The blog Science 2.0 repeats something that most combat soldiers have always known: there are few atheists in fox holes:
But does war really transform people, or does it simply make the fleetingly religious more so for a short time? A recent analysis of archived surveys of Army Infantry soldiers after a battle – Samuel Stouffer’s “The American Soldier” World War II research (1) – found self-reported reliance on prayer rose from 42% to 72% as that battle got more intense.
“The question is whether that reliance on faith lasts over time,” said Craig Wansink, author and Professor of Religion at Virginia Wesleyan College, who did the analysis and co-wrote the paper with his brother Brian Wansink, food marketing expert and Professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. The World War II generation is a good one for analysis because the interest was religiosity long-term and young people in the 1940s were more religious overall than more recent generations.
A second analysis of survey results from 1,123 World War II veterans showed that 50 or more years after combat, most soldiers still exhibited religious behavior, though it varied by their war experience. Those facing heavy combat (versus no combat) attended church 21% more often if they claimed their war experience was negative, but those who claimed their experience was positive attended 26% less often.
The more a veteran disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years later.
Go here to read the rest. CS Lewis, a combat veteran of World War I, summed this up long ago in his The Screwtape Letters where Screwtape warns Wormwood not to take too much delight in World War II:
For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.
When we come up against grim realities like death, most of us recall that we are children of a loving God and turn to Him.