years).

A Bloomberg article in February said that the business had over 100 clients.

Over 100!

The Bloomberg articles notes that: “(Founder Bart) Centre must reassure the Rapture crowd that his pet rescuers are wicked enough to be left behind but good enough to take proper care of the abandoned pets.”

It also quotes a fella with a biblical prophesy website: “A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don’t know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them.”

EEBP says it has a network of atheist animal lovers in 22 states who are prepared to care for pets when the Rapture happens.

Of course, at that point they’ll know that they’re disbelief was a mistake and will be scrambling to become Christians and/or find a shortcut to salvation. So will they really have the time and will to take care of pets?

But, for now, they’ll take you money in preparation for an event they are sure will never come.

It’s worth reading the Terms & Conditions, which include this:

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If  subscriber loses his/her faith and/or the Rapture occurs and subscriber is not Raptured (aka  is “left behind”) EE-BP disclaims any liability; no refund will be tendered.

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Hey, this has got to be a joke, right?

Thanks to Religion News Service for alerting me to this extreme example of entrepreneurial spirit.