Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Toxic Effects of Fame

Luke 20:46 (New Living Translation)

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they love to parade in flowing robes and to have everyone bow to them as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and at banquets.”

Anonymity can often be a great gift. I realize this flies in the face of the tenor of our times. We’re a culture obsessed with celebrity and fame. Laboring in obscurity is most often seen as the unproductive, ordinary life. On one side of our social equations we have superstars and megastars. One the other we have “ordinary” people. It’s our culture’s way of proclaiming that some lives are more worthy of living than others.

It’s not that fame and notoriety are necessarily bad things. Some of us handle it responsibly. Mother Theresa and Billy Graham come to mind. So does the Irish rocker Bono. They have, by God’s grace, found causes in life that transcend their fame and they use that fame to further those causes, not focus attention on themselves. For Mother Theresa it was the plight of India’s dying poor and the un-born. For Billy Graham it’s the gospel. For Bono it’s the needs of Africa’s desperate peasants.

Most of our superstars, however, don’t handle the fame they’ve been given very well at all. Million dollar newscasters, whose only gift is the ability to read a teleprompter, come to mind. So does Madonna. At the heart of their celebrity there’s an overgrown messianic complex at work. They’ve come to believe that their fame has made them much better than the “ordinary” people who heap adoration upon them. Like Nebuchadnezzar of old, they love to hear the words “O king, live forever.” What’s even worse is that their megalomania is so highly developed they actually believe what they hear about themselves.

The Christian Church is far from guiltless when it comes to this cult of celebrity. We’ve divided ourselves along social, political, and theological fault lines, left and right. On one hand we have the disciples of men like Tony Campolo. On the other we have the followers of men like Don Wildmon. The more I see it, the more I realize that it’s all orchestrated to gain fame and notoriety. What they do is done not to further a cause, but to focus public attention on themselves or lob rhetorical mortar shells at their enemies. The aim isn’t reconciliation. It’s fame and the destruction of an enemy. It’s a twenty-first century version of the old contest in which observers noted, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

Who’s going to win? It’s hard to say since the wheel’s still in spin. One thing is certain, though. There will be a lot of casualties by the time it’s all over.

What the world needs now is less fame and more anonymity. The Church, particularly, needs to step back from the limelight and move gently into the glorious shadows of ordinariness. More of my thoughts on that will come tomorrow with “The Night Shift Saint.”

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1 comment:

prying1 said...

Good post Phil - There is a desire for fame in a lot of people (myself included) and perhaps it is related to our own mortality. We want to leave a mark on the world.

I think you have given us a good reason to suppress that desire and walk in what God has given us. Thanks.