Charlie Sheen, Hannah Montana and God

Of all the areas where media coverage of religion seems weak, celebrity news has to be up there. For a recent example, you can read this Associated Press account of Billy Ray Cyrus lamenting the effect of his daughter's fame on his family. He apparently says, in a recent interview with GQ, that the Disney TV show "Hannah Montana" destroyed his family, caused his divorce and is sending daughter Miley Cyrus spinning out of control. At the end of this brief story, we learn:

He said the Cyruses and their six children were all baptized before leaving Tennessee for Los Angeles to inure themselves against evil and he believes Satan is attacking his family.

The reader who sent this story in says he wishes Cyrus' actual quote had been included. He notes that he's never heard of "inure" being used in association with baptism. To "inure" means "to accustom to accept something undesirable." It seems to be the wrong word choice no matter what the reporter was going for. I notice that other versions of this story use the word "protect" in place of "inure."

Either way, in what church is this taught? Particularly, as the reader points out, in a church where children are brought to baptism? The thing is that Cyrus sounds like he really wants to talk about the role religion played or could have played in his family. It's a shame it's not handled with more care.

For a really interesting piece on celebrity and religion, you might be interested in this Wall Street Journal article "God at the Grammys: The Chosen Ones" by Neil Strauss. He looks at the particular phenomenon of musical superstars thinking that their careers are part of a divine plan. He says he used to think those shout-outs to God were either signs of humility and gratitude or affections of the same. The truth, he says, is more interesting:

Before they were famous, many of the biggest pop stars in the world believed that God wanted them to be famous, that this was his plan for them, just as it was his plan for the rest of us not to be famous. Conversely, many equally talented but slightly less famous musicians I've interviewed felt their success was accidental or undeserved--and soon after fell out of the limelight.

As I compiled and analyzed these interviews for my new book, I reached a surprising conclusion: Believing that God wants you to be famous actually improves your chances of being famous. Of course, from the standpoint of traditional theology, even in the Calvinistic world of predestination, God is much more concerned with the fate of an individual's soul than his or her secular success, and one's destiny is unknowable. So what's helping these stars is not so much religion as belief—specifically, the belief that God favors their own personal, temporal success over that of almost everyone else.

It's not that the media never notice the way celebrities talk about God, but usually we just see either bland acceptance or snarky dismissal. This piece argues that what these celebrities -- including sports celebrities -- are doing is a "competitive theism, a self-styled spirituality that can be overlaid on any religion and has nothing to do with personal morality." The faith gap is what sets the merely famous apart from the ridiculously famous.

There's much more in the piece, full of reported commentary.

Finally, I wanted to highlight this NPR article on Charlie Sheen. In "The Charlie Sheen Problem, Now Thrown Into Stark And Public Relief," Linda Holmes notes the tremendous ethical problems surrounding the addiction problems of the actor.

There's no way to deny these problems or the fact that many, many people have careers that are reliant on the success of his (inexplicably popular) sitcom. In a piece also backed up with lots of interesting reportage, she writes:

But when your producer is openly fearing that your star is killing himself and he's saying as much on screen -- those two vanity cards are not just about personal problems; they are both about dying -- and when your star is calling up radio hosts to say he might not have that much sanity left, so you'd better get some of it while you can, do you just bring everybody back to work and move on?

Don't get me wrong: The crushing power of money in Hollywood is not a new phenomenon. The cynical "they'll use him up until he's dead" argument is the easiest one to make, and the most obvious. ...

Maybe it's an old story. Maybe it's just the way these things always go. But it's interesting to wonder how much money is spent on PR and image management and meticulous handling of one's persona when, in fact, for some people, it doesn't matter at all. Why does Charlie Sheen even have a publicist? What, at this point, would he really need a publicist to fix? Is there anything that would put a dent in him?

Ah, the ghosts! It's taken as a given that Hollywood's god is making money. But I was hoping to find quotes from religious scholars -- and others -- about the ethics of this belief system and whether other belief systems have something to say about it. In every paragraph of this story, I was thinking about what my church would have to say about how to handle such a thorny situation. It's interesting, isn't it, how these perspectives are rarely included in stories.

Still, a super interesting piece about the intersection of ethics, celebrity and capitalism. And if you want an overtly religious discussion of Sheen's travails, you could do worse than this piece over at the National Post, riffing on Chesterton's observation about men looking for God when they knock on a brothel door.

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