FIRST-PERSON: America's religion -- pop culture
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--Christianity, according to surveys, is the religion of choice among most Americans. However, while people say one thing to a pollster, many live out a very different reality.
For many in the United States -- even those who claim to be followers of Christ -- another religion now takes precedence over Christianity. And, like any religion, its influence is palpable.
Interestingly, many adherents of what I believe is the predominant religion in America are wholly unaware of their status as disciples. They do not realize that daily decisions, and even life-altering choices, are being impacted by this pervasive religious reality.
The religious phenomenon that shrouds America has no founder and it is not organized. And while its presence is inescapable, one must still choose to embrace it. What is it? It is none other than popular culture.
It is the religion of our age. Many now seek meaning and purpose in that which is deemed to be en vogue. The unpardonable sin in the church of pop culture is to be out-of-style, culturally clueless or, in my words, uncool.
"Etched onto our consciousnesses, in the universal shorthand of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, is the notion that life is either wild or boring; cool or uncool; unzipped or straitlaced," observed Diana West in her book "The Death of the Grown-Up."
To be accepted in the church of pop culture, one must forever keep up with the Joneses, culturally speaking.
The church of pop culture has a pantheon of deities. Those who have achieved the status of celebrity are worshiped as gods and goddesses. And it seems talent is not needed to achieve such divine status in the religion of pop culture. The power of personality, it seems, is enough to become a pop culture deity.
As with any pantheon, the gods and goddess of pop culture are not all equal. Some have greater status and power than others, but they all vie for the attention of the masses.
In fact, the most admired deities in the church of pop culture are the ones that have learned best how to manipulate the masses. And they do so by using the priests of pop culture to their full advantage.
Yes, the religion of pop culture has its preachers and priests. They are the media moguls and advertizing pitchmen and they communicate the truths, the dogma and the tenets of the pop culture pantheon to its ardent followers.
The most popular gods and goddesses use pop culture's priests and preachers to mesmerize their followers. They titillate, entertain and create excitement where there is none. The alchemists of old would be jealous at the "gold" of influence these cultural clergy are able to conjure.
If the gods and goddesses of pop culture deem something to be acceptable and fashionable, the disciples of the pantheon will soon adopt it as en vogue or cool.
During the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, two pop culture goddesses kissed. Singers Madonna and Britney Spears intimately embraced to an ecstatic ovation. The televised kiss encouraged what is now recognized as a pop culture practice known as "flexisexual," which is described as females who simply like to play sexually with women, though they do not identify themselves as lesbian or bisexual.
Just let the goddess known as Oprah bestow her blessings on a book and overnight it becomes a best-seller. If the cultural deity known as Lady GaGa deems a lifestyle to be legitimate, her followers will worship her decree as divine truth.
Besides being influenced by the gods and goddesses of Pop Culture, practitioners are very religious. They arrange their schedules around their favorite television programs so they can worship with specific regularity. They look forward to the next concert, song or album release, movie premier or cultural event with the same fervor that a Christian might anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The religion of pop culture might be exhilarating in the short term, but ultimately it is lacking. Adherents are constantly anticipating the next big thing. When their gods and goddesses die, they are left with nothing more than memories and an emptiness they don't understand.
A life that is void of eternal perspective and purpose seeks meaning in experiences, which is all the religion of pop culture has to offer. Christianity, on the other hand, flows from a relationship with Jesus Christ and makes an abundant life possible each and every day -- regardless of what is going on culturally.
The adherents of popular culture are really nothing more than slaves to the whims of the capricious gods and goddesses popular at any given moment in time. Jesus came to set people free, especially from the empty, ever-changing religion of pop culture.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.