11 Lessons About Religion I've Learned from Pop Culture Polytheism

11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.

Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.


10. Idol worship isn’t dead, it’s just changed form.

From 'Movie Hipster Kits' by Alizee Lafon

From ‘Movie Hipster Kits’ by Alizee Lafon

Judaism doesn’t permit graven images, which is why Christianity, especially Catholicism, never made very much sense to Jews. Venus or Mary, what’s the difference? Pop culture polytheism is no different. Stories of gods and goddesses are now transmitted through big and small screens. We don’t even need to wait for an artist’s rendering anymore; now we can simply Google and find out that Harry Potter looks like Daniel Radcliffe, or that our plastic surgeon can craft us into Justin Bieber.

9. Religion has become a glorified term for self-help.

There’s a reason hardcore pop culture polytheists look like escapees from a psych ward. Whether it’s TBN or PBS, networks are making a fortune off of religious leaders presenting glorified self-help programs under the guise of heaven-inspired guidance. Pop culture polytheists create an alternate “safe” universe in which they can let their freak flags fly. Is there a difference between spending cash at a convention and putting a check in a collection basket when you get feel-good SWAG either way?

8. God has also become the poster child for many an extremely un-Godly cause.


The main reason for the proliferation of pop culture polytheism in the West is the sheer level of disgust and distrust for traditional religious institutions. This is due in large part to the abuses of religious leaders who use God as nothing more than a mystical curtain behind which they can conduct their evil deeds. In pop culture polytheism, the screen is the curtain on which all deeds are projected. Nothing is real, but at the same time, nothing is hidden. And, of course, everything is perfect.


7. We mistake free will for freedom.


Plenty of pop culture polytheists freely choose to enslave themselves to a particular fandom, devoting their time, money, and bodies to the pursuit of their pop culture faith. The same goes for religious practitioners of every stripe. Often, the deeper you enter into the practice, the more restrictive it becomes. Suddenly, what started out as a place of freedom becomes increasingly governed by questionable human authority, whether they be the ultimate Hobbit geeks who speak Elvish better than you, or the rabbi who refuses to grant you a get to escape your abusive husband. When you question their authority, you freely become the outcast.

6. We are convinced that Biblical texts are outdated…


In The Abide Guide, Dudeism founder Oliver Benjamin rejects the Ten Commandments, the keystone of Jewish law, as outdated. Yet, he cites Jesus Christ (the guy who said “I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it“) as one of “The Great Dudes of History.” It’s fairly common among pop culture polytheists of all stripes to reject the traditional Bible-based religions of Judaism and Christianity in pursuit of the divine. Yet, without these Biblical faiths, the western world wouldn’t have a religious model on which to build a pop culture faith practice.

5. …but rely on the culture of Scripture to define our religious pursuits.

The Incredulity of Saint Donald Caravaggio by José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros

The Incredulity of Saint Donald Caravaggio by José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros


Western culture has been so strongly influenced by Biblical faith that our understanding of religion revolves around redemption. Whether it’s Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, or Barack Obama, everyone’s looking for a savior. Whether we’re seeking eternal life or stress relief, redemption is the ultimate pursuit of the human heart. Thanks to the ancient Israelites’ Messiah meme, our cultural psyche tells us that religion is the way to achieve redemption, and pop culture polytheism is merely a replacement for Biblical faith in this regard.

4. We expect God to speak our language.


Idol worship is one of the Top Ten no-no’s of Torah, which is why when Moses descended the mountain to find Aaron leading the people of Israel in a celebration around a golden calf, he was less than pleased. (It’s probably also why pop culture polytheists think the Top Ten are outdated.) What most folks don’t realize is that the sin of the Israelites wasn’t the worshiping of a calf, but their attempt to worship God through the use of a graven image. God is bigger in scope than a golden calf, or a movie star, or a fictional character. God created us, not vice-versa. Therefore it is our responsibility to get to know God, not fit God into a neat little box of our own creation.

3. Even worse, we expect that we can define God on our own terms.

Super Supper by Ron English

Super Supper by Ron English

When we craft idols, we try to create the Creator, to make Him fit our perspective. Worse yet, we enthrone those idols as if they are to sit there, waiting for us to come to them when we need something. It’s crass, selfish worship that creates a master-slave relationship.


2. To know God, we must also be willing to know ourselves.

Pop culture polytheism provides an escape route from the uncomfortable clash between world and self. Life is all about fitting in. Pop culture is all about standing out — on the surface, anyway. What pop culture polytheists fail to understand is that, just like any other faith, a pop culture community relies on homogeneity in order to survive. In an attempt to pursue the divine, most people within any religion enslave themselves to the point of being defined by ritual. Suddenly, they are no longer themselves, but what they imagine their religious masters and idols wish them to be. Before Moses saw God’s glory, he had to be true to himself, confront his failings, and conquer his fears. Knowing God is about running toward, not away, from your true self.

1. We long to meet God, not make God.

It’s so easy to fall in love with an idol of our own creation. In the end, it’s hardly fulfilling, which is why most pop culture obsessions wax and wane. We build celebrities, or the fictional characters they play, into our own mental boxes, enthrone them on the altars of our souls and bow until we get cramped up enough to look around and wonder what it is that we’re still missing, because this just isn’t enough. Eventually, we come to the realization that it’s easier to pursue the Creator than to take on the role of the creator when it comes to the God-human relationship. Over time, the idols are dethroned and the rituals that have acted as veils are lifted so that we can pursue what we’ve been seeking all along: The opportunity to meet God, face to face.



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