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Brangelina take an evening stroll

Is it wrong to follow the lives of other people?

The enduring power of celebrity culture is a mystery in a world where almost no-one admits to being taken in by it. It is hardly sophisticated to confess to celebrity worship and so most addicts get round the dilemma by claiming to be interested in that knowing, post-modern, because-I’m-above-all-this-I-can-do-it-without-it-reflecting-on-me kind of way that can work wonders when you’re in a corner.


It used to be that people became famous as a by-product of having achieved something notable in life: playing for England; being a rock star; becoming a great artist or the Prime Minister. At some point in the last twenty years we could become famous for being famous, rather like Paris Hilton is today. More recently we could become famous for not being famous, like Chantelle who appeared in Celebrity Big Brother 2006 but was at first unknown to everyone. Now, thanks to You Tube, we can all be famous for a short time, fulfilling Andy Warhol’s prophecy about fame in the 1960s.


Celebrity is not a new phenomenon. In their best-selling book The Year 1000, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger claim that the medieval world turned the Church’s Saints into the first kind of celebrity. Unlikely stories were concocted about them; they were revered and called in aid against danger and a sense of insignificance. Today we simply have a secularised version of this, without the hope that we might be inspired to follow God thereby.


This begs the question: should we look up to other people? The scriptures have a lot to say about this, as it happens.


We should admire other people but not idolise them
We might not be aware of this, but we constantly admire other people’s lives. This is not a bad thing because it is far better to look for things to approve of in others than it is to criticise them. To express our admiration of others is a way of encouraging them that their efforts are being noticed. In Hebrews 11, the writer furnishes a long list of people who lived by faith. Some of them are well known but others are not, which is telling. The Kingdom of God is a great leveller.


The Christian Church itself is sometimes prone to the cult of leadership. There is an instinctive human need to look for leadership to trust in, but trust in the Christian community is located supremely in Christ. Over-dependence on human leaders is an insidious temptation which usually results in disappointment.


At times their lives might advise us what not to do as well as what to do

The Bible does not hero worship its stars. It does not edit out the parts of people’s lives that do not look too rosy, like countless self-serving autobiographies contrive to do. Think of the giants of faith, the likes of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon and David and you are looking at a queasy soup of cheating, egotism, drunkenness, prostitution, lies, murder, adultery and cowardice. We can learn as much if not more from the mistakes of another person as we can from their successes. Most adults can remember the moment they realised their childhood idol was revealed to have feet of clay.


The risk of idolising Christian celebrities uncritically is that when they are shown to be flawed, the one who idolised them has their faith in God shaken as much as their faith in the celebrity. Much prayer is needed for those caught on either side of this dilemma.


We should imitate people who strive to be like Christ
Most of us tried to imitate our childhood heroes, even if we’re not prepared to admit it now. Extensive studies show that almost all human behaviour is copied. The key question is: whom should we be copying from? St. Paul said: ‘Be imitators of me as I am of Christ’. In this he set an example for all Christian people. We should strive to be like Christ in the power of the Spirit. Quite simply, this is the biggest challenge we face in being Christian and it is a challenge we cannot forfeit. Studies also show that more than ninety per cent of communication in life is non-verbal, thus proving that talking the talk is much less significant than walking the walk in fulfilling the call to Christ-likeness.


Across the world, churches celebrate November 1st as All Saints’ Day. It reminds us that all Christians are saints, not just medieval believers with funny names and miracles on their CV. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke eloquently of how God chooses anonymous people without influence or connection to shape the world in his image; in his practical letter, James is critical of how Christian communities distinguish unconsciously one person from another based on image and wealth. For me one of the most attractive things about Jesus’ life on this earth was the robust and dignified way he treated everyone the same: famous or anonymous; rich or poor; powerful or weak. His example alone is like a block of explosives under modern celebrity culture and its sometimes crude and ephemeral pretensions.



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