I've been writing newspaper columns off and on for 25 years, and one thing I've always enjoyed about it is that people respond.
I realized long ago that no matter what I wrote, some people were going to love it and others were going to hate it, and folks on both sides were going to be eager to let me know. For me, that's the fun of venturing into the public square and expressing ideas: the give and take with readers.
Over time, I've learned a lot from readers. They've suggested angles I missed. They've pointed out my self-contradictions. They've even changed my views.
Occasionally, though, I receive a flurry of responses that, in my humble opinion, are so far beyond the pale that I end up more irritated than enlightened.
My column published Jan. 28 was one of those cases.
I compared two films about evangelical Christians: Fireproof, which I found superficial and not terribly true to churchgoers' experiences, and Higher Ground, which was spot-on accurate, if grittier and more ambiguous. I preferred the latter.
I knew that a lot of my fellow born-agains would disagree. Fireproof was wildly popular with our crowd. Heck, as I mentioned in the column, even my sister-in-law, who is one of my best friends, loved that movie.
When my column appeared, she and I had a big laugh about that. Like any reasonable person, Genean saw our differences about Fireproof as a minor matter of taste. To her, she has good taste and I don't. End of story.
But a number of people who responded to my column questioned not my taste in films, but my faith, my integrity and even my sanity.
Here's a sampling from the readers' comments on Kentucky.com. Some of the personal emails I received were even more, ahem, pointed.
■ "These movies sure beat the trash coming out of Hollywood maybe you need to see a good shrink!"
■ "Ahhh, another 'why are other Christians besides me so embarrassingly pious and unhip' bromide from the Herald-Leader's tame self-proclaimed evangelical, Paul Prather."
■ "You really got down off the fence and sided with a very anti-Godly, secular arts world that craves nothing more than to see Christian artists mocked and scorned. Your willingness to play that role is disturbing. I would suggest to you in the future to resist the urge to be viewed as intellectually adequate in order to please the world. It is not man you should seek to please, but God."
■ "Paul, I guess you're part of the Tebow hater nation, as well. Why would we pull for a decent human being that is an athlete when we already have druggers, criminals and cheaters to pull for, right?"
Maybe I should mention, just for clarification, that Higher Ground, the film I liked, was an exceedingly gracious, compassionate portrayal of sincere Christians.
And there wasn't a drug addict, criminal or cheater — or a football player — in the whole script, that I can recall.
But that's really not the point of the criticism.
I think what really galls some born-again Christians is that I usually describe myself as a minister, an evangelical and a Pentecostal — yet sometimes my views on pop culture, theology or politics don't happen to match theirs.
So, to them, it's not just that I see a few things differently. No, I must be a faker, a spiritual poser. I've sold out the Lord by trying to be irreverent and hip and "intellectually adequate in order to please the world." P.S.: I also need psychiatric help.
Their subtext is, "I liked Fireproof. Since I liked Fireproof, God likes it, too, because I get all my opinions about movies by divine revelation. Therefore, if you didn't like Fireproof, you're not only differing with me, you're anti-God."
Again, I don't at all mind being disagreed with.
I do mind sheer arrogance.
Think about it. If I were concerned about being seen by "the world" as irreverent, hip and intellectual, I wouldn't be describing myself as a born-again, evangelical, Pentecostal preacher. I imagine I lose the hipsters and highbrows right there, don't you?
In truth, I have a much more subversive reason for describing myself that way: I really am those things. Come visit my church any Sunday and see for yourself.
I don't give a big Freddy flip whether the cool kids or the academics approve of what I believe. I don't mean any offense to them in saying that. But it's simply irrelevant to me. I'm not 17 anymore. I'm way past trying to be cool, OK?
I equally don't care whether priggish, self- appointed judges of who is and isn't an acceptable Christian like it, either.
I have news for you, my born-again brothers and sisters. There are tens of millions of us evangelicals and Pentecostals. A few of us are going to prefer different movies than you do. Some of us might vote for a different political candidate. Some of us might not take our orders from you.
I'm not in the habit of letting other people define how I think. I'll maintain my own conscience before God, thank you very much, and it's to him, ultimately, that I'll answer. You ain't God.
And by the way, I'm a huge Tim Tebow fan.