Thursday, December 07, 2006

Foxhole theist syndrome

We have all heard the line that "there are no atheists in foxholes." The argument goes that it is impossible for a person to maintain their rationality when pushed to the extreme; a person must believe in God if they are to endure the challenges of the battlefield. How it empowers anyone to switch focus from facing the facts of reality to believing that a transcendent being will face them for you is never really answered, yet such is the way of those who are animated by their blind beliefs. Besides, the goal in claiming that there are no atheists in foxholes is to smear the rational by simply denying that they exist, or that their reason earns them anything.

It is interesting then to see a variation of this tactic employed by the conservatives in response to C. Bradley Thompson's landmark essay "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism." For example, blogger Orrin Judd thinks that the American founding was not animated by reason in defense of individualism, but by faith in pursuit of the general welfare.

Mr. Thompson argues that the rights to life, liberty, etc., matter because self-interest is the American ideal. The Declaration, however, states quite clearly that they matter because the Creator endowed us with them. Similarly, when it came time to institutionalize the genuine American ideals, the Founders not only made no mention of self-interest but were quite forthright about their purposes being social, rather than individualist: "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty, to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Their concern is general welfare, common defense, etc, not your own welfare or your own defense or other narrow and selfish aims.
This argument on the part of the conservatives shows how they seek to enshrine the aspects of the founders' philosophy that embraced faith while rejecting the more influential (and consequential) aspects of their philosophy that embraced reason. Frankly, to claim that the Declaration of Independence did not establish the principle of individual rights (including the right to pursue one's own selfish happiness) as the governing philosophy of America is ludicrous and dishonest. How does one then explain the Bill of Rights, which limited government power to enter into the individual's private spheres? And almost more importantly, how does one then explain the industrial revolution, were it not an expression of individual men's selfish desire to conqueror nature and prosper accordingly?

In the comments to his post, Judd goes on to reveal his real hand when he chimes that Objectivism is "libertarianism, [but] just more cultish." What else would one expect from a person who believes in an unknowable supernatural entity that demands all our sacrifice, and that it is the goal of our civil government to secure such a benighted worldview? Yet according to some, we should nevertheless align ourselves politically with such people in order to secure and protect our freedom.

Count me as one who fails to see how such an alliance can bring Objectivists anything worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

And yet . . . Mr. Judd's argument reads like a response to the typical liberal Democrat who disparages the founding documents of this Nation precisely for the individualism enshrined in them. Would it be preferable, in your view, to align oneself with individuals and groups that, properly recognizing the founding principals of the Nation, explicitly reject them?

Mario said...

Some years ago when I was taking a philosophy class at college, this same foxhole scenario came up. I don't remember if it was Santayana we were discussing, but the idea was that in a foxhole people fear for their lives -- they sweat, their hearts race, they either shoot at anything that moves or cower in the fetal position, and they scramble to get out of harms way.

All of this they do almost reflexively, and by their actions they betray what they really think, no matter what they profess to the contrary.

You would imagine that a true man of faith would act very differently, since either God was protecting him or paving the way to paradise.

So, the conclusion of whomever it was that we were studying was that there are no theists in a foxhole. Under that kind of pressure, we are all atheists.

Galileo Blogs said...

Good point, Mario. A true theist would lay down his arms and eagerly await the bullet that would dispatch him into eternal rapture. You are right. We are all ATHEISTS in foxholes, or any emergency situation, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Uh huh okay. Nicholas, couldn't you please use *he* as the ambiguous singular pronoun (standard usage after all) rather than the popular *they*, which is plural and therefore incorrect? I'm begging you.