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A View from the Altar / Gods small and smaller
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Gods small and smaller

Nostalgic goo

A couple of anniversaries occurred during this past week, the birth of Jim Morrison and the death of John Lennon. Lennon was murdered in New York. Morrison reportedly overdosed on heroin in Paris. The news media paused to mourn before moving on to report that Miley Cyrus was tripping on salvia.

Each man has an adoring public, followers who speak of these guys as demigods. NPR played the audio of a grieving father teaching his little boy to sing Lennon’s “Imagine.” A Youtube commenter said of Morrison that he was “like Jesus only bigger and more human.” Lennon famously compared himself to Jesus, claiming more popularity.

It’s true that these guys remain stunningly popular and influential. Why?

How not to explain it

Not to needlessly speak ill of the dead, and certainly Morrison’s family has suffered enough through the loss of their son and the gaggle of bizarre devotees who believe he’s alive and hiding in south Florida. But the truth is what it is: Morrison was a drug abuser, spent much of his adult (I use the word advisedly) life drunk, and was famously promiscuous. No, he was nothing like Jesus at all.

Morrison’s fans locate his influence in his poetry. Morrison claimed to be a poet and others agreed. By any reasonable standard, his best known poetry ranks among the most appallingly bad verse ever written in English and sold to suckers for money. Here’s a sample:

“There’s a killer on the road.
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad.”
“Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone.”

There’s no way his poetry accounts for Morrison’s fame. Something else is going on.

John Lennon could claim a speck more creativity, but even he is no Isaac Watts. Lennon is best remembered for his song “Imagine,” a musically dull hymn to nihilism. It offers the supernaturally stupid assertion that people deprived of anything to believe in would all get along just swell. Somebody please tell this to the gangster who kills somebody just to impress a ho.

The poetic heft of Lennon’s work is scarcely any better than Morrison’s:

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…”

Even ignoring the grammatical error in the first line, the content of the poem is an intellectual and spiritual zero. Something other than talent and genius is at work.

In the image of man, fourfooted beasts, creeping things

Paul explained that people who reject God tend to make idols. You’ve got your low-down idols where animists pee in the river and then must appease the river goddess who is… well, nettled.  You’ve got your intermediate idols where the Gaia people try to enforce green gadget energy on everybody.  All hail the pow’r of CFL; let Edison prostrate fall.

Then you’ve got your entertainment set paganism where people pretend a singer pours forth divine utterances like a regular Delphi.  American culture is shot through with this particular brand of folly.

Idolatry of every sort is made-up religion.   That aspect of it is always the same.  It’s just whatever people make up. If they’re ignorant savages afraid of nature, they may be animists. Ancient people in awe of military leaders formed cults around emperors and worshipped them. In modern times they do the same thing to entertainers.

I don’t really know how the aura of idolatry gets established around a particular entertainer. But once it’s there, he can do no wrong. You can think of modern idols who are alcoholics or use drugs or both. You can name some that breed illegitimate children and abandon them. There are entertainment idols that have molested children. There are entertainers who have murdered people.

Entertainment idols may indeed do virtually anything the fallen heart of man can imagine and yet they’ll still have a following. The Canaanite priests did this too, even to the point of requiring people to burn their infants as live sacrifices. Once people’s religious engines get cranked and they start down the idol track, they often neglect moral discernment. In mild cases, they say maudlin words in memory of a lousy poet. For severe cases, look up Richard Ramirez or John Hinckley.

Maybe we should be glad modern idols mostly immolate themselves and not everybody else.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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