The chaplain smiled his smile, and unlike those preceding him, those who bore only sugar-free candies or raspberry Crystal Light, he was handing out cigarettes to go along with his pocket-sized, camouflage-covered bibles.
There were grumbles of astonished delight up and down the long sprawl of bodies and gear. Here, clearly, was a dude who got it.
He danced around the bags and Pelican cases and limbs and sleeping heads, a Marx brothers ballet, finding impossible places to plant his feet to chat. He circulated around the room, unobtrusive.
He made his way down to where I was slouching and said, "Hm, you don't look like one of mine!"
"No, chaplain, I'm not. I'm just trying to catch the same flight."
He smiled and held out a cigarette. I took it with a smile and a "thanks", and he asked "Do you have one of these?" as he held out the tiny little new testament in his other hand.
"Oh, no thanks padre," cigarette tucked behind the ear. Weird vibe from this guy.
"Well, do you have one?" his voice becoming a bit strident. Posturing for an argument, shoulders high, elbows cocked.
"No," flat. Final. Impolite tone to match his impolite probing.
"Well, why not?" The smile returning now. Saccharine smile of a missionary at the door.
"It's not my thing, chaplain," already irritated at the direction this was taking. I need to nip this in the bud.
"Well, I have a torah, too, somewhere if you'd rather that."
"No, no thank you. That's not really my thing," thinking to myself, Maybe he doesn't get it.
"Oh, I think I see now," he said as he put a fatherly hand on my shoulder. He shook his head a little. Condescending sigh.
"There are no atheists in foxholes, son," was the last thing he said before he tucked it into the pack at my feet and walked away.
Oh yeah? Fuck you, too, buddy.
Fun fact: A little sniffing around lead me to learn that he'd never seen a foxhole, or any of "his" in one. He'd never deployed. Actually having experience is crucial to dispensing advice, conviction of faith or not.
My personal pissing contest with a particular chaplain aside, I find that anybody who takes this phrase at face value to be lacking in a certain basic sincerity.
In all of the time I spent fighting a grubby little war in a grubby little place, I never once felt the need to appeal to a higher power, and I know I'm not alone. The smug, half-sheet flyer on the coffee hooch corkboard for the "(placename) Atheist Support Group", the mere existence of which is hilarious from any angle you care to look at it from, point towards similar sentiments from others than I.
Is it so difficult to conceive of a person, who, when placed in a terrible position, does not appeal to a higher power? So outside the realm of possibility for a person to believe only in the outcome of their own rational actions versus those of another? To accept that it was political, not divine will, that sent them into the foxholes in the first pace? That God has no particular plan for the 80mm shells tumbling wildly out of improvised tubes?
If one accepts that God is willing to change the path of a bullet, one must question why God would have set in motion the events that sent the bullet your way in the first place - and that question leads to a long and studied line of philosophical drivel.
In this case, it's like asking someone who's allergic to bees where they prefer to be stung: on the dick, or on the face? A pointless discussion of a microcosm that simply doesn't apply in the first place. They prefer to not be stung at all.
The correct answer to that type of question, supposedly, is Mu.
Will God save me if I pray, whether I'm an atheist or not? Does a dog have the Buddha nature?
"Mu." - retract the question. Its very asking and contemplation requires certain assumptions that cannot be backed.
Or, phrased another way, for the less articulate: Oh yeah? Fuck you, too, buddy.