October 20, 2006


But the rest of the human race, who escaped death by these plagues, refused either to abandon their own handiwork or to stop worshipping devils, the idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood that can neither see nor hear nor move. Nor did they give up their murdering, or witchcraft, or fornication or stealing.

Issues come and go. Today commentators are quick to say that whatever the bible means by idolatry, it isn't what Hindus of good conscience do as they practice their devotions, or what Eastern Orthodox folks as they pray before icons or Roman Catholics and their devotion to the saints -- no none of that is idolatry.

And I want to agree. Of the few Hindus I've met they seem like fairly nice friendly folks. I've met even fewer Easter Orthodox, but I've met a fair number of Protestants with icons in their homes. I have a modern print handing on the wall intended to be a contemporary icon. As for Catholics with their cults of the saints, I have met quite a few Catholics, and while they have all been flawed human beings, they have not been any more flawed than the Protestants I've met. So I'm not altogether sure what all the fuss is about.

Past generations have not felt this way. Iconoclasm was a movement that in its extreme expressions went about smashing religious images in churches. The modern austerity of Quaker meetinghouses is the end product of that movement. We are wise to not altogether disown it -- at least until we full appreciated it.

For me the idols of this world are corporate logos and national emblems. Golden Arches. Canadian Tire. Calvin Klein. The Gap. Exxon. It troubles me to see national flags displayed in church sanctuaries. This because these are representations of the powers and principalities that overrule us.

And yet. This attitude is a very liberal Christian kinda attitude. It too is socially constructed. I point my finger -- power principalities idolatries -- at all this stuff and conveniently turn a blind eye to what my own devotions to the powers that constrain my life. Where am I then?


At 2:03 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

You've put your finger on the crux for the meaning for today, which is the only meaning that really interests me any more-- God's word, the Living Bible.

The idols today as always are whatever keeps us from God. We will worship something; if not God, then what?

IMO Mammon is still the primary idol as it was in Jesus' day. Next to that I put tribalism, which for me means loving your own and hating (in the New Testament sense) the other.

I guess in a confessional mode I might say that one of my primary idols is my own (oh so) incisive brain.

At 2:37 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Reminds me of the Doukabors (sp?). These traced their origins to a wandering Quaker in Fox's day, except that being Russian their movement went hierarchical and secretive. Anyway, the point of the reminding is that their scriptures are oral, sung. Written words felt "dead" to them, too fixed to allow revelation to continue.

Back to idolatry. The Hebrew prophets made far more of an issue of this than we want to. We find complaints of injustice and violence more compelling (unlike those narsty right-wingers who just want to hear about who's Knowing whom with how much unauthorized fun, 'Pay no attention to that hand in your pocketses; that's just God's favor to the Deserving Rich...')

If God really chose the Jews for a revelation to all of us (and how else would we find so much life in this stuff, gritty as it sometimes gets?) there ought to be more to that idolatry thing than interdenominational rivalry. I can't buy a universal God who gets "jealous" just because the guys want to party over at the Chapel of Ishtarte. That "jealousy" must be rooted somehow in human needs (What praise does an all-powerful God need for Himself?); hence there must be ways of "worshiping" that "work" for us, and ways that don't.

Devotion to Mammon, to Our Tribe, and to our favorite side of the brain, just a few things that get in our way, likewise power, prestige, tasty food, nasty "healthy" alternatives, sex ("also among the Angelic Powers", says Stringfellow.) All (I think) related to a fundamental craving to feel safe.

Try to program a computer to play any complex game of strategy; you're almost compelled to institute some measure of "How am I doing?" Not that the program or the computer actually "feels" better or worse, but there's going to be at least an implicit set of goals that a position satisfies well or poorly--and here we have that "Knowledge of Good and Evil" creeping into things. And so even our morning coffee ritual and comfort foods can become to some extent suspect.

I dunno. When I figure this out, I'll let you all know. Meanwhile, what I woke up with this morning... Every religion that imagines the supreme reality and power of the universe either entirely outside us, or confined to us, is "idolatrous" in the sense of worshipping less than the full spirit and body of God. Anything that imprisons us within some past understanding is "idolatrous" because it interferes with the relationship with Truth that we are continually growing into. Modern American civilization is fundamentally idolatrous because, according to its values, it is our job and our economic functions that matter, rather than the Spirit in us--so that "Living is just wasting time." It isn't "sinful," or "falling short," to do any practice that in fact nourishs our spirits--It's the things that trap us in a loop that subject us to Corrective Troubles: ie war on Iraq, mean-spirited tyrants at home, unpleasant angels knocking off 1/3 of humanity, stuff like that.


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