Poll of a Billion Monkeys

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fame and Faith

The Exchange - Fame and Faith


What is it about the various human spheres of activity, Fame and Faith, which makes the achievement of one so detrimental to the progress of the other? What is it about the obtainment and grasping of money, wealth, power, and notoriety that makes it so difficult for those who have achieved some measure of each to maintain some ensuing sense of decorum, dignity, and respect?

I would like to make pronouncement of some simplistic, and usually misquoted platitude to explain this phenomenon, such as; “money is the root of all evil,” or “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But that would not be a true explanation, assuming there is a single true explanation, because such statements are not universal.

Yes, a large number of people who are inclined towards fame, wealth, and power do achieve at least a modicum of self-annihilation to accompany their more tangible mundane accomplishments. Yet there are plenty of other individuals, who despite achieving great wealth, fame, power, glory, or all of these things, never succumb to a habit to indulge in self-destruction, or the destruction of others. The phenomenon to implode as a result of fame, quickly or slowly, is therefore not a universal problem though it may very well be a kind of ultimate problem for those so afflicted. Britney Spears is but one modern example, not a shining nor an even particularly outstanding example, but a good and publicly demonstrable example of this problem.

So what is it that puts the achievement of fame so disastrously on a collision course of malignant opposition with faith? Now when I say faith I do not merely intend to imply religious faith and the values instilled in individuals in their upbringing. Indeed a person may have no upbringing in any faith or system of values one might even loosely ascribe as sharing any principles of “faith,” modern or ancient. One might be a person who was raised (or by lack of being raised with practically any standards of parenting) as an absolute relativistic secularist, in the modern sense by which the term secular has become corrupted, and so completely lack any standard by which a faith of any kind might even be constructed.

Or one might be raised with lax or at the very least loose standards of faith and later develop a very solid and outstanding personal system of faith such as occurred in the life of Stephen Baldwin. But once again I do not mean to restrict faith merely to one’s religious, or even moral standards and associations. By faith I mean to encompass that whole host of religious, moral, psychological, social, cultural, and even secular (in the true and original sense of the term) pursuits which might comprise the life of any individual. In this respect I mean all of those forces and factors which prevent an individual from going completely buck wild and in a sense, suicidal and self-destructive towards both their overall life and the very career and work which propelled them to fame. What is it that would compel a seemingly sane and accomplished person to strive so hard and so long for fame, glory, wealth, and power only to collapse at the height of their acquisition of these things into a wrecked heap of a self-inflicted human catastrophe?

For this phenomenon, although it seems simple upon the face of it, is actually a complex set of interrelated phenomenon and factors. It is not merely a matter of fame, and social and public success, it is also in the true sense of the term a deeply psychological, and moral, or amoral as the case may be, matter. It is also usually, not always, but usually also a cultural, social, religious, and secular matter.

My father once told me, and I did not at the time understand the full import of his words, “Son I have no respect at all, or interest in, any man who cannot handle the fruits of fame.” Personally I have never had any real interest in fame for myself, that is I have never desired to walk down the street and be recognized by strangers (I would rather go unnoticed and invisible, so as to better observe others), to have people seek my autograph (that would be repugnant to me), to see my name up in lights for a public display, or to make a spectacle of myself in any form or fashion. So what my father said about fame seemed to me at the time a simple statement about the bad effects of fame. But my father wasn’t really saying that about fame, or at the least he wasn’t saying just that. What he was saying was something so deep and complex, as many simple statements are, that it is actually a kind of metaphor to describe those obsessed by fame.

Now I do have an interest in money, power, wealth, leadership on occasion (if I feel I am best qualified to lead in a given circumstance) and perhaps even some measure of secular notoriety for my accomplishments (after all I’m placing this article in the public sphere, aren’t I). And at some point or another in my life I have had good, and not so good, success with each category of interest and pursuit. But my desire for fame never seemed to equal my faith, that is I never thought that what might by obtained by fame would equal what might be consistently and positively achieved by faith. So fame was always to me inferior in kind to faith, and faith always superior in nature to fame.

This is not to say that everyone who achieves fame loses their faith, or even that their faith is damaged or in danger by getting fame. Some individuals might develop a far greater strength and faith through achieving fame than they might have had they never achieved fame. The problem of the potential corruption wrought by fame is as I said above, not a universal one, but then again it is hardly a unique outcome either. What I guess I am saying is twofold; if your desire is for fame without faith; that is if fame is your only lodestone, then the natural gravity of your compass will drag you to the lowest point of your surrounding environment. And secondly, if you see fame as in opposition to, rather than complimentary to your faith, then eventually, you will likely be left with neither as cold comfort on an isolated frontier. If you think that to achieve fame you must relinquish, or abandon, or sacrifice your faith, then you will do so to achieve a very temporal and temporary form of secular fame at the expense of your more universal and long term secular, religious, and moral faith. You will have lost true fame to assume the mantle of outcast exile, to become a man without a country, a ruin of moral compromise, and a warning to the wise.

When men and women think of fame and fortune as separate and viable objectives in and of themselves, or as life itself, rather than one of many possible accomplishments which might enhance their wider life and faith, then they have lost all ability to even understand the what true fame might achieve. They chase a ghost of a shadow during an eclipse of their soul. Even worse they have buried their faith in a cold grave to marry themselves to a dead lover who cares nothing for their affections, desires, or ceaseless pathological desperations.

Faith without fame is a common human condition, almost everyone knows and experiences it at some point in their life, but fame without faith is that rare preserve of those individuals to whom life is a kind of dreamless sleep and a walking death. And no matter how far they walk they will never be able to walk far enough away from themselves to finally wake up again.

© JWG, Jr. 2006

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