There is nothing more harmless than a priest at prayer. Catholics admire photos of Pope Francis, kneeling at a tomb or with his eyes fervently closed during a ceremony in St Peter’s. It is touching sometimes to enter a church and find the priest praying alone, devoutly contemplating the crucifix, not trying to impress anyone, just lost in imagining that he is communicating with God. The vast majority of priests and clerics of the three great religions pray regularly in private, and with great sincerity. They believe in their illusions.
It is no doubt a cheap play on words to insist on the similarity between the words “pray” and “prey”. But the famous Praying Mantis is in fact one of nature’s most formidable predators, disguising its intentions with the help of camouflage and especially a posture that has given the insect its name, as it lies in wait to immobilize and consume alive its unsuspecting prey. Escher’s famous woodcut, “The Dream”, has a Praying Mantis on the tomb of a Bishop, leaving no doubt about the artist’s intention of suggesting a certain anti-clerical symbolism.
If this Reflection makes the reader think of the scourge of pedophilia within the ranks of the clergy, it should above all remind us of those other predators, wolves in clerical robes, lying in wait, selecting and brainwashing recruits for Daech. These respected Imams are far more dangerous and pernicious than the preacher-predator played by Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter” (1955). His syrupy sanctimoniousness was the fairly obviously pathological manifestation of a sick mind. But the Islamic Radical recruiters are not necessarily psychotic, and are no doubt sincere in their belief that they are fulfilling a divine mission. Muslim families often wonder too late why their sons and daughters end up in Syria. One can only hope that they, and enlightened, moderate Imams increase their vigilance in detecting and denouncing the Preying Mantises in their mosques.