Friday, February 06, 2009

What would Jesus say to Michael Phelps?

Two images dominated the Olympics last summer - the triumphs of Michael Phelps, and those of Usain Bolt. Now Phelps has received a three month ban for having been caught (by the News of the World) with his face in a bong. He apologised for his regrettable behaviour and bad judgment (which is a sort of apology...)

CJ Mahaney: So what was Phelps searching for in that bong pipe? What emptiness in his soul was he trying to satisfy? Once again we are reminded that athletic gifting, championship trophies, gold medals, and million dollar endorsement deals cannot satisfy the soul." All the gold medals in the world fail to satisfy, which isn't really news -  many have testified the same way before, and many will again in future. Searching in ourselves is fruitless.

And for us? Our gods fail us once more, because they're mere men. The appeal seems vast and each time we wonder if we've found the divine. And yet it seems that the cult of celebrity is just like chasing the wind. Doomed to frustration. The tragedy for us is that "we resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration" (GK Beale, We Become What we Worship, p311). We think we know what we'll be when we worship Bolt and Phelps, imagining ourselves to become superhuman, but man bowed at a mirror inevitably caves in on himself, becoming a shrivelled reflection of what he was meant to be. homo incurvatus in se.

Your thoughts? 


  1. I think Phelps and Bolt are incredible but have yet to smoke a joint or run 100m in less than 10 seconds. But seriously, you and CJ are right.

    Of course this doesn't just apply to Phelps and a bong, but to Andrew Flintoff and a Pedalo and other entirely legal practices.

  2. Is all drug use "searching"?

    I think a lot is, but do you think that we can be sure that Phelps wasn't trying to get away (in a non-searching way), rather than trying to connect?

  3. That's interesting Tom. The assumption always seems to be that when a celebrity uses drugs they're trying to get away from everything that traps them. I guess Kurt Cobain would the best/worst example of this.

    But does there have to be a difference? Doesn't 'getting away' suggest there's somewhere (better) to get away to? In other words, tho they may not start at the same point 'getting away' drug abuse and 'searching' drug abuse end up at the same place?

    Did Phelps go to South Carolina (the worst of the Carolinas) to get away, party and spend a few hours as a normal 23 year old? Sure. But doesn't his need to get away betray his heart's knowledge of something deeper and better than what he's got?

  4. Tom - I've no idea. I can't read his heart or his mind, and wouldn't claim to. I guess we can at least say, it's not something considered to be a positive step, something is either wrong or missing for it to be an appealing step... and something exposing for us if we thing too highly of our idols.

  5. If 'doing something to feel better' might mean 'searching' I can't disagree with FloydTheBarber...

    But I think I'm more cynical about it. I don't think that all attempts to 'be/feel better' are 'searching' for God, or even the transcendent. Sometimes, I used to get out of my head just to make it easier to do stuff that was wrong.

    I'd want to say that 'searching' is more reverent, or serious. In fact, I think it's much more serious. I'd call 'searching' through drug use a dirty walk in the foothills of worship.

    Another kind of drug use seems the same at first, it is a dirty walk through the same sorts of fields and lanes, but you're not looking upwards for a sign or an answer. You're not trying to follow the sunbeams back to the source, instead you're looking for caves to do nasty things in.

    Perhaps also, there is an in-between, where drug use is cultural and casual? Everyone around you does it, and it neither represents a great spiritual search nor a dirty blanket to hide sin under. It's just what your tribe/group do.

  6. pot is not a drug, it is an herb. if he was photographed with his "face in a beer," it would not be newsworthy.

    what is newsworthy is how responsible, adult pot users are still stigmatized. it is mind boggling.

    phelps should have refused to apologize. he has absolutely nothing whatsoever to be sorry for.