Like most of you I have heard enough about Paris Hilton the last few weeks. I can’t believe the media spends so much time on this stuff when major world issues are before us daily. Yet we can’t fully escape it since the modern media is virtually ubiquitous.

Now Paris reveals to Barbara Walters that she read the Bible for several weeks in jail and that she came to see how she had wasted her life very badly. She also says she wants to redirect her purpose for living. I confess I am skeptical about anything Paris Hilton says right now. Who isn’t? As she left the jail she responded to the media as if she was walking down the center aisle of a parade route.

But I am also reminded that if she did see the light she would not be the first person to come to real faith behind bars. After all, Charles Colson proved to be a real Christian because of a prison term and his Watergate experience and many doubted him for some time. So did Karla Faye Tucker and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, both of whom experienced a conversion in relationship to prison time. (The path is also littered with people who did not last after a jail house conversion.)

But, I remind you, the root of the word “penitentiary” is penitence. Jailhouse religion is not all phony at the end of the day. I have preached many sermons in jails and prisons and I have seen both kinds of people time and time again. The fact, however, is that whatever happened to Paris in jail will not be untested. In her case, it will be immediately tested big time on a very public stage. One can pray that she gets real help and learns quickly how to avoid the public eye, her crazy fans and her former friends.

Chicago attorney Tom Levinson, the author of All That’s Holy: A Young Guy, and Old Car, and the Search for God in America, suggests that right now it is “hard to say” if Hilton is truly a new person. But, he adds, “Jail time has done nothing to impair Hilton’s marketing genius” since she will now have both paparazzi and pastors running after her to give her the attention that she so craves. I can handle the paparazzi pursuing her, since this is their job. It’s the preachers that will trouble me. I hope a responsible, humble and truly godly man or woman gets to her first, preferably someone none of us knows anything at all. That in itself would be a miracle of some sort, especially in these strange times of public exploitation.

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  1. Steve Scott June 28, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    “root of the word ‘penitentiary’ is penitence.”
    Prison time does seem to be a sacrament of the great American religion of salvation by law.

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