The Other Alaska Prayer


Mark Twain's "War Prayer"

Mark Twain’s “War Prayer”

Do you remember Mark Twain’s short essay, “The War Prayer“? In that essay, Twain has a messenger – perhaps a messenger from God – explain to a congregation what their prayer in support of their patriotic war meant. That messenger laid out, in part, what any war means:

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;

The congregation dismisses the messenger’s prayer, and the messenger as a lunatic. For that matter, Twain’s publisher refused to publish the essay. It was only published posthumously, by his literary administrator.

WC makes no pretense that he is even a shadow of Mark Twain. But the greenwashing essay by Rick Whitbeck published recently by the Anchorage Daily News invites a response. WC chooses Twain’s masterpiece as a model for a response.

The will of God had finally been perceived. Drilling for crude oil in the nation’s largest wildlife refuge would be permitted. The new Republican governor would bless a huge, open pit mine in the headwaters of the nation’s most valuable wild salmon resource. A giant tailings pond behind a manmade dam would hold the toxic waste in perpetuity. Coal would be scoured from the bottom of another salmon stream and then burned in China. Alaska jobs would be created. Permanent fund dividends would increase. Gasoline prices would fall. Prosperity and happiness for all.

From the altar of Anchorage Baptist Temple, the preacher thundered his praise to God Almighty for the blessings that He had brought to Alaska. And then a tall, thin man, with a white beard and rimless glasses, dressed in a tweed jacket, made his way down the central aisle. He gently took the preacher by the elbow and pushed him aside. He stepped to the microphone.

“I come to this House of God to speak for science. I come to speak of the consequences of your prayers and praise. Because God wants you to understand what you are asking, the full meaning of your prayers to Him.”

“You want to burn more fossil fuels, to warm the planet God has created for you, beyond anything in history. You want to melt the ice caps, raising the ocean levels, killing the fish, baking the lands, melting the permafrost and destroying your roads, bridges, communities and homes. Even as the seas rise up around your knees, you ask to drill for more oil off the ocean’s shores.”

Against rising mutters from the outraged parishioners, the old man continued, “Even as the citizens of the Brazilian town of Brumadinho dig through the mud for the bodies of their loved ones, killed in yet another tailings dam failure, you ask for an even larger tailings dam in the pristine waters where salmon spawn, jeopardizing those precious fish and the people who depend upon them.”

“Knowing coal is the very worst of the fossil fuels, deadly to mine, poison to burn and toxic in its waste, you demand to mine still more, destroying yet another salmon stream, not to heat your own homes but ship it to another country.”

“Knowing that the ruthless exploitation of natural resources has damaged the lands and poisoned the waters of your fellow states, you will nonetheless follow them down that path of folly, inflicting the same injuries or worse on yourselves. Your Lord God has charged you to be good stewards of the lands He has created for you, but for nothing but greed and worship of money you spoil, waste and destroy them. Surely retribution will follow.”

“You know all these things but you carry on with the devastation of His creation.”

“May God have mercy on your souls.”

With that the stranger walked away. Near the exit, he was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and jailed, charged with blasphemy and trespass.

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