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Atheist in a Foxhole - The Ex-Communicator

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August 4th, 2011


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07:08 am - Atheist in a Foxhole
This is not much like the kind of poems I normally write. When I read it at my poetry workshop, it provoked quite a lot of discussion. My Quaker friend and my Sufi friend disagreed with it quite profoundly.

Atheist in a Foxhole

Wise people say
Love something bigger than yourself
Such as an ideal of goodness
Or the impartial processes of nature
And die for that
Or die in that
And it will comfort you
Give yourself up to the process
And your loss will be no loss

Perhaps
Through heroic effort
Which is almost beyond my imagination
I could slightly loosen
the grip of selfishness upon my soul
But I suspect that
When bad times come to test me
What I will feel
will be the renewed supremacy
of my selfishness
and pain, loneliness and despair

But no, stop thinking that and
Think again

When I have suffered or been in fear
At that extremity
I have felt calm and joyful
I have felt triumphant over life
Is this some lucky side effect
Of stress or the deprivation of oxygen?

How should I know?
How should you?

I do know
That this deliverance
Is not reward for effort or goodwill
For I have made no effort
And my will is not good
I am a fighting animal, clever and under-socialised

So, if you live in goodness and devotion
Do that for its own sake
There is no reward
For I who deserve nothing
Will get as good as you.

(12 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:katlinel
Date:August 4th, 2011 09:36 am (UTC)
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I'm guessing it's the content that provoked the most discussion, rather than the form. :-)

The denial of loss, particularly in relation to bereavement, and its use to downplay the grief of others, to let them know their grief and expression of it is inappropriate, is something that I've thought about frequently over the past six months or so. And that denial and downplay is something that has been exclusively expressed to me by believers in a One God.

I do like the final stanza and the final line too. They read, to me, like a flinging down of the gauntlet, a challenge.
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From:communicator
Date:August 4th, 2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
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When I have been with a person who is dying, there comes a time when you can't make it OK, so you have to surrender. That's how I have felt anyway. Perhaps it is the same when you are talking to someone who is bereaved. You (I mean the friend of the bereaved person) can't make it OK, and that's quite a difficult thing to accept.
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From:archbishopm
Date:August 4th, 2011 12:31 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry to admit I have not generally connected with your poems being such a picky and you know ill-read poem-consumer but this I really like. And (but not only) put me in mind of a favourite song

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hZb5ufq124
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:August 4th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. I don't know the Lords of the New Church. 'Post punk supergroup'. Good.
[User Picture]
From:archbishopm
Date:August 5th, 2011 10:50 am (UTC)
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Trust my teenaged self's obviously impeccable taste, they were bitchin'.
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From:gfk88
Date:August 4th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
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If you're feeling super-skilful, you could always write the companion piece with exactly the same format which puts the opposite viewpoint.
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From:communicator
Date:August 4th, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
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Not sure what the opposite would be? Dante's Inferno I suppose, but it's written in a rather more advanced format :-)
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From:steepholm
Date:August 4th, 2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
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This is a little tangential, but the phrase about there being no atheists in foxholes has always struck me as strange - in that it's usually produced as if it were an argument in favour of religion, when it seems to me to be the opposite (i.e. it "explains religion away" as a product of fear). I suppose it depends where you're starting from.
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From:communicator
Date:August 4th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC)
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I think the only argument more demeaning to religion is Pascal's wager
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From:kerravonsen
Date:August 4th, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC)
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My Quaker friend and my Sufi friend disagreed with it quite profoundly.

When you said that, I was almost afraid to read it. But I did read it.

I find it intriguing. Because from my point of view, this deliverance Is not reward for effort or goodwill For I have made no effort And my will is not good fits perfectly with (New Testament) Biblical theology: that it is a gift, not a reward.

Again, So, if you live in goodness and devotion Do that for its own sake
There is no reward For I who deserve nothing Will get as good as you.
strikes true with me, because we ALL "deserve nothing" because we have all fallen short of God's standards - again, in keeping with what the Bible says. The paradox of salvation is that "goodness and devotion" is more the effect than the cause; doing it for its own sake, as you say.

I expect you're surprised that I agree with so much!
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From:communicator
Date:August 4th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
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Yes. I actually think my religious friends missed the point of what I was saying, which was not as incompatible with their views as all that. Also the virtuous positions I was saying I couldn't manage to achieve - love of goodness, or the impartial processes of nature - these are atheist values. I was trying to be paradoxical.
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From:tehomet
Date:August 14th, 2011 07:00 pm (UTC)
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I enjoyed the poem, if it's okay to say that about something so bleak. I mean, is it okay that the line about oxygen deprivation made me laugh? Am I a horrible person?!

So, if you live in goodness and devotion
Do that for its own sake
There is no reward
For I who deserve nothing
Will get as good as you.


I have to say, though, that I think it's a bit of a myth that believers like me think like we do out of hope of a reward (eternal or otherwise).

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