Comedian Frank Skinner’s new book is a cheering, thought-provoking collection of stand-up quality prayers. We’re pleased to share an extract below…
God. Is it OK to pray for atheists? I’ve become self-conscious about it. I know they’re a bit of a nightmare, but you’re the past master of the left-field act of kindness. I saw an advert for a local gym. It offered members the chance to get free membership for a friend. I’m sure you don’t want to be out-kinded by an organisation dedicated to specifically physical improvement.
Of course, one complication is that my atheist friends (which means almost all of my friends) don’t want to be prayed for. They’d be, at best, unimpressed if I told them. Especially if I told them exactly what I was praying for on their behalf. They would probably resent my use of phrases like ‘come to their senses’, ‘finally see the light’ and ‘lost souls searching for Catholicism’. (Actually, you’ll recognise that last phrase from my discussions with you about friends who do believe but are members of, what I like to call, the support religions. It’s a surprisingly flexible phrase considering its core strength is its inflexibility.) I certainly didn’t ask these Atheists for permission to pray for them. I’d rather hit them on their blind side. I think of it as a drive-by intercession.
You would be well within your rights – especially as your rights are limitless – to ask, in a world when you aren’t, or so it seems, answering a lot of the faithful’s pleadings, why you should waste your time – which, again, is limitless – on the smug, self-centred deniers that constitute so much of Western society, certainly in the UK.
Especially as their requests must inevitably arrive via an intermediary. My response to this would be that these are good-ish people who are only a divine brain implant away from a dramatic and possibly contagious conversion. You’d only need to set a few hundred of them aflame – and, yes, I mean spiritually – and soon droves of their fashion-following friends would start asking themselves the big questions. They won’t want to be the last to convert, the last to acknowledge the changing mood, the last to recognise the new intellectual environment. They won’t want to look like ambience chasers.
I’m not cutting a new groove here. As a kid, I remember praying, at my Catholic Junior School assembly, that Mary, Mother of Mercy, might ‘enlighten the minds that are miserably enfolded in the darkness of ignorance and sin’. All I’m doing is putting names to this shadowy ensemble so the Blessed Virgin doesn’t have to seek them amid the near-impenetrable atheist gloom. It’s the good-guy version of writing to the Stasi about your colleague’s anti-government ramblings. There’s nothing in this for me. Although it would be nice to get a bit more empathy during Lent.
In truth, I’d be making things more difficult for myself, especially on the salvation front. If you came down to collect the deserving faithful this very afternoon, you’d find, I suspect, fairly slim pickings. Sorting out the saved will feel like a cosmic game of ‘Where’s Wally?’
This grim scarcity is probably my best chance of mounting the cherry-picker to Paradise. If, however, at my beseeching, my atheist friends start having epiphanies like popcorn going off in a pan, the competition will get much tougher. Suddenly, I’d be trying to match myself against the zeal of the convert. Still, I’m hoping there must be some kind of advantage in booking the holiday early, as it were.
So, yes, I pray for the miserably enfolded. They are much more in need of your help than the believers, be they chronically sick or violently oppressed. These latter sufferings are very much of an earthly nature. Come the glorious day, their anguish will be left behind, like when those novelty items in an amusement arcade grab-a-gift machine are lifted from their cheerless chamber of materialism by a descending claw from above.
The atheists, in contrast, have an illness that, if untreated, renders them sufferers for all eternity. Temporal torments of a physical nature are small beer compared to a significant endangering of the soul. This is Operation Lost Sheep. So shine the light of realisation on my atheist friends. Forgive their Richard-Dawkins-is-so-cool trend-following superficiality, their uninformed criticisms, their arrogant certainty, and let them see that, as it turned out, I was right all along.
Extract from A Comedian’s Prayer Book by Frank Skinner (Hodder & Stoughton). Buy a copy here.
Frank Skinner is a special guest on A Drink with the Idler on Thursday 27 May.