Atheist In A Foxhole
book does not have a scheduled release date.)
he cried loudly, causing our hostess to drop a pate-laden English biscuit
into her satin-draped lap.
I glanced across the table at Henry, whose
face was starting to show his fifty-plus years in ways his use of a
daily workout and herb-bath regime were no longer able to thwart. An
academic with the carriage of one who perceives his advanced education
has elevated him above most of his acquaintances, as well as all of
what he often referred to as 'the unwashed masses, he had a penchant
for rich food and pretty boys - appetites which he sated at every opportunity.
Thick, wild eyebrows lent an almost sinister
air to him and he used them to great advantage, when intimidation was
necessary. At his best, he was a delightful conversationalist and a
gracious friend. At his worst, he was a bitch. It was still early and
his role on this particular evening had yet to be established.
"Everyone has his version of a god,"
he continued, crisply. "All men, regardless of their upbringing
call on some higher entity to carry them through the harsher experiences
they encounter. It is the primary ingredient in the human psyche, faith."
"Oh, Henry," our hostess chided,
dabbing at her dress with her napkin. "You don't believe in atheists?"
she asked, "Surely you cannot deny their existence.
Henry's smile grew, and before replying,
he cleared his throat.
"No, dear, I do not, and yes, I do.
When the going gets tough, they all find some god to cling to,"
he said. "There are no atheists in foxholes, Lydia."
His comment brought several chuckles from
around the table.
"Perhaps there are circumstances
that can create such a nonbeliever," I murmured, and immediately
wished I had not, for it was not my normal occupation to join in these
Henry's abundant eyebrows shot up and
the sounds of forks clicking against china seemed to fade away as the
others paused. They knew, as I did, when one questioned a hypothesis
presented by Henry, the perpetrator should have his or her ducks lined
up, or be prepared to endure one of Henry's precise, and often embarrassing,
harangues. Or, one should be the host or hostess of the event. He was
always easier on them, for he did enjoy being invited back to a well-provisioned
larder and notable wine cellar.
This evening I was neither the host nor
the hostess, and I had no idea why I had stuck my two cents worth into
"Oh, do enlighten us," he said,
the hint of a smile forming at the corners of his mouth, his eyes watching
me closely. It was not an unfriendly look. Merely a look from a man
who anticipates victory, yet will allow his victim a few
final words, and perhaps a smoke, before he is savaged.
"Who else but one in the line of
fire - a line of fire so horrendous he cannot see any sign of its letting
up - would be more inclined to perceive that there is no God, or at
the very least that God had forsaken him?" I asked, in a quiet
"And in whom do you think this poor
fellow puts his faith, then?" Henry asked.
The tone of his voice was seemingly open,
yet his eyes were watching me carefully, looking for the weakness in
my point which he would use to squash me like a bug.
"Perhaps he has none, in anyone or
anything," I replied. "Perhaps he has been so beaten that
he just tries to get by without losing any of the little battles, while
avoiding as many of the major ones as he can."
"My goodness!" Henry cried,
with a smile. "But this man would have to be a complete social
misfit. How could he interact with humanity if he did not have some
basis of faith?"
Even as I was telling myself I was opening
the lid to Pandoras box even wider, I continued:
"Maybe he just gives to others what
they say they want, just to keep himself whole. Perhaps he never actually
touches life, nor lets it touch him. Never putting any value on the
parts of himself he has to give to please others, so there is no value
in what he gives, and thereby loses. If what he gives is of no value,
then the well from which he took it is of no value, to himself."
"Oh my!" Lydia gasped, "But,
such a person would have to feel so empty. What kind of life could he
I looked down the table toward her and
"Possibly, he has so many wounds
that, to him, keeping himself stitched up is his life."
Henry's face broke into an expansive grin.
"Then, it is easy to see where you
are wrong in your premise," he said, with assurance. "He obviously
has faith in himself!"
The last was delivered with a flourish
and from around the table there was a smattering of laughter.
I, too, had to smile at his enthusiasm,
but my smile quickly faded, as I continued:
"Would it not be himself that is
his least likely source of faith?"
"Oh? Do tell," was Henrys
"Without any sign of a munificent
God, isn't it he who delivered himself into this hell he now calls an
existence? Who else could it possibly be, if there is no higher power?
How much faith in himself could this instill?" I asked.