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BOOK REVIEW: 'The God Factor' peeks at celebs' spiritual lives

We're obsessed with celebrity behavior, where they eat, what they wear, who they sleep with. How else could Paris Hilton have become famous for - what? - being rich?

Cathleen Falsani, religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a woman who most certainly knows how to turn a phrase, brings us a look at 32 celebs and who or what they turn to when the chips are down and faith, or a lack thereof, is all they have to turn to.

Falsani's book, "The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People," isn't brand new (it came out in 2006), but we believe it serves to reset life's compass. It helps us put our own smaller but equally dramatic lives into clearer if not necessarily better perspective.

It's the sort of book you needn't read in one fell swoop. You can, of course, but you're more likely to leave it about, handy to be picked up occasionally. Select a celebrity name and spend a few minutes contemplating, say, what would make author Tom Robbins ("Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," among others) read the apocryphal gospel of St. Thomas.

Would you have guessed in a million years, for example, that actor John Mahoney ("Frasier" father Martin Crane) has a personal mantra he prays several times during every day? "Dear God, please help me to treat everybody - including myself - with love, respect and dignity." Mahoney says he thinks charity is the greatest virtue, and he nurtures it in himself.

There are others: U2 front man Bono, who has a mission to take care of those who can't take care of themselves.

Sen. Barack Obama worships with United Church of Christ and declares, "There's an enormous danger on the part of public figures to rationalize or justify their actions by claiming God's mandate."

Even the once and great queen of the vampires, Anne Rice, has reconnected with her faith, written a novel about Christ and says she believes Johnny Depp is the perfect person to play Jesus in the film adaptation. She says that if " ... you focus on loving and faith and God ... you won't have a whole lot of time for hating ..."

Words to live by.

Falsani, in her introduction, talks about discovering, at the age of 12, the faith-filled lyrics of the band U2.

Here are her own words about that moment of epiphany:

"Hearing U2's album `October' for the first time set me on a course that continues today: To discover God in the places some people say God isn't supposed to be (the Playboy mansion, perhaps, where she interviewed Hugh Hefner for this book). To look for the truly sacred in the supposedly profane. To find the kind of unmatched inspiration and spiritual elation elsewhere in culture that I found that day in" those U2 lyrics.

It's a course not everyone will follow, but it's one which Falsani's book lets us visit for a while.

Lest those dedicated to institutional worship think this some sort of gimmick, think again.

Falsani and her publisher have simply recognized the role spirituality plays in the United States today. This country has declared itself to be one filled with believers, but our nation is not dedicated to a single way of worship.

Modern faith and worship take many forms, and this little book exposes us to some of them. It invites us to eavesdrop on Falsani's deeply personal conversations with very public people. The results, we think, are illuminating.

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