When Fame is an Idol

Recently, I ran across a Los Angeles Times op-ed on mass shootings and media coverage. Written by James Densley, a sociologist and professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University, and Jillian Peterson, a psychologist and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University, the op-ed provides revealing information regarding mass shootings: 

Studies estimate that in the aftermath of their attacks, mass killers receive approximately $75 million in free media coverage, a level professional athletes and Hollywood actors would envy. For men who feel angry, alienated and anonymous, the incentives to perform are appealing. And bigger body counts mean bigger headlines. One recently thwarted shooter posted that, ‘A good 100 kills would be nice,’ and another wanted to ‘break a world record.’   

In other words, the killers’ names go down in infamy. 

This report brought to mind an article written by Joe Carter discussing why teens are becoming trans-curious. Trans-curious refers to those who are not yet willing to identify as transgender, but are experimenting with adopting a gender nonconforming identity. This article addressed a report published by the medical journal Pediatrics estimating that:

Nearly 3 percent of teens are transgender or gender nonconforming, meaning they don’t always self-identify as the sex they were assigned at birth. If these new estimates are correct, it means that young people are 329 percent more likely than adults to identify as transgender. . .

Joe Carter went on to explain the origin and application of the Werther effect to this question – “Why are teens becoming trans-curious?”. The Werther effect is a popular term for an increase in suicide rates that (1) follow media coverage of suicide(s), (2) are inspired by reading about others’ suicides, or (3) are linked to a friend or family member who committed suicide, thereby  creating a social contagion. It is undisputed that suicides are a social contagion –  “attitudes, beliefs, and behavior [that] spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious.” Carter further hypothesized that “when we see a rapid increase in anomalous behaviors that were once limited to a small part of the population, it is likely due to social contagion.” Applying the concept of social contagion to trans-curious teens, Carter points out that the inexplicably higher percentage of teens identifying as transgender, 329 percent higher than adults, can only be explained by “the phenomenon [being] a social contagion driven by peers and pop culture, psychologists and pediatricians.” Carter ended his article by quoting Erica Anderson, who is transgender and a clinical psychologist at University of California at San Francisco. Anderson put it very neatly, “I think a fair number of kids are getting into it because it’s trendy. . . I’m not sure it’s always really trans. I think in our haste to be supportive, we’re missing that element. Kids are all about being accepted by their peers. It’s trendy for professionals, too.” 

In other words – popular. 

You see, while violent crimes are actually decreasing in the United States, mass shootings are, in fact, increasing and while identifying as “trans” is low among adults, an exceedingly high number of teens identify as transgender. Both of these phenomena can be explained by the social contagion principle – this thing is getting attention and I want attention, so I am going to do that thing. 

In other words, I want attention. I want popularity. I want fame and I will do anything to attain it even if it means attaining fame posthumously. In our social media culture, where kids and adults place a numerical value on their personal self worth via likes, shares, and retweets, fame is the idol of the internet age. While trading our values for money has long been a human failing (a recent example is US trade relations with China), we are now also trading our values for fame- the currency of the social media age. The consequence of our desire for fame is the execution of any evil deed necessary to further “worship” our idol. In other words, we want fame at any cost. 

Drawing from Colossians 3:5-6, John Piper provides strong discussion on idols and idolatry in an article for Desiring God. Colossians 3:5-6 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” In this passage Paul defines covetousness as idolatry. Thus, idolatry starts in the heart, but it almost never stops there. From our idolatrous hearts, we exhibit idolatrous behavior. As Piper explains, idolatry starts as covetousness in our hearts then often becomes “a deed of the body” like a poisonous fruit on the twisted branch of idolatry. Whether committing a massacre or transitioning to the opposite gender, our sinful idolatry starts in our hearts and produces sinful behavior, compromising our morals in order to nurture our personal idol(s). 

Colossians 3:6 ends by saying, “. . .On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” The wrath of an omnipotent, all-righteous God is coming. Reading this verse with Exodus 20: 4-5 in mind, which describes God as a jealous God, we must realize that God’s jealousy is both righteous and loving. Piper says, “It is a loving jealousy, because we were made to find our greatest joy when he is our greatest treasure. He is jealous that he be honored by being treasured, and he is jealous that we be satisfied by treasuring him.” Therefore, replacing God in our lives with some other object not only offends Him, but we destroy ourselves as well. But take heart fellow believers! For we have escaped the wrath of Almighty God! 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 declares, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Let us turn from every idol and serve the living true God for by the cross of Jesus Christ we can be saved – from the wrath of God and from ourselves.

-Hannah R. Miller
Host, The Hannah Miller Show