The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The American religion

So what's the stir created by Regis Philbin and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (left), the new TV game show that has captured Americans' imaginations?


"It's just the latest manifestation of our fascination with money as a religious object," says John Lyden, associate professor of religion at Dana College, Blair, Neb.

"Our cultural religion is related to money. Money is a spiritual commodity. In a consumerist society, having wealth is a mark of worth as a person. You're looked up to. It satisfies the quest for love and acceptance."

Lyden says popular culture often functions as a religion. It tells us how the world is, how we ought to live and offers a ritual structure that acts out its central story and values.

The contestants who offer their "final answer" to Regis "are role models ... heroes of the faith," Lynden argues. "[The simplicity of many of the questions reinforces] the American myth that anybody can do this. It's a '90s version of Horatio Alger."

Quentin Schultze, professor of communication at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., adds, "It says that American life is about luck and greed. With a little common sense — with luck and pluck — you, too, can succeed. My prediction is that we'll see more shows like this next fall, and they'll find a way to incorporate sexuality [into the program.]"

The Fox network has already created its nastier, more aggressive clone, Greed, which requires contestants to do each other in.


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February issue


Embracing diversity