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February 20, 2006

Cartoons of the Atheist -- Part II (and Dennett's Book)


A few years ago, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published this cartoon; it was an unclever response to an opinion piece by Mitchell Kahle in which he wrote: "The old saying 'There are no atheists in foxholes' is entirely without merit or legitimacy...."

This notion that atheists will get religion as soon as they sense death or the full turbulence of life is an old one. In the nineteenth century some atheists went so far as to arrange to have witnesses by their deathbeds to prove that they did not succumb to a last-minute conversion.

Before getting to Leon Wieseltier's intemperate, wrongheaded and fascinating review of Dennett's book in Sunday's New York Times, I want to finish with Adam Kirsch's somewhat more delicate skewering. For at some point he falls back on a version of the old foxhole argument:

"To believe or disbelieve is existentially the most important choice of all. It shapes one's whole understanding of human life and purpose, because it is a choice that each of us must make for him or herself. To impress on a man the urgency of that choice, Kierkegaard wrote, it would be useful to "get him seated on a horse and the horse made to take fright and gallop wildly ... this is what existence is like if one is to become consciously aware of it."

Much here perplexes me. First, how does Kierkegaard's view of existence relate to Woody Allen's revelation that "eighty percent of life is just showing up"?

Second, what does it mean to say that belief in God is an "existential choice"? Doesn't belief in God depend on only one factor: whether you think there really is a God? I know we're supposed to forget such calculations and perpetrate some kind of "leap of faith." Atheist_in_Foxhole_2.jpgA "leap" toward what? From what? Over what? Is there any place to stand on the other side? Do you have to keep leaping? A "leap" that allows you to kill your son? Faith in dreams? Faith in reason? Faith in superstition? Faith in faith? Faith in nothing? Faith as a kind of madness? Faith in God?

And, third, what sort of argument for religion is it to say people crawl toward it when life gets tough and they get scared? When he heard thunder, my late golden retriever would attempt to hide his head under a bed. This earned neither him nor the bed much respect in my eyes.

Mitchell Kahle prepared this second cartoon, also not dazzlingly clever, in response to that of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at February 20, 2006 11:33 AM


When athiests had people witness their deaths, why did they care?

Posted by: Noah SD at February 20, 2006 2:58 PM

See Leiter Reports' scathing attack on Wieseltier's review.


Posted by: noahpopp at February 20, 2006 4:11 PM

My guess is they did not want others lying in their name to support something they stood against.

Posted by: Aesmael at February 20, 2006 9:44 PM

It's an image thing. No one respected the athiest idea because they had the stereotype that athiests were only athiest when there was nothing on the line, but once things got tough or they were about to die, they instantly become religious and start praying to God. This group was trying to prove that stereotype wrong.

Posted by: Danny S at February 21, 2006 12:11 AM

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