Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Lindy McDowell: Why the world is going gaga over religion

Lady Gaga was the big winner at the MTV VMAs

Is Lady Gaga truly the greatest musical talent of the age? Or just a triumph of packaging?

Dressed to kill in an outfit designed to look like cuts of bloodied meat, she collected eight gongs at the MTV awards this week.

Yet the lady was no overnight sensation. Her singing career only really took off when she went Gaga with the weird outfits and accessorised teapots.

Given its potential to upset the powerful animal rights lobby, some might suppose that her meat dress was a mistake (mis-steak?) But if you’re out for maximum attention, there’s no point mincing the message.

According to some reports, Gaga now wants to expand the brand by branching out into religion. She’s said to be keen to become ordained so that she can perform gay wedding ceremonies at her concerts.

How much of this is true, God knows.

But let’s face it, she wouldn’t be the first Rev Gaga out there

Pastor Terry Jones, a dour-looking boy with a Hulk Hoganesque moustache, can also bear witness to the amazing transformation wrought by shock value.

In his case though, it’s a meteoric rise to fame built entirely on one outrageous comment.

Holy Terror Terry hit global headlines with his plans (later retracted) to brand 9/11 “International Burn a Koran Day.” His remarks prompted riots, caused convulsions in the US and were presumably the inspiration for two other fundamentalist nonentities, Rev Bob Old and Rev Danny Allen, to grab their 15 minutes by burning the Koran in Springfield (surely future material there for Homer.)

Meanwhile, the world’s media descended upon Gainsville, Florida, to seek the views of the man at the centre of the furore.

Not bad going (publicity wise) for a man who normally ministers to a congregation of around 30 to 50 people maximum.

To put this in context, while Pastor James McConnell was able to pack out the stands at Ravenhill at the weekend, Pastor Jones would have had difficulty turning out the equivalent of two rugby teams.

But once he opened his gob to put the boot into Islam, game on. Internet bloggers picked up the ball and before you know it the minister from Hicksville was Pastor Primetime.

It may have a lot to do with the fact that religion dominates the news agenda these days in a way that would have seemed unthinkable only a decade ago.

Oddly, at a time when the world is dependent upon science and technology as never before, faith has become a global obsession.

Even as Stephen Hawkings (a bit of a cult in himself) assures us that creation can be explained by science, the world is going gaga for religion.

Tomorrow, when the Pope arrives in Scotland, he’ll be greeted by demonstrations (including the inevitable protest by veteran pontiff basher, Doc Paisley.)

But millions of the faithful will also show up or tune in to see Benedict. Despite the flak he takes (some of it pretty offensive too), he is the head of a church millions turn to for solace and support.

That turnout for Pastor McConnell at the weekend was an impressive reminder too that it’s not just the mainstream churches that can still pull in the masses.

But in this digital age, as Terry Jones demonstrates, you don’t actually need a congregation to win a global audience.

The meek may indeed inherit the Earth.

In the interim, the provocative, the outrageous and the offensive — they continue to be guaranteed the limelight.

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