The Agnostic Soldier’s Prayer


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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
And wondered
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

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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 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 or on his Facebook page (



21 Responses to “The Agnostic Soldier’s Prayer”

  1. I have no problem with Heinlein being canonized, but properly you should use a pic of the man himself for his saint’s card, not one of his characters; this image might work:

    The prayer is a good effort. I, too, have tried my hand at an agnostic prayer, and could never find the perfect phrasing for it, but the sentiments I wanted to include was the hope that, *if* there was a God, that he/she/it was just and merciful, not hateful and vengeful, and that, *if* there *is* an afterlife, that it is a place of peace and rest, not torment and punishment; maybe the souls of the evil could simply be obliterated painlessly upon their death, their evil quickly forgotten.

    • I don’t know, Robert. When I’m gone I won’t mind too much if someone posts a picture of the fictional Jerry Nunez with my name on it.

      Then again, I’ll be gone and won’t mind anything at all!

  2. 3 Joe in PNG

    I understand St. John Moses Browning also has a pretty devoted following amongst certain Agnostics and Atheist.

  3. From a young age, I have understood the place, and worth, of religious belief. However, I have never found the place I belong in that regard. I’ve tried different faiths, read about others, but all of them seemed somehow wrong to me. Sometimes, I would listen to the teachings, then notice how the people walked out and did the exact opposite.

    Quite often, it seemed like the teachings and beliefs for some religions were just made-up as they went. Especially if you look at the history of some of the older faiths compared to their current professed beliefs. If something is “True”, wouldn’t you expect it not to change?

    So I found my answer by making up my own thing. Much of it is based upon the parts of other religions that worked for me. The truth, after all, is where you find it.

    Do I pray? Yes, at times. Do I expect anyone to be listening? Not really, but it makes me feel better, and isn’t that what prayer is for anyway?

  4. 7 Blackhawk

    My thanks for this. My military experience was similar, though I think I had less evangelicals around me in my time (Viet Nam) than you did. Your poem is outstanding and I wish I’d had that to carry with me when I was serving.

    • Thank you sir, I appreciate that. For my entire career I’ve actually carried Carl Sagan’s “pale blue dot” quote in my wallet. It helped me keep things in perspective.

      • 9 Blackhawk

        That was a good one, but then Sagan was inspirational in many ways.

  5. 10 Z-Man

    My favorite:

    “A totally nondenominational prayer: Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that I be forgiven for anything I may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which I may be eligible after the destruction of my body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.”

    ― Roger Zelazny, Creatures of Light and Darkness

  6. 13 Michmike

    Hey Chris

    Thanks, as someone who has a hard time with religion also i appreciate your candor as I went to parochial school and perhaps that is why I am the way I am. Lol

    My problem is that I have a 7yo who is around hard core Christians and it brings up difficult situations when they ask my daughter if she loves Jesus. I try to talk to my daughter about it but not to tell her it is wrong or even what I think. Honestly I am afraid of her being discriminated against because of my non belief and I can see how easily it can happen. I suppose we are just not putting it out there that we are non believers but approach it as “yea we really don’t go to church and are not very religious”.

    People use it as some sort of litmus test but I do not need a book to teach my child morality, right and wrong. I teach her not to steal, cheat, lie or kill not because of divine retribution in the after life but because intuitively it the right thing to do. There are many good lessons in the bible but in my opinion none of them are anything other than common sense.

    We teach her to be kind because you get what you give but I suppose it is just karma after all. Lol

  7. 14 Fluffy

    While not exactly a prayer…I have used the Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” in situations where others might have been praying. Not praying for intervention from a higher power, but rather get myself mentally calmed down so that I don’t frak up.

    “I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    Agnostic as well…

  8. 15 S. Cameron

    Religion is a fascinating topic, even though I don’t believe any of it. Judaism was supposed to be replaced by Christianity…didn’t work out so well. There are a lot of Jews make rational arguments how that has NOT happened.

    Them Mohammed comes along and, in fine form, says HE is the last Prophet from the Abrahamic line and there shall be no more after him and that Islam is the One True Faith.

    Then Joseph Smith comes along, says God came to America and the Angel Moroni gave HIM the last word. Really?

    I am sure the Zoroastrians and Odin worshippers were as fervent believers as any of our modern believers, but look what happened to them…they are marginal/dead religions and Odin or Ahura Mazda have not risen up to show humans the error of our ways.

    How come all of the magical exploits do not occur anymore…Jesus raising the dead, Mohammed lifting HUGE boulders, etc? Once science began taking a larger role, all of these mysterious religious “miracles” stopped happening? I wonder why?

    Once people find out I am an “agnostic/atheist”, they either try and convince me of my wayward thoughts or they look at me like I am deranged.

    Religion is a tool used to extract treasure/favor/influence from the unsuspecting masses…

    • 16 Priscilla

      Here is a possible modern miracle appropriate for today’s 70th anniversary of Hiroshima.

      Miracles require faith.
      “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”
      Matthew 13:58.
      I’m not trying to convince you nor do I think you’re deranged, just sayin’.

      • 17 Priscilla

        A Post-Modern Miracle
        And lo, the great Seventh Tower fell at the speed of lightning straight down unto its own footprint and the people were amazed, for the giant bird had passed over it, the falling boulders from the sky which struck it were small and the fires therein were not great and did not rage. “How can this be?”, marvelled the people, “that the mighty tower has fallen?” And the wise men replied, “Verily, we know not, for the like has never been seen before by the sons of men. Perhaps fiery heat has caused one column to sway, causing the tower to fall at the speed of lightning straight down into its own footprint; yea, destroying the entire tower unto dust. How can we know the ways of fire upon steel?” And they pronounced it a miracle. Yet some of the people doubted and said, “Did not the king proclaim ‘pull it’ and the tower then fall?” And the spirit of darkness and deceit descended upon their minds and they did not believe the miracle. Then the faithful were sore afraid and grew angry and said, “These men are possessed of demons and mad, for they believe not except what their own eyes have seen and ears have heard and minds have understood. Let us cast them out of the kingdom of polite discourse henceforth and forever.” And so it was done. But the doubters continued to mutter, “The people believe not in the miracles of the supernatural, yet believe in miracles of nature. It is indeed passing strange.”

  9. 18 Danny

    It must be difficult to have a different belief when you are in the army.

  10. Nice prayer. As another Catholic School refugee who had to argue with my Squad Leader to get; “No Preference” put on my dog tags; I feel your pain. I wish I’d thought up that Buddhist angle in boot camp; brilliant! I bet the room had air conditioning too, didn’t it?

  11. 21 thefoolserrand

    “Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:”

    “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”

    Chris, it is the state of your spirit when doing battle. Your questions in this prayer have been answered. I believe doing battle as a warrior is just and righteous when defending the defenseless from evil. This also includes preemptive offensive operations. Remember that there is a difference between killing and murder that is lost on many that do not see this difference. When a fellow team member is killed in battle, I cannot let the flood of emotional rage and desire for vengeance cloud my judgement and soul cause as I well know, it can get me killed, or worse, my fellow warriors.

    When an armed thug threatens my families security and I take him down in defense, resulting in their death, it is a righteous killing. I do not hate him and consider his actions as I would a rabid dog that was a family pet.

    In this same scenario, I deliver a non-fatal shot rendering the thug defenseless and THEN out of rage, I walk up and shoot them in the head, that is murder.

    I am guilty of hate and rage. It is so easy to hate and far harder to love. I believe that God blesses the warrior that can extract hate and desire for vengeance from their heart.This kind of warrior does not desire war, but can recognize a threat from a non-threat and takes righteous action.

    Again, the difference between killing and murder is the motivation for taking life, and what is in their heart when doing so. I remember the words of my Ranger Instructor during a raid: “Kill them all. Not because you hate’em, but because you have a mission. Any left alive are a threat to that mission”. The rules of war state that once we assault through the objective, we must render aid to the injured enemy behind us. To do so, requires time that we do not have and puts the mission at risk. Because of this reality, it was important for me to ensure the state of my spirit was in order.

    Righteously kill without hesitation, but never murder. This same principal can be observed by anyone, religious or not.

    This is my belief. As you are an LEO, I pray for your safety in this increasingly insane world of anti-cop sentiment.

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