Kicking off Hollywood's latest conversion trend.
In the midst of all the important news stories competing for my attention lately, I found myself distracted the other day by what, at first blush at least, seemed a decidedly trivial one. Apparently there exists someone by the name of Sean Stone. He is twenty-seven years old, and is the son of Oliver Stone, the famous film director, writer, and outspoken fan of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and other charismatic totalitarians. Coincidentally, Sean Stone has also appeared in twelve of his father's own movies, which means he is obviously an exceedingly talented young actor.
Sean was born with the middle name of Christopher, which means “bearer of Christ.” He has now, however, changed his name to Sean Ali Stone, because he has converted to Islam. In what seems a nod to family tradition, he did not just convert to Islam, he did it in a country run by the kind of tyrants his dad loves, namely Iran.
Young Sean explains his new faith in good old-fashioned addled-celebrity style. On the one hand: “I have said a simple prayer, ‘There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his messenger.’” On the other:
“I am of a Jewish bloodline, a baptized Christian who accepts Christ’s teachings, the Jewish Old Testament and the Holy Koran. I believe there is one God, whether called Allah or Jehovah or whatever you wish to name him. He creates all peoples and religions. I consider myself a Jewish Christian Muslim.” It will be diverting to see how young Mr. Stone's new Muslim friends will respond to his theological insights.
It is also worth noting that Sean's conversion, according to him, followed hard upon his reading of the Koran. He claims to have learned from his study of that volume that “Islam is not a religion of violence any more than Judaism or Christianity is.” He must somehow have missed the many passages in the book that vilify those who, like him, have a “Jewish bloodline.”
This news about Sean Stone caused my mind to wander back a few decades, to a time when the spiritual flirtations of addled showbiz types took rather different directions. Some readers will be old enough, for example, to remember est (Erhard Seminars Training), which in its 1970s heyday snagged such big names as Cher, Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper, and Yoko Ono. Various varieties of Buddhism and Hinduism were also big for a while. For a brief period, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi famously won the devotion of the Beatles, helping to skyrocket the spiritual master into a higher tax bracket and purportedly inspiring the White Album. Mia Farrow, who had just married Frank Sinatra, was also hanging around the Maharishi's ashram at the time, along with Donovan and the Beach Boy's Mike Love. (Reportedly the Maharishi made a move on Mia, and you can hardly blame him: what red-blooded guru would pass up a chance to hit on Old Blue Eyes' wife?)
Then there's Richard Gere and his decades-long involvement with the Dalai Lama. As it happens, Oliver Stone also identifies as a Buddhist. So does another famous Stone, Sharon, who says she's a Tibetan Buddhist (but is also, curiously, an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church). Kabbalah studies have also been a big draw, winning such notable adherents as Roseanne Barr, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and, most famously, Madonna. And need one even mention Scientology, which would almost appear to have been contrived, right down to the last detail, to appeal to a certain kind of Hollywood mindset?
Understand that I don't mean to mock Buddhism or Hinduism or Kabbalah studies here, but rather to ponder the ways of certain varieties of Hollywood folk who seem peculiarly inclined to hook up with religions whose cultural roots could not be more alien to their own and whose disciplines and rituals bear little or no resemblance to their own actual lifestyles. And who, at least in some cases, do seem to snap up and discard faith traditions as if they were restaurants or dresses that are in fashion one year and out of fashion the next.
But again, no sneering intended here. If these folks really do find spiritual sustenance in these faiths, more power to them. No, what I'm preoccupied with at the moment is what promises to be a highly entertaining new development – the Hollywood convert to Islam.
Not, I must hasten to acknowledge, that celebrity converts to Islam are an entirely new phenomenon. Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam way back in 1977. Cassius Clay's 1964 transformation into Muhammed Ali was only one of many instances of high-profile black Americans who, like Malcolm X, decided the Nation of Islam was where it was at. (Snoop Dog was another.) Mike Tyson, like innumerable less famous inmates in Western prisons, underwent a jailhouse conversion to Islam.
But the conversion of Sean Stone in Iran, summoning as it does memories of the Beatles' and Mia Farrow's epochal spiritual journey to India, appears to opens up a whole new world of delicious possibilities. Can it be, in other words, that Sean Stone is at the cutting edge of a new trend among Hollywood airheads? Oh, please let it be so. Because when Sean and his fellow Muslim converts in the Industry eventually tire of Muhammed and decide to pursue some other sage's path to enlightenment, they'll actually learn something about the real world. They'll discover, in short, that Islam is, in certain not insignificant ways, utterly unlike every other item on Tinseltown's standard spiritual bill of fare. That it isn't just another accoutrement you can toss out like last season's designer rag. That, not to put too fine a point on it, the Islamic penalty for apostasy is – ahem – death. Ah, what fun, when the frivolity of Hollywood's ditz brigade encounters the deadly serious reality of the Religion of Peace!
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