Affirmation of the unfamous ... in a society obsessed with celebrity
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Date: 14 January , 2010

Photo: Iona Books

'What is it that makes us value people not in proportion to their worth, but in accordance with their financial or celebrity profile?'


Author, minister and broadcaster John L Bell has published a collection of his Thoughts for the Day, titled Thinking Out Loud, which were broadcast on Radio 4's Today programme.

With no disrespect to [recently] deceased [celebrities], I muse on how unbalanced it seems that people who have been in the public eye for years are, at their death, sometimes eulogised in more air minutes or column inches than are devoted to murder hunts or scientific discoveries.

Why is it that celebrity status accrues to some and not others?

I mean, if an artificial limb-maker who had brought increased mobility to thousands were to die, there would be no fuss.

If a researcher on the cutting edge of finding a cure for multiple sclerosis were to pass away, there wouldn’t be a fraction of the attention that’s given to film and television stars.

What is it that encourages us to applaud some and undervalue others?

I’m reminded of a conversation I had [some] years ago with two young international lawyers. I asked them if they were the kind of guys who might in ten years’ time expect Christmas bonuses in six figures. They replied in the affirmative.

Then I asked one of them: Who do you think most deserves two hundred grand at Christmas – you or the primary school teacher who identified your abilities, and who encouraged you to believe in yourself? There was no answer.


What is it that makes us value people not in proportion to their worth, but in accordance with their financial or celebrity profile?

It’s not an issue to which the Bible gives any answer. Because that kind of selective celebration of socially significant lives is something which does not feature.

It sometimes amazes me that when you read the story of Jesus, the only named people of any national standing with whom he engages are Herod and Pontius Pilate … both of whom appear in a negative light.

The named people – the people the Gospel hurls into public discourse for two thousand years – are Martha, a homemaker, and Simon, a firebrand, and James and John who were argumentative brothers, and Joanna and Susanna, wives of civil servants; and a host of women called Mary known some for virtue, some for vice.

And these … not the sporting heroes, not the distinguished actors and infamous drama queens; these … not the people whose latest purchases or peccadilloes were the stuff of society gossip … these nobodies were the people who fascinated God enough that he came in Jesus to call them his friends.

This was broadcast in December 2003.

Thinking Out Loud is available from by clicking here

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