Image/Identity: What happens when we don’t image God?
We were made by God to mirror Him. When we do not mirror him, we mirror someone else. This simple fact explains much of our fascination with celebrities, social media, and an increasingly unhealthy, unhappy, and unholy world.
Dr. Drew Pinsky is a regular television expert on human addiction, behavior, and culture. Some years ago, I flew to Los Angeles and co-hosted his call-in radio show Loveline. My wife Grace and I were also interviewed by him on his television programming regarding marriage and sexuality from a Christian perspective.
In our conversations, he said something profound. I do not believe he is a Christian, but as a professional following the facts he arrived at an amazing conclusion that agrees with the Bible, culminating in a book called The Mirror Effect. His thesis is that celebrities model behavior and then people mirror it. This explains such things as social media influencers and the insatiable appetite to know everything about famous people from the food they eat to clothes they wear, cars they drive, surgeries they have and adult home movies they film.
This frenzy has created celebrities that are more dysfunctional by the day, and media that is more invasive by the minute. Today, to be famous you do not need to have any virtue or accomplish anything honorable or helpful. Pinsky says, “Celebrities today are as likely to be recognized for their bodies, rap sheets, and rehab stints as they are for their talents. That’s because the behavior of today’s celebrities is much more dramatically dysfunctional than it was a decade ago.” [ENDNOTE #1]
To get attention, or worship, to use a Bible word, people need to do something shocking, dangerous, self-destructive, or socially taboo. As “gods” they model behavior that their followers then mirror. If a famous person wears a clothing brand, sales go up. If a famous person drinks a type of liquor, others buy it at the bar to make a social statement. If a famous person does drugs, has a sex change operation, and lets everyone peer in on their life with a reality television show, their followers will get high, go under the knife, and let us watch via social media and YouTube. Super-celebrities create their own brands and products to sell their followers as a form of tithing to their gods and goddesses. This is exactly how we got the entire Kardashian family.
Pinsky refers to this mirror effect as, “Dysfunctional behavior, usually in four specific areas: body image, hypersexuality, substance abuse and addiction, harmful acting out.” [ENDNOTE #2]
Normal people are not shocking enough to get much attention. Abnormal people are shocking enough to get much attention. Once we’ve watched someone do something a few times, that behavior becomes normalized. So, if you are a celebrity very quickly you are no longer interesting unless you do something more extreme. Likewise, a nobody wanting to become somebody needs to just do something crazier than everyone else. This explains the ever-devolving porn industry that seems bent on digging a hole to hell as fast as possible while counting clicks and cashing checks.
For older folks, the Internet, social media, and normalizing of what was considered immoral and undesirable for past generations is now normalized and incredibly tempting for younger generations. Pinsky says, “Adolescents in particular are at high risk for mirroring such dangerous behavior…”
3.7% of all female adolescents suffer from anorexia
4.2% suffer from bulimia
46% of teens aged 15-19 have had sex at least once
25% of teens have a STD
28% of teens admit to consuming alcohol
10% of 12th graders use the prescription Vicoden for non-medical reasons
10% of 8th graders use marijuana [ENDNOTE #3]
These statistics are worsening as all of these behaviors become normalized due to the mirror effect. Whether it’s celebrities online or the cool kids in school, a few are mirroring behavior that the majority are mirroring.
Making matters worse is social media. Pinsky says, “These unmonitored sites…invited users to create new personae whose connection with their real lives were often tenuous at best, a high-tech version of what psychiatric professionals call a pseudo-self, a classic social coping mechanism among narcissists.” [ENDNOTE #4] Not only do celebrities create fake identities, they do not know who they are. Consumed by themselves and their image and response of fans, this is the breeding ground to encourage and multiply narcissism where people want to be like God and have as many people as possible be their followers and imitators or, to use Bible words, converts and worshippers.
We were made to mirror God. When we do not mirror God, we mirror people. This is idolatry. Romans 1:25-32 explains this in detail. First, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator”. Second, the brakes come off behavior once “God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” Third, this celebrity-modeling and people-mirroring causes sexual perversion: “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men…” Fourth, as sin escalates, the result is a culture marked by even school curriculum that brainwashes: “A debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Fifth, in addition to sexual unhealth, all of life and culture is “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice…envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” Sixth, the worst offenders become popular as the celebrity followers “are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Seventh, they will then have parades for shameful things that trend online as, “not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Lastly, this celebrity idolatry is not hidden or discreet as we literally call celebrities our idols and have reality television shows where normal people can seek to become celebrity idols themselves.
Jonathan Edwards said that those we idolize, we eventually demonize. Pinsky says the same thing, “The same instincts that drive us to want to mimic these celebrities, however, can also compel us to try to tear down the very idols we create. This urge to destroy what we cannot have often takes the shape of indulging in “harmless” gossip about celebrities whose behavior makes us uncomfortable. This, in turn, fuels the tabloid madness – delivering constant new episodes of the latest celebrity train wrecks in progress.” [ENDNOTE #5] The end result of this demonic and destructive cycle is modern western culture and the only hope is to stop mirroring created beings and start mirroring God our Creator.
- Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Endangering Our Families – And How To Save Them (New York: Harper, 2010), 2–3.
- Ibid, 11.
- Ibid, 12.
- Ibid, 73.
- Ibid, 15.