February 26, 2010

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

A lesson behind the lessons in the Tiger Woods scandal

Sean GallagherWhen professional golfer Tiger Woods appeared on television on Feb. 19 to apologize for being unfaithful to his wife, Elin, much of the world seemed to stand still.

Trading on the New York Stock Exchange slowed dramatically during Woods’ 13-minute statement. Major television networks interrupted their regular programming to broadcast the statement live. People around the world stopped to watch arguably the greatest player in the history of golf say he was sorry.

Sports reporter and author Jeremy Schaap said the moment was a small version of the way in which the world watched Neil Armstrong become the first person to set foot on the moon in 1969.

While there are good lessons for all of us to be reminded of in Woods’ troubles, it is important to step back and consider why so many people—including myself—gave so much attention to those troubles in the first place.

It is a striking symbol of how much value our society places on celebrities, whether in sports, entertainment or politics.

Many people see these famous people as messiahs, saving them not so much from their sins as from the boredom that they think everyday life is filled with or the (at best) mediocrity that they think they are destined for.

Such exaltation of celebrities is not new. In one way or another, it has happened throughout history. But the way in which today’s media can make stars ubiquitous, however, has changed the equation.

In 1966, John Lennon said in an interview that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” As you might imagine, his comment caused an uproar in the United States.

Beatles fans might not have gone to a church on Sunday morning to worship John, Paul, George and Ringo, but, in essence, Lennon was right. He and his fellow Beatles were effectively more important in many peoples’ hearts than the Savior of the world.

The same can be said for people today who hold Tiger Woods or other sports figures, actors or rock stars in such high regard.

And what happens when these secular saviors show themselves through their faults and foibles to be human like everyone else?

Well, then we try to tear them down through the tabloids and Internet as quickly as we lifted them up.

In saying this, I am not arguing that these celebrities have no place in a well-ordered society.

Much good can be learned through sports. Actors and singers can inspire us through their artistic talents.

But there needs to be balance in the attention we give to them. We need to have our priorities in order.

Jesus needs to be the most important person in our lives, not just when we step back and really think things out—for most believers who are fans of sports and movie stars would acknowledge as much in the final analysis.

But our Lord needs to be first in our minds and hearts in the immediacy of our everyday lives when so many other things and people are competing for our attention.

When we open ourselves to a relationship with our Lord that is far deeper than we’ll ever have with any celebrity, we’ll experience some truths that might just shock us.

Our relationship with him can make our ordinary, boring days transfigured with his glory. And we’ll see that Jesus has destined us, not for mediocrity, but to be great saints in heaven, shining like the brightest star in the sky—or on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

When we experience these truths for ourselves, then our celebrity culture will lose a good bit of its glitz and glam.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.)

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