American Idol and Faith May 21, 2008

American Idol and Faith

Since the finale’s going on right now (not that I’m watching…), it seems like a good time to explore the Top Ten Religious Moments on American Idol, courtesy of

It all starts with the title: something called “American Idol” is bound to be religious. And indeed, Fox’s megahit is all about worshiping new idols, converting the masses, and keeping the faith in our favorite contestants.

And, just like church, it happens every week, demanding our allegiance and, as we vote for the budding idols, our tithe. Plus, many “American Idol” contestants enjoy an afterlife, whether in gleeful infamy like William Hung or in stardom like Kelly Clarkson.

The results are a bit underwhelming. Lots of “shocking” Christian song selections and singers professing their faith.

One paragraph stood out to me, though:

[Jordin Sparks] caught the eye of well-known Christian singer Michael W. Smith, with whom she performed, and she also sang at the funeral for Christian football player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, a job she was rumored to have gotten thanks to a connection from her famous father, former NFL player Phillippi Sparks.

Pat Tillman was Christian? According to whom? That’s not what I’ve read

***UPDATE***: The article was fixed. The sentence now reads “… with whom she performed, and she also sang at the funeral for football player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman…” The word Christian has been omitted. Good. Thanks to author Lilit Marcus for making the change and to benjdm for pointing it out.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • I contacted them and asked them to fix it.

  • drew


    I’m very upset by this. Granted, I know very little about Tillman, what he stands for, how firmly he held his beliefs, etc, but I’ve always held him in extremely high regard for his actions and the way he conducted his life, and I consider him a model atheist and citizen.

    This is slander… reading that Pat Tillman was a good Christian soldier, and knowing that people are going to read that and swallow it, just sickens me.

    As if Jesus needs more people lying for him.

  • Wes

    That’s infuriating.

    A couple years ago, his family was getting all kinds of shit from the military because he and they were atheists. Now that his memory has conveniently faded, it seems he might be posthumously converted, just like so many other famous atheists. It’s like those rumors that started circulating around shortly after Steve Irwin’s death that, shortly before he got speared by a sting ray, he converted to fundamentalist Christianity.

    Some people just can’t stand the idea that anyone good could exist outside of their religion.

  • Pat Tillman was an Atheist as far as I know… What an amazing human being he was!

    Gosh, now Im scared that when I die, Ruben Studdard is going to appear to sing “Shout to the Lord” at my funeral. Prop my dead body up in a chair and watch over me, guys.

  • Hemant – you watch. After you die, you’ll magically become Christian too.

  • One of my “Top Ten Religious Moments on AI” actually happened Tuesday when David Archuleta sang “Imagine” by John Lennon. He didn’t sing the most of the first two (of three) verses of the song, completely dropping:

    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky


    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too

    It may be subtle, but he subtly butchered the meaning of the song.

  • I sent them a note as well. Pat Tillman was openly atheist, as several interviews with his fellow soldiers and his family reveal. Why are some Christians so insecure? It seems that anyone outside of their religion must not be seen as having any goodness at all. Are these people’s beliefs so flimsy that they are that easily swayed?

  • I also sent them a note. Wonder if they’ll respond? (And I wonder if now I’ll get on their mailing list?)

  • Way to honor Mr. Tillman’s memory. Use him as an example of a good Christian without anything to go by but your mere assumption based on the fact that he was a good man and served his country honorably.

    And this reminds me of the continuing disgraceful cover-up by the Bush administration of how he died.

    Way to honor Mr. Tillman’s memory.

  • Not a surprise. We all *know* Darwin, Eintstein, Lincoln, Jefferson, Roddenberry, et al. recanted on their deathbed. Everyone is a Christian some people just choose to deny it . . .until the end. cue spooky music.

  • stogoe

    Wasn’t Tillman fragged by his own squad for not being Christian?

    Or is that just me cobbling together coherence from half-truths, misinformation and uncomfortable silences?

  • Wes

    stogoe said,

    May 22, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Wasn’t Tillman fragged by his own squad for not being Christian?

    Or is that just me cobbling together coherence from half-truths, misinformation and uncomfortable silences?

    He was killed by friendly fire, but the exact circumstances of what and why still aren’t clear (when are they ever when the military is involved)? Tillman was pretty open about being an unbeliever, so some people have speculated that maybe that was part of it. Contributing to the speculation was the fact that his atheism turned out to be one of the reasons that the investigation of his death was so half-assed:

    In a transcript of his interview with Brig. Gen. Gary Jones during a November 2004 investigation, Kauzlarich said he’d learned Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother’s body was returned to the United States.

    Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family’s unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.

    In an interview with, Kauzlarich said: “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don’t know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough.”

    Asked by whether the Tillmans’ religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, “I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know.”

    Asked what might finally placate the family, Kauzlarich said, “You know what? I don’t think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don’t know. Maybe they want to see somebody’s head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can’t bring their son back.”

    Kauzlarich, now 40, was the Ranger regiment executive officer in Afghanistan, who played a role in writing the recommendation for Tillman’s posthumous Silver Star. And finally, with his fingerprints already all over many of the hot-button issues, including the question of who ordered the platoon to be split as it dragged a disabled Humvee through the mountains, Kauzlarich conducted the first official Army investigation into Tillman’s death.

    That investigation is among the inquiries that didn’t satisfy the Tillman family.

    “Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we’re not Christians, and the reason that we can’t put Pat to rest is because we’re not Christians,” Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother, said in an interview with Mary Tillman casts the family as spiritual, though she said it does not believe in many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion.

    “Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady,” she said sarcastically, “But it is because we are not Christians.”

    After a pause, her voice full with emotion, she added, “Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn’t lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything those [people] are, he wasn’t.”

    So that just fueled the speculation.

    So Tillman’s beliefs were definitely at issue in the investigation after his death. But whether they played any role in his death itself is still just speculation, though. I’ve at least never heard anyone provide any solid evidence that Tillman was killed because he wasn’t Christian. I wouldn’t put it past the military to do something like that, but I can’t believe it without some solid evidence.

  • This is ridiculous – it still hasn’t been changed. I tried to contact the author directly; perhaps she will be more responsive than Beliefnet.

  • Thanks go to the author, Lilit Marcus, for fixing it within hours of being asked about it.

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