BADGE OF IDENTITY
My father as a New World immigrant
often told me that the worst thing a man
can do is to change his religion. Yet he was
a ‘born again’ atheist. As an officer
during the war, he witnessed a chaplain,
sombre in his well-cut cassock, blessing
artillery on huge wheels ready to pound
the enemy, but he loathed this ceremony,
which caused him to lose faith
in his religion. Yes, but not reject it
altogether, since even atheism is shaped
by the palimpsest, however faint,
of a religion abandoned.
When I was a boy, I had no idea why
changing one’s religion was so terrible,
since I was idealistic enough to think
that only the quest for truth mattered.
Much later I discovered that for Dad
it was matter of remaining faithful
to his own people, though not necessarily
It came as no surprise to him that his country
was so torn by ancient religious divisions,
and the allegiances that went with them
made worse by power-hungry demagogues,
that a merciless civil war with masssacres
of frail old men, vulnerable women,
and helpless children living in border areas
erupted like poisonous mushrooms.
Religion, he realized then, had become
a badge of identity, determining the side
he had no choice but to support, so whether
he believed in his own God or not, it all
turned into the devil of a joke.
Dr Mario Relich is the author of two books of poetry: Frisky Ducks was published by Grace Note in 2014, while Owl at Twilight was published by Kennedy and Boyd in 2021.
His poems have appeared in poetry journals, and in the ‘Poem of the Day’ section of The Herald.
He is also a retired academic who was a lecturer on Post-Colonial Literature and Film History at the Open University, both in Scotland and London, for many years.
At present, he writes regularly literary reviews, and an annual Edinburgh International Festival Diary for Scottish Affairs.
He is a member of the board of Scottish PEN and former chair of their Writers for Peace committee.