Created By: ginsengaddictMay 11, 2011 Last Edited By: ginsengaddictMay 16, 2011
Troped

Prayer Is A Last Resort

When a main character has no options left to deal with the conflict, they'll try prayer

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Indexes: Religion Tropes

"Prayer: the last refuge of a scoundrel."
-- Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, "Bart Gets An F"

Nothing seems to be going right. The character is continuously failing to make any progress, despite constantly trying. But eventually, they reach a point where they've exhausted all avenues for success and there are no other options.

Now is a good time to pray.

This trope is an observation about the use of prayer in fiction. Praying is seen as a sign that the character is giving up and acknowledging that they have no control, and so for a character to pray as a first response is almost always a sign of weakness. As such, works will typically portray prayer as a last resort or an act of desperation after the character has tried and failed to resolve the conflict on their own.

Sub Trope of Godzilla Threshold. If a character prays as a first response rather than a last resort, it signifies that the character is weak or has no initiative.

Not always a case of Truth In Television, as people who pray regularly usually do so as a first response, and then try to resolve the issue if that doesn't work - and this is seen as normal among such people. However, it is a case of truth in television if the person doesn't regularly pray, and feels they have exhausted all other options.

Examples:

Comic Books Film
  • Patch Adams.. Sort of.
  • George Bailey in Its A Wonderful Life. Slightly subverted in that his Guardian Angel Clarence has been looking out for him all along.
  • Conan The Barbarian (the Scharzanegger film).
    Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom... so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!
  • Arnie also prayed toward the end of End Of Days.
  • Patton. During the Battle of the Bulge the situation is desperate. The Germans are winning and Allied air support is grounded because of the bad weather. Patton calls in an Army chaplain and orders him to write a prayer to ask for good weather so Allied planes can smash the German forces.
Jokes Literature
  • In Deception Point when the cast are about to freeze to death (having been trapped on an ice sheet by a group of Delta force soldiers) the female lead comments it probably looks like she's doing this in her internal monologue, but she's actually attempting to tap out an SOS message in the hope a secret array of microphones might pick it up. It doesn't, but luckly a submarine was passing nearby).
Live Action TV
  • In The X Files season 7 pilot, all Scully can do for a dying Mulder is to pray. It helps.
Video Games
  • A genuine option in the Pathfinder pen & paper RPG, high level clerics have tiny chance (a matter of 3% or so) to turn the tide massively in their favour when all seems lost by praying to their god(s).
  • Earth Bound has this in its final battle. The final boss is defeated by praying to everyone the protagonists have met on their journey, and the player.
Western Animation
  • This also happened at least once on The Simpsons, in "Bart Gets an F".

Rolling Updates

Community Feedback Replies: 33
  • May 11, 2011
    ElaineRose
    Common occurrence in Real Life, making this trope Truth In Television.
  • May 11, 2011
    billybobfred
    Nethack might be an example. If you haven't pissed off your god, the #pray command is a good way to get out of trouble, but it has a timer that makes it Too Awesome To Use in anything less than an emergency.

    Dunno if this counts, since you seem to be pitching a characterization trope, and the player in Nethack doesn't get any of that.
  • May 11, 2011
    MC42
    The final boss of Earthbound can only be defeated by having a character pray to the player.
  • May 11, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Does This Count (maybe as Playing With)? From Conan The Barbarian (the Scharzanegger film).
    Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom... so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!
  • May 11, 2011
    lee4hmz
    • Arnie also prayed toward the end of End Of Days.
    • This also happened at least once on The Simpsons, in "Bart Gets an F".
  • May 11, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    ^ If I recall, there was also an episode where Bart sold his soul to Milhouse for $5, and he prayed to get it back in the end. In that same episode, Lisa had an excellent quote that would make a perfect page quote, but it's been ages since I've seen it. Can anyone help me out with that?
  • May 12, 2011
    Arivne
    Sometimes takes this form when there's no hope left.
    Alice: So what do we do now?
    Bob: Pray.
  • May 12, 2011
    Chabal2
    One of the Kaamelott comics has this. Father Blaise is brought along with the expedition, but since he's no good at fighting, they tell him to pray. Despite telling them it doesn't work that way, he keeps at it, and at the climax his crucifix unloads a Kill Sat against the monsters. When asked how the hell he pulled that off, he reminds them that he's been praying for the past twenty hours.
  • May 12, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    ^ That's something of a double subversion. Prayer isn't a last resort, it's constantly done right from the start, and it still results in awesome in the end. I like.
  • May 12, 2011
    Shalriek
    A genuine option in the Pathfinder pen & paper RPG, high level clerics have tiny chance (a matter of 3% or so) to turn the tide massively in their favour when all seems lost by praying to their god(s).
  • May 12, 2011
    Bisected8
    In Deception Point when the cast are about to freeze to death (having been trapped on an ice sheet by a group of Delta force soldiers) the female lead comments it probably looks like she's doing this in her internal monologue, but she's actually attempting to tap out an SOS message in the hope a secret array of microphones might pick it up. It doesn't, but luckly a submarine was passing nearby).
  • May 12, 2011
    Damr1990
    In The (in)famous DC comics miniseries "Act of God", when all the magic/mythical power based heros lost their powers, wee see Diana(Wonder Woman) praying on a Catolich Church... did we mentioned Diana is more related to the greek pantheon that to the JudeoChristian One, or tha she lives on a World where supernatural creatures and Gods are known to be real and commonly seen around with other heroes in a regular basis
  • May 12, 2011
    neoYTPism
    IIRC there is a joke about an atheist praying to god when about to be devoured by a bear, asking to make the bear a Christian. The bear says "thank you for this meal I am about to receive."
  • May 12, 2011
    Jeduthun
    George Bailey in Its A Wonderful Life. Slightly subverted in that his Guardian Angel Clarence has been looking out for him all along.
  • May 13, 2011
    Arivne
    Film
    • Patton. During the Battle of the Bulge the situation is desperate. The Germans are winning and Allied air support is grounded because of the bad weather. Patton calls in an Army chaplain and orders him to write a prayer to ask for good weather so Allied planes can smash the German forces.
  • May 13, 2011
    randomsurfer
    @ginsengaddict:
    You know, Bart, some philosophers believe that nobody is born with a soul -- that you have to earn one through suffering and thought and prayer, like you did last night.
    -- Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, "Bart Sells his Soul"
  • May 13, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    ^ Thanks, but I was actually thinking of the quote she says when she catches him praying.

    I'll use this one in the meantime though.
  • May 13, 2011
    randomsurfer
    That's the quote. Here's the full dialogue of the scene, copied from SNPP.
    Bart: [plaintive] Are you there, God? It's me, Bart Simpson. I know I never paid too much attention in church, but I could really use some of that good stuff now. I'm...afraid. I'm afraid some weirdo's got my soul and I don't know what they're doing to it! I just want it back. Please? [starts to cry] I hope you can hear this.
    [his soul floats down from above]
    [he grabs it and hugs it, and sees Lisa standing there]
    Lisa? _You_ bought this?
    Lisa: With the change in my piggy bank.
    Bart: There's no change in your piggy bank.
    Lisa: Not in any of the ones _you_ know about.
    Bart: Oh, Lis, thank you. [kisses her]
    Lisa: Happy to do it. But you know, Bart, some philosophers believe that nobody is born with a soul -- that you have to earn one [Bart eats the piece of paper] through suffering and thought and prayer, like you did last night.
    Bart: Uh huh. [swallows]
  • May 14, 2011
    IronLion
    @ginsengaddict: do you mean "Prayer: the last refuge of a scoundrel"? That's from the episode "Bart Gets an F", and is a paraphrasing of a quote by Samuel Johnson, who instead said it about patriotism.
  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    ^ Yeah, that's the one! 'Cept, not as good as the current one... I dunno, it's up to a vote, which quote suits the trope better?
  • May 14, 2011
    IronLion
    I prefer the latter. It illustrates the trope perfectly, whereas the former is more indicative of An Aesop about prayer which may or may not ensue.
  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    Very well, it has been switched to the new quote.

    Anyone got a good page image?

    Found this - it's funny, and it does illustrate the trope, but maybe a bit too subtle.
  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    The quote on this one is a bit more succinct, but I'm loathe to use a demotivational image for this.
  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    If someone wants to start a Prayer Is Useless YKTTW, heres is the perfect image for it.

    Bugger it's hard to find a picture for this.
  • May 14, 2011
    Rolf
    :D I like that picure.
  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    Which one?
  • May 14, 2011
    Aminatep
    Played with in Ciaphas Cain cycle. The element about devout people resorting to praying instead of doing any sort of action is averted completely. Cain himself thinks that the Emperor is too busy, you know, eternally fighting the forces of evil to prevent them from devouring the universe, to be bugged, although he's seen praying several times but mostly to ask for help rather than cease performing any action. And finally, people losing all hope and struggling to not lose their minds out of fear are mostly seen praying before they die.
  • May 14, 2011
    Rolf
    ^^the picture right above my post. Your other ones isnt bad but none is specifically this trope. Maybe if you find someone praying in ruins (impiling guy tried everything else first) it'd be good.
  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    ^ Yeah, I think that works - will try and find one like that. And no, the image above yours will not work for this trope.
  • May 16, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    I'm keen to launch this, but I need an index.
  • May 16, 2011
    Koveras
    Religion Tropes?

    • In The X Files season 7 pilot, all Scully can do for a dying Mulder is to pray. It helps.
  • May 16, 2011
    Antigone3
    This happens a couple times in the Heralds Of Valdemar books. During The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, Savil has an internal monologue to the effect that the sort of people who become Heralds try to deal with matters themselves as much as possible; if a Herald prays for assistance it means things are seriously messed up.

    For a Tabletop Games example, earlier editions of D&D gave a percentage chance for a cleric to call in divine aid.
  • May 16, 2011
    SKJAM
    And it's also a common recommendation by doctors in fiction, to give worried bystanders something to occupy themselves while the doctors do the material work.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable