“There are no atheists in foxholes,” as the famous saying goes. So what is it about moments of crisis that suddenly lead nonbelievers to rush to pray — even for people of faith who get tied up in everyday life to be suddenly reminded of God’s presence? It’s sometimes known as “fire-engine religion.”
It seems particularly odd for those who don’t proclaim to have faith to be asking for divine intervention, even in the worst moments. If anything, one would think a moment of crisis is when reason and logic would rush to the forefront. Instead, these nonbelievers can be heard making bargains with the Lord.
Atheists and secularists either claim to have used logic and reason to conclude that God does not exist, or have not examined the matter closely enough.
As one Christian theologian suggested, this behavior speaks to a “God-shaped void” that resides in nonbelievers. Atheists and secularists either claim to have used logic and reason to conclude that God does not exist, or have not examined the matter closely enough to actually reach such a conclusion.
However, crisis speaks first to emotion. Adrenaline begins to rush. Our primal instincts of fight-or-flight kick in. That’s why soldiers are taught to obey orders and to rely on their training when combat begins.
The moment that fear grips the mind — one can become paralyzed.
In those moments of fear, then, nonbelievers are left to grasp for something — something to anchor them, to steady them, to offer hope for escape from a terrible situation. Rather than still stay grounded in “reality” by saying, “Please, captain, pull the plane out of this dive,” or “Please, firefighters, get here quickly,” they say, “Please, God, help me.”
The cry for help is not to be mocked, as such an act would lack compassion. Instead, this is a tacit acknowledgement that atheists may, in fact, believe in a higher power somewhere deep inside themselves. That in this moment of irrationality, of fear, when reason and logic are of no assistance, the fundamental human desire is that something outside of themselves will come to their aid.
If anything, this is encouraging news. It suggests that even atheists can be reached, with this as a starting point for finding faith. What were they asking for in that moment? Was it for strength? Was it for divine inspiration to help them out of a situation? Was it for a miracle? What did they truly feel in that moment? That leads to a discussion of prayer and its meaning — and from there, to the larger questions.
These instances, however, are also instructive for people of faith. We often get immersed in our everyday lives. We have duties to fulfill as parent, as spouse, as employer or employee, as a member of our community, and in countless other roles. It is easy to forget or wander a bit from the Lord in our society and not remember how to honor God, so as not to rush back to Him when things suddenly go south.
There are many morning prayers for Christians and Catholics. The Bible is filled with them. Jews have many prayers and rituals, although there is one specific prayer often cited the moment one awakes in the morning. The Torah states, in Deuteronomy 6:7, to speak the “Shema Yisrael” “upon lying down and when you rise up.” To oversimplify, the Shema is essentially a simple sentence honoring God and the Jewish people.
Saying prayers upon rising and when going to sleep is a simple way to honor God and to remember His presence in your life. It requires you to stop, and take that moment, so that you can carry Him with you throughout the day. It’s also why Jews take the Sabbath, or Shabbat, which means “to stop,” in order to worship. The same thing applies to Christians on Sundays.