How boring would our lives be without pet vices and guilty pleasures—without sneaking off to watch re-runs of Friends or rocking out to Air Supply on your way home from work; without eating a whole bag of Oreos or reading those trashy novels with Fabio on the cover; without smoking that last cigarette or spending time you should be doing something productive voting someone off the island or someone on the show? A life like that would be almost unbearable because, pleasure of acting out the vice aside, admit it, one of the best parts about getting spiritually gritty has always been the coming clean after—sitcom catch phrases in your mind and processed chocolate cookie crumbs on your lips, the winking mea culpa, and a deity that loves you anyway. All of this is a process vital to your spiritual health. After all, who needs a bath if you aren’t dirty in the first place? Who needs to achieve a higher place if you’re already on the mountaintop? And how, for that matter, could you ever appreciate that high place and squeaky clean soul if you didn’t take a tumble down the mountain and get it dirty once in a while?
The answer is, you couldn’t.
I bring this up is because last week I read a little article about a group called The Hollywood Prayer Network that assigns the names of troubled celebrities, struggling up-and-comers, and child actors to people who wish to pray for them in an effort to better our country by helping the Hollywood machine get religion.
The article was disturbing for more than a few reasons. First of all, I’ll just come right out and say it, prayer networks of any kind creep me out. Personally, I’m pretty big on the notion of prayer as a private intimacy between a person and their deity, but in the past I haven’t had too big a problem with other prayer networks because at least they’re praying and if it helps them get their spiritual groove on, they can have at it. Although I have tried to keep this attitude toward the Hollywood Prayer Network, it is a little harder to sustain an “it’s all on the up and up” view when one of the key members says something scary like: “The (Hollywood) Network is the equivalent, and perhaps more important than praying for the president,” (Robert Johnston, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA).
As strange/scary as that comment was however, that attitude isn’t what I find most disturbing. Toward the end of the article the journalist profiles a woman of about 49 who prays for, among others, Robert Downy, Jr. and Britney Spears. The woman describes how disheartening it can be to pray for someone, just to see the next day in the tabloids that that person has been arrested—as was the case with, you guessed it, Robert Downy, Jr.
So essentially what we have here is a religious organization providing a divine sanction for people to indulge in one of the most prevalent pet vices in our culture: celebrity gossip. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not objecting to indulging in celebrity gossip. I’m as guilty of that as anyone I know and I fear the especially stinging lightening bolt reserved for hypocrites. What I find objectionable is this corporate/religious cleansing of something that should be deliciously dirty in an ultimately forgivable PG kind of way.
If we start sanitizing all the little sins—gossip, revenge junk food consumption, quasi-worship of very fleeting celebrity idols—one of two things will happen: we will either have to start going ever further down the mountain to get our little taste of sin, or we will start deluding ourselves that where we are already—that place about two feet below the pinnacle with all the empty cookie bags, cigarette butts, and gossip rags lying around, is the high place. We’ll stop even the attempt at reaching higher because hey, as long as I pray three times a week that Miley cleans up her act and puts some clothes on, as long as I press the “Pray for this Show” button on my remote once or twice while watching cage fights, as long as I keep my thoughts trained toward Robert Downy Jr. staying out of jail for at least a week this time, my salvation is assured. Right?
What about you? What are some of your guilty pleasures that lead you to a higher place?