While the latest Paris Hilton news may seem like a headline ripped straight from The Onion, it was in fact Barbara Walters who reported that America's favorite gossip page star has found God during her stay in jail and is now reading The Bible.
As expected, the media feeding frenzy devoured the rumor and spit it back out with some added venom. New York gossip blog Gawker used its trademark sarcasm in describing the incident as "a powerful story of redemption. And so honest."
Not to give the diva hotel heiress more credit than she deserves, but I'd still like to imagine a world with Paris Hilton as someone versed in the teachings of Jesus. Seriously. Some might argue that she has more reach than The Pope.
For instance, according to Lykos, she's currently the most popular Internet search term, after being number five last year, and number one in 2005. Even those reading the New York Times the past week have searched her name more than "Iraq," "Iran" and "global warming."
So imagine if this country's greatest distraction from worldly dilemmas actually took up cause to educate and enlighten us on the solutions to such problems. It would be like American Idol producer Simon Cowell scrapping Bon Jovi night in place of a Woody Guthrie tribute.
When Paris reads "sell what you possess and give to the poor" in her Bible, let's hope she takes it to heart. With that estimated $30 million inheritance of hers, plus another $12 million or so of her own, she could greatly help Iraq's soaring child mortality rate 00 currently the worst in the world and responsible for one in eight deaths before five years of age. Her assets could cover the $42 million UNICEF says it needs to secure Iraqi children over the next six months.
Perhaps other verses such as "Blessed are the peacemakers" and "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation" will inspire her to rebuke the recently approved defense bill that includes $142 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2008, plus another $100 billion just to get us through September. Then maybe those of us already following her every move, will finally take grievance with the 51 percent of our income taxes that go to the military. Paris could rally her minions and lead us in some form of war tax resistance.
Sure it's far-fetched, but there's evidence more is going on in that brain of hers than simply worrying about being fabulous. Just before her conversation with Barbara Walters -- in which she also proclaimed that she is through acting dumb -- Paris told AP reporters that she was "shocked" by the amount of attention "the media, public and city officials" devoted to her jail time.
"I would hope going forward that the public and the media will focus on more important things, like the men and women serving our country in Iraq," she elaborated, a point taken by some in the media as unwarranted criticism.
Bennett Gordon, writing for UTNE.com, called her impassioned speech "conveniently self-serving," adding, "It's difficult to recall an instance of Hilton calling attention to the plights of our soldiers from the red carpet."
True as that may be, Bennett's real beef is with "media criticism as a defense," which seems a bit duplicitous when you get right down to it. The banality of the Paris Hilton coverage has reached a point where it is now a topic of its own. Yet, when she attempts to broach that superficiality, she's instantly marginalized.
The next time that happens, perhaps she'll recall another verse from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness."
Like most people, Paris may never act upon that message or devoutly follow the divine path. But if she manages to help just a handful of the world's suffering, it will no doubt serve as a reminder that there is great potential for anyone who comes to understand the love and teachings of Jesus.
As Albert Einstein, who was not only a Jew but a man of modern science, once said, "No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word."
Bryan Farrell is a researcher for Rolling Stone and an independent journalist in New York, whose work has appeared in many publications, including The Nation. He can be contacted at www.bryanfarrell.com.