Mid-June, I wrote for Catholic World Report about Chris Pratt’s joyful and playful speech exhorting people to put their faith in God, to remember their souls, and to pray. The speech, itself nearly unheard of from a celebrity in this generation, was given in a place that seemed even more implausible, the MTV Movie & TV Awards. It was a resounding success, partly because of Pratt’s easygoing, graceful, and grateful manner and partly because of what his judgment revealed: really, we as a society are more Christian than we usually admit.
At this year’s Disneyland Candlelight Ceremony, which took place last weekend, Chris Pratt was invited to deliver a reading from Luke 2—the story of the Nativity—with his own humorous asides.
You might not love Disney and you may be right not to; there’s some celebrity doing that reading every year anyway, an act which may, for them, be less about faith and more about who owns their future. But this was more than entertainment. At the end of the reading and music ceremony (which you can watch on YouTube), Pratt decided to tackle the one subject that’s even less acceptable in our entertainment than Christianity: fatherhood. He pointed to his son in the audience and talked of his love and the way it should lead us to remember God’s own paternal love for us (around the 51 minute mark in the video above).
The most important transformation in American society in our times is the destruction of the authority of the father. All must look forward, whether with dread or anticipation, to a society that simply does not have fathers in homes, in the social assumptions that guide our conversations, or, at some point, even in the stories we tell ourselves for entertainment. It will soon take an effort of imagination to understand what “God the Father” might mean. This is unprecedented in America; almost unheard of in world history. And we don’t even talk about it, because we’d have to talk about race and class, which we would rather not do.
The portrait of the American father as ridiculous has been the dominant mode for sitcoms and family movies for more than a generation now. I cannot off the top of my head tell you about any popular or influential story where a father asserts his paternal authority.
This is why Pratt’s brief, unexpected speech matters—it exposes by its rarity that which we are all too used to hiding. Pratt was more or less saying that fatherhood makes life worth living. He went one step further and asserted the religious point, inviting a comparison with God. There is almost nothing in our public speeches that can correspond to this simple assertion. Neither the joy nor the dignity of fatherhood are part of our public life, much less part of what we teach young men. Yet when someone like Chris Pratt says the obvious, fundamental things, we appreciate it. Perhaps we could make something of a habit of it?
Is it beyond the powers or imagination of people who applaud such a speech to encourage it? Is it impossible to produce a documentary-conversation inviting Chris Pratt to talk about fatherhood, which he has credited as the defining experience for him, as a man and as a Christian? What’s more, he is very much part of the all-American drama of our times. He was a community college-dropout-turned-beach-bum, living on booze and marijuana in Hawaii, before getting a chance to work as an actor, where his charm and talent finally found an audience. For a while he seemed to have found everything people long for—he married Anna Faris, one of the most talented actresses in comedy, and they had a child. But they divorced last year—amicably, sharing custody of their son, and apparently on as good terms as possible in such a situation, but once more the drama of modern America is on display.
We are in a new situation, such that it will be impossible to take fatherhood for granted, as we long have. Both men and women seem settled in ways that make marriage and fatherhood the minority opinion. You may not like to think that is America now, but so it is. We must now turn our minds around to a defense of fatherhood as an act of courage, and we will need courage to mount such a defense. Those who are fathers or who aspire to fatherhood will need some daring and, in some way, they will be opposing themselves to the majority and its culture. Better to do this guided by a faithful love.
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