I can’t remember exactly where I first heard this saying, but I think it was in one of the soldiers’ autobiographies I read when I was still in school (I used to read a lot of military stuff back then). The saying goes that there is no such thing as an atheist on a battlefield. This isn’t too difficult to understand: when faced with imminent death, people need all the help they can get and are prepared to strike a bargain with just about anyone. It’s is also a recognition of the fact that their fate is very much out of their hands, with the Gods as it were.
About the same time I was reading books like Chickenhawk and The Tunnels of Cu Chi I was living back in West Wales, which I mentioned in my previous post. It was a farming district and I grew up in what was originally a blacksmith’s cottage surrounded by farms, fields, and animals. Several of my schoolfriends lived on farms and my parents knew most of the neighbouring farmers, and as I got older I noticed that the farms were silent on Sundays. The farmers would do no work and not receive visitors (including annoyingly inquisitive teenagers fascinated by agricultural machinery), and would almost all go to church. I thought this strange because they otherwise didn’t seem like particularly religious people (for instance, you’d see few religious artifacts around the houses and they didn’t mind drinking and swearing). I eventually asked my mother about this and she said farmers were often regular attendees at church because so much of their livelihood depended on the weather, which was in the hands of the Gods. It is unlikely that any farmer in 1990s Wales would have starved to death following a bad harvest, but a few generations before and a crop failure would have been deadly serious, and even in modern times events such as flooding and disease can put unbearable stress on farmers. Many of the ones I grew up around are now dead of heart attacks; thankfully none I knew committed suicide, but the rates are high. So their attending prayer was understandable: much depended on factors outside their control and they needed all the help they can get. Besides, what harm could it do? (There are shades of Pascal’s Wager in here).
I say this to explain why this article in today’s Washington Post annoyed me. This is how their original headline read:
To me, this is wholly unsurprising. From the article:
Perdue, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party before governing Georgia for two terms from 2003 to 2011, has a strong agricultural background, having grown up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. As governor of Georgia, he also took conservative stances on immigration and voting rights and drew national headlines for holding a public vigil to pray for rain in 2007 amidst a crippling drought.
Again, this is wholly unsurprising. Faced with a crippling drought, a farming community prayed for rain. Where in the world doesn’t this happen? Here you have middle class, city-dwelling journalists sneering at a backward, unenlightened Georgian farmer for thinking rain can be summoned through prayer. I can imagine it now: “Hahahahahaha! What an idiot! How can people be so stupid?”
Of course, such utter lack of understanding of the USA outside the coastal cities and their constant derision of people they don’t understand is why the media’s preferred Democratic candidate got smashed in the Presidential election by a Republican who they thought had no chance. I came across this story this morning on Twitter and found the headline has not gone down well with some liberals either (which is probably why they changed it):
I’m as secular as they come, but I think this Washington Post headline is so uncalled for and disrespectful pic.twitter.com/P0rvHckJJS
— Walter Olson (@walterolson) January 19, 2017
Indeed. I too am as secular as they come and I suppose if pushed I’d describe myself as agnostic. But I know enough not to sneer at the personal beliefs of people who are doing no more than trying to get themselves through a patch of bad luck, especially if they are farmers. I’ve seen the harsh reality of farming and rural life close up; our media elites clearly haven’t. Some humility and manners wouldn’t go amiss, would they?