“There are no atheists in a foxhole.”
Context: This proverb was first collected in a philosophy of religion class when the class was going over religious belief. The student stated this proverb during class to which I questioned about after class was finished. The student is a 25 year-old male who has been in the United States Marines and has grown up in Los Angeles.
Informant Analysis: “So, when you are in the Marines this is something that you hear pretty commonly. I take it to mean that when you are in a really tough situation and think you might die, you are gonna start to believe in God. There’s like a fear about death, you know, like what happens after you die. It’s a little bit easier to put yourself in situations like that if you think there is a heaven, you know?”
Collector Analysis: Although this proverb may be said among marines and varied in different situations, the most iconic use of this idea came from Dwight D. Eisenhower, although this is not the first time this idea has appeared. The idea is a quick and more figurative way to state that in times of extreme stress or danger, even people who once considered themselves atheists convert to believe in God. This quick conversion to religion is often called a foxhole conversion. It is possible that the use of foxhole within this proverb came from World War I in which there was use of foxholes that have been recorded as being some of the worst conditions for soldiers in war to date. We can also look at how religion plays a role in the United States and in particular, how it is indoctrinated into the soldiers who serve. Around the time when Dwight D. Eisenhower brought the idea of this proverb to the American populace not involved in the military, there was a fear, philosophically speaking, about atheists. It was difficult for people to actively state they were atheists because there was much stigma around people who did not believe in God. The use of this statement of there being “no atheists in foxholes” can almost function as an argument against atheists, the argument being that no person is ever truly an atheist.