Celebrity-honoring extravaganzas like the Oscars and the Grammy Awards might be over for now, but that doesn't mean actors and musicians are out of the spotlight just yet. We love them. We want more of them. And because we love them, the most popular newspapers in the world are those which contort themselves and strain to deliver our demands for more: The Sun is the second most widely circulated English newspaper on the planet, and it is little more than a British celebrity gossip magazine. But have you ever stopped to wonder why it is that we follow the lives of the rich and famous? After all, Brad Pitt and Justin Bieber do seem like interesting people, but not enough for me to want to pay tens of thousands for a lock of Bieber's hair! There is something more going on. As far as I can tell, the reason we follow the lives of these famous people is because they represent the heights of human potential for us: we pay them to be our idols, to be ridiculously rich and extravagant with their money and endlessly creative and frighteningly super-athletic, and we do this so that we can hold them up and live out our dreams through them. That's our social contract; we make them extremely wealthy, and they become our Supermen.
Getting Burned By Nietzsche's Superman
I am also part of the cult of the celebrity-watchers. Except, the people whom I take inspiration from are not named Lady Gaga or Matt Damon (though, it's a safe bet that if Damon's in it, it's a good film); I am instead partial to superstar athletes such as Georges St-Pierre, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and the Canadian wrestler Christ Benoit. I tend to respect athleticism. Actually, maybe you'll recognize the name of Chris Benoit, even if you are not a fan of professional wrestling: in 2007 Chris Benoit made international headlines all over the world for his role in a shocking double-murder suicide in which he murdered his wife, strangled his infant son, and then finally hung himself to death on his own weight equipment. I remember this, because Chris Benoit was my hero. I was nineteen years old. Whenever I am tempted to laugh at people for following Justin Bieber (who has, let's face it, the mental capacity of a valley girl) or the once-mentally ill Britney Spears, I have to remember that my supposed superior choice is best known for killing off his entire family.
But that's the catch, isn't it? Our celebrities fail. No matter how fast, strong, wealthy, or creative people get, the real story comes when our Supermen fall from orbit and burn up in the atmosphere - sometimes with devastating results. We know that a good Christian girl like Miley Cyrus is just going to go downhill once fame has run its course. We expect it. These people that we worship might represent to us what the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called 'the superman' when he wrote 'Man is a rope, tied between beast and super-man... what is great in man is that he is a bridge [to the Superman] and not an end', but we know that the impossible prosperity and prowess of the famous will not hold them aloft in the air forever. They will come down. All that they represent of our human potential does not seem to help them very much. And if we bind up our future with theirs, we know that when they fall and burn up in the atmosphere we will be burned along with them, as I, through Chris Benoit, also got burned by Nietzsche's Superman.
The Better, More Eternal StandardThere's nothing wrong with the celebrity gifts of money, athleticism, and creative genius. A lot of those things take hard work to get. I'm not going to sit here and write that I don't want the athleticism of Georges St-Pierre, the handyman capabilities of Mike Holmes, the voice of Dustin Kensrue, or the money of Bill Gates. If God came down from heaven and said "I'm going to bless you with all of the abilities of Bruce Wayne," I wouldn't say no. But we've seen that these gifts aren't really what help people make it in the end. You can have all the musical talent in the world and still go off the rails, ending up without any dignity. So I'm going to offer a better standard for us to follow: the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The usual superhuman qualities which we admire in celebrities are okay things I guess, but humankind gets its dignity and purpose from being made in God's image(Genesis 1.26), and Jesus is God become a man (Matthew 1.23). If you want to be like Arnold Schwarzenneger (who has also been having some problems lately), go ahead: hit the weights. If you want something a little more lasting then follow Jesus instead (1 Timothy 4.8). Everything we work for fades in the end, but following Jesus has eternal value.
Why A Fiction Hero Is No Hero At All
If you read X-Men, Cyclops is a really great character because he shows us what it's like to be a hero and how to blast the bad guys with optic beams. Wait - back up, did I just say that? Well that's just completely wrong. Cyclops isn't a good role model, because he's got unrealistic abilities. We couldn't possibly do what he does. Even as a model for heroism, at best he only inspires the idea of heroism. He can't show us how it's done because the fictional Cyclops doesn't have to get around our limitations. So a better example for us would be real-life heroes that have our limitations, like our firemen, the police officers who keep our streets safe, soldiers who protect our countries, and your local super-serum enhanced S.H.I.E.L.D. operative. Maybe not the last one. But that's what makes Jesus of Nazareth someone to pattern our lives after. Even though He is God, He took on our weaknesses and limitations. He's not like some superhero who breaks out a new power to cope with every situation. Jesus experienced temptation to sin (Hebrews 4.15); acknowledged a 'will' in Himself that might be opposed to the Father's (Luke 22.42), learned obedience (Hebrews 5.8), experienced impatience (Mark 9.19), got angry (Mark 3.4-5), hid in a house to get time alone (Mark 7.24-25) and had the normal limitations of exhaustion (Mark 4.38), and hunger (Matthew 4.2), and was overwhelmed by grief (Matthew 14.12-13). Jesus had the whole range of human limitations, but did not sin (1 Peter 2.22), which means we can actually follow His lead. Only Jesus can show us what it looks like to live in the image of God when you haven't slept, eaten, or had any time to yourself, and everybody seems to need something from you. Jesus is the only one who models that for us.
Jesus Is the Image of God
We've already shown that (1) we tend to worship celebrities because they model something super-human; (2) those celebrities are flawed and broken; (3) even if they weren't broken, Jesus models an even better standard to live up to; (4) Jesus' limitations make Him more worthy of our imitation; and now, (5) Jesus shows us how to be human. Like I've said before, Christian doctrine says that we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1.26). This has to do with representing what God is like (Ephesians 4.24). Because Jesus was God in human flesh, complete with a human nature and all its limitations, Jesus shows us most clearly what it looks like to be a human being who carries out their purpose in life, living in God's image - Jesus shows us how to be human. We have sinned and fallen short of God's glory, but thank God, He sent Jesus not only to die for us and save us from our sins, but to show us what a new life as one of His people looks like. In Jesus, we don't just have salvation (as if salvation was such a small thing that it should have the word 'just' in front of it!) but the perfect model for what life looks like when one has put away a life of sin. Jesus is the image.
--Sean is a volunteer youth worker, a student at Briercrest College in Canada, and an amazing Super Smash Bros gamer. He was first exposed to Reformed theology mid-way through high school and subsequently adopted it in the weeks leading up to his first year of college. In his spare time he likes to ride bike trails, create poetry, read stuff by early Church Fathers, do tricks on diving boards, and read theology texts. November 20th, 2011 will mark his 8th year as a follower of Christ. He is a devoted husband to Kendra; son of Murray and Judy; brother to Caitlin and Amber; and member of First Baptist Church.