The Agnostic Soldier’s Prayer
This is a random musing about a poem I wrote years ago. I’ve been agnostic since I was sixteen and in Catholic High School, and when I joined the military I found myself surrounded by fervently religious people. In boot camp we were forced to attend religious services, and I went to Catholic or Protestant for a while until I decided to protest by going to Buddhist services.
It turned out that if you weren’t Catholic or Protestant the Marine Corps really didn’t care what you did at mass. Buddhist “services” were just a room with Buddhist literature, with no supervision. So a group of us, some who were real Buddhists and some who were like me, would hang out and BS about basic training, life back in the real world, or whatever was interesting that week.
Throughout my military career I’ve been the odd man out, a devout agnostic floating in a sea of passionate religious belief. At times that put me in conflict with others, and I’ve been condemned to hell more than a few times by fellow Marines and Soldiers. I’ve had many debates about religion, and many more extremely interesting discussions with highly intelligent warriors whose beliefs differed from mine. I’ve served in combat beside people who I’m sure hated my beliefs, but still respected my service. I was nearly shot recovering the body of a man I’m sure was Christian, and I like to think that if the roles were reversed he wouldn’t have cared about my lack of religion.
I’ve been asked this question a few times, and I don’t think the people asking believed my answer. But when I was at war, it never occurred to me to pray. Even at times when good guys were down and the situation was bleak, I never thought about or hoped for a god’s intervention. In those situations I was too busy to beseech a being whose existence I highly doubt.
Anyway, here’s the prayer. Let me know what you think.
P.S. Why Robert Heinlein? Starship Troopers, that’s why.
The Agnostic Soldier’s Prayer
I’ve stood in a hundred formations
Surrounded by earnest, armed believers
And heard a hundred sermons
Telling me how right and proper
God considers this slaughter to be
I’ve stood beside my tank
Watching a chaplain’s aide
Anointing the turret with holy water
If I was the only man on the planet
To wonder at the lunacy of it
God, I ask this question
Do you look down on me and smile
When I charge my rifle
Prep my grenades
Check every detail of my gear
And prepare to kill your beloved creations?
Yaweh, you told me
I shall not kill
Except in your name
And with your blessing
If you’ve decided to use me
To carry out your will
So, Allah, shall I heed your call
To kill the infidels
Reclaim your land
Keep your believers pure
And smash to dust all who oppose you?
Or, Buddha, do I pursue another path
Drop my weapons, sheath my knives
Stand tall upon the battlefield
Extend my hand to those I call my enemy
And bring an end to that war
That’s within my reach?
Rah, the wire is calling me
And once I leave it
Life itself has been forsaken
I may take a bullet
Or find myself
At the center of a disintegrating blast
And if I do
I hope I have enough time
To remember the sensation
Of your rays upon my face
God of Babylon, I ask
If you agree
That I’m alone in this battle
No matter whom I beseech for mercy as my life stains the pavement
No arms that are not my brothers’ will aid me
And even though no god will save me
Religion will probably kill me someday
Perhaps I should send a prayer to Mars before I cross this line
And commit myself to kill or die
But maybe every time I pull on my armor
Chamber a round in my weapon
Load my vehicle with ammunition and grenades,
Roll outside the wire behind a machine gun
Maybe every moment behind a trigger,
Every second in the enemy’s sights
Is a prayer to a war god
So with one last word
To one last god
I trust myself to your care
Because, Venus, after all,
Your human form is the only one
I can honestly say
I ever truly worshipped
Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).
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