Of Gods, Atheists, and Comfort in Crisis

Pax Ahimsa Gethen
5 min readApr 5, 2020
Entrance to St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, San Francisco. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, December 2011.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. For those raised in a society where most people believe a deity created the Earth and maintains a special relationship with humans, this could be true. In times of crisis, even the most ardent disbeliever might, understandably, cast reason aside and cry out for help from beyond.

I was brought up in such a society: the USA. My upbringing was largely secular, however; my family celebrated Christmas and some Jewish holidays, but did not attend religious services. I began to doubt the existence of God by the time I was old enough to think critically.

At the age of 16, I determined that God was created in the image of man, and not the other way around, and thus declared myself an atheist. I’m now 50, and while I’ve explored various religions over the decades — and identified as a Buddhist for about 20 years — I’ve never seriously wavered from atheism. The Western concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing deity that listens to humans and intervenes in our affairs is simply too incredible for me to believe.

Yet, at times I do find myself wondering if there is some powerful entity out there who can guide humanity. It would be a true shame if humans were the most advanced lifeforms in the universe. We are a violent and deeply flawed species, bent on dominating and destroying our planet rather than sharing it peacefully and sustainably with each other and our fellow animals.

But when we call out for help, how do we truly know anyone is listening?

Friday the 13th of March was my last day working at my office for the City of San Francisco. My co-workers and I were all preparing to begin telecommuting the following week, as health authorities began issuing stay-at-home orders. During a break I strolled around the neighborhood, musing on how I had grown accustomed to commuting to this new job I started in January, after many years of self-employment and volunteer work.

I was growing increasingly unsettled about the Coronavirus pandemic, now that the threat of contagion was affecting daily life in my community. I found myself silently reaching out, asking if there really were a god out there, now would be a good time to show themself, to guide our way.



Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, pacifist. Pronouns: they/them/their. funcrunch.org, patreon.com/funcrunch