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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

their religion.

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.


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