Idolatry in a World of Diminishing Faith

No human is an idol

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of fame. In fact, I wrote a book about the subject: On Borrowed Fame: Money, Mysteries, and Corruption in the Entertainment World. I’m embarrassed to admit that I used to watch TMZ. The antics of celebrities are like junk food. I stopped watching when I didn’t know any of the celebrities.

Like other American youngsters, I grew up idolizing my favorite athletes. They were rarely the superstars that most other boys worshiped. Even then, I tended to avoid the bandwagon. I instinctively felt an affinity for the underappreciated and underrated. I wound up pretty much covering the walls of my bedroom with sports posters. A poster of Greg Landry, quarterback for the Detroit Lions, a figure no one remembers, was front and center. I loved Joe Theismann, quarterback for the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins. My wife waited on him at Farrell’s Ice Cream parlor as a teenager, and said he gave her the biggest tip she ever received. When I learned that, it made me feel good. I wasn’t lavishing worship on a mean guy. A Faith That Will Not ... Cushatt, Michele Best Price: $11.96 Buy New $11.88 (as of 01:02 UTC - Details)

In the entertainment world, my favorite television character of all time was Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts on The Andy Griffith Show. Again, I was filled with some irrational pride when I discovered he was consistently ranked as the nicest man in Hollywood. Hey, I only choose good and decent heroes. My favorite actor of all time is James Stewart. I spoke to Karolyn Grimes, who played little Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life, while researching On Borrowed Fame. I was gratified to learn that I’d picked another winner. She described how an ugly family situation caused her acting career to end abruptly, and she was shocked when Stewart had her tracked down later to find out what happened to her. She described him as being essentially the same honorable, upstanding character he played onscreen in real life. They became good friends.

And while working on On Borrowed Fame, I became friendly with some older celebrities myself. Susan Olsen, who played Cindy on The Brady Bunch, is my buddy now. She’s fully down the rabbit holes and into our wide, wide world of conspiracies. Sally Kirkland, an Oscar nominated actress who played ill-fated witness Rose Cherami in Oliver Stone’s JFK, is another new friend. Nick Mancuso, who’s been in many, many movies and starred in the cult classic TV show Stingray, is someone I communicate with regularly. I’m proud to call this Renaissance Man my friend. Graham Parker, whose New Wave music was an integral part of the soundtrack of my youth, now calls me “mate,” has read a few of my books, and leaves me backstage passes when he plays in Washington, D.C. There are others, but I already drop too many names.

My point is, I can be star struck like anyone else. But I truly don’t idolize them. Once you speak with them, and get to know them, you realize that they have been more fortunate than endowed with truly special gifts. God tells us to not put any others before him. Not to worship false idols. Unfortunately, in our modern age, all of us worship false idols far too often. I commented on a meme about Joel Osteen on Facebook today. This “man of God” pays himself $54 million a year. From the donations of largely elderly, gullible viewers. Something about a camel going through the eye of a needle comes to mind. Osteen and other sinfully (the most appropriate adjective) wealthy televangelists are idolized as much, if not more, than the Lord they claim to serve. Idolatry of religious leaders is particularly puzzling.

As a Catholic, I didn’t witness much of this kind of clergy idolatry. The average parish priest doesn’t get worshiped like their protestant counterparts. Sure, you had Bishop Fulton Sheen and a few other Catholic celebrities, but America has never been a Catholic country. Billy Sunday’s Bible thumping “You’re going to Hayalll” rhetoric inexplicably garnered him fans, not condemnation. Millions worshiped the buffoonish Reverend Ike. And Jim and Tammy Bakker. The evangelical leaders’ odd assurance that they know what God is thinking, and just how serious various sins are, even when exposed as being awash in the most blatant hypocrisy imaginable (think Jimmy Swaggart), has always been receptive to millions of ‘Murricans. Ambrose Bierce defined “Christian” succinctly as “One who follows the teachings of Christ so long as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.”

An iconoclast, which Ambrose Bierce was perhaps the most renowned historical example of, is a breaker of idols. I doubt that Bierce engaged in any idolatry. There aren’t many iconoclasts around today, although Jason Whitlock comes close. He certainly enjoys shattering earthly idols. In fact, this article was inspired by Whitlock’s constant condemnation of “idolatry,” and espousal of a “Biblical world view.” Whitlock talks about his flawed past behavior often on his show. In contrast to Whitlock and any other rare, unknown iconoclasts, society itself props up and supports those they “install” as idols. Sports is not a meritocracy. As I keep threatening, one day I will write that book, exposing just how corrupt the world of sports is. So the biggest sports idols aren’t necessarily the best players.

Virtually all athletes are absolutely above the law. I sometimes post an example of this on social media. Some unheard of, pedestrian NFL defensive back has assault charges, or domestic violence charges, or whatever, dropped by the same prosecutors who will falsify evidence to frame some poor guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and send him away for life. The prisons are full of nonathletes who were convicted on far less evidence than the average pro or college athlete has against them, in cases that don’t even get prosecuted. Next to illegal immigrants, NFL athletes are the closest thing we have to a native DWI criminal class. Despite getting a perk that allows them free limo service 24/7, these pampered idols still get caught jumping behind the wheel of their Maserati drunk. And M.A.D.D. never gets mad.

The entertainment world is no meritocracy, either. Go listen to some unknown singer- songwriter playing before a handful of disinterested drunks in a random bar. Then compare their talent to that of Beyonce, the one name wonder who has somehow managed to win more Grammys than any other artist. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan. Joni Mitchell. The Who. The Kinks. The Beach Boys. The Band. Elvis Costello. I could name hundreds of other musical artists who have more talent in their pinky finger than Beyonce does. But she’s a top tier idol, who must be worshipped. And so society, and the public, does just that. If you’re going to worship someone, shouldn’t they at least be supremely talented?

I think that Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, and Meryl Streep are three of the most overacting hams in the history of film. As Grandpa Simpson once said, I’ve seen a lot of movies. And yet, these are the three who have been nominated for, and won, the most Academy Awards. Obviously, I have different tastes than the mainstream. But do we wonder why nearly all athletes, and all successful entertainers, have such an arrogant, superior attitude? Imagine what it would do to your ego, if thousands of people cheered you for singing a song, or making a speech, or performing on Broadway. Clapped their hands, whistled, and shouted your name. Strangers with awestruck faces requesting your autograph? How could you not get a swelled head? How could they not think they are actually worthy of being idolized? Spiritual Guidance on ... of Rostov, St. Dimitry Buy New $16.00 (as of 03:47 UTC - Details)

As I wrote in Bullyocracy, the most popular kids in any school are effectively idolized by the student body. And more importantly, the faculty and administration. And the athletic freaks, who are clearly faster and more skilled than the other kids, are accorded special praise from a very young age. If you wonder why a Deion Sanders can turn into such an arrogant monster (in his case, all while praising Jesus), think of how he was pampered and enabled from the time he was a “Prime Time” teenager. This goes back a long way. Mickey Mantle was a jerk to fans. So was Joe DiMaggio. And Willie Mays has the worst reputation in the autograph show business. These guys had adults with important jobs kissing their asses at the same age when their peers were being yelled at and sent to detention.

There are many idols, of many varying degrees and levels, in this collapsing country of ours. Almost twenty years ago, we took my son and some of his friends to a minor league baseball game not far from us. After the game, the kids wanted the autographs of the players, almost none of whom would ever make the major leagues. As we waited outside their small locker room, a group of gorgeous females, decked out in their sexiest clothes, were standing there patiently. So AA minor league players have groupies? Just imagine what the outside of a major league locker room looks like. It’s one thing to pay for expensive tickets so you can cheer for your idols. It’s taking things to another level to just give them sex as part of the idolatry process. Rock stars employ friends to scout girls in the crowd to ask backstage. They have often not been of legal age. Maybe they can’t do that any more. But for a long time, they did.

Read the Whole Article