Monday, November 17, 2014

Worshiping Celebrity

Sophisticated thinkers have long since dispensed with God. They believe that God is a crutch for the feeble-minded. Those with a superior intelligence do not require an explanation beyond what science can offer.

By now everyone should know that science cannot offer ethical precepts or principles. Science does not tell us how to live our lives or what to do when faced with a difficult dilemma.

About this point, today’s atheists have nothing to say. Those who do venture into the realm of ethics fall back on the notion that human sentiment bends us toward doing the right thing.  

Unfortunately, moral sentiment does not tell us what to do. At times, it has been known to mislead us, to tempt us into error.

About that, science has nothing to say.

Atheists presumably do not worship. Or better, they worship nothing. But then, is there nothing left to worship?

Or better, why do we worship anything or anyone anyway? Why do we appeal to superior beings?

Is it a sign of low self-esteem that we see look up to certain figures and call them deities? Or is it a sign of arrogance that we fail to recognize any power greater than ourselves?

And then, there is the old moral conundrum: on what authority should you follow any rules, precepts or customs?

I think it fair to say that Judeo-Christianity supplanted pagan idolatry because the gods and goddesses were not very good role models. Cultures where everyone worshipped Olympian or Roman deities became venal and decadent, their people more interested in pursuing pleasure than in working, more worried about parties than about civic responsibility.

You might well say that the God of the Bible is not all sweetness and light, but the cultures built on His authority have outlasted and outperformed those that were based on cults to idols.

Now Spencer Klavan explains that, for all intents and purposes, we do live, at least in part within a culture that indulges pagan idolatry. We aren’t quite as atheistic as we imagine. We might not worship gods, but we bow down to celebrity. We read stories about celebrities; we absorb gobs of information about their lives and especially their antics. These stories have much in common with the mythology surrounding pagan gods.

In Klavan’s words:

A lot of ancient Greeks treated their gods like a paparazzo treats this week’s it girl. They wanted to know every dirty detail about the glamorous lives of the rich, famous and divine. So they dug for dirt. They wrote myth after myth about the Olympian family’s sex lives, their embarrassing cover-ups, their petty feuds. Just like gossip columnists, Greek mythographers were more than happy to invent a new story if there wasn’t a juicy enough one out there already. Aphrodite and Ares’ secret affair, exposedArtemis caught topless on woodland vacation – lashes out at voyeurApollo ends career of promising young indie artist – jealousy from pop music’s king?

Celebrities seem to be able to do what they want, when they want, with whom they want. They represent the dream of some; the nightmare of others.

After all, that is the point. While we would naturally be induced to emulate the antics of gods and goddesses—by definition, they are our betters—celebrities are often lesser versions of ourselves.

How many people would trade their lives for Lindsay Lohan’s or Miley Cyrus’s? Even with the fame and the adulation and the gobs of cash, we do not very often emulate the example that celebrities are setting.

Of course, we like watching them. In one sense it gives us a feeling of superiority. In another it tells us: “there, but for the grace of God go I.”


Ares Olympus said...

The Jungians see the ancient Greek and Roman gods as human archetypes, and claim there was some advantage in externalizing human passions, allowing a cause that is not "I", so we can see something can "take over" that isn't entirely human, and that justifies why we must develop our character willfully, to protect ourselves from our intemperance and other vices.

I'm not sure celebrities fulfill the same psychic function, at least I don't know if people feel possessed by such people, although maybe the characters in our movies serve this role?

Last night on Netflix I watched Bruce Willis play a soldier in 2003 Tears of the Sun, attempting to rescue an American Doctor in Nigeria after a violent revolution, and changes from his "mission" to seeing the people he left behind as people in danger, and escorts them all to safety at the cost of many of his men.

The trick I observed is the narrative allowed added clarity of good and evil, innocent and guilty, although there were some middle ground, with an informant whose family was held prisoner, and carried a radio transmitter to help the bad guys track down the Navy Seals. But otherwise, killing by the good guys was always necessary, protecting the innocent.

Jungian psychology also recognizes the value in role-playing, and intentional personas, but there's also an idea of ritual process to take on and take off a role. Perhaps actors also need this, or their unconscious may associate themselves to the heroes they play, because fans treats them like that.

But shame comes in because we're all humans. So if you're idolized, in small dosaged it might feel good, but if you know you're a "fake". I've read leads of all sorts have this problem of idolizing and later devalued.

So whatever else, you can say its all projection, and the question is whether the projection is serving a purpose of raising consciousness, or lowering it.

I admit I see little value in celebrity culture. It really more seems like a women's activity, and I'm not in a position of honest judge. And maybe that's the whole problem - celebrity culture allows us to watch, and judge people we don't know, and don't care about, except as fantasy characters on some stage, only there for us.

Robin Williams recent suicide crosses the boundary, and we know a 100 characters of his, and can only speculate what his inner life was like. Meanwhile his immorality is guaranteed via his imaginary characters we can watch again and again.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. I suppose Scientist Matt Taylor is now also in celebrity culture? Dr Matt Taylor's shirt made me cry, too - with rage at his abusers

He's either idolized as a rockstar for landing on a comet, or demonized for making theoretical women scientists uncomfortable.

In either case, his powers are vast, like a greek god, liberating or oppressing depending on your sensibilities.

Sam L. said...

Some of us like watching them. Not I.

AE, Matt's also mostly ignored.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

People have exchanged their gods for mortal gods. People reject God because his religion (i.e. moral philosophy) hampers their dreams of money, sex, and ego gratification. The mortal gods offer people a potent opiate that promises dissociation of risk to the masses and elites alike.

It is not Judeo-Christian faith and religion that offers a crutch, since it only promises judgment in a post-mortem, and no material return during a mortal existence. It is not Judeo-Christian faith that offers exemption to commit or contract for premeditated abortion of a wholly innocent human life for causes other than self-defense.

The opiate of the masses and elites is dissociation of risk. Celebrities are perceived to live a no consequence lifestyle and are therefore venerated role models. It is envy, greed, and fear that prompt women and men to consume the opiate in exchange for their individual dignity and intrinsic value.

As for atheism, it is a simplistic philosophy with a single tenet: rejection of theism. The tenet is an article of faith (i.e. assertion of knowledge in a universal or extra-universal domain). There is no greater significance to atheism than that. It is objectively worse than theism because atheists, as a principle, deny their faith. The better choice, if you do not share either an atheist or theist faith, is to judge atheism and theism apart their faith and religion (i.e. moral philosophy) separately.

As for science, there isn't necessarily a conflict between science and faith. Science is a method and philosophy that operates within the scientific domain that is necessarily constrained in time and space. People who conflate science and universal and extra-universal philosophies do more to corrupt and hamper scientific understanding than others who acknowledge and respect the separation.

Anonymous said...

You can say this about characters in the Bible too.