First, I recently read an article entitled “Virgins and Vampire Worship: The Religion of Twilight” by Linda Kay Klein in which she claims that the “Twi-hard fan movement . . . is part of a widespread American trend away from organized religion and toward the sacralization of pop culture.”
She explains that statistics reveal people abandoning organized religion but not abandoning belief. Not all belief is directed toward God, however.
Religion scholar David Chidester has famously argued that baseball, Coca-Cola, rock ‘n’ roll, Tupperware—and even the Human Genome Project—serve, for their biggest fans, as “religious fakes,” meaning they play the role of religion, though they aren’t the real thing.
“Religious fakes” used to be called idols.
Certainly in the last half of the twentieth century and the opening decade-plus of the twenty-first, we’ve seen an inordinate fascination with and loyalty to an increasing number of people and things. We have Trekkies and Tea Partiers, the Raider Nation and cream-over-cookie Oreo lovers. The latter, a replacement of the “tastes great/less filling” beer wars of an earlier generation, may be tongue-in-cheek, but the close-minded devotion it depicts is serious.
Over the years we’ve seen the growth of celebrity worship, but of late we also see an increase in celebrity defamation as paparazzi chase the good, the bad, and the ugly in the lives of those whom fans venerate.
Perhaps this reality–that the people we would worship are human and not always admirable–has led to the worship of that which seems less fallible. Ideas such as freedom, tolerance, and peace now have some people’s ultimate devotion. Other people devote themselves to a sport or a team or a job.
Recently my pastor, Mike Erre, preached about this very subject. He defined worship as devotion and affection, whatever you prioritize as most important. With that understanding, everyone is a worshiper–elevating either the Creator to the place of highest priority or some part of creation.
You may recall that Spec Faith’s own Stephen Burnett did a series this past fall on Reading is Worship which I understood to mean reading is an act of worship. Fitted together with what my pastor said, then, reading is a reflection of that to which we are devoted.
The frightening thing is, Scripture tells us we will become like that which we idolize.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them. (Psalm 115:4-8 – emphasis mine)
If we idolize money (or the rich and famous), we become greedy. If we idolized sex (or the sexy), we become lustful, and so on.
Isaiah 44:9a adds another sobering caution:
Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit (emphasis mine)
In bringing this discussion back to reading, I’m trying to imagine a fan cult growing up around the characters of the classic fantasy stories. Would we ever see a Team Gandalf square off against a Team Aragon? Or a Team Frodo versus a Team Samwise Gamgee? How about a Team Lucy facing a Team Peter?
The idea seems absurd to me because Lord of the Rings and Narnia were bigger than the flawed and frail characters roaming through their pages. The characters don’t lend themselves to the kind of devotion we’ve seen in recent years–an ephemeral devotion that is white hot one day, then swept aside for the Next Big Thing.
Yet, I think I understand why fans gravitate to fictitious characters. No one is going to dig up dirt about them. No one is going to snap a picture of them yelling at their three-year-old. They aren’t going to age or get fat. They can remain in our thinking as wonderful as we want them to be. They are, in fact, the idealization of a friend (Harry Potter) or lover (the Twilight trio) or advocate (Katniss).
The problem is, we are idolizing the creature–and a fictitious creature, at that–not the Creator.
How easy it is to get caught up in Pop Culture trends. Yet the Christian is to be uniquely devoted to God. Can the two co-exist, and if so, what would that look like? Or must we resist being swept up in the frenzy of fanhood? I’m curious what you think.