atheists in broom closets

November 25, 2009 at 12:57 am 10 comments

One of my best friends had a gig a number of years ago working on an island in the Caribbean for a time. It was a pretty sweet deal; the job entailed monitoring a portable sludge dewatering belt press which did not need a lot of monitoring. Which meant making periodic adjustments to the equipment which was on the beach in between sessions of snorkeling. Adding to the sweetness, the visa he worked under only allowed for him to be in the country for two weeks at a time, with two weeks off required before he could return. So he “worked” two, eighty hour weeks at a time, accruing vast amounts of overtime pay, and then had two weeks off back home in the States, where he was working to start up his own business. Real nice.

At some point the bliss of the assignment was temporarily broken by the visitation of a hurricane to the island. Fortunately for him the housing his company had obtained for him was a concrete block structure. My friend and his co-worker took refuge in a very small broom closet during the storm and spent I think most of a day and night there together. The door was loose and would loudly slam back and forth as gusts of wind hit, accompanied by deafeningly loud wind noises. He felt quite certain they would not survive.

At some point he was feeling understandably desperate and considered praying to God for help. But at that point he reminded himself he did not believe in God and so it would be hypocritical to pray. He consiously went against instinct to resist praying, feeling the need to maintain some form of intellectual integrity even in the midst of a potentially life threatening circumstance.

I was a committed Christian when he told me the story and I am sure he told me about his lack of prayer in order to explain to me his own spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. Some would attribute his desire to pray on an inward awareness of the reality of God that had been created within him, Romans 1:19: “…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them…” (NASB). Of course it would also be easy to explain his thoughts in terms of a person needing help where no human help would be forthcoming.

He did obviously survive to tell the tale. While most of the residences in the area were flattened his concrete block house survived intact. A testimony to God’s intervention? Or perhaps safety due to the sturdier construction available to Americans on the island? I do not remember feeling inclined to favor either interpretation at the time. I think that is the point of this post, that faith should be something people can hold on to as a personal choice, but that it is valid as well to interpret evidence as it is presented to us, as what seems most likely. It has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, which is a cliche has been amply disproven. It would appear that atheists reside in broom closets at times as well.


Entry filed under: belief.

an inerrant bible thankfulness

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Rambling Taoist  |  November 25, 2009 at 6:41 am

    Many years ago when I was a nominal Christian, my wife & I went through a tornado scare. We hunkered down in a closet with a small mattress over our heads. Fortunately — at least for us — the tornado touched down about 3/4 of a mile from our home.

    As we were sitting there listening to the onslaught of the storm battering our house, the thought came to me that maybe I should pray. I decided against it because, if the tornado touched down and there were injuries or fatalities, why in the world did I think I was more or less worthy than anyone else?

    Mind you, I certainly didn’t want either my dear wife or I to die that night, but I figured the tornado would land wherever it would land, prayers or not. So, I simply trembled in silence under the mattress.

  • 2. Chris  |  November 25, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I really like your blog. I was introduced to it by Brian at The Cheek a couple of weeks ago. I have no one to process my thoughts with and your posts have allowed me to feel “okay” about those thoughts. Thank you.

  • 3. atimetorend  |  November 25, 2009 at 11:43 am

    @Taoist: Well if you had believed in prayer you could have prayed the tornado would have disappeared into thin air, not landed on someone else’s house!

    @Chris, thanks very much for commenting. By far the hardest part of changing beliefs for me was not having anyone to work through them with and having those I was close to either think I was wrong to question or not having a framework to understand what I was going through. I started blogging for that reason and I am very glad you have benefited. You’re not going crazy, you’re not going crazy, you’re not going crazy… :^)

  • 4. The Rambling Taoist  |  November 25, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    I suppose I could have prayed THAT. But since a lot people pray during natural disasters and they still seem to happen frequently, I don’t think a prayer by me (or anyone else) would stop tornadoes from forming in the air and descending to the ground.

  • 5. Mark  |  November 25, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I’m not exactly sure what I would do in that kind of life and death situation. I probably would pray, because I would be scared shitless and would try anything. I know it sounds hypocritical, but it’s an evolutionary ingrained response.

  • 6. atimetorend  |  November 25, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Your comment struck me as funny Mark because I hadn’t actually thought through the scenario myself in writing up the post. So maybe the phrase would go, “There are no people devoid of evolutionary ingrained responses in foxholes.”

    I think I would pray too, not sure I would be too worried about intellectual integrity in a moment like that. The issue of prayer can be frustrating to me because of what one is *supposed* to do with prayer as a Christian, but in the heat of a moment it may not matter.

  • 7. Lorena  |  November 26, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I think his desire to pray was due to mental conditioning. If your entire life you’ve seen/heard people pray when in trouble, you would automatically feel like doing it when trouble comes your way.

    I feel the need to pray, mostly when things go well, I am inclined to thank God. Why? Because that’s what I did my entire life. It is to me as natural as scratching an itch.

    Funny how in the end, god always ends up helping those who live “strong, concrete-made houses” eh?

  • 8. atimetorend  |  November 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Not to take away from your point at all Lorena, but that actually is not the case here. This person grew up in an a-religious family in an a-religious area. I could be wrong, but I doubt it would have been a natural tendency to pray in any situation. You could make the point that it is inherent in our culture regardless, but I suspect it closer to Mark’s comment above, something that is inherent in people’s nature more than conditioned.

    Yeah, a strong house is a good defense against a strong wind, just ask the 3rd little pig.

  • 9. 4riozs  |  November 28, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Nice Post. Interesting that he did not pray. Sometimes that happens to me, from being a Christian for so many years I’ll feel an urge to pray- religion can be so emotional. Anyway, I try not to, honostly I think I’m better off not praying. I think all of that praying and “submitting” yourself to the invisable is rather depressing or more so when you realize it’s not much more likely to respond than a rock.

  • 10. Sabio Lantz  |  November 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    My girlfriend and I were in a Chinese jet when we had sudden loss of altitude, flight attendants hitting the ceiling, etc KM was raised by an atheist father but a mother who nearly tore up the family with her bizarre devotion to a militant Buddhist evangelical sect (if you can imagine) called Soka Gakkai. She hated her mothers religion. But as we lost altitude, she paniced and repeated the mantra that Soka Gakkai folks believe brings prosperity on Earth — “Namyo Ho Renge Kyo” over and over. The plan landed fine and she laughed at herself, but it was comforting..

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