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I'd like to know how all those cows got inside the house. Not that these are just any old cows. They're sacred cows. Were you aware that Lady Gaga is a cow to many teens? How about Katy Perry? Jersey Shore? Pirates of the Caribbean? It would only take a handful of the many letters Plugged In receives each year to convince you.

We get two major complaints sent to us here at Plugged In. One is that we shouldn't review pop culture at all because secular entertainment is evil and not even worth discussing. The other is that we shouldn't review pop culture at all because it is harmless and doesn't affect anyone's real life in the least. Interestingly, it is often those who claim "entertainment immunity" whose letters are filled with vulgarity and venom.

A heavy-duty heavy metal fan wanted us to know—in no uncertain terms—that "telling somebody not to listen to that type of music is none of your business." She went on to sermonize why dark, violent, sexual and misogynistic lyrics are perfectly fine to listen to. It was R&B fan Pauline, however, who led me to pen this column. "I listen to this music, I even watch rated R movies yet I'm a virgin," she wrote. "I love God and my family. There's more than one way to skin a cat, just like there's more than one way to be dedicated to God." I'm glad Pauline is still a virgin. I'm thrilled that she loves God and cares for her family. But like it or not, her mind is absorbing negative messages even if her actions haven't yet been affected. Sacred cows are blocking her spiritual vision just as the Israelites lost track of God's glory at the base of Mt. Sinai in Exodus 32.

It seems to me that there are actually a lot of correlations between the nation of Israel fashioning a golden calf for itself in the Old Testament and us worshipping at the feet of the entertainment industry. At the risk of oversimplifying the story, the Israelites were bored. Moses had been gone far too long. God had apparently forgotten them. They needed a little fun and wanted another god to give it to them. Hence the calf and revelry that followed.

We, in turn, have also become bored. Bored with church. Bored with our families. We need stimulation. We need someone or something to latch onto. But God seems too far away to fit the bill. So we embrace something that excites us. Something we can touch, see, feel and hear. A band, TV series or movie star can fill that void, so we become "fans" (short for fanatics), investing ourselves so deeply that we feel obliged to serve and defend those icons. And just as that hand-carved calf changed the lives of those bowing down (see Exodus 32:28 for an account of just how much), so such devotion changes ours.

What we ingest does affect us, both for good and for ill. In 1 Corinthians 10:6 Paul refers directly to the Israelites' desert journey and warns that "these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did." We should heed his warning. Especially adolescents trying to figure out who they are and what they believe. But to do so we first need to recognize that our idols aren't carved out of stone anymore. They're downloaded onto iPods, splashed across theater screens and beamed into our living rooms.

Published July 2011