A recent edition of the comic strip Doonesbury repeated a popular saying amongst Christians, nameley that "there are no atheists in foxholes".
The saying is supposed to mean that atheist turn to God when it really matters. I guess it's taken as confirmation of the oft-stated position that atheists know that God is real, but refuse to acknowledge him.
Now, personally, if I knew that God were real, and that my lack of belief were damning me to an eternity of hellfire, I wouldn't be an atheist.
But I know God is not real, so I am.
This position is echoed by the spurious tales of atheist's deathbead conversions. As an example, Christian apologists to this day tell the tale of how noted scientist, popular television personality, and gentle atheist Carl Sagan turned to God in his final hours.
Which would be a harsh indictment of atheism if it were true. Anyone who believes it should read Billions & Billions, the book Sagan was writing when he died. The final chapter was written by Sagan's widow, and is an emotional account of her husband's final days. She even mentions the death-bed conversion fantasies that she's heard since his death.
But the fact that these stories aren't true - and the "atheists in foxholes" is disproved by the military group called, believe it or not, "Atheists In Foxholes", and there is even a nice monument to Godless soldiers - hides a deeper problem.
If the "atheists in foxholes line" were true, then it says way more about Christians than it does about atheists.
A battlefield is the most stressful, horrific place possible. Placing a person in such a position, where their death is both horrific and, quite probably, horrifically imminent, leads to almost unimaginable stress. There's a reason PTSD is common amongst veterans.
So, what the saying means is that, an atheist, placed in the most stressful position imaginable, under mind-numbing stress and bowel-loosening terror, becomes that which a Christian is in the comfort of their own armchair.
An atheist, robbed of his mental faculties, becomes a theist.
Yeah, that's not something I'd be smug about, were I a christian.