COVID-19 has caused many crises of faith: our faith in social norms and common decency (fights over toilet paper come to mind); in the economy; and in international commerce and travel – ideas that we took for granted have been rudely and perhaps indelibly undermined.
But despite all this – and despite the health crisis; the mass unemployment; the extreme curtailment of our civil liberties (and the uncertainty as to when they’ll be restored) – by and large, we seem to be doing OK. And not only do we seem to be doing OK, the majority of us seem to have an innate belief that it’s all going to work out OK.
In other words, we have faith. Faith at the highest level, above any particular idea of social workings, the economy or globalisation.
Are you squirming yet? If so, I get it. In our world, faith tends to be put in the same bucket as religion, or that nagging, overly simplistic question, “do you believe in god?”
Even if as a child we’ve been indoctrinated into a particular religion (or perhaps because of that), we tend to be fairly skeptical of religions generally, both traditional or modern (Tom Cruise is yet to convince me that Scientology is anything other than an arbitrary system of governance with a false promise of enlightenment dreamed up by a skilful science-fiction writer).
But notwithstanding our aversion to religion, it remains the case that a lot of the individuals who we as a society would deem to be truly exceptional in their chosen field, are exponents of faith. And I say exponents, rather than proponents, because these people tend to demonstrate their faith with individuality, absent the Tom Cruise zeal or rigid framework we typically associate with defined religions.
Take Kanye West for instance. Yes, that’s right, the divisive hip hop superstar, who has historically been portrayed as egocentric, materialistic and immature. But times have changed. Kanye has changed. And underpinning this change seems to be a level of faith that has grown exponentially over the past decade.
From a few minor references to god in songs from his critically-acclaimed 2010 album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’, Kanye’s 2019 album ‘Jesus is King’ presents a hip-hop style adaptation of gospel music packed with biblical references and themes (while somehow remaining unmistakably Kanye: self-indulgent but sympathetic to the socially marginalised).
“To sing of change, you think I’m joking / To praise His name, you ask what I’m smoking / Yes, I understand your reluctancy, yeah / But I have a request you see / Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me / Please, pray for me”
Then there’s the so-called ‘Sunday Services’ performances he leads accompanied by a gospel choir, which he’s even taken into Houston jails.
Kanye is far from the only exceptional musician with a deep faith. A few other examples include Bob Dylan – whose musical work was awarded a Nobel Prize for literature – U2, Bob Marley and Kendrick Lamar. There are many more.
And faith being “on show” in popular culture is not unique to musicians. The football/soccer superstar, Christiano Ronaldo, believes that his prodigious talent was a gift from god. For those of you who are familiar with his performances over the years – which include 8 hat-tricks in the UEFA Champion’s League competition – you would appreciate that the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Like Kanye, Ronaldo has been criticised for being arrogant and self-obsessed. But, also Like Kanye, he seems to reconcile this to as a by-product of god having chosen him, in his case, to be a magnificent footballer. And, like him or not, his actions are undeniable; as well as being arguably the greatest ever player, he is also extraordinarily generous with his money, time and even blood, donating them all to those in need, motivated by a belief that god helps him when he helps others.
For some reason, it seems easy for us to have faith when we’re really challenged, as we are at the moment. But Kanye and Ronaldo are just two examples among many who, having incorporated faith into their everyday lives – the good, the bad and the ugly – have elevated themselves and what they bring to the world, which includes joy and hope.
Unfortunately, expressions of faith which do not accord to strict religious models are difficult to describe and can be difficult for us as an audience to process. Meaning that these incredible examples of faith by global icons tend to get swept up in the simpler narrative of ‘champion sportsman with amazing self-drive’ or ‘complex artist pushing boundaries’. Which is perhaps a shame because the rest of us, probably overwhelmed by the widespread failings of religious institutions in modern times, could really use with some inspiration on how to practice faith more consistently, irrespective of what our own variety of faith looks like.
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