When Ashton Kutcher tweeted, “How do you fire Jo Pa?” he experienced a firestorm of vicious comments from many of his 8 million followers on Twitter. He quickly recanted his comment, claiming ignorance of the Penn State sexual abuse controversy.



 

When Ashton Kutcher tweeted, “How do you fire Jo Pa?” he experienced a firestorm of vicious comments from many of his 8 million followers on Twitter.


He quickly recanted his comment, claiming ignorance of the Penn State sexual abuse controversy.


When the story was related to me, it wasn’t Kutcher’s comment that surprised me, nor was it the backlash of insults that came from it. What I couldn’t get over was the fact that this guy has over 8 million fans on Twitter. 


Why do 8 million people follow Ashton Kutcher? What do they get out of it? (And don’t they have anything better to do?)


I’m not picking on Ashton Kutcher — it could just as easily be Will Smith, Miley Cyrus or Princess Kate. It’s the celebrity worship phenomenon that has me thinking. 


In the media, and in society generally, it is common to hear religious terms — the language of discipleship — used to talk about celebrities. For example, people “follow” Ashton. St. Paul chastised church members because one was saying, “‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’.”

Just imagine what he might say about “following” Ashton?


Clearly a variety of dynamics is in play: the desire to know — to have a “relationship” with — someone important; the experience of a vicarious thrill through one’s hero. (How suitably these words associated with religion — “relationship,” “vicarious” — describe the phenomena!) But the longing to adore — even to worship — some exalted being also seems to be present. 


Humans need someone or something to worship. Even “that scoundrel Voltaire” (as Mozart called him) recognized it: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”


There is an illustration of this in the Biblical book of Exodus, when Israel’s leader Moses ascends a mountain to meet with God, and then doesn’t return for well over a month. The people, worried by the absence of their leader and the silence of God, quickly make a new deity. They couldn’t do without one, even for a month. They needed a god to follow and adore.


Without this human impulse to believe in something higher, and to offer to it worship and praise, magazines like People and Star, and celebrity gossip shows like TMZ and Entertainment News would probably not stay in business. 


Some might argue that this is all nonsense, that the impulse to worship is a natural result of evolutionary biology, or that it is limited to a certain social demographic. But it is interesting to me to see how often even confirmed atheists import God-substitutes into their belief systems.


The philosopher William Lane Craig points out this tendency in writers who claim no belief in God. He mentions the Russian physicists Zeldovich and Novikov, who, in contemplating the properties of the universe, ask why “Nature” chose to create this sort of universe instead of another. “Nature,” writes Craig, “has obviously become a sort of God-substitute, filling the role and function of God.”


Craig points out that midway through Francis Crick’s book, “The Origin of the Genetic Code,” he begins spelling “nature” with an upper case letter. Carl Sagan always began the word “cosmos” the same way. The astronomer Fred Hoyle frequently attributed God-like qualities to the universe. Richard Dawkins sings the praise of “one single name: Darwinian Evolution.”


Why do these men who profess disbelief in God smuggle in these God-substitutes? Could it be the human need to adore and worship something greater than oneself? The impulse to worship is good, and can be expressed in healthy and fulfilling ways, but only if it is directed to one truly worthy of worship. That’s not Ashton Kutcher or even nature. It is the creator God. 


No offense intended, Ashton.

 

Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Michigan. He can be reached at salooper@dmcibb.net.