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Religion Alive In Hollywood

With the exception of a few movie stars, the issue of faith and fame has always been a taboo topic.

But since the surprising success of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which already has raked in more than $300 million, the way stars worship has become the talk of Hollywood.

It's also making the entertainment elite rethink the power of religious-themed projects.

"Does Hollywood Have Faith?" is the cover story of this week's People magazine.

"The movie has really sent shock waves through Hollywood," says the magazine's senior editor and Early Show entertainment contributor Jess Cagle. "At first, it was because everyone was afraid it's anti-Semitic. And now people are saying, 'Why have we ignored this audience of evangelical and conservative Christians for so long?'"

There are several reasons for that, Cagle notes, "As one producer told the magazine, the people who run the studios are a very homogeneous group of people, and there is a great divide between those people and evangelical Christians."

Another reason, he says, is a large population of evangelicals had been offended at the way they were portrayed in the past.

Cagle explains, "The frustration of evangelical Christians is not just that all these movies have premarital sex and swear words and things that they disagree with, but conservative Christians are often used as a punchline in movies. They're upset about the way they're portrayed, like the Ned Flanders character on 'The Simpsons.' This is offensive to a lot of people."

As to whether Hollywood is godless, most celebrities are religious, like most Americans. Madonna and Tom Cruise have been vocal about their faiths for the past several years (Kabbalah and Scientology, respectively), but there are several other celebrities whose faiths are a large part of their lives.

Denzel Washington goes to a Pentecostal church; Patricia Heaton from "Everybody Loves Raymond" is a very serious Christian, a devout Presbyterian; and Jessica Simpson, although a Christian, does not attend church services. Her father is a Baptist minister.

About Simpson, Cagle says, "She is, like most Americans, 85 percent of whom identify themselves as Christians who don't go to church. Jessica Simpson is a Christian. She often does not attend church services because she travels a lot. However, she says, 'My church is my relationship with God.'"

Asked if he believes "The Passion" will open the floodgates for religious-themed projects, Cagle says, "I think it will open the floodgates for people trying to make religious projects. However, you have to remember that film and television are actually an art. And artists have to create what they know. I think that if more evangelical and conservative Christians can start working in Hollywood in getting their projects made, then we will see more of it."

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