Thoughts Re: The Death Of Michael Jackson: Only Christianity Rescues Us From The “Fame” Trap, Teaches Us To Live For Christ, Not According To The Adulation Of Others*
By John Lofton, Editor
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” — Mark 8:36
“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” — Luke 14:11.
I’m gonna live forever,
I’m gonna learn how to fly.
I feel it coming together,
People will see me and cry….
I’m going to live forever,
Baby remember my name” — From the song “Fame.”
Ah, yes, fame. On a story in the “USA Today” newspaper (2/27/2000) about the woman who “married” the stranger on national TV, one headline reads: “Nothing’s too outrageous when fame is at stake.” This story quotes a teenager in New York City standing outside the NBC “Today” show as saying she would indeed gladly wear a whipped cream bikini if she thought this would get her on TV. Why? “Because it would be so cool to be on national TV and have two seconds of fame.”
Frank Farley, the former president of the American Psychological Association, says: “Celebrity is just so powerful in our culture. People want to become famous for being famous. Our nation is awash in the fame game.” Erik Nelson, producer of “reality shows” for Fox TV, says: “People have a hunger to be famous. They will do anything to be on television….” And, not surprisingly, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris — the two young murderers who slaughtered all those students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado sought, among other things, fame. “Time” magazine (12/20/99) quotes FBI agent Mark Hoistlaw as saying of Harris and Klebold:
“They wanted to be famous. And they are. They wanted to immortalize themselves.” Steven Meier, an English teacher at Columbine and adviser to the school newspaper, says: “I think these kids wanted to do something that they could be famous for.” And on a video tape made prior to their murderous rampage, Kiebold and Harris spoke of wanting movies made of their story with Harris saying: “Directors will be fighting over this story.”
Now, the desire to be famous, even if it is by committing heinous crimes, is not new. According to the Associated Press (2/12/1978), a mass murderer complained as follows in a letter to the Wichita, Kansas, police: “How many times do I have to kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention?” Only with his sixth murder, he continued, had he begun to get his due publicity.
In his seminal work, the book titled “The Frenzy Of Renown” (Oxford University Press, 1986), Leo Braudy, a professor of literature at the University of Southern California, traces the lust for recognition over the past 2,500 years, from ancient to modern times. He writes: “In great part the history of fame is the history of the changing ways by which individuals have sought to bring themselves to the attention of others and, not incidentally, have thereby gained power over them.”
But, as a Christian, what I found most interesting about Baudy’s book was his documenting how it was only the Christian faith that taught that God (Christ) is the solely suitable audience for Whom we must perform and not live in terms of personal fame and what other human beings think of us. Baudy writes: “Fifteen hundred years ago, St. Augustine, turning his face against Roman public life, argued that the emptiness that comes from living exclusively in the eye of others could be filled with God….
“Of course, the most direct and most devastating challenge to Roman defmitions of individual character, public action, and political value comes from Christianity….The teachings of Jesus, the Gospels that presented Him to the world, embody a sharp contrast to all that the Roman public man believed about individual character and for — to mention only one crucial element in the challenge — even now our own ideals still desperately attempt to mediate between Roman ostentation and Christian inwardness.”
Baudy continues: “Whether Stoic or emperor, writer or soldier, all prominent Romans believed that appearance in public was necessary to self-definition; the only question was how that public nature was used. But it would be the promise of Christianity to define an area for individual nature well beyond the political… Jesus set the foundations for of an alternative view of self in which personal di2nitV was conferred not in the service of Rome, but in the service of God, heaven, and the community of the faithful (emphasis mine).
Baudy says: “Christianity.. .changed the course of fame forever… .Christianity was by definition open to all who believed. It created a new and universal hierarchy that was not, at least in the beginning, related to political or social orders or national institutions….The contemporary figures who most repelled Jesus are therefore those for whom ostentation of both piety and thought substituted for reality: the Pharisees who pray in the streets; the scribes and the grammarians who love to be noticed in public.”
The Christian community was based on “the similarity of everyone in the eye of God,” not on the Roman notion of public rank and distinction. Thus, as St. Augustine argued — paraphrasing him here: “Every man must conquer this Roman pride in the physical and in personal assertion with a Christian glory that subordinates individual desire to divine will. Only through the love of God can man strip himself of the need for public praise and glory. Without God, he thinks only of himself, wondering what others will think of him. With God, he is fulfilledl . Christian virtue is the way to eternal life, while desire for earthly reputation leads only to eternal death. Love of God is the way out of self-obsession because only God is complete, permanent, unchanging. He alone rules without pride…. True self-discovery comes when one rejects the approval of the world and seeks instead the greater glory of dependence on God (emphasis mine).
Over and over, Baudy emphasizes how Christianity liberated mankind from the humanistic desire for fame: “For St. Augustine, the Ciceronian ‘new man’ in the State was irrelevant. His goal instead was a new life apart from the State — a non-political and non-genealogical ennobling of the individual soul by God’s grace. The climactic event in the life of the Christian individual was not the achievement of political or civic honors, but the moment of conversion, in which the old life was left behind and the converted achieved a oneness with God. In place of the Ciceronian and [Emperor] Augustus’ pride in being named pater patriae (father of his country), the career of Jesus illustrated the Christian ideal of the servus servorum dei (servant of God).”
In conclusion, in words we would all be wise to heed, Baudy writes: “Especially in the present, when more individuals than ever are trying to justify themselves by the approval of the public world, personal fame promises the ultimate means of taking control. In a world of increasing anonymity and powerlessness, where every day on the news life goes on without you, your name in print and your picture in the papers promises at least a moment of respite from despair. For, if an image lasts beyond death, it implies that its possessor is more than human….
“In the past the famous were figures by which everyone who observed might recall, reinvoke, and support the ideal cohesion of traits they represented. But now they are more often mirrors of a diverse variety, an affirmation of the many differences between us — the atomization of our past and present. In such a world, the famous help answer the question: How do I live?”
In Plato’s “Republic”, speaking to Socrates, Glaucon says — regarding what he calls “this commonwealth we have been founding in the realm of discourse” — that “I think it exists nowhere on earth.” Indeed. But, Christianity is no mere “discourse.” The Lord Jesus Christ has come. His Kingdom does exit. He reigns and rules, right now as King of kings and Lord of lords. And belief in, and obedience to, Him is the only way out of the deadly fame trap.
- I wrote this piece about 10 years ago.