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Britney Spears
Sacrament of Flesh or Publicity Stunt?

Like her mentor and sometime idol, Madonna, Britney Spears has risen to stardom on a not too subtle appeal to two characteristics that some people think of as opposites: sexuality and spirituality. Combining hip hugging pants and skirts with public professions of faith, Spears has been eager to promote an image that is both hip (no pun intended), as well as holy.

Does Hair Color Deepen One's Life of Faith?

Not long ago, she exchanged her trade-mark blond hair for brown, all the better to show forth her "spirituality." Britney's hairstylist, Kevin Mancuso, is quoted by Britney.com as saying that he and the music diva have been collaborating on a new look for some time: "We've been talking about doing a big change. We decided together to go dark with it. ... There are a million Britney lookalikes now -- that alone is the perfect opportunity to move away from that and say, 'Let's start the new Britney.' Just like her music evolves, I think she is evolving too -- it shows her spirituality and it's a way to move on."

Then there's the sacrament of marriage.

Then there was her "marriage" to Kevin Federline, the second Spears marriage within a year. It was soon rumored that the marriage was little more than a publicity stunt, as no marriage license had been applied for, let alone filed. Spears confessed, arguing that the lack of documentation was the result of a last minute change of plans.

"I know we're not completely legal until we file the license," Spears told People magazine, "but in a real sense, in a spiritual sense, we're married ... I believe you also marry in your heart and that means much more than a piece of paper."

Now that Kevin and Britney appear to be headed at full throttle toward the divorce court, we have yet another measure of exactly how enduring a "spiritual" marriage can be. To be sure, the marriage did last a bit longer than the change in hair color.

A Professing Baptist?

In the past, Spears has self-identified as a Christian; a fact that distinguished her from her role model Madonna. For while Madonna's lyrics and music videos made generous use of religious icons, images and words like "prayer," she seemed to be satirizing the Catholic faith. By contrast, Britney's spirituality seemed more conventional and straight forward. (She was raised, after all, a Baptist.)

Still, one wonders to what degree either of these examples illustrates a truly authentic synthesis of sexuality and spirituality. Her more "spiritual" brown hair lasted only a little longer than her first marriage. In fact, the mere suggestion that a change in hair color can reflect a change in the state of one's character or soul should give one pause.

And Now a Jew?

Then too, the latest turn for Britney has been toward a form of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah. In this, too, she is following Madonna. She was recently photographed with a tattoo on the back of her neck ... three Hebrew letters, one of the 72 names of God that can be constructed by re-arranging the letters in verses 19, 20 and 21 of Exodus 14. This Mem-Hey-Shin (in the English alliteration) is associated with "healing," either physical or spiritual.

As to the depth of Britney's Jewish mysticism, one might wonder whether it, like the tattoo, is only skin deep, as Judaism has traditionally forbidden tattoos of any kind; the view being that the human body, as conceived by God is beautiful enough, and does not require such adornments.

I'll have to hand it to both Britney and Madonna, however. They're on to something in catching the connection between sexuality and spirituality. I'm not sure, however, that they understand that linking these two results in a sacrament, not a publicity stunt.

For Further Reading: A Sacramental View of Sex

Madonna's Crucifixion

More on Gender and Sex

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.