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The rampant idolatry of celebrity

By Scott Tibbs, July 1, 2009

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. -- Exodus 20:3-4

Late last week, a famous pop singer passed away unexpectedly. Within an hour, top story on the web sites for CNN, Indianapolis Star, Fox News and the New York Times was that singer's death. This was even the case with the BBC, which I generally find to be a more professional news service than American media, so that was especially disappointing.

My problem isn't that the story was covered or even that it had a front page link. It was newsworthy. My problem is with the placement of the story as if it is the most important news story of the day. This individual had a significant impact on the pop culture, but does he deserve to be placed above the continuing crisis in Iran (which reminds me of Tiananmen Square in 1989), the saber-rattling by North Korea, the bombing in Baghdad that same day that killed several people, the subway train crash, and a number of other news stories? No.

This is not meant to be a dig against the singer, which is why I have avoided mentioning him by name. The problems the singer had in his personal life aside, it is understandable why many people would mourn his passing. Many people loved his music and he was undeniably talented. My main point is about priorities of news organizations and (more importantly) the rampant idolatry of celebrity in this country.

Celebrities are the gods that modern society worships. We seek out movies that feature our favorite celebrities, as well as purchase their music and follow their exploits in tabloid magazines and gossip web sites. (The disgusting depravity of the tabloid industry is another topic.) We shower adoration and praise on celebrities, when we're not tearing them down. We feel as if our lives are somehow more important if we come into contact with a celebrity.

It's important to note that one does not have to bow down before something, pray to it, and think it has some supernatural power for that thing to be a god in your life. For many people, money is their god, and Scripture is very clear (see Luke 16:13) that we cannot serve God and money. For others, it may be a something else. The things in our lives that can be gods are far too numerous to list, because the list is almost infinite.

Now, does this mean that all music, movies, sports, television and so forth are to be avoided and all enjoyment of such things is the worship forbidden by Scripture? No, but it is used in an idolatrous way much more often than we want to believe. Christians need to think very seriously about how we view our entertainment, and whether the way we view celebrities crosses the line into idolatry. We need to think seriously about whether much of what we do with images is a violation of the Second Commandment. This society is so saturated with celebrity worship that we don't even recognize what is truly going on. Christians must search the Scriptures and pray for God to reveal our sins, especially our secret sins.