The folks at NBC finally caved and have decided not to show Madonna bound to a cross and wearing a silver crown of thorns, according to a story at Catholic News Service. No doubt this will be hailed as an infringement of the First Amendment, even though the event was filmed in England where there is no First Amendment, and in any case the First Amendment protects religious belief as well as speech.
Of course the issue has nothing to do with governmental regulation of free speech in any case--it was a case of self-censorship on the part of a network that was rightly concerned with protecting its sponsors, who surely would have suffered from a boycott if the scene had aired. Madonna has been making a very public show of her Christlike properties, from having herself crucified on stage to adopting a young boy from Africa. Perhaps some of what she does is done with a sincere heart--I am certainly in no position to judge. She may even sincerely believe that her use of Christian imagery in her shows is a legitmate expression of some form of religious belief. Such things are possible in a day and age when just about every thought, no matter how banal, is regarded as important if it comes from the right source. This is why we have the president of the United States meeting with an aging rock star on Air Force One. Surely it is a good thing what Bono is doing in the fight against AIDS, but just as surely it is pathetic that the only way to get people to do anything about AIDS is to parade celebrities in front of them showing them how to do it. And therein lies the danger: one fervently hopes that people do not think that Madonna is showing them how to be religious, or how to regard Christianity. If you live in an age of celebrity, however, fervent hopes are often dashed against the vapidity of reality.