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Michael Jackson a Muslim?

I don’t know if it’s true, but last week I read, like many of you, that Michael Jackson had converted to “Nation of Islam.” Some people even wrote to me asking if the Jewish community will now be upset, given that he was once very close to me.

Firstly, not only did I never try and make Michael Jewish, I strongly and incessantly encouraged him to go back to his Christian roots and find Jesus. To be sure, I did take Michael to synagogue. But that was in order to witness the beauty of Jewish prayer and the moving tunes of Jewish music, all in the wider context of inspiring him to bring spirituality back into his life.

But if Michael Jackson authentically and sincerely re-found Jesus right now, it might rescue him from the nightmare that has become his life. So why choose instead to join “Nation of Islam”? Because Jesus and Christianity would make major demands on Michael – demands of character – to which he clearly is even now not prepared to commit. It’s of course a lot easier just to join a radical black Muslim group and claim to be victimized by a hostile white world.

How sad that Michael just keeps on digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself. Imagine the magnitude of the tragedy: Michael Jackson, a man who once thrilled us all with his dancing, having now become one of the most discredited men on earth. And what does he do in order to re-establish his credibility? Why, he teams up with Louis Farrakhan. He would probably have gotten more credibility had he become a Jedi Knight, chosen Obe Wan Kenobe as his master and paid homage to the Force.

Michael, to whom I have no malice and whom I genuinely and sincerely attempted to guide to a better and more purposeful life, is living proof that religion in the modern age is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. God is not something we can pull out as a Christmas gift. Faith is no longer something that can be reserved only for the bunker. Prayer is not something that we can resort to only while ensconced in the valley. God must accompany us – especially when we are on the mountain top.

While many people in history have overcome the challenges of adversity, very few have survived the corruption of success. That’s why so many celebrities are so screwed up.

They think their life is oh-so-dandy. They’re making so much money. They have people worshipping at their feet. Who needs God? Heck, I’ll find God when my kid gets cancer. But for now, I am God. So move over Moses, jump away Jesus. Because heeeerrreee’s Jooohhhnny!

Of course, after a few years of this stuff, the celebrity suddenly wakes up divorced, drugged, arrested or maybe doesn’t wake up at all … like Elvis.

When we speak of the need for God for human salvation, we don’t only mean salvation from poverty, pain and affliction. We especially mean salvation from materialism, shallowness, depravity and the suffocating selfishness of egocentrism.

In a week where Time magazine finally got it right by celebrating our brave soldiers as the “Persons of the Year,” let’s state the tragic flip side. Our Hollywood celebrities have become a national embarrassment. They have become indistinguishable from what we normally refer to as “white trash.” They’re covered head to toe in tattoos, they’re all boozed up, they go in and out of relationships as if Hollywood had become one giant wife-swapping party, and they even live in trailers (albeit ones that cost more than most homes).

What a tragic waste of talent. I have more than a few celebrity friends, and most started life as decent people whose only crime was to be so dark on the inside that they just couldn’t live without the spotlight on the outside.

In general, there are only two kinds of people. Stars and planets, and the irony of Hollywood is that nearly all our celebrities are planets rather than stars. Lacking an inner light, they become dependent on the external spotlight. Soon they become its prisoner and, bereft of a connection with the Source of all Light, they suffer the corrosive effects of celebrity sunburn, which usually manifests itself in the form of moral degeneracy.

But here’s an even bigger tragedy. We “ordinary” people are all too eager to follow our celebrities off the precipice. So enamored are we of them that we are even prepared to be destroyed along with them. We read all about them, dress like them, and dream of becoming them. (A woman describing her boyfriend to me last week said, “He looks just like Brad Pitt.”) That’s why it’s become so essential that we rescue our celebrities, primarily by having them bring God back into their lives.

Michael Jackson is actually an outstanding candidate to come back to God because he was once a very pious and devoted religious son, who spent his weekdays in church and his Sundays proselytizing. Of course, that was all long before he himself became a god and started living by his own rules which, incidentally, don’t seem to have done him a whole lot of good.

But if he has any chance of arresting the downward freefall that is his life, it will have to be by grabbing onto the life preserver called the church, rather than the publicity gimmick called “the race card.”