Contemporary idolatries

The gods and idols before whom we bow today and before whom we humble ourselves are no longer made of wood and stone. They are perhaps made of metal and paper and airwaves. They have set up camp in the mass media, in institutionalized rules of success, in moral and political routines. Or they are the gods of individual, regional, and national egoism: gods who are well known and at the same time difficult to grasp. As our environments give rise to feelings of dependence, their vague complexity oppresses us. There are many ways in which we seek to reduce this complexity, the complexity that constitutes our religious sense. There are many ways in which we construct, find, or select supposedly dependable powers that can direct our lives. Consciously or unconsciously, in piety or idolatry we strive for a clear and direct sense of God.

— Michael Welker, Creation and Reality, p28.

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7 Responses to Contemporary idolatries

  1. Andrew says:

    Reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” in which the old gods (Odin, Anansi, Ostara, etc.) are struggling to survive, and even some newer gods have faded (Telegraph for example). An avatar of the god Media appears to the hero as Lucy Ricardo. I need to read the sequel sometime.

    • Hmm.. I usually have no problem with irreverence and even delight in it, as you know! But for some reason, I was taken aback at this comparison to the Welker quote; maybe because the problem of idolatry is pervasive and unrecognized, and thus strikes me as very serious.

      The god Media represented by Lucy Ricardo, hmmm? That strikes me as quite dated. Nowadays, an avatar of Media would surely need to be represented as a beast with 128 or 256 or 512 humanoid heads, all of them talking continuously! 😉

      • Andrew says:

        Sorry about that. To be more serious, yes, modern idolatry is a major concern: I’m thinking of the “free market,” “the good old days of the 1950s,” and a shallow patriotism that makes America into an idol (side note – if you read the original speech about “a city on the hill,” the message is not “America is great and ought to be taken as an example for all” but “Our colony is going to be under the eyes of God and the world – our flaws will be apparent to all, so we’d better not have any”).

        P.S. Media was playing good cop with our hero, offering him fame and adoration; if she wanted to play bad cop, she’d be appearing as the 500 channels with nothing on (and even as good cop, she did note that Media and Medea had some dangerous similarities).

  2. Chris says:

    I know this is a quote, but I’ll assume you agree with it since you posted it. Let me throw a thought out there. I have OFTEN heard it said that idols “are no longer made of wood and stone”. And while I think the author’s newer, abstract (or electronic) idols DO actually exist and take root in our hearts, I think this quote misses something.

    Growing up Catholic, I know that there are still idols of stone, concrete, and ceramic. I have seen people bow down before them (may God forgive me, I have myself), and “serve” them. Have you never seen school children placing a crown of flowers around Mary’s head? The line is crossed far too easily and far too often.

    • Hi Chris,

      I think that to do justice to your comment, I will have to respond in a separate post, which may take me a few days so I’ll ask your patience on that.

      In the meantime, I do have a clarifying question, though. You’ve raised two issues that are often levelled at Catholicism: the veneration of Mary, and the use of statues as a focal point for worship (when of Christ) or veneration (when of saints).

      So just to be clear, which practice are you assessing as idolatry? If the statue being adorned were of Christ rather than Mary, would it prompt the same comparison from you?

  3. Chris says:

    Hi Vicki. Patience given, no problem.

    On idolatry – yes, the issue I stated was concerning the use of statues as focal points. God was (I think) clear about this (Ex 20:4-5), and so yes, if the image were of Christ it would also be a problem. “…anything that is in the heavens above, or the earth below, or the waters under the earth.” God didn’t throw any loophole clauses in there to say “well, EXCEPT if you are using them as a focal point – then I guess THAT would be okay…” You may counter that it isn’t worship, to which I will note that how we define worship is an extremely fine line. While the Catholic doctrine may be “technically” correct, it is so risky. It is like we are given a loaded gun and told not to shoot ourselves – people are still getting shot. I will also note that 20:5 lists two offenses, only one of which is serve/worship – the other is routinely committed.

    I have often wondered – in all the Catholic churches I have been in, why are there no statues of the Father (at least not that I’ve seen)? Maybe we all sense that would be going a bit too far? If veneration via statues is OK, why not bow down before a statue of God the Father?

    On the “veneration” of Mary, no, I wasn’t specifically getting to that topic, just a statue example. I do however (as you may guess) have concerns there as well. I find it refreshing that Christ kept it simple and spoke in parables that everyone could readily understand. He didn’t expect us to tease out the (subtle?) differences between latria, dulia, and hyperdulia. Instead he told us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

    Please take these comments in love and in the spirit of honing our faith, and not as an attack on my sister in Christ.


  4. Pingback: Do Catholics worship Idols? Part 1: Statues of Jesus | Gaudete Theology

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