Celebrity Theology: Atheist Brad Pitt

If I were to be honest, I would have to say that I am somewhere "middle-of-the-road" when it comes to celebrities putting on their theology hats. On the one hand, I am well aware that not everyone has taken the path I have; not everyone has worked toward 4 degrees in biblical studies. And though I'm not Lutheran, the Protestant side of me realizes that biblical interpretation cannot be done only within the halls of the academy (thank God!). On the other hand, I get quite annoyed by celebrities who think that just because they've made some religious commitment, they are automatically "good" and "capable" theologians.

Steve Baldwin's recent charades on "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here" deal with just this sort of thing. On the show, he "evangelized" and then "baptized" the infamous duo "Heidi and Spencer". A few hours later, the two of them claimed to have visions and to somehow know "God's will" for their lives now (what I would call a huge misunderstanding of God's will, anyway). Shortly after the show ended, I saw on the Yahoo! Ticker that Heidi planned to pose for Playboy. This week, the headlines said that she would be starting her own Bible Study soon.

I must stop here and ask: Does making a religious commitment, especially if you already have celebrity status, give you the rights and know-how to conduct a Bible study? Shouldn't there be some sort of bounds here? Does Heidi know what the word "exegesis" means? How about "hermeneutics" or "eschatology" or heck, even "theology"? Does she know the basics of how to read and interpret; the building blocks (if you will) of exegesis? I would venture to say: No!

But Heidi is just one among many famous persons who use their "celebrity" to gain religious clout. And if that's not bad in and of itself, perhaps one of the most twisted parts of it all is that evangelicals LOVE IT!!! Yes, that's right, evangelicals love when celebrities use their platforms of fame to speak a word about religion or faith. I may be reaching here, but I would venture to say that part of the evangelical eroticism that is expressed toward Christian celebrities is the mindset: If I back someone famous who is saying things about God, well, then I am (even if indirectly) helping fulfill the Great Commission. How sickening!

But what if the religious or theological remarks come from someone who is not Christian? Well, this has become increasingly popular too! In a recent interview with the German magazine BILD, Brad Pitt, former Southern Baptist turned confused theolebrity (I Just Coined A Word!!!), was asked asked if he believed in God and if he thought the soul was spiritual. His reply was emphatic as he said it twice (6 times): "No, no, no." He continued, "I'm probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don't think anyone really knows. You'll either find out or not when you get there, until then there's no point thinking about it."

Now, to be fair, his opinion was asked for in an interview format! He didn't just make his way to some podium and announce these remarks via press release. But still, the fact remains that once he issued these words, they were heard like a shot 'round the world. Indeed, a quick Google of the phrase "Brad Pitt Atheist" leads one to thousands of pages and blogs where discussions about Pitt's comments are the topic at hand.

But the thing that gets me is twofold: 1) What gave the interviewer the idea that in asking Pitt this question, he'd get some profound response? and, 2) Why is there so much hype over Pitt's statements? And before I deal with those 2 questions, I would also like to point out that among atheists and agnostics alike, there is just as much "eroticism" about celebrity platforms being used to promote an ideology or cause! Now, to deal with my first question, I would say that the interviewer probably never expected to get a deep response. It is probably closer to the truth to say that he used religion as a sort of "hot topic" that he knew would be "saucy" and draw attention. Pitt has no background that would allow him to provide a sound theological answer and everyone knows this, especially that interviewer. So, on to question two and its answer; I would say that so much hype was created because people hang on the words of those they revere. Pitt is a sexual icon of this century and always will be; he is adored by billions of people across the globe.

It is clear from Pitt's answer that he's not only an agnostic about religion but he's agnostic about his own beliefs (20% atheist and 80% agnostic); Pitt doesn't know and isn't sure of what he believes; he doubts himself; he's confused. For those of us who have studied cultural trends like Post-Modernism, we see that philosophy undergirding Pitt's statements. Like many, he wants a buffet styled philosophy / theology / religion (a little of this and a little of that). Such a view is appealing to the current generation.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the interview is that when Pitt is asked these questions, the commentator notes that he sort of smugly laughs; Pitt's arrogance makes him "seem" sure of himself while his comments reveal that he's confused. Could his nervous body language be a cover-up for not wanting to appear confused? Perhaps. If not, it doesn't really matter. What I am really wanting to get at is: Brad Pitt can discard faith in two breaths and everyone hangs on his words. Just as well, his attitude promotes empty responses from other people in the culture who follow him and revere his every utterance. The truth is: Brad Pitt has no grounds for making the statements he did. He doesn't have the theological or philosophical know-how to back up his remarks. And so, he ends up being just another celebrity who needs to not be taken seriously.

In the end, I wish Bill Maher would take the time to make another film, this one though, about the varied and skewed versions of atheism and agnosticism that many celebrities promote; maybe he could title the movie "Celebulous". He could travel to production sets, go on tour buses, go to theaters where actors and actresses just getting their feet wet training, he could interview Perez Hilton and others to show the rampant ignorance that runs through Hollywood when it comes to theology. But no, he'd never do that because it would simply undermine his own views. It seems as though on the one hand, celebrities decrying religion is the "new cool". On the other hand, it seems like many celebs are taking some interest in faith matters. Either way, I would venture to say that Hollywood is not a pulpit and that typically, whatever theology comes out of there is incredibly flawed, so, beware. As for "celebrity theology", well, I think it's time we confront it saying "That's A Wrap"!

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