There are celebrity fanatics and then there are celebrity worshippers. We’ve all heard of people who will spend an arm and a leg on celebrity paraphernalia, like a Canadian dentist named Michael Zuk who spent $31,000 for ONE of John Lennon’s teeth. (Lennon gave his half-rotted molar to his maid as a gift 40 years ago).
So, there are people who adore, even idolize stars, but then there’s a whole other category of celebrity obsessives, and those are the worshippers. For those of us who never knew these existed, there are a list of celebrity religions, such as Beyism, in which people believe in the Church of Beyoncé.
The Church of Beyoncé
So, there’s this religion called Beyism and it’s been slowly and quietly building since 1981 (the year she was born). Believe it or not, the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn and Harlem’s St. James Presbyterian have been holding Beyoncé masses.
They’re not the first, though; the inaugural Beyoncé mass was held in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in 2018. What’s being said in these masses? “We must worship Beyoncé, the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is hers.” Stuff like that.
People Come in Droves
Worshipping Beyoncé at mass is an exploration of Christian themes through Bey’s art. And it takes place in a church. And yes, it’s real. The Beyoncé mass is the brainchild of the Rev. Yolanda Norton who put together a service that uses Bey’s story and songs as an alternative to traditional Christian worship.
The mass involves Black female officiants, dancers and singers, and they use sermons and scripture readings to meditate on both race and gender in African American society. This isn’t just for, like, 50 people. People come to the Beyoncé mass in droves.
To Worship or Not to Worship Beyoncé
The San Francisco mass specifically drew over 900 people. You can say Beyoncé is more popular than Jesus (no blasphemy intended). Of course, all this means there have been people who question using church services to worship Beyoncé.
But there’s also the argument of “why not?” Sure, Bey once advocated an irresponsible crash diet, but hey, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Okay, so Bey takes massive sums of money from immoral people (she got paid $2 million to perform for Colonel Gaddafi’s son). But what religion doesn’t try to make an extra buck?
The Bey Hive
According to the church of Atlanta, Beyism is an actual religion – a belief in all things Beyoncé. The truth is, Bey has a massive following on social media (15.5 million Twitter followers) and her concerts tend to sell out in seconds.
What are her followers called? The Bey-hive. Her birthday, September 4, is now “National Bey Day” and it trends on all social media. So, why would a religion be inspired by Beyoncé? Well, she is admired by millions for her talent, being a great entertainer, and inspiring people to replicate her confidence.
She’s Kind and Actually Cares
She is also, by most accounts, a kindhearted and insightful person. In response to all the acts of police brutality on Black individuals, Beyoncé has featured the victims’ mothers in her album. She also makes music videos that purposely send a message to the justice system which discriminates against Black people.
Beyoncé, from African American descent, is very involved. That’s why she “touches a chord within us;” she engages her fans in music videos and represents issues in a way the media doesn’t.
Suicide in the Name of Beyism
But let’s not be too naïve; every religion has its problems. Even Beyism has seen its share of death. In 2014, a 23-year-old woman named Taniya Hattersfield, from College Park, Georgia, was found dead from self-inflicted stab wounds to her chest.
Hattersfield was a new member of the National Church of Bey, and one of the many who call themselves Divine Divas and view Beyoncé’s music as sacred text. But for Hattersfield, she got in way too deep, to the point where she felt the need to sacrifice herself.
A Homemade Shrine to Beyoncé
Her body was found in a pool of blood in her family home’s basement. She was surrounded by hundreds of candles and left a suicide note in her pants’ pocket. She was lying at the steps of a homemade shrine to Beyoncé.
Specific details of the suicide note were not revealed, but it was reported by the police that Hattersfield took her life as a sacrifice to Beyoncé, which was apparently at the request of the National Church of Bey. What makes the story even sadder is how her own mother responded…
“She Was Crazy”
Hattersfield’s family was interviewed and her mother had this to say to the news of her daughter’s suicide: “She was crazy,” her mother said, “Plum f***in’ crazy! You can’t be nothin’ but crazy to take your life over some light skin b***h that sings.”
She went on: “I mean, I know that’s my daughter, but I’m just keepin’ it real.” Who knows… maybe that’s her way of dealing with grief? As for Hattersfield’s father, his response was equally shocking. “I don’t even consider that my daughter.” He said his genes “don’t make crazy b****s that worship singers.”
Her Father’s Response Was Just as Shocking
“Just because her mama and I had a good time one Friday night don’t make her my daughter,” he said, seemingly with no shame. Of course, the news of Hattersfield’s death made its way to the National Church of Bey and there was some definite rage from the public.
Many have called for Beyoncé to speak out against the religion. There has been no official response from Beyonce. In the end, Hattersfield’s body was never claimed by any family members and was laid to rest in a Potter’s Field, a cemetery for homeless people.
The Prince Philip Movement
Beyoncé isn’t the only celebrity who’s been worshipped. Some are more surprising than others (we’ll get to Elvis soon), and one famous person who you wouldn’t think would inspire a religion is Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Yes, Prince Philip was revered by many in Britain. But for a group of people in Vanuatu, an island country in the South Pacific, the Duke – who died in April 2021 at the age of 99 – was literally a god to them. It’s been called the Prince Philip Movement.
A “Cargo Cult” That Began After WWII
The movement is a religious sect that worships the Queen’s now late husband as a divine being. Apparently, this religion is one of many “cargo cults” in the area – belief systems that arose after the World War II.
After the war, locals attributed any delivery of goods from technologically advanced nations to certain rituals. Specifically, in the village of Yaohnanen, Prince Philip is thought to be the son of a mountain god – a local ancestral mountain god. It’s understood that the belief was established in 1974.
The Duke, the Messiah
That was the year when islanders saw the Duke aboard the royal yacht Britannia along with the Queen. The royal couple were visiting Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital. Prince Philip himself had visited Vanuatu in the 1970s, and his godly reputation had spread in Yaohnanen ever since.
“I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform,” Chief Jack Naiva said. He was the paddler of a traditional war canoe who treated the royal yacht. “I knew then that he was the true messiah.”
Praying to the Shrine of Prince Philip
Elders in the sect sent the Duke a traditional gift, a “nal nal” hunting club. In return, Prine Philip sent them a picture of him holding the club. You guessed it: the image became an important religious icon for the group.
They use it as a shrine to the Duke of Edinburgh, for locals to pray to him. The locals pray to the Duke for help on all kinds of matters, such as the weather. “We ask him to increase the production of our crops in the garden, or to give us the sun, or rain,” Jimmy Joseph Nakou said. “And it happens.”
The Presleyterian Church of Elvis
Never mind that the king of rock ‘n’ roll once said, “There’s only one king. And that’s Jesus Christ.” Apparently, Elvis Presley was uncomfortable being equated with royalty, but his fans still chose to worship him as a god.
The First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine was founded by Reverend Mort Farndu in the 1990s. Farndu also wrote the New and Improved Testament. He said that Elvis worshippers, aka Presleyterians, come to Las Vegas every day and make the pilgrimage to Graceland at least once.
Kill a Rabbit and Be a Friend of His
“I’ve brought many people to Elvis. I’ve seen, first-hand, the awesome power of the King and I know how terrifying it can be,” Farndu wrote. “I ask you to be something more than a hound dog. To finally kill a rabbit and be a friend of His!”
There are actually multiple churches of Elvis which have been created. There’s even a Christian church in Canada known to embrace the King’s white suits and tassels as they spread the teachings of Christ. In Ontario, in 2003, Dorian Baxter founded the Christ the King Graceland Church.
They Call Him Elvis Priestly
Baxter uses the music of Elvis in his church sermons and also performs as an impersonator after religious ceremonies. Elvis Priestly has his followers, just as he has his haters. Baxter once got an angry call from his bishop several years after he began performing as the King.
“He phoned me out of the blue and told me, ‘Shave off the sideburns, stop using the name ‘Elvis Priestly’ and if you don’t, you’re out’,” Baxter recounted. But the priest refused and was subsequently banned from all Anglican church pulpits.
The Many, Many Elvis Churches
That’s why he decided to go ahead and create his own church instead. Despite heavily using Elvis in his teachings, Baxter is clear about who his church worships. “Elvis may be the king of rock and roll, but Jesus was the king of kings.”
There are so many religious sites devoted to the King, including the Church of Elvis, The Eighth Day Transfigurist Cult, Elvis Séance, The Elvis Shrine, The First Church of Jesus Christ, Elvis, The Gospel of Elvis, Little Shrine to the King, and Oracle of the Plywood Elvis.
You Are Nothing, If Not a Hound Dog
The First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine has a sermon called “You Are Nothing, If Not a Hound Dog.” And it goes like this: “Most of us are too busy having fun, making money, and getting laid to think much about religion.”
It continues: “But being a reverend, not to mention being depressed, broke, and celibate, I think about it all the time.” According to the church’s site, Presleyterians celebrate the birth of Elvis on December 8, which also happens to be the date that John Lennon – one of Elvis’ 13 disciples – was killed.
The 24-Hour Church of Elvis
There’s another place called the 24-Hour Church of Elvis, located in Portland, Oregon. It’s technically an art gallery and a coin-operated church where you can get married for $25, hear a sermon from Elvis Presley, buy a T-shirt, and more. The portable church has changed locations three times.
It started with an art gallery having an Elvis display, and for a quarter people could hear the King give a sermon and then confess their sins to him. In 1985, the first location was the brainchild of Stephanie Pierce, an ordained minister, who came to Portland to be an artist.
Confess Your Sins to Elvis
The church operated out of a storefront with a single fortune-telling machine and artwork from local artists. A year later, Pierce moved it to another street where she recreated the window. This is when she introduced the 24-hour Church of Elvis addition.
It was the idea of two high school students. The funds from the 24-hour church helped Pierce pay her rent, before she moved the location to another street. At the third location, she gave free tours of the displays and Pierce added an Elvis museum.
Are You a Belieber?
You’ve probably heard the term “Beliebers” in reference to Justin Bieber fans. The kid from Stratford, Ontario became one of the biggest pop singers in the world and eventually created a massive following, including his die hard Beliebers.
Bieber is one of the many celebrities who have been the subject of celebrity worship. According to pop music critic Ben Rayner, “Beliebers are constantly asked the religious question: ‘Are you still a Belieber’?” Rayner says celebrity worship came to fruition through the decline of formal religions…
A One-Way Relationship
Now more than ever, fans find identity in entertainment icons. It’s been called “parareligion,” based on a “parasocial relationship.” What is a parasocial relationship? It’s a one-way relationship that allows a fan to identify with the star freely, since the celebrity isn’t actually interacting with them.
Celebrity worship is a parareligion as it consists of “religious parallels.” You see, artists are just projected images of what these diehard fans want them to be. This is why it fits the functional definition of religion.
Bieber Becomes a Part of Them
Celebrity worship makes for “social cohesion.” Beliebers talk about the latest song, album, or performance, and they debate the everyday life of Justin Bieber. Celebrity worship also contains “meaning-making,” where Bieber’s daily updates shape the form of the fans’ lives.
He has become a part of their everyday routine and personal identity. An American Belieber will start celebrating Canada Day since it’s linked to Bieber’s nationality. There’s also “encounter with transcendence,” where fans who met Bieber or went to one of his concerts will state their experience was transcendental.
The Church of Maradona
Sports fans have probably heard of this one. When it comes to icons in sports, there are those who came before Cristiano Ronaldo, okay. And the GOAT himself was Diego Maradona, the Argentinian soccer player who transcended the world of sports as a public treasure.
He took a dull national team to the highest of heights (the 1986 World Cup victory over West Germany, for one). He passed away in November of 2020, leaving behind an unparalleled legacy. In Argentina, there’s an actual religion based on his life.
They Follow a Maradona Calendar
The Iglesias Maradoniana, the Church of Maradona, was created by fans – the ultimate tribute to the soccer wizard. The church was founded on October 30, 1998 (his 38th birthday) in the city of Rosario. The creators were three guys named Héctor Campomar, Alejandro Verón and Hernán Amez.
Followers of the Maradonian Church don’t follow the western calendar; they just count the years since Maradona’s birth in 1960. “I have a rational religion, and that’s the Catholic Church, and I have a religion passed on my heart, passion, and that’s Diego Maradona,” Verón said.
The 10 Commandments of the Church of Maradona
The Church of Maradona, like all religions, has a code of ethics to live by. The founders subscribe to their own version of the ten commandments. Here are some of the Maradona commandments:
Love football above all else.
Defend the Argentina shirt.
Spread the news of Diego’s miracles throughout the universe.
Honor the temples where he played and his sacred shirts.
Preach and spread the principles of the Church of Maradona.
Make Diego your middle name and name your first son Diego.
Don’t live estranged from reality and don’t be useless.
A World of Celebrity Worship
Is Dr. Zuk, the Lennon-loving dentist, any different from a guy who makes the pilgrimage to Sri Lanka to pay respect to a tooth that’s believed to have belonged to the Buddha? According to Emory University’s Gary M. Laderman, we live in a culture of celebrity worship.
“We have instituted a religious culture around celebrities,” says Laderman. Not only does such worship function like a religion, but it is also a genuine religious phenomenon. It’s not even a pseudo-religion. It’s legitimate, although some (even many) might just call it a cult. Just think about the terms we use around celebrities, like “idols” and “divas” (Latin for goddess).
Charisma: A Divine Gift
Stars can entrance people, sometimes to the point of madness. Charisma – you know, the thing George Clooney has – comes the Greek word meaning “a divine gift.” The closest historical parallel to celebrity worship is “the early Christian history of the cult of saints,” Laderman said.
As for Dr. Zuk, he doesn’t actually worship John Lennon. He doesn’t pray to his tooth, but the dentist does believe it holds symbolic power. “Lennon was one of those extremely important people in history… he has such an attraction to people that anything related to him is a big deal.”
Here’s a Scary Thought
Here’s a scary thought (at least to me): what if Kim Kardashian was considered a moral teacher? Or what if our kids were going to Sunday school to learn about the sacrifices Lindsay Lohan made, including addiction to drugs and her stint in jail? Whether it scares us or not, celebrities do have a way of teaching us patterns of behavior.
Anthropologist Helen Fischer of Rutgers University says it’s more than just mimicking their behavior; we develop our morals by imitating certain celebrities and by condemning others. She explains that we use our favorite celebrities to decide what we should emulate and what we should reject.