Sunday, January 31, 2010

The no atheist in a foxhole myth

I was reading Why Atheists Don’t Turn to Religion When Faced with Death or Disaster on AlterNet this afternoon. Greta Christina did a fine job of capturing the truth behind the myth. Atheists don’t typically turn to God when faced with death. Christians think we do, but they are mistaken. I’m often pelted the foxhole myth when talking to Christians who think they hold some secret knowledge because the believe in some an afterlife. They don’t know anything really.

I’ve often wondered if Christians say the same think to people of other faiths. Greta nails it in her article.

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?

My story:

I faced death once. Seven years ago a stern-faced oncologist said I should, “…put my affairs in order as my time was short.” He said my preliminary test results were bad, so bad that he suggested I talk to my priest. I left his office stunned, numb, and scared. As another round of tests started, I did not turn to God. The thought never crossed my mind.

I sought comfort from my wife and a few friends. I looked into funeral arrangements and how to take care of my family after my death. I did things to keep my mind busy, but I did not go to a priest. Three weeks later the same oncologist and my primary physician met me together to tell me they had made a horrible mistake. Some other bloke was going to die. I was fine. I did not scream “Thank God.” Instead, I walked to my car and cried. As tears rolled down my face I called my wife and told her the good news. I gave my mom the same call. Then I went to work.

I found out later the other person died four weeks after my clean bill of heath. There was nothing they could have done for him.

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