Atheists In Foxholes

"My great-grandfather returned from the Somme in the winter of 1916. He was an officer in a Welsh Guards regiment. He had been gassed and shot and had seen his platoon numerically wiped out and replaced more than three times since he first took command of it. He had used his side arm, a Webley revolver, so much that its barrel was pitted into uselessness. I heard a story about one of his advances across no-man's-land in which he set out with a full company and by the time he arrived at the German wire was one of only two men left alive.

"Until that time, this branch of my family had been Calvinistic Methodists. . .

"But when he returned from the war, my great-grandfather had seen enough to change his mind. He gathered the family together and banned religion in his house. 'Either god is a bastard,' he said, 'or god isn't there at all.'"

Paul Watkins, "A Friend to the Godless," pp. 40-41, in A Tremor of Bliss: Contemporary Writers on the Saints, ed. by Paul Elie, Riverhead Books / Berkeley, 1995.

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