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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Quote of the Day (7)

Idolatry is fundamentally the worship of self.

When we think of the ancients grovelling before groves and altars, we may be inclined to envision them as essentially religious people with errant theology. That is easier to do when we picture pagans with no knowledge of the true God beyond that which they might intuit from nature and the cosmos.

But then how do we explain the nation of Israel after the exodus?

Liberated from the land of Egypt by miraculous intervention after miraculous intervention, preserved through the Red Sea passage and provided for in the desert, the very first time Moses turned his back, we read that Israel almost instantly reverted to idolatry. It didn’t take centuries or decades. It took a little more than a month.

So they say to Aaron, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us”. 

Something Is Off Here ...

The first clue something is off about this request is that it’s not the individual qualities of the gods themselves that drive the people to seek after them. Of course there is the requisite veneer of religiosity, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the people which gods Aaron fashions for them or what specific horrors form part of their required worship. The character of the gods, whether benign, obscene or ambivalent, is apparently not at issue. It’s just “make us gods”. Presumably it could be Baal, Molech or Ashteroth. The people of Israel are not theological connoisseurs. Like true alcoholics, they’ll take whatever’s available.

The second clue is that they say “gods”, not “God”. They are not looking to replace Yahweh, who in their view has gone missing. There seems to be a nationalized gut instinct at work that rejects fidelity as too stringent or singular, like being forever under the microscope. Better “gods”, the amorphous mass of pseudo-deity that comes without all the moral obligations and duties inherent in the worship of the One God.

The Real Motive Laid Bare

Still, without what immediately follows, we might be fooled into imagining they reconsidered their belief system and opted for a more compelling and plausible theology. But the truth is recorded by Moses and reiterated by Paul to the Corinthians:
“And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”
Here, after all, is the real motive laid bare.

Brian Rosner says this:
“The verb ‘to play’ in Hebrew is clearly a euphemism for sexual activities. According to both pagan and Christian writers feasting and sexual immorality inevitably went together.”
Let’s face it, the celebrations associated with the gods of the nations came packaged with dancing, alcohol, excitement, and even ritualized prostitution. Oh, and a little bloodshed now and then. Such “worship” had to be a lot more exciting than the chaste, practical and comparatively austere service of Jehovah.

The request made to Aaron at Sinai was not a reasoned, theological swap-out of one deity for another. It was the exaltation and deification of human desire.

We Have Become Our Own God

Human beings have not changed significantly over the centuries. The ways desire manifests itself today are occasionally more nuanced and refined, but the essential self-interest is just as prominent, notwithstanding whatever flimsy religious patina adheres to it.

In his book “Facing Truth: The Tale of Two Gardens”, Patrick J. Tabor says this:
“Idolatry fundamentally means to worship or serve a false god. Worship literally means to prostrate oneself or bow down to someone or something. The idea comes from going before a King and bowing down before him and placing yourself at his service. It is acknowledging his authority over you and your submission to it. You are saying to the King, ‘what is it that you require of me’ and you are submissively acknowledging his right to tell you what to do and how to do it. This is why I say we have become idolatrous. In our modern western cultures, we bow to ourselves. We do whatever we want with our life only serving ourselves. In only serving our own self-interest, we have become our own god.”

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