24th January 2024


Responding to a retailer’s questionnaire I was surprised by the question: ‘Would a recommendation from a celebrity encourage you to buy our products and if so which one?’ Almost two hundred years earlier, Thomas Carlyle wrote his On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History in which he focused on the role of great men in history as over against the impact of powerful impersonal political, economic and social forces shaping human life, making mere puppets of empire builders, philosophers, statesmen and the like.

I am not sure how much of the heroic there is about modern celebrities who do seem to me to be the self-proclaimed creation of media moguls, who to this traditionalist, uneducated in contemporary culture, are often unknown names, but to others, and particularly the young, are apparently people of high esteem and influence.

Jesus’ counter-cultural teaching has its impact just here. When the disciples were arguing as to whom amongst them enjoyed the highest status and influence, Jesus chose a child as symbolic of ideal discipleship, concluding ‘For the one who is the least amongst you all is the greatest’ [Luke 9, 48]. The emphasis is on the power of the powerless, placing them ahead of heroes and celebrities alike. Paul, reflecting on the experience of church members in Corinth, emphasises the same point: ‘Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many of you influential, not many of you were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong’ [I Cor 1 26-27].

I need, then, to re-evaluate the role of celebrities in contemporary society, not out of ignorance of their names, but out of a proper theology of worth. What is it that characterised that child that Jesus set before the disciples – not influence but dependency, dependency upon the grace and goodness of God.

John Briggs