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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2078119
Faith is in the eye of the beholder.

The metal chairs were hard and uncomfortable and the thermostat was set low to keep the small group from seeking escape through daydreaming or drowsing. George knew this was intentional, specifically designed to control and monitor the receptivity of the men. Everything the military did was intentional and usually for reasons they did not deign to share with enlisted swine like him. He was, after all, just cannon fodder, a ground pounder, an infantry grunt.

The constitution provided freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other basic rights, but that did not stop the Corps from instituting mandatory classes on just about everything under the sun, including exposure to race relations, equal opportunity, religious toleration and a thick catalogue of other official BS sessions.

George was not an ignorant or uneducated person, he was in his final year of college on a full scholarship when he inexplicably dropped out and enlisted in Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, also known as the USMC. Not only had he chosen the Marine Corps, he had personally selected to become a low-life infantryman when he could have easily qualified for Medical Corpsman, Intelligence, Administration, Special Operations, or a wide range of dream jobs denied to the much less educated.

That was two years ago, and since that time he had been through some of the toughest training imaginable and engaged in some of the most horrible combat anyone was expected to endure. He had watched many of his friends die in ghastly ways, and done more than his share of killing.

The day’s instructor, a Protestant Chaplain, banged his pointer on the desk to get their undivided attention. “God is with you wherever you go!” he shouted. “He will be there to comfort and protect you. Do not feel alone when you are walking through the jungles or rice fields, for the Lord will protect you.”

“Yeah, like he protected Harley and Dan,” a sarcastic voice sounded from the back of the classroom. “And Pete, Mike, Jimmy and Morales another marine echoed.”

“They are with the Lord in paradise,” the Chaplain continued, “as are many other brave Marines who have given their lives in defense of our great nation.”

“So, we gotta give it all and bite the bullet before God pays any attention to us, is that right Padre?”

Chaplain Porterfield knew this was going to be a tough bunch to deal with; they had suffered more than their share of casualties over the past several weeks. However, it was his duty and obligation to provide them the comfort of knowing that a loving God stood by them in their times of peril.

“God works in his own way and often for reasons that do not make sense to us,” he continued. “I assume everyone here believes in the Lord God.”

George knew that each of the Marines in the room professed to be Christian, all except for Singhi who was Hindu but did not practice his faith. He was tired of the pompous Chaplain, tired of spending time going over repetitive drills, sick of the mundane chores, and fed up with boring mandatory classes when they could be catching up on the lost sleep and rest everyone in the platoon desperately needed.

“That’d be a no-go on my part, Padre,” he replied, primarily to liven up the monotonous atmosphere and perhaps end the tedium sooner. “I do not believe in your particular concept of religion.”

The Chaplain speared him with a glaring stare. “You do not believe in God, in Christianity, Sergeant?”

George smiled. “Oh, I believe in God, Padre, but I believe that God created the universe and established rationally comprehensible moral and natural laws, but does not intervene in human affairs. If he/she/or it did, things would be considerably different.”

The Chaplain’s curiosity was piqued. “What lead you to that unusual Deist like conclusion, Sergeant, if I may ask?”

Despite many queries, George had never felt the need to explain why he had left college to join the Marines but he figured this was as good a time as any to let it out. “My father was a Catholic Priest serving in a small parish here in Vietnam,” he stated. “He joined the priesthood after my mother died from a broken heart due to the accidental drowning of my little sister. He had very strong faith in God, but God allowed the Viet Cong to nail him to a cross and open his stomach so his intestines spilled out to his feet, just as God let my young sister die and my mother cry herself to death, just as he allows many others to die horrible and unnecessary deaths and still others to perpetrate those horrible crimes. Tell me Padre, would a just and loving God, with the omnipotent ability to help everyone who seeks help, allow mankind to do such evil things to each other, and don’t hand me that, he works in mysterious ways crap.”

“Are you not afraid of going to hell for denying God’s love and grace?” the Chaplain whispered as if God was personally listening to George’s blasphemy.

George was calm, he had learned to stay calm or be dead over the past year or so. “First and foremost Chaplain, I firmly believe in life after physical death. Although our body and brain may die, I believe that who we are and all we have learned in life will continue on in our everlasting spirit which some refer to as the soul, and that our knowledge, hopes, dreams and memories go with us for all eternity. All religions, I firmly believe, are the product of fertile minds, ordinary people seeking truth, hope, and idealistic dreams. I therefore believe that unto each dreamer, there exists a particular paradise to which their spirits will go after death.”

The Chaplain was becoming more agitated but curious. “So, heaven is also not part of your belief?”

For me, I believe my afterlife may be my love of reading, writing, of history and travel. Everything I have learned, read, seen, experienced with all my senses, and dreamed, will be in my paradise. It is a place where I will be the hero of all the books, movies, and stories I have read, or imagined, or have written. I also believe that given the choice or opportunity, I will have the option to return to this physical world in another life, another adventure. I may not remember the other lives and time spent in my ever-after while in that particular life, but I will always return to my eternal life and then remember all the lives I have lived and the people I have loved. Perhaps in doing so I will be given the opportunity to make restitution for the errors or bad things I may have committed in each life.”

“What of those you profess to love, will you never see them again after death?”

“I believe I will be able to share my paradise with those I love, my parents, sister, my friends, and especially any children I may have when they move on,” George replied. “My beloved wife, if I ever marry, will be the heroine alongside me in my everlasting adventures and have the choice to experience her own adventurous dreams and be with her God and Lord when she needs them. The spiritual body we choose to use may not be the same one we used during this life, but one we make to fit our desires.”

“Sounds a little like dark fantasy to me,” the Chaplain struggled to hide a growing smile. “Considering all those past lives and past loves, it may be a little crowded in your paradise.”

Anger started building up inside George and he was also exhausted. “I see your attempts to hide your smug dogmatism, Padre,” he replied. “I also believe that life after death is what I perceive it to be, not what some religious cleric wants me to believe. Each religion has its own concepts or dogma, many borrowed from older or extinct religions, and your personal faith is grounded in what you have been taught to believe. These are my personal beliefs; you need not share them, but please honor them as I honor yours. Do not think me evil or misguided for not sharing the same beliefs you do, we each have the right to our own choices, your beliefs do not offend me, mine should not offend you. As for all those past lives and past loves, I firmly believe love comes from the spirit, not the body. Besides, when I think of the sore knees and raspy throat I might have if I had to live in your version of heaven throughout eternity; my paradise appears infinitely better to me.”

“Did you study religion in college?” the Chaplain asked, his irritability rising as he appeared to be losing control of the class. “Do you have a degree in theology?”

“No sir, I majored in history, Chaplain. When a person studies history, they also learn the concepts around which history was built, social order, political structure, agriculture, science, philosophy, art, war, logistics, and religion. Religion has played an important role in the development of every known society and civilization throughout history, and they all had their own particular version of religion, some were good, others hilarious, and many were deadly. If they can have their beliefs, what’s wrong with me having mine, I do believe our present constitution allows it?”

“Yeah Padre, me too!” one of the Marines yelled. “I’m gonna have five hundred wives like that old king had and rule my own kingdom of love.”

“And a truck load of Viagra!” another Marine added opening up the room to hoots and laughter.

The Chaplain banged his pointer on the desk to halt the ribaldry. “Religion is also grounded in faith,” he stated. “Without faith, nothing exists. You must have faith that God will guide you during your difficult times, especially here in the valley of the shadow of death.”

“What about faith, Chaplain?” George asked. “Most religions have very common features, most claim absolute authority, completely denouncing all other faiths. How can men teach something that preaches love on one hand, yet teach destruction to non-believers on the other? How can they expect me to have faith in something that teaches of miracles in the far past, but give excuses why those miracles do not occur in the present day? How do you rationalize belief without proof? How do you justify faith knowing that clerics over the ages have corrupted the real truth, adding and subtracting to their beliefs to fit the evolving political environment?

“I have more faith in my rifle, Padre!” a Marine shouted. “The round that killed that Viet Cong sniper didn’t come from God, it came from my rifle.”

“Do not blaspheme against the Lord God,” the Chaplain yelled in anger. “He may not be there the next time you ask for his help.”

“I’d rather have Sarge guarding my rear,” another Marine stated, “at least I can count on him.”

“Your Sergeant’s beliefs are the product of post-traumatic stress,” The Chaplain continued. “I suggest you renew your faith in God and disregard his misguided philosophy and ideas of fantasy. Class dismissed!”

In so many words, my beliefs are totally false and his are absolute truth, George thought as he left the room, so much for religious tolerance and freedom of religion.

Word count: 1916

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