Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February 5- Idolatry Today

February 5

The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other godsto provoke me to anger. But am I not the one they are provoking? Declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves to their own shame? (Jeremiah 7:17-19)
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds, and animals, and reptiles. (Romans 1:23)

For Calvin, the root of all sin is idolatry- placing something else in the place of God. It is well known that Luther protested primarily against salvation by works and Calvin protested against the idolatry and paganism in the church. Reformed theology has resisted every effort to get control of God, to fasten the infinite and indeterminate God to the finite and determinate whether it be images , or the bread and wine of the sacraments, or the structures of the church” (Leith ITRT p 71).

There is no doubt that our idolatry in America has been growing. The key question for us is “how much will it cost? How much will it help our economy, our money.” The open panic on the financial news networks at the demise of the stock market (our investments) the housing market (the number one investment of the average American) and our jobs (a way to continue to invest) are a sign of how much we have invested in the things of this world. Our coins may say “In God we trust” but our actions reveal we have been trusting in our money. It will be interesting to see if we continue to worship things and money after the economy has gone sour.
The elevation of money, work, and production to god-like status has basically eliminated the idea of a common day of rest- a Sabbath in our country. There was a time in which every country in the union (and recently every state in the south) had laws for taking a day off to rest. Now Sunday is seen as a shopping day by many. This is a tremendous change in just the last twenty years in South Carolina.
Our lives and time here has risen in priority in the last thirty years. I remember the beer commercial, “You only go round once in life- go for all the gusto you can.” If this life is all that we have- and there is no eternal life (a growing number believe this), then we must give all that we can to preserving this life. We have spent trillions on health care and research to prolong life- and we have done it- to an extent. The average person lived until they were 45 in 1901. Now it is 75, and the tabloids speak of a fountain of youth in our DNA research. It is great to live long, but we have almost busted the bank on health care. Our insurance industry doesn’t pay for much, and the government is about to step in because it believes health care is an inalienable right.
We have elevated actors, actresses and singers to god-like status. We openly talk about “American Idol” without even blinking about the anathema of the word “idol.” Television shows bring us the gossip about such beautiful and rich people.
We have elevated sports to idol status. If anyone doesn’t know the Pittsburgh Steelers won the 43rd Superbowl last week they are culturally uneducated. ESPN and Sports Illustrated have openly spoken of the worship of athletes and “bowing down” to them, as well as overtly speaking of worshipping whatever sport (football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, even hockey)!
We have elevated sexuality to idol-like status. Many songs have been out about sex healing us, strengthening us, saving us (think “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye). Pornography- especially pornography on the internet has been one of the fasting growing industries- a multi-billion dollar industry. Television shows things now on the broadcast channels that were seen in the Playboy magazines of my youth. Viagra and ED commercials are everywhere- and who can keep getting
Idolatry is always subtle, tempting, alluring, and often filled with benefits. Having money could be a way to do more in terms of helping the poor and mission work. Working hard and shopping even on Sunday) can help people be employed. Healthcare is certainly a wonderful thing, when I am sick and am in pain, I am very glad we have it. I have already lived past the age of my grandfather, and I am grateful. We have great entertainment because we have elevated it- wonderful songs we can take with us wherever we go. We have sports that are top-notch. Certainly sexuality is a good thing- a gift from God. Calvin would decry the asceticism that would take away all of these things and live in a basement or monastery. However, we have lost our balance. We have taken the good and elevated it to be our God. This day I will ask myself what (or whom) do I tend to put in the place of God? It is a good question for all of us.

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