When the actor Chris Pratt tweeted that he was praying his derriere off — he didn’t use that French word but a ruder English equivalent — for filmmaker Kevin Smith, he was roundly criticized. That is putting it too mildly. He sparked a firestorm.
If, a decade or two ago, I had read that an actor had sparked controversy by saying that he was praying his derriere off, I would have assumed that he was being criticized for his crude way of describing his prayers. Gentle Christians would have been shocked by such an “outrageous” comment.
Not any more. The angry backlash did not happen because Pratt mentioned his backside or suggested he was in danger of losing it through his energetic praying, but because he prayed and had the gall to mention it in public. His accusers were not “gentle Christians” but militant anti-religionists. They didn’t charge him with being rude but being naïve and irrational.
Is it irrational to pray? Has science proved that prayer is based on a lie and people who pray are delusional? Of course not. It would only be irrational to pray if it could be shown that prayers are not answered or that praying is detrimental, which has not happened. If there is a God, and many scientists believe there is, then prayer is not irrational. Prayer may be mysterious, but it is not illogical.
When I first went into full-time Christian ministry, I pastored what might be called a “mission church,” which was unsubsidized by the denomination I served. When I arrived, the church had an average attendance of 19 people on a Sunday morning, and we were constantly on the edge of financial disaster. Four months into my pastorate, the church’s biggest financial supporter died unexpectedly.
For the next few years, paydays often came without pay, or with only a partial paycheck. The church sometimes had to choose between paying us or paying the electric company. There were times when the cupboard was bare and our wallets empty. In those times of need, we would ask God to intervene, and the results were remarkable.
Without ever telling anyone — not even family — our situation, our needs were met again and again. People driving by, people who did not know us, stopped and gave us money, not once but at least three times. They told us God directed them to do so. Money came in the mail on the day it was needed or was placed in an envelope and stuck in the door. One day, I cried out to God, “I need a new car!” and I was given a car that evening. And all this without ever telling a soul about our needs.
Did our prayers have anything to do with it? I cannot prove that they did, but I believe it. Had the people insulting Chris Pratt lived through our experiences, I suspect they would not criticize a person for praying. It might not bring them to believe in the efficacy of prayer, but it would at least restrain them from insulting people who do.
A civil person, even if he or she had doubts about the utility of saying prayers, would at least be grateful for the sympathetic spirit behind them. But I suspect the backlash against Chris Pratt is not really about the rationality of prayer but about controlling the linguistic territory of the public arena. The people criticizing Pratt don’t really want to have a philosophical debate on the existence of God or even a scientific discussion on the development of tools to objectively measure whether prayer is beneficial. They want to control who gets to speak.
That freedom of speech is being challenged is clear. A couple of years ago, the liberal mayor of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, subpoenaed local pastors, demanding transcripts of their sermons, like the leader of some authoritarian regime.
Within the last year, academics in both the U.S. and Canada have been reprimanded by their schools and shouted down by opponents for espousing unpopular ideas. Once bastions of free speech, college campuses are becoming the least open places in society.
And then there is poor Chris Pratt, who lost his derriere praying, and was abused for his sacrifice. What’s the world coming to?
— Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County (Mich.). Read more at shaynelooper.com.