Watch the video. You’ve probably seen the gentleman in the ill-chosen brown suit with the silly blue shirt (white dots!) and the too-narrow collar charm the entire universe in Guardians of the Galaxy. He has a few things to say to the audience at the MTV Awards in 2018, prompted by his having received the Our Generation Award, whatever that might mean. He made jokes and he told people we all have souls, we have to use our powers to protect the weak, and then said “God is real! God loves you! God wants the best for you! Believe that—I do!”
Listen to the whole speech—I’m not sure when last you heard a Hollywood A-lister tell people to pray, because it’s good for their souls, or that grace will make up for their imperfections. Don’t we all need to hear this? Do you not feel your heart stir, do you not feel uplifted at such a rare moment? Don’t you also feel surprised that such a thing should have happened—or, indeed, could have happened? In our public lives, we avoid such speeches. I guess, it’s too much responsibility to take. One reason a celebrity might feel it’s his responsibility to say these things is that priests aren’t celebrated in our culture.
These awards and awards shows most often set off cycles of the public fawning over The Beautiful People. Celebrity worship is usually an attempt to substitute for grace; if these angelic beings are already here, within reach, you don’t need to worry about Heaven. We love having access to the idols we have set up on pedestals—every time these idols condescend to climb down so we get a closer look, we go wild. We celebrate our capacity to pervert our capacity for worship. Celebrities really aren’t our betters, much less divine.
But celebrities don’t create themselves—nor do they simply come out of the cynical manipulations of Hollywood. They come out of us. We want something we can worship now, easily, in ways that bring us together even if we don’t get anything out of it—it’s just an occasion for empty, no-consequences enthusiasm. Above all, we love these celebrations because, unlike church, they don’t require that we sacrifice our pride. That’s the same as saying that we tend to find church boring rather than exciting. That’s our pride talking, and our fear of death. If we weren’t afraid of death, we wouldn’t need these ecstatic celebrations to hide it or try to overcome it—to scream together at some pretty body, as though that could fix what’s wrong with us.
The best celebrities can do is bear well the burden of our wrong-headed worship—not to throw it off, but gently and humorously to point us in the direction of what’s truly divine and thus worth worshiping. This is what Chris Pratt did with his nine rules. He put people at ease and told them it’s OK to feel embarrassed for being who they are. It really is embarrassing, being who we are, which is one reason we conceal so many of our thoughts and much of our private lives.
It’s also why we cannot say important things in public—we would have to claim a right and a duty to speak to each other about our souls, about our dearest hopes and greatest fears. We cannot bring ourselves to think that we can do that—that we love each other enough to risk disapproval and shame—that we love each other enough to give our attention to someone who bears his soul before us.
But at the same time, the speech is evidence that we want to hear things more serious than gossip, and we want someone to call us to care for our souls and for each other. The crowd there seemed to love the speech, however unusual it was. But its rarity is also important to understand. It may be getting harder to do this in our culture. The digital world seems to move faster and in more chaotic ways than anything before, responding to dark desires in our hearts—to isolate, to abandon each other, to be distracted from a world where we feel we don’t fit. I don’t know if even this popular a celebrity at a venue for young people will be heard—his message might get swallowed up in the maelstrom and his call to faith could simply go unanswered.
This is the moment when we need to be reminded we are human because we have souls. In our souls, we know God loves us. Chris Pratt has done a remarkable public service, and it’s up to us to act more like bodies with souls, to be more open to other people—for they, too, have souls.