This week’s Met Gala, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” prompted a somewhat non-imaginative response from me. Even though New York’s top Catholic cleric, Cardinal Dolan didn’t seem to have issue with the event he himself attended, it brought about a pragmatic question in me – what do we hold to be “heavenly” in today’s day and age? To be clear, I’m not a theologian, fashion critic, or even celebrity observer, simply one guy working in the nether-regions of society, caught up in the human struggle.
I do find the timing of the Gala curious as today, many of us around the world, celebrate what is known as the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, a day to commemorate divine apparitions which commenced on May 13th, 1917 to three little children in Portugal – Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin Lucia dos Santos. In addition, today we also celebrate “The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord.”
What I see today seems to be a growing and curious phenomena tantamount to the rise of cults, where celebrities, substances, possessions, and social status take on an almost a demi-god-like prestige, worshiped as the preeminent be all and end all of life – a salvation of sorts in the material.
As habitual creatures, I get how easy it is for many of us to be drawn into obsession-like behaviour… but isn’t what’s happening more than that?
beasts of man – the worship of self
From my very personal perspective, at this present moment in time, I see five gods worshiped today, each of which could be deemed somewhat cultish. All of these, in a hyper-communicable age, where truth appears to be told by the loudest or most convincing voices, seem to be growing in dynamism, ferocity, and some would argue – functionality.
god 1- the cult of chemical
First, psychoactive substances and their use, misuse, and abuse; the five headed, historical beast – depressants, opioids, stimulants, hallucinogens, and psycho-therapeutics. I’m not looking at this from some sort of puritan or moral perspective, calling for community-wide abstinence or disregarding the vast array of medical benefits certain substances help us with…. I see the issue with, as with many other “gods of our time,” extremism, leading to dependence, abuse, and pursuit of sheer escapism. I have witnessed far too many disappear into the dark abyss of addiction; fallen, broken, chasing a far off land that is hidden in smoke and dust sold to be salvation but is in fact a false idol.
“I give the fight up; let there be an end,
A privacy, an obscure nook for me.
I want to be forgotten even by God.”
Robert Browning, Paracelsus (1835)
There’s absolutely no judgement in me from the perspective of use, in fact, I started writing this at a local pub, pint in hand. The trouble I’ve seen, both in my own experience and in those of the lives around me has been an assault of marketing “material” salvation – to the extreme. There are so many reasons we turn to psychoactive agents, some life-critical, say in the case of Diabetes; others may stem from issues of trauma, abuse, or neglect, or even just having a bad day at work leading to a couple of beers of glasses of wine. Look now however at the pain pandemic engulfing our world and the god which was sold to millions in OxyContin – be weary of the waves approaching the rabbit hole.
Celebrity culture has never been stronger, nor so prescriptive (act like me, be like me, look like me to succeed). Just look at the social media accounts of say Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian or even Oprah. Admittedly, this really isn’t an area I excel, social commentary on the celebrity class that is; however, I’ve picked up on two simple and concerning observations: 1) an obsession of celebrity and, more particular, celebrity body-types by youth, 2) the self-pursuit of god-like status by some celebrities as witnessed in the picture below.
god 3 – the cult of money
Financially, we are living in unparalleled times. Never has there been so much wealth on our planet, and yet never has so much of that wealth been held in the hands of so few. This great economic disparity has led in turn to what I see as the idolization of that wealth and power. This, of course, is nothing new in our societies or history as there have always been those who have, and those who have not; however, in a world of instant communications the polarization of wealth again has been extreme and thus cultish.
god 4 – the cult of body (perfection)
Recently returning from the Caribbean, I saw first hand how obsessive we can become over our bodies. About five years ago, that was me too – waking up around 4:00 am everyday to work out for at least 2 hours then go for a 10 klm run later that evening. In a world of instant communication, social media obsession, and the pursuit of perfection, our bodies have become prison of perfection, preventing so many from actually living in the moment for the sake of some pre-set image of someone else.
god 5 – the cult of communication
Communication. One of humanities greatest gifts; to be able to succinctly express ourselves defines our very being. That’s why our social media obsession has become so rather sad. Back to my recent sojourn to the south, it was painful to watch entire hoards of people spending literally hours trying to capture the best image for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platform of choice they were wielding.
At the end of the day, all I know is what I see and what my intuition (informed by faith) tells me are concerning elements of today. Have our houses of worship been, for all intents and purposes, replaced by man-made deities, formed by our own will so as to enable our actions or is all of this merely a phase through which God will appear even more apparent, resplendent, and loving?