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My hero, World War II combat reporter Ernie Pyle, gets credit for coining the phrase "there are no atheists in foxholes." He meant that in times of intense fear and duress during battle, all soldiers are quick to believe there is a God who answers their prayers to protect them from an enemy that's trying to kill them. (Seeing as that enemy usually believes in the same God, I often wonder whose prayers God endorses. But there isn't room here to get into that.)
A nascent organization is in the news this week for declaring that indeed, there are nonbelievers in foxholes. "We exist. We're here. We're normal," said Sgt. Justin Griffith, chief organizer of Military Atheists and Secular Humanists. "We're also in foxholes. That's a big one, right there."
This reminds me of the dilemma faced by many people fighting addiction and by their families, who often don't know what to do to help them.
Dear Mr. Moyers: I am a Catholic priest. I've been in a monastic order for the past 30 years, but my religion and my service to the parish haven't kept me free from alcohol's lure. I've been pulled into alcoholic drinking of the worst kind now. What a paradox! The shame — me, a servant of God, a pillar in my local community, yet a slave to Communion wine. How can I believe in a helpful God if my God could not shelter me from this suffering shame in the first place? I am desperate. — N.L., Waukesha, Wis.
And this, from a 22-year-old woman who did get help.
Dear Mr. Moyers: My problem isn't denial; I know I'm a drug addict. I know I want to stop. My problem is this "higher power" thing that the treatment center insists I believe in if I want to be sober. Sorry, but I can't believe in God.
A young woman, a Catholic priest and all of us in between — I know of no addict or alcoholic whose journey hasn't included this deeply intimate struggle with faith. Is God a noun or nothing? Is it about blind faith or being blind to the possibility of divinely rendered redemption? If God is real, then why so much suffering and relapsing? If God isn't, then how is it possible to overcome addiction's omnipotence with free will?
In my own life's journey, at times I, too, wrestle with some of those questions. I know there isn't a single or easy answer. Besides, all these years later, as my own sobriety rolls down into life's dirty foxholes or upward to peaceful plateaus, invariably I still circle back to the question that engulfed me in hopelessness on the day I finally got sober, in 1994: "Now what?"
Back then, I had no clear answer except to finally stop trying so hard on my own to fix myself. I stopped looking at the problem. Instead, I became part of the solution. I allowed professionals to help me and "fellow travelers" to teach me. I clung to my family's love. And each morning and night, I consciously reached out to connect to a conviction beyond myself, to something more powerful than the alcohol and drugs that had tried to kill me and would have if I had stopped believing. It worked. And it still does today.
I know what I call this power; it doesn't matter what you call it. But name it and give it a tangible identity. Nurture it. Then have faith that you are no more alone than the atheists are by themselves in their foxholes on the battlefield. If nothing else, they have one another.
William Moyers is the vice president of foundation relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs, and "A New Day, A New Life." Please send your questions to William Moyers at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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