What Is Idolatry?

Idolatry is obsessive and unrealistic worship, devo­tion or love directed at another person, who has then been termed an idol.  The obsessed person is the idolater, and invari­ably has a false mental perception of who or what the idol represents.

Idolatry is sometimes called idol worship, and the people who worship idols can be called idolaters.

The idol may be some­one who the idolater knows, such as a school friend or teacher; or, as is frequently the case with teenagers, a public figure such as a pop music star, film star or sports personality.  When idolatry occurs in adults, it is often at the beginning of a new relation­ship, when individuals may be unaware of their partner's faults and may even try to avoid discovering them.

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Idolaters are most commonly young women who fall obsessively in love.  The idol is put on a pedestal and regarded as the only person who can bring happiness.  Sufferers may try to pursue a rela­tionship by trying to contact the idol, even though the person has given no sign of interest and is not even remotely familiar with the idolater.

What causes idolatry?

For teenagers, intense emotional attachment to unattainable individuals is a normal part of adoles­cence. These 'crushes' or infatuations are a prepara­tion for later relationships and are usually brief and harmless.

Teenagers, especially teenage girls, are at a point when they are just beginning to develop self-confidence and self-image.  To help themselves, they often focus on a pop or film star, wanting to emulate the star in dress, attitude, likes and dislikes.

Both teenagers and adults may be prone to idolatry if they feel vulnerable and lack self-confidence. They may feel that they do not belong, are unimportant, or are not attractive to the opposite sex. To increase self-worth, they may focus on some­one famous, feeling that being loved in return would validate them as a person. In addi­tion, because the idol is unattainable, they may feel safe from rejection.

SYMPTOMS

  1. Feelings alternating wildly between love and hate.
  2. Friends, family and work, seem insignificant compared to the idol.
  3. Incessant stalking, writing to or phoning the idol.
  4. Feelings of isolation and that others do not under­stand the situation.
  5. Feeling a loss of identity.
  6. Obsessively thinking about the idol.
  7. Feeling that the idol is not the same as ordinary human beings.
  8. Falling in love with some­one who is unattainable or not known socially.

What are the effects of idolatry?

In most cases, idolatry is harmless. Teenagers may attempt to dress like their idol, go to see all of their films or concerts, and read everything they can to become familiar with their lives. Usually this phase passes and teenagers grow out of it when they get a little older and start to develop relationships with someone from within their own peer group.

Occasionally, there may be a serious attempt to turn fantasy into reality. An adolescent girl may make advances to a male teacher or family friend. More rarely, a teenager, usually a girl, tries to live out the fantasy in a completely unrealistic way.

She may claim that her idol has asked her to marry him, and acts as if he is a part of her life.  Such fantasies often occur in those who feel unattractive to more acces­sible members of the opposite sex, or who wish to be accepted enthusiasti­cally by their peer group.

More often, in adults, there may be an attempt to contact the person. This could include writing, constantly phon­ing, following the idol, or visiting their house or workplace.

This obsessive love can be extremely harmful, both to the idolater and the idol. Many people, including celebrities, have been stalked by idolaters, and some celebrities have even been attacked or killed because they rejected the idolater's attentions.

How is idolatry treated?

Idolatry does not usually need to be treated unless the sufferer has lost touch with reality and is trying to live out their fantasies.

In these cases, psychi­atric or psychological help is needed.  This will include therapy and coun­selling, and in extreme cases, it may be necessary for the person to be sectioned and admit­ted to the hospital for their protection and the safety of the idol.

If the idolater is endan­gering the idol's life, legal steps may be taken to restrict the former's move­ments and protect the idol.  Therapy can help idol­aters to recognise the difference between fantasy and reality. 

It can also help them to understand why they have idolised some­one and assist in improving self-esteem.

What can I do to overcome idolatry?

  1. Admit the obsession, even though this is not easy. 
  2. Try to become aware that you are in love with an illusion, a projection of your own hopes and fears, and not with a real person.
  3. Realise that stress and feelings of vulnerability often provoke idolatry.
  4. Avoid creating a fantasy life in which you are the other person's partner.
  5. Keep busy. This limits the time available for brooding and fantasy.
  6. Think positively about yourself. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence may be the cause of your obses­sion, so take up a sport or learn a new skill such as a language or playing an instrument, to help you feel good about yourself.
  7. Keep repeating positive statements about yourself (affirmations). This will also make you feel better and stronger inside.
  8. Cultivate other friendships. When obsessed with some­one, the tendency is to become confined to the obsession.
  9. Make every attempt to widen your circle of friends.

Fan culture

Fan culture isn't always positive. But when exactly does being a fan turn into celebrity worship?

Sansone & Sansone (2014) explored this very question using scales developed to assess celebrity adulation, such as the Celebrity Attitude Scale. Their findings revealed that those individuals with high scores on the celebrity worship scale tend to display certain, 

psychosocial characteristics, including:
  • Concerns about their body image.
  • More likely to have or want to have cosmetic surgery.
  • More likely to be show attention-seeking behaviours.
  • An inability to mentally adapt to new demands or information (cognitive rigidity)
  • Poor interpersonal boundaries
  • Potential for narcissistic features, dissociation (a disconnection between a person's sensory experience, thoughts, sense of self or personal history), addictive tendencies, 
  • compulsive buying
  • stalking behaviours.

Previous historical hero-worshipping fact

Lord Horatio Nelson was a most unlikely pin-up celebrity at 5 feet 4 inches tall. The mutilations of battle (and the pain from a somewhat less glorious hernia) made him seem even smaller. To the public, this little man was monumental. More than that, he was a pop idol, adored in a way that superseded reality and beyond rational thought: 

Admiral Nelson was the first self-made super-celebrity of modern times. Nelson had already become the most beloved Englishman alive, a symbol of patriotic masculinity, romance and style: a David Beckham of the high seas.

 After victory on the Nile, swooning society hostesses embroidered his name on their sashes; he was cheered to the echo whenever he took his seat at the theatre; if he walked anywhere, he was mobbed; if he travelled by carriage, he was surrounded by cheering groupies who would unharness his horses and pull him through the streets themselves. Pubs up and down the country were renamed The Hero; there was no need to identify which hero.

But it was his death, at the very moment of victory, that turned Nelson from a hero into a cult. Some demonstrations of grief were frankly weird.  The slain hero’s corpse was pickled in a cask of brandy for the long voyage back to London; after the body had been removed, the brandy was distributed to Nelson sailors, who drank to his memory in what must have been a disgusting funeral libation: brandy with tincture of the dead admiral.

Relics of Nelson were seized on like fragments of the true Cross: locks of his hair, the 48 pieces of his flag, even the musket ball removed from his spine, which was presented to the King and remained in Windsor. The funeral procession was a mile and a half long, along a route lined by 10,000 soldiers. 

A congregation of 7,000 crammed into St Paul’s Cathedral for a funeral service lasting four hours. The admiral was painted ascending to Heaven, borne aloft by cherubs. Nelson was not merely honoured, and he was sanctified. Britain would have to wait for the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, for a similarly hysterical outpouring of national grief.

Celebrities admiration

We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrities. But if you have concerns that idolising someone you’ve never met might not go hand-in-hand with good mental health, you could be on to something.

People differ in the extent to which they care about celebrities. Research on the topic has consistently indicated that having an especially high sense of admiration for celebrities might be linked to poor mental health.

One way celebrity worship might undermine mental health is its effect on people’s body image. If you idealise media figures with a particular type of body, it stands to reason that you might start to feel more inadequate about your own body. Indeed, a 2005 study found that teenage girls, in particular, tend to have worse body image when they are more spaced out in celebrity worship.

Such role models’ within social media increases body dissatisfaction and may inspire them to get cosmetic surgery.

Body image is far from the only area in which celebrity worship has been linked to worse mental health. Studies have showed there is a relationship between celebrity worship and narcissism, addiction, stalking behaviour, compulsive buying, depression and anxiety, among other things.  No wonder, then, that the authors concluded high levels of celebrity worship are “likely to be associated with many likely psychological disorders.”

False idols

The history of religions has been marked with accusations and denials of idolatry. 

The Bible and other holy books forbid worshipping idols, and idolatry is considered the most severe sin in the world.

Since ancient times, people have believed in supernatural forces, spirits and gods.  They were represented by different peoples in the form of animals or human images.  Ancient people made their images to communicate with gods and spirits because worshipping something invisible was difficult.

That’s why people created the embodiment of their deity in the form of wooden or stone figures.  With the advent of Christianity, ancient people were accused of idolatry. 

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. 

They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.

They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is their breath in their mouths.

Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. 

- Psalm 135:15-18.

Fandoms

What is a fandom?

Perhaps this will give you a clue?

What embarrassments were pinned onto your teenage bedroom walls? 

The term “fandom” refers to the collective fans of something such as a sport, hobby, or series of books. Typically, the members of fandom feel interconnected by their common interests, and fandom can often be a subculture as well.

Only the most devoted fans are included in a fandom, separating them from people who may casually enjoy the thing in question. The term is very closely associated with both the fantasy and science fiction genres, with many well-known examples of each having very dedicated fandoms.

Members of fandom tend to be very interested in all the details of their object of interest. Many people, for example, could be “fans” of Star Trek, meaning that they enjoy the series and may be familiar with some Star Trek trivia.

Fewer people could list all the actors in the series, discuss continuity errors, or argue passionately that Picard was the better Captain. These fans will drink in any available information about their hobby, and they are often highly knowledgeable. Their dedication makes them an object of ridicule, with many people poking fun at deeply committed fans.

Often, members of a fandom connect through things like conventions and zines. They may also organise games and conferences or compose art related to their hobby. Fan fiction and art are typical among fandoms, and some people also collect music, make sculptures, or create tribute films and shorts. These pursuits indicate how passionate enthusiasts can become.

Have you heard of Swifties? 

  • Taylor Swift and the story of the Swifties fandom. Taylor Swift has been known as an artist for a long time. The Swifties are the loyal fanbase behind her, and they can be considered a social group.

Are you a Directioner? 

A Directioner is a super fan of the British/Irish boy band called “One Direction”. Directioners are dedicated to the band’s five members: Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik and people associated with them.

Do you know a Selenator?

You know your Selena Gomez facts; you definitely pass as a true Selenator. 

These are all examples of fandoms: communities built around a shared enjoyment of an aspect of popular culture, books, movies and, in the case of the above criteria, musicians and bands. Most people who join a fandom are in their early teens or twenties, and there are, it appears, many benefits to doing so, including satisfying our desire for social connections.

Football fandom is a licensed madness for the ‘traditional’ die-hard supporter. For 90 minutes or so, usually sedate people watching two teams do all the hard work. However, modern football fandom emerged –a host of different types of fans, including those who have come to the game through players’ voices on social issues. This may also involve as fantasy football or soccer in the United States

So, are fandoms toxic? 

Essentially the answer is no; the fandom itself is not harmful - but some people within it can be. These individuals can be possessive over the subject of their adoration, and they have a sense of superiority over the fans they refer to as ‘casual fans’, questioning their loyalty and level of appreciation.

The following are a list of the most popular Fandoms:

Harry Potter Fandom

Anime Fandom

Doctor Who, Fandom

Supernatural

Star Wars

Marvel Fandom

Directioners

Game of Thrones

 My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Phan (Dan and Phil)

Gravity Falls

Moonwalkers

Kpop

Star Trek

DC Comics

Lord of the Rings Fandom

Perseus “Percy” Jackson 

Sherlock Fandom

Spongebob Fandom

Pokémon Fandom

Hunger Games

Super Smash Bros Fandom

Minecraft Fandom

How many did you recognise?

Tony

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