Celebrity and Substance | Sojourners

Celebrity and Substance

St. Augustine said there is a God-shaped hole in the human spirit. It is a vacuum that must be filled...by something. Being a Christian theologian, Augustine believed that hole is best filled by God. The early church father famously intoned, "Our souls are restless until they rest in God."

We can easily observe that vacuum in other human creatures, and even honest agnostics can detect it in themselves. Human beings need to pay homage to something outside of themselves—something higher, something deeper, something more significant. If not God, the hole can indeed be filled with something else: a noble cause, a national patriotism, perhaps one's career, or certainly one's children. To have a commitment beyond oneself has fueled religious and social movements throughout history. Martin Luther King Jr. put it rather bluntly, "If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live."

In the post-modern age, it is celebrity that often fills the spiritual vacuum. Celebrities have become our modern gods and goddesses. We pay them homage through our insatiable fascination with lives that, while so different from our own, offer us an endless source of fantasy for our vicarious living. At the same time, we relish the media-created illusion of intimacy with celebrities that makes a famous person feel like "one of us."

I WAS IN PARIS the day Diana's car crashed. The day before, my English fiancée and I had walked hand in hand along the right bank of the Seine River, right next to the Pont de l'Alma tunnel underpass that would soon command the attention of the entire world. We left Paris just six hours before the midnight accident and were back in London the next morning when the news awakened a stunned British public. What I witnessed the following week was simply extraordinary.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1997
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