Bieber ‘Beliebers’ and the pitfalls of pop star piety

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Justin Bieber's booking photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department.

Justin Bieber's booking photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department.

You’re up on the screaming headlines Thursday: Justin Bieber arrested, caught DUI drag-racing.

Now, wipe that smirk off your face. Let’s talk about why we paid attention to him at all.

Justin Bieber's booking photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department.

Justin Bieber’s booking photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department.

He had a little voice and a big hook:  Way back when Justin Bieber was a mighty sensation on concert circuits, his marketing targets were CWM – Christians with money. He struck angelic poses while parents — happy to indulge their pre-teens with someone who seemed so wholesome — slapped down their credit cards for show tickets and iTunes downloads. His 2011 movie,  “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” was promoted to pastors and faith-based groups.

Why do we buy into pop stars’ pubescent piety?

Perhaps, I’m just too jaded. A superb religion journalist, Cathleen Falsani, found a sincerity worth exploring in her book, “Belieber!: Fame, Faith and The Heart of Justin Bieber,” published when he was 17.

She set out to “peel back the veneer of celebrity and take a closer look at Justin as a person and as a cultural phenomenon…

“What I discovered by listening to him closely, reading thousands of Twitter and Facebook posts, scores of print and broadcast interviews from all over the world, was that the way Justin expresses his faith is consistent, authentic and heartfelt. But more unusual — for any evangelical Christian, and Justin most certainly is that — is the humility with which he communicates his beliefs and the boldness with which he expresses God’s love for everyone.”

Now, he’s 19 and peeling rubber in a rented yellow Lamborghini, drag racing in Miami Beach before dawn Thursday and flunking a street-side sobriety test, according to a police report.

Are his global followers, the Beliebers, still around to read this and weep? Do they even care or have they moved on to other idols of self-expression? (Miley, anyone?) Maybe they have found Bono, who once said, as Falsani noted: “There’s nothing worse than a rock star with a cause … But celebrity is currency and we want to spend it this way.”

It’s certainly not easy to be a celebrity in popular culture and still be taken seriously as a person who practices a religion — Christian or any other faith — in word and deed.

Former teen star Kirk Cameron, of “Growing Pains” fame, grew into adult faith, became vocal about his evangelical commitments and starred in many a Christian-market movie. Then he was blasted for remarks about homosexuality as “unnatural” and his views on the end of days.  Cameron now calls himself “a Hollywood freak” for speaking out.

We evidently prefer believers to keep it simple: “Yay, God,” but no specifics. Even better: The appearance of faith.

Justin Bieber clearly gave up the appearance of faith long ago as he raced from pious teen to celeb-trash headliner. But that doesn’t mean there’s no imprint of belief in a heart no one can read on a police report.

He’s too young to drink and drive (and drag-race) but old enough to find a road to redemption – in or out of religion. Will he? Will we pay attention?

Did you ever choose a religion or change your religion or desert it because an entertainer led you to — or from — faith?

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  • Jill

    WWJD? Egg the neighbor”s house? Drag race at 4 am? Swear at a cop? Party at a Brazilian whorehose? Act like a spoiled, entitled punk?
    How exactly is Bieber living a Christian life? Seems to me he used a religion that he has no commitment to as a marketing tool, which is a pretty crappy thing to do.
    Give me a rapper or a good old-fashioned hard-partying rock and roller over the Beeb any day.

  • Christy Lynn

    This made me so sad. As a Christian, I will admit that, in the beginning, I was so excited to see a young Christian man find success and not be ashamed to talk about his faith. No all I can do is think “his poor mother!” So many Christian moms can relate to the pain of watching the child you raised to love God and behave accordingly veer off the rails. I hope this is a serious wakeup call for Le Biebs (but I fear it won’t be).

  • Elaine Field

    It seems that Justin Bieber’s faith had not quite matured deeply enough to withstand the secular life he found himself. Perhaps he will now begin to get to meet Jesus on a level of knowing he (Justin) is a sinner and will begin to really find out what Christ did for Justin on the cross.

    Matt. 10:39 would fit Justin’s situation, now, it seems. Justin needed to lose his life for Jesus sake…..and now he will find it and be used in a positive way for the Lord.

  • Huffer

    It’s sad to see young talent get swallowed up by the Satan following Hollywood and entertainment business. Point being, if you want to zoom to the top, you turn your soul over to them or you will not ‘succeed in the business’. They tell you exactly what and how to do things or they dump you. They want you to promote an ‘UN-CHRISTIAN’ facade to the world. This is Satanic! Just look at Miley Cyrus and how fast she rose in the music scene. Look at how low she’s gone to do it!

    The more evil an entertainer can appear to be, the more popular they become.
    Justin is still salvageable if he will just walk away from what he’s gotten himself into.
    Pray for him…

  • Larry

    Gawd, Christians are so gullible! Throw a couple of dogwhistle phrases at you guys, talk about being a “committed Christian” and you will buy anything! =)

    Bieber was always selling the typical image of “non-sexually threatening teen idol” that music producers love so much. The typical marketing so parents wouldn’t find it objectionable when their kids buy the songs and the “fanware”. Public displays of “piety” and good “Christian virtues” are great for building up a public image but seldom ever grounded in reality.

    What you are seeing now is what happens when a celebrity does something that professional image crafters can’t control.

  • Lesley

    I have respect for the comments expressed so far, though perhaps we can do without scorn and self-righteous pity. I am not a Beiber fan, per se, but I know that the girls in my youth group very much look up to him and readily excuse his bad behavior. My concern for them is that they would accept Mr. Beiber’s self-destructive behavior as cool, interesting, or something to emulate. I am sad to see this young man thrown in the maw of media gossip, sex, fame and money. We are witness to his being chewed up and spit out of it…and that is really tragic.

  • Nate

    A Celebrity is not a Celebrity without the fans that cheer, push, prod, leer, expect, reject, pay and boycott them. Just like every other teen star turned wrong, we must look at him with a mirror to our faces.

    We made him in our image.

    All that he is and has become is a reflection of what we, the fans, want him to be.

    Being a Celebrity is a hell on earth, disguised within a wealthy, adoring heaven. Ask any teen celeb who has successfully made it out alive, and now lives in obscurity. They will tell you, with the angsty look of an ex-addict describing what drugs did to them, about how hellish it is.

    We, the fans, with all our money and our love-hate, are that hell for them.

    Mcauley, Brittany, Miley (the list could go on and on): What is the common thread for all of them? Is it not us? Is it not how we consume and dispose of them, leading them and their handlers to crank up the dysfunction and drama until we will pay ($$) attention to them again.

    When, every 2 months or so when something happens like this, we are tempted to ask “what is wrong with them?” Perhaps we should look at ourselves and ask what is wrong with us. Because we make them who they are. We make them in our image. Until by God’s grace they can escape the prison of desire we lock them in and find their way to obscurity again.

  • Larry

    Being a wealthy, famous media celebrity is hell on earth?

    I’m not buying it.

    Its just being whiny over poor behavior and choices. When a celebrity chooses to use their wealth and influence to indulge themselves rather than anything socially constructive, they are not to be pitied. The ones who are most angsty are those who did not understand the realistic limits of their talent. Pitied only to the extent one pities hubris and the ironic.

    There is an instant solution to the troubles of fame and fortune. Stop promoting yourself. The public moves fast to the next big sensation. As for blaming the audience, you are the consumers. It would not be consumed if it did not fill some kind of need.

  • James Manley

    Oh, yeah, when I was 19 I never would have drank beer and drag raced. I was a perfect angel.

    To condemn him to hell because he isn’t perfect? For shame.

  • rockscryout

    Not one comment, nor the story above said Justin is going to hell.

    Cathy Lynn Grossman clearly and succinctly stated in her article, “Justin Bieber clearly gave up the appearance of faith long ago as he raced from pious teen to celeb-trash headliner. But that doesn’t mean there’s no imprint of belief in a heart no one can read on a police report.”

    Jesus doesn’t allow us to judge a person, but he exhorts us to judge their behavior. While Justin may be a wayward Christ-follower, he certainly is not living a life worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • FW Ken

    I’m an alcoholic, but was in my 40s before it got so bad that I got a DWI and found sobriety (by necessity, not piety). So I’m less than eager to throw stones at this young man. I’m not a fan, needless to say, but I am one drunk eager to see this fellow do better.

    Of course, maybe he’s not really an alcoholic, just an idiot. At 19, however, he can grow out of that. And if he’s an alcoholic, he can recover.

  • Bintheredonetht

    No difference between the lawless monkey “church” and this young man – double-minded, divorcing, antinomian, unsafe people all.

  • Keith crosby

    Naive. When did he ever display anything remotely resembling true saving faith. I can claim to be a Martian but that doesn’t make it so. As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount you know a tree by the fruit it bears.

  • Keith crosby

    As a Christian I have to agree with your evaluation. most Christians these days lack discernment. Mention God and everyone applauds… No questions asked. These days claiming to be from Mars seems to be sufficient to be taken seriously as an authentic Martian. Claiming to be from Mars doesn’t make the claim true. Being near a church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than being in a fast food restaurant makes me a hamburger. No serious thinking secularist or Christian would have taken Bieber’s claims seriously given his obvious conduct. Oh the power of merchandising.

  • Cornfed

    It is really tragic. Every so often we witness the public disintegration of a celebrity who spins out of control. Bieber is the latest example. It’s easy to mock and scorn his actions, and certainly they are to be condemned. But let’s not forget that the one doing these things is a young kid who’s evidently in serious moral and spiritual trouble. He needs help.

  • One of the hardest issues I find is dealing with Christians (and anti-Christians, as well) is this need on the part of people to get celebrities on their side and broadcast it. Justin, as a teenage male human, has his own special set of problems, but as far as I can tell people who made a big deal about his faith to get other people to “believe” care as much or less about the actual human as the record companies care about him. They both have products to sell. I do not for one think that anyone trying to sell a point of view, and seeking celebrity endorsement for their position, is entitled to any presumption that they care first and foremost about the truth or that they actually consider us as anything more than potential customers. I am more angry at these Christians who think it is somehow all right to get a person to broadcast their faith and thus act precisely like the persons of whom Jesus said, “they have gotten their reward”. Record companies at least openly serve Mammon.

  • Larry

    The only thing I take issue with is your characterization of Secularist and Christian as “either/or” beliefs. In many cases it is both.

    Secularism is the belief that religious and political are separate realms. It is an idea supported largely by religious believers as a way to protect it from government intrusion and visa versa.

    Secularism was conceived by christians of the Anabaptist sects [See Roger Williams], if not Christians (the capital “C” to denote evangelical/fundamentalist sects). Its supporters are largely mainstream christians, minority faiths/sects and atheists.

  • Larry

    At 19, pretty much everyone is an idiot.

    Idiocy + money = dangerous idiocy

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