Is entertainment our new American idol?

Christopher Polk GETTY IMAGES FOR NARAS Singer Justin Timberlake (L) and rapper Jay-Z perform onstage during the 55th Annual GRAMMY … Continued

Christopher Polk


Singer Justin Timberlake (L) and rapper Jay-Z perform onstage during the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

When most people hear the word “idol,” they either think of the reality television show searching for the next musical sensation, or perhaps they think of a well-known celebrity or athlete. Depending on your age and taste in music, or lack there of, you might even think of “White Wedding” punk rocker Billy Idol.

However, if you break open a dictionary (or do a quick Google search), you’ll find an idol is defined as one of four things: an image used as an object of worship; a false god; one that is adored, often blindly or excessively; something visible but without substance.

With those definitions in mind, what do the following numbers say about our culture?

Last Sunday, the midseason premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead—a show about the zombie apocalypse—brought in it’s largest audience in series history: 12.3 million viewers. The same night, the 55th Annual Grammy Awards delivered 28.37 million viewers, making it this season’s most-watched awards program to date.

This season’s premiere of American Idol brought in a record low of 17.9 million viewers.

The 2013 Super Bowl brought in a whopping 108.4 million viewers.

Entertainment is the new American idol. And I’d go as far as to argue that our cultural obsession with entertainment is essentially a surrogate religion.

For example, a few years ago, my youngest daughter wanted nothing more than to go to a Colts football game in Indianapolis. The truth is, I’m a huge sports fan and she came by her NFL devotion honestly.

It was a Sunday afternoon game, but we drove down on Saturday evening to make sure we would be at the stadium in plenty of time. We woke up early on Sunday and went to a local church.

A few hours later, I was sitting among 80,000 fans in Lucas Oil Stadium, and yes, I had my own face painted. We both cheered until we lost our voices. On the drive home, as my exhausted daughter slept, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I had really attended two worship services that day.

The question I was asking myself was, “Which one was I most passionate about?”

If football isn’t your thing, think about the many, varied forms of entertainment that infiltrate and sometimes dictate our daily lives. Do you arrange your schedule so you catch the new Modern Family? Is a smart phone data plan a non-negotiable in the budget, so you’re constantly connected to your “friends” on Facebook?

What does your family spend the most time doing together? Watching television? Playing video games? Are you that family that doesn’t mutter a word at the dinner table because you’re texting, playing Angry Birds or tweeting pictures of your food?

How is this surrogate religion of entertainment affecting Americans as a whole?

For starters, nearly one in 10 kids between the ages of eight and 18 could be classified as clinically addicted to video games. A 15-year-old video game addict is described as displaying “all the characteristics of a heroin addict. You haven’t got someone putting a needle in their arm and having a high, but you’ve got all the telltale collateral damage of a heroin addict: withdrawal from his family, withdrawal from his friends, lies to cover his addiction.”

When it comes to Facebook, we spend an average of eight hours per month on the site. According to a recently released study, 36.9 percent of Facebook users feel worse after visiting the site. Some of the emotions felt included boredom, anger, frustration, guilt, sadness and loneliness and envy. Why are we spending so much time on a site that produces negative results?

The average American watches more than four and a half hours of television every day. In the average U.S. home, the set is on for more than eight hours and it offers more than 100 channels. For that amount of time, with that many channels, one is bound to find something to keep themselves amused.

The word amusement actually comes from the world of worship. Amusement has as its root the word muse. The Muses were the female Greek gods who were said to inspire great writing, science and artistic achievement. They were gods of reflection. When we add the a as a prefix, it brings in the idea of “lacking.” So amusement is the lack of inspiration, the lack of reflection.

Often, we seek amusement because we don’t want to think. Instead of inspiring our bored and apathetic existence, the idol of entertainment makes us even more that way. Instead of being entertained, we increasingly become the opposite—bored.

With the granddaddy of all awards shows coming up at the end of this month, The Walking Dead video game releasing in March, and our smart phones ever connected to our hips, I think it’s time we all evaluate our relationships with the idol of entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-entertainment. I’m just wondering if we’ve gone from watching it to worshiping it.

Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., and the author of “Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart (Zondervan, Feb. 2013).”

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  • WmarkW

    Yes, in the current economy it’s replaced shopping.

  • Jerry L. Curry

    The cell phone is a thing of worship we are constantly holding and watching it’s every bit of data that reaches us. So true Kyle

  • SimonTemplar

    “Often, we seek amusement because we don’t want to think. Instead of inspiring our bored and apathetic existence, the idol of entertainment makes us even more that way. Instead of being entertained, we increasingly become the opposite—bored.” (Idleman)

    I think that the entertainment industry may in fact be making us sick. How many of us watch television / movies, listen to music, engage on Facebook (or even this blog), in order to escape from the relatively mundane things of life? And the more we engage in all of these “amusements” the more mundane every day life seems to become.

    Imagine the days before we could be tuned into entertainment 24 hours a day. What did people do to pass the time? Where their lives less mundane than our own? Yet I get the impression they would not have used the word “mundane” to describe their lives.

    But when we watch or listen to entertainment, we are not really living OUR lives. We are watching other people, most often fictional characters, live THEIR “lives.” It is when we are at work (actively engaging with other people, solving problems and creating things ) that we are actually living OUR lives.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the comparison of a sports game to worship. I think they are two very different things with very different purposes.

    Still, I think the author has touched on an important issue that has far reaching consequences.

  • SimonTemplar

    I don’t mean this to be an insult…but I think Kyle’s last name is ironic, in connection with this article.

  • Dianaaaa

    The time has come to stop pretending what we watch on TV isn’t affecting our collective psyche. Television is catering (for the greater part) to the lowest common denominator through sensationalism.

    What is all that trash doing to your soul?

  • SimonTemplar

    I didn’t mean to limit the living of our lives to work alone but that is part of it. Also spending time with people we care about and doing things to help others. Spending our time with the people who are actually IN our lives, not passively watching “fake” people live fake lives on television and movies and music videos.

  • patriot1

    You said it all! You are right on the money. The Gospel foretold this a long, long time ago. The gods of today are celebrities, politicans, and people who make the news but have no talent. People stand in line to see them in concert, the movies or on television for instance. They pay big bucks. You can go to church, be with God,listen to His words, and rejuvenate your souls,. It will cost you nothing. What you get out of it is heavenly. BTW, there are no lines to get in.

  • gr8fnp

    Kyle, if what you wrote in the Washington Post is true, then could you please explain why the Modern Church has adopted the ART of ENTERTAINMENT as its primary evangelistic emphasis? It would appear that believers are flocking to churches that specialize in selling or branding amusement these days. Perhaps believers seek amusement while they worship because they don’t want to think. After all what is more entertaining, the sound of whaling guitars, smashing drum rhythms, lead singers that look amazingly like those Grammy Award winners, flashing lights, hands waving around like you just don’t care OR hearing the word of God preached clearly.
    Don’t get me wrong Kyle, I too am not anti-entertainment. However, I’m just wondering if you missed the mark in your article! Perhaps the question you should be asking is, “How is this surrogate religion of entertainment affecting the followers of Christ as a whole in understanding God the Creator.” I believed you summed up the One Hour Sunday Christian Warrior quite well, “Instead of inspiring their bored and apathetic existence, the idol of entertainment makes them even more that way. Instead of being entertained, they increasingly become the opposite—bored.”
    So Kyle, and all those that will now act as Christian snipers for suggesting that we reshape the focus of the discussion, I pose this question, “I’m just wondering if we’ve gone from worshiping God to worshiping entertainment with commercials about God?”

  • lepidopteryx

    Norman Reedus and Jared Padelecki can do anything to my soul they want to.

  • Darls

    Hi Kyle, I totally agree with you.. Entertainment is ok, but when it comes an obsession and you cannot live without the sort of entertainment you like then that is when it becomes a problem to worship.. Awesome article straight to the point not watering it down.. Keep it up..