In any grocery store, supermarket, or so-called “super-store” the tabloids are some of the last things that one sees on the way out, among the myriad of useless trinkets and “last-minute” buys that most stores hawk. People fall for these things, probably because they are thinking that they might actually need them. Among their needs is evidently the need for journalistic tripe and the idolatry of movie-stars, especially their personal weakness and downfalls.
We all need someone to look up to and in our need we also have the need to somehow know that our idols are no better than ourselves. It is the continuous battle between our need for heroes and heroines and our own fears that we are failures and flops that keep us human. We want to both look up to someone and look down on others.
It is a funny thing that no matter how hard I try, I can very rarely find anyone who will admit to picking up one or another of the worthless rags that line the magazine racks having to do with one star’s addiction or divorce or another musicians failing numbers on the billboard charts. We love movie stars for the same reasons that pre-recorded music and karaoke have become so common: we want the illusion. The movies we see, the music we buy take us away from our own humdrum lives while the gossip rags give us the ego-boost that we all need now and then.
The irony is that in both cases the players are the same: those we love to love and hate. When I do find those that will admit to buying the equivalent of literary diarrhea, the smile and chuckle and explain to me that “it’s all just good fun.” That may be, but I can almost assure anyone who says that, that the lives that such junk-journalism often throws into disarray (take Brittany Spears, talentless and taunted) such things are a bit more than just “good fun”. No matter, they continue to buy the crap, continuing their mindless consumerism without regard for anything else than their own entertainment.People are funny that way: qualifying things that cannot be qualified.
On the market, are innumerable books on every religion imaginable: spokespersons and doomsayers that are telling us what to think, how to think, and defining for us our beliefs. Christianity has one collection of books, the bible, but any section on Christianity in most bookstores is several shelves on several rows. There are followers of certain authors concerning religion just as there is followers of certain literary writers and novelists. We need someone to look up to because we do not trust our selves and are not willing to do the work to know anything with any certainty. Instead, we qualify the reasons that we have for accepting one or another author, councilor etc… on how we feel, but more importantly how they make us feel. We want to feel good, and generally like people and ideas that make us feel good.When a nugget of reality finally hits us, we back away, and authors know this. That’s why they tend to follow up such grains of wisdom with some pep talk (“you can do this; you just have to believe in yourself” or “Give god the reigns and you both will make it through!”) If these little grains of wisdom are too many rather than being few and far between, readers will not feel good and books will not sell. Books such as the “Purpose Driven Life” work this way. First, the assumption is that there is a purpose, and secondly that the purpose involves a singular way of thinking. Thirdly, and this is important, that such a life is possible and only possible with a certain viewpoint. Imagine how a book called “The Purposeless Life” would sell.
The point here is that the rags out the checkout counter make us feel better about ourselves while the movies and music we see and buy (steal?) while taking us away from our own lives, give us something to look forward to. Is it possible that religion is the same? We believe in gods because we need something to look forward to while at the same time religions remind us that those that believe are a part of that “special club” that allows only certain members (those who adhere to their specific flavor of belief). With religion, like junk-journalism, we can look down on others while at the same time, like movies and movie stars, we can have something to look up to. All these, just like movie and rock stars, under one roof: God. God accepts us, but we have to believe in him (just like movie stars), while at the same time God gives us the power to look down upon others (see: Old Testament).
Now most of the time when these sorts of things are mentioned the pat reply becomes “that’s just the fanatics”. But, it is interesting to remember that tabloid newspapers are some of the best selling reads on the market: someone is buying them but not admitting to it. Who are these mysterious “fanatics” if it is not the basic religious believer? What is the difference between a “normal” religious person and the religious fanatic? What differentiates a spiritual person from a religious person? Pathetic answers like “it’s a matter of opinion” are meaningless because they are empty. The answer is: none. If I believe that winged ghosts fly around, that if I bury a statue in the wall of my house I will be safe from less-good winged ghosts, that if I believe that there a grand ghost (the ghost of all ghosts) that is personally interested in my well-being, or that the universe is that ghost, or that certain planets allow for prophecy, or that miracles are scientifically defiant acts of beings capable of changing the known structure of energy and matter, of that somehow I can decipher religious scripts to scrape some truth from them (the cafeteria religionist), then I am a fanatic: a person has lost grasp of reality.
If, then, I am such a person, I need to know that there are others like me, that I am OK, and that those that have called me crazy will be punished while I watch. I need to look up to something while looking down at another thing.Religions are special fan clubs with a special move star to look up to. At the same time, religions are empowering, differentiating those who follow them with the feeling of self-righteousness.
Religion is about love, so many say, but they fail to mention that it must be the right kind of love. One tabloid, evidently, is not the same as any other. Religious writing is the granddaddy of tabloids and God is the granddaddy of all movie and/or rock stars. Imagine, self-degradation and self-righteousness all-in-one!