In the first instance I was asked to write a piece for a magazine. That let me explore the whole area of celebrity and I started to see something of significance in the topic. There is a sense in which with this book I was following the rabbit down the hole. I had an intuitive notion that this was an aspect of popular culture that was important or revealing. My first clue to that was the prevalence of religious or theological language used about celebrities. So newspapers talk about the cult of celebrities or the worship of celebrities or we have become accustomed to the use of terms like pop idol or rock God. This kind of language got my theological antenna twitching
I see two main areas where I hope this book makes a contribution. At a basic missiological level I think we need to understand the popular culture that the Church shares with those around us. It is not simply a case of understanding ‘them’ but the need to understand ourselves as part of this soup of communication. I think we tend to leap much too quickly to criticism or some kind of Christian or theological fix when we talk about popular culture. As a result I think we can fail to learn or we miss the point. So my main aim with this book is to try and listen or interpret in an empathetic way.
My second concern is to try and contribute to the discussion concerning theology religion and popular culture. There’s a real growth industry in books about theology and film or theology and television. In many ways I feel these appropriate the popular to a Christian framework. On the other side there are religious studies people who are keen to interpret popular culture as religion. I am kind of disagreeing with both of these. My approach wants to see what is going on in popular culture and what I have concluded is that celebrity ‘worship’ is not religion But it has theological elements that are used as metaphors in the ‘discourse’. I call this para-religion.
Most academic commentators at some point make a connection to religion and say something like ‘In a secular age of Church decline celebrity worship is taking the place of Christianity.’ I basically disagree. People do not worship celebrities, we just use the metaphor of worship to big up what we are saying but there are two important consequences from this is that the theological metaphors subtly shift and in some way get emptied out from their Christian meaning but at the same time they get connected up to what people really see as sacred and meaningful – the self.
Senior Lecturer In Youth Ministry and Theological Education
King's College London