(RNS) – Chris Kyle, often described as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, wrote in his autobiography that he prioritized his life in the following order: God, country, family.
But God doesn’t make a central appearance in the film “American Sniper,” which opened nationwide on Friday . The film offers a few similarities to “Unbroken,” Angelina Jolie’s recent World War II epic about POW Louis Zamperini.
Both stories focus on the dramatic stories of warriors who died before the movie versions of their lives came out. Both “American Sniper” and “Unbroken” include an early scene of their families sitting in church. Both men struggle with substance abuse after returning from war.
And both films largely skirt the faith that Kyle and Zamperini said were key to their identity — and their survival.
As a Navy SEAL, Kyle reportedly recorded 160 kill shots during his four tours in Iraq. His story drew national attention after the release of his 2012 autobiography “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” which enjoyed a 37-week run on The New York Times’ best-seller list.
The Clint Eastwood-directed biopic starring Bradley Cooper debuted with a limited release on Christmas Day, the same day “Unbroken” opened nationwide.
Kyle opened his book by probing the ethics of combat as he wrote about his first sniper shot, when he had to kill an Iraqi woman holding a grenade.
“My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul,” he wrote. “I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day.”
In the film adaptation, Kyle is visibly moved by his first shot and later mentions meeting his maker and justifying each shot he took. He writes that he spent a lot of time praying during difficult times.
In 2013, Kyle was shot and killed at a Texas shooting range; Eddie Ray Routh, a fellow Iraq veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was charged in Kyle’s death and is scheduled to stand trial in February. Former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, sparked a backlash after he tweeted a biblical reference: “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”
Kyle was no straight-laced Christian. His book is filled with profanities and stories of his family struggles. But faith is nonetheless woven throughout the book.
“I was raised with, and still believe in, the Christian faith. If I had to order my priorities, they would be God, country, family,” Kyle wrote. “There might be some debate on where those last two fall — these days I’ve come around to believe that family may, under some circumstances, outrank country. But, it’s a close race.”
The God, country, family line is mentioned in passing in the film after another soldier asks Kyle if he believes in God. “There’s evil,” Cooper says. “We’ve seen it.”
In the film, Kyle is shown putting his Bible in the pocket of his uniform.
“I’m not the kind of person who makes a big show out of religion,” Kyle writes in the book. “I believe, but I don’t necessarily get down on my knees or sing real loud in church. But I find some comfort in faith, and I found it in those days after my friends had been shot up. Ever since I had gone through BUD/S (SEAL training), I’d carried a Bible with me. I hadn’t read it all that much, but it had always been with me. Now I opened it and read some of the passages. I skipped around, read a bit, skipped around some more. With all hell breaking loose around me, it felt better to know I was part of something bigger.”