Pop Culture

Forget Scientology, how about Opus Dei

These days it’s hard to keep up with the latest trends in celebrity worship. By the time I bought my red Kabbalah bracelet, it was about as edgy as Livestrong, and about as cool as last year’s pashmina. Same goes for my at-home Thetan measuring device, and my autographed copy of “Battlefield Earth.” Astrology lost its glamour back when Nancy Reagan left the White House, and the only time I’ve been relieved to find myself suddenly passé was midway through my silent birth.

Style watchers are tired of the same old fringe faiths. We cry out for our celebrities to adopt a hip new opium — something to fill up entertainment magazine side-bars, launch accessory trends, and inspire prime time investigations. But what group could possibly have enough hype and heft to usurp behemoths like Scientology and Kabbalah as the next great religious movement of the rich and famous? My money is on Opus Dei.

Opus Dei is perfect. Thanks to the fervor over “The Da Vinci Code,”, this close-knit Catholic movement is the only fringe religious group that is also a household name. Advertisers work for years and invest millions of dollars for that kind of brand recognition. Most importantly, Opus Dei has the three elements necessary to capture the elusive celebrity market:

1) Visibility: How many religions come with a Tom Hanks movie tie-in? None, unless you count “Joe vs. the Volcano.” With “The Da Vinci Code’s” upcoming release in theaters, future release on DVD, numerous companion books, National Geographic specials and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, Opus Dei has a built-in publicity bonanza. A celebrity would be mad not to take advantage. Think of the escalating tension during your sit-down with Matt Lauer. Think of the point-counterpoint with Dan Brown, available on podcast. Remember: Bad publicity is still publicity. Even if Brown convinced a large swath of the general public in his novel that your faith's public ambassador is a murderous albino monk named Silas, it’s better than no ambassador at all.

2) Exclusivity: There are only 3,000 members of Opus Dei in America. I’m no celebrity, but I did learn something from the Ugg craze: By the time everyone is doing something, you want to have already done it and moved on to another. Any dynamite celebrity religion must begin as an exclusive club, something that not every Tom, Dick and Harry — or Tom, Beck and Jenna — can join. A celebrity who adopts Opus Dei can be confident that, with a membership representing about 0.001% of the population, they are joining the American Express Black Card of religious movements.

3) Controversy: If a celebrity faith isn’t controversial, it’s doomed to sink into the pit of obscurity, and nothing creates more controversy than condemning the behavior of other celebrities. Let Tom Cruise’s denunciations of Brooke Shields’ postpartum medication be our guide. Fortunately, because Opus Dei is so strict, a celebrity practitioner is allowed nearly limitless finger-wagging opportunities.  A celebrity convert to Opus Dei has the opportunity to speak out against pretty much every box-office rival: anyone with even rudimentary carnal knowledge, anyone who sleeps on a soft mattress instead of a wooden plank, people who keep their take-home pay and anyone who picks a house in Malibu over a room in an Opus Dei commune.

Of course, Opus Dei’s policies are a double-edged sword. Because Opus Dei is so strict, there are a few adjustments that will need to be made to win over the celebrity market. Opus Dei's leaders may need to afford celebs some flexibility when it comes to the basic tenets — mostly loosening up a bit when it comes to the aforementioned celibacy, the 100% tithing, communal living and the sleeping on boards. Those requirements are all rather tough, sound uncomfortable and may scare away some Hollywood numeraries.

I suspect this trend will really swell when the Catholic church takes a good look at the possibilities and introduces “Opus Dei Lite,” offering simple substitutions for the more unpleasant aspects of the faith: possibly allowing low thread-count sheets in lieu of the wooden board, perhaps adopting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to celibacy.  True, there will be lost finger-wagging opportunities, but a celebrity who practices even the most watered-down version of Opus Dei can still claim the moral high ground against Colin Farrell. Rumor has it that he sleeps on a canopied bed made entirely of untithed money.

No pain, no gainFinally, there is the most controversial aspect of Opus Dei: corporal mortification. Corporal mortification is bound to grab headlines when Dakota Fanning jumps aboard. First there is the cilice, a circle of barbed wire worn on the thigh for two hours a day. Next is the discipline, a whip used to flagellate oneself — administered before, after and possibly even during an ice-cold shower, if you're a real glutton for punishment.

Corporal mortification may be a bit hard for some celebrities to swallow or for the public to understand. But some fervent devotees would argue Opus Dei without corporal mortification is like Kevin without Britney: broke, uninspired, and on a proverbial Greyhound bus back to Fresno.  Surely a class of people who have been plucked, Botoxed and Stairmastered for years can withstand a few half-hearted swings of the cat o’ nine tails?

For really big stars, a mere one hour a day with the cilice will probably suffice. It can even be cocktail hour, to smooth out the unpleasantness. A special edition of the discipline can be introduced: a bit softer for delicate celebrity skin, possibly scented and with the option of being administered by Radu, physical trainer to the stars. No amount of window-dressing will make it pleasant, but it may make it bearable.

And what’s a little barbed wire when you’re on the cover of Time for your outspoken religious beliefs? Stand up, Opus Dei soldier. You don’t get something for nothing. Style hurts. Just ask anyone who has ever broken in a pair of Manolo Blahniks.

Paige Ferrari is a freelance writer in New York City. She blogs at .

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