Modern Idolatry

Posted on October 4, 2011

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Normally, idolatry is thought of a something like this:

But what if idolatry was also this:

We normally talk about idolatry as replacing God with something else as the object of our worship. Idolatry is seeking after money, material goods, security, power, or anything else other than God. I’m fine with that understanding, but I don’t believe it goes far enough.

Idolatry can be expanded to include those instances when we confuse God’s roles and actions with our own. The most obvious example is judging other people.

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. (Luke 6:37-38)

I believe Christians should be be smart, discerning, studious, well-read, articulate, evaluative, fact-based, and rational. Christians should stand up against systemic evils like racism, corporate malfeasance, the inhumane treatment of animals for food or pets, and the consumer culture that tells us to buy more things. To engage these big issues we need to study them, think complexly, and make judgements about when to speak, when to stay silent, and when to take action. Christians should have the sharpest wit, the brightest mind, and be able to see through a cloud of information, mis-information, facts, stories, and lies, to recognize the truth.

Except when it comes to people.

When it concerns people, all those critical powers should float away, as the warden in The Shawshank Redemption so memorably put it, “like a fart in the wind.”

When it comes to people, Christians should love. Love mean choosing to be physically around people who, if you leveled all your powers of discernment toward, you would find on the wrong side of so many things. This takes work because we are naturally drawn to people who look like us, think like us, and re-enforce our way of seeing the world.

Love is why I don’t have opinions about things like homosexual marriage, women in office, the morality of eating meat, or any number of other theological issues. My opinions and beliefs (at least this type of belief) are based on idealized situations – and that is where they remain.

The actions I take, the words I say, are based on love (at least, I try to base them on love). And that isn’t a wishy-washy concept. It means at a most basic level, that I set aside my rigorous powers of judgement so I can be physically near people. It means that I stop caring about being right as long as we can be together.

A woman is called by God to be a minister. A gay couple men wants to get married. I don’t eat meat. A man doesn’t feel that women should lead. A family is against gay marriage. A friend eats whatever is put in front of him. If all these people cannot gather together under the same roof in the name of the Jesus Christ, then there is no church. If all these people cannot support one another when the mess of life hits the fan, then there is no church. If our theological opinions stop us from giving hugs, sharing meals, laughing together, and providing a shoulder to cry on- then there is no church.

It is idolatrous when people confuse their role and God’s role. The trick becomes knowing the difference.

[More to come on our role vs. God’s role in another post.]

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