An Atheist In A Foxhole


(This book does not have a scheduled release date.)

     "Piffle!" 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 discussions.
     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 the conversation.
     "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 voice.
     "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 Pandora’s 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 lead?"
     I looked down the table toward her and replied:
     "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 Henry’s rejoinder.
     "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.