Anti-fame, parasocial relationships, and God
Fame is most commonly attributed to celebrities. A person can watch the lives of the Kardashians on a regular basis and become familiar with the personalities of each person in the family. We can become invested in the lives of famous people while they know little to nothing about us.
This is fame and parasocial relationships on the extreme end. The A-list and us. However, fame ought not to be thought of in binary terms. We would say Barack Obama is famous but Congressman Rodney Davis is also famous. He is certainly not as famous as Obama but it is safe to say that more people know about Davis than Davis knows other people.
In a mild sense, someone with 100 Instagram followers has a relationship to fame as well. They get to choose whether they will take in what others post and they have discretion over how much of their life they will share.
So if fame is a spectrum, we are all dealing with fame in varying degrees. This is measured by how many and how well we know others in proportion to how well and how many people know us. This is distinct from saying that more people know me than the number of people who know the average person. The definition of fame we will use is distinctly about a relationship asymmetry, not merely numbers.
As Christians, this leads us to ponder about fame and God. If our life mission is to make God known then the natural question to ask is “is God famous?”
The instinctual answer would be “sort of.” Christianity is a large religion and if you added Muslims and Jews as followers and “knowers” of the Abrahamic God, then yes, God is famous. However, again, this is in consideration of pure numbers and not a relationship asymmetry.
To dive deeper, consider when a celebrity visits a sick child in the hospital. Suppose Robert Downey Jr. found out that a kid with cancer is a fan of the Iron Man. This kid is not just any fan either, he has watched all of the behind the scenes footage of RDJ films and has seen every interview of RDJ. He is a superfan. When RDJ goes to visit the child in the hospital, who is more like God in this situation?
RDJ is the one in the more powerful position, taking time away from his normal day-to-day to care for someone he doesn’t know. He is the one being generous. The child on the other hand is in a position where he is at the mercy of others. He is lucky to have someone visit him.
RDJ seems to be the one more like God in this situation. However, the scenarios can be reexamined through the lens of fame that we have predefined.
RDJ is meeting someone he does not know who is obsessed with him. RDJ has only recently found out that the child even exists whereas the child is familiar with some aspects of RDJ’s personality and professional triumphs. This is relational asymmetry. A parasocial relationship.
With these two comparisons in mind, we can understand God as both the powerful celebrity and the superfan. By the definition of fame that we have created, it would be inaccurate to say that God is famous as he is on the most extreme end of any relational asymmetry. He knows everybody, so even if everybody knew him, it would only even out the imbalance. He also has perfect knowledge, so he knows everybody intimately and more profoundly than anyone can reciprocate. In this regard, it is impossible to close the knowledge imbalance. God is not only not famous by this definition, but he can never be famous. The proper term for this would not be infamous but anti-famous. The relational asymmetry between us and God is impossible to replicate and impossible to abolish.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
1 Corinthians 2:10–11 ESV
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8–9 ESV
And unlike the child and RDJ, where the child’s infatuation would be inappropriate and weird if it were carried on to adulthood, God’s obsession and knowledge of us is natural but undeserved. God in his nature knows all things, watches over all of creation, and desires for all of humankind to be saved. Without Christ making it possible for us to reciprocate in puny ways, we would be oblivious to the fact that there is an eternal superfan that wants us to know him.
And instead of seeking fame for ourselves and desiring relationship imbalances is it not better than we strive for a form of anti-fame? Not in the sense where we form parasocial relationships with celebrities but where we take time to care for and know people when they have no interest in reciprocating? This kind of goal is not without limits but it seems to be a worthwhile endeavor.