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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What is Idolatry?

The post on leadership raised some questions about idolatry.  What is it?  In a time when the thought of making graven images as objects of worship seems absurd, what are our idols?  What might correlate to idolatry in our times?

As my blog post suggests, I have come to think of idolatry as forms of self worship, or selves worship.  Here is my thinking.  Idols are human projections.  The biblical language "idols they fashioned with their own hands," is no accident.  These projections can be human fears or aspirations, and the gods behave in some fashion or other like human beings.  The gods also play a role in maintaining a social-political order which can itself be an idol, and a manifestation of self or selves.

The Hebrew people take the astonishing step of rejecting idolatry, making the claim that YHWH-God is not at all like human beings, does not live in houses made by people, is a jealous god (demanding exclusivity in human-divine relationship), and cannot be turned into an idol.  The Hebrew understanding of YHWH-God is that God is not a projection of human aspirations, but that God's people become a projection of God's aspirations.  Of course, the Hebrew people are not always quick to embrace this vision, and it takes the persistent ministry of the prophets to keep the vision alive, but in the end it is this vision that shapes normative Hebrew faith, and ultimately Christian faith.

So I am always on the look out for self worship, in myself, and in the world around us. One form of idolatry we find in the church is found in the institutions we have fashioned for ourselves.  Certainly nationalism can be a form of idolatrous self worship, an absolute that will be second to none.  It is into this tradition of self worship that I put consumerism, the practice of which is filled with projection of aspiration as well as fear, turning stuff into an absolute, and source of salvation.

What idols do you struggle with in your own life?  What idols do you see in the world around us?