While serving in Afghanistan, Petty Officer Chris Holden has attended numerous memorials to honour the dead. This is what they look like to an atheist
People tend to reject the primitive religions, but sun worship seems to me an entirely rational theology. This occurred to me, ironically, as I struggled into full body armour, beneath a sun as merciless as the Old Testament God, in the Main Operating Base (MOB) Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan.
As I shouldered my rifle, an amplified wail erupted beyond the sandbags and wire and over the MOB’s monolithic walls. In Helmand Province, the Islamic call-to-prayer resolutely punctuates the pattern of life, and while it fails to emancipate Afghans from the “tyranny of cousins”, liberal alternatives are crushed with great success.
But the Adhan was competing today with an infidel chant. ISAF Christians had congregated in a canvas chapel and their hymn was melodic to be sure. Yet in this harsh environment, the Islamic lament retains an atavistic authenticity. One imagines the nomads of antiquity, hunkered around flickering camp fires, swathed against the desert dust, mesmerised by the verses of the great mystic poets, or perhaps just ranting in the Abrahamic tradition.
I reached the canvas chapel and glanced inside. The Anglican flock were dressed like me in crumpled deserts and scuffed boots. They had worked, slept and eaten beside me constantly for months. Nevertheless, as they projected their voices in unified praise, I knew I had no business with them here, so I turned away and trudged on through the dust alone.
Written By: Chris Holden
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