Monday, January 20, 2014

American Idols

Ever wonder why the ancient Israelites were so caught up in the whole golden calf thing?  Isn't it curious how the worshipping of false gods has just faded off our religious radar screens?

A guest on Relevant Radio recently raised the question: when was the last time you confessed and repented from breaking the First Commandment?  God continues to call each of us personally--and all of us communally--to live in a covenant relationship with him.  This means, as Jesus reminds us, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Mt 22:37); in other words, as God's Law succinctly states, "You shall have no other gods before me."  And yet the greatest threats to our freedom and to our happiness are precisely the everyday idols we so willingly embrace.

The Catechism defines idolatry as "divinizing what is not God"; it goes on to comment that, "Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc." (CCC, n. 2113).  So what are you tempted to divinize?  It's not likely satanism, but power, pleasure and money cover plenty of ground, don't they?  And how about race, ancestry and the almighty state?

I am deeply inspired by the heroic witness of those who are in recovery from addictions.  Though this may seem like an extreme example of handing over our freedom as children of God to whichever false god has seduced us, the honesty and courage of those who have confronted their inner demons should be a model for each and every Christian.  Moreover, the recognition that only a Power greater than ourselves can free us from our bondage is essential to the Christian life.  Either we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or we have already shackled ourselves to some other god.

So where do I get my "juice" each day?  What motivates me to get out of bed?  Where do I look for comfort and peace, however transient it may be?  Where do I get my "rush"?  In other words, where is my "treasure," since that is where my heart clearly is?  Here are a few American idols which jump out at me these days; consider which you find most tempting and which you have been able to overcome, thanks to the grace of God, as well as which others you would add to the list:
  • Nation-olatry:  Do I find arguments about "American exceptionalism" compelling?  (Every empire in the history of the human race thought theirs was the greatest!)  Do I bristle at Christian critiques of U.S. foreign policy, or do I find it easy to justify our use of force internationally--even while criticizing other nations who might want to do the same?  While headed to his death at the hands of the global superpower of his day, Jesus clearly teaches, "My kingdom is not of this world" (Jn 18:36).
  • Economic-olatry:  Do I bristle when popes comment about economic matters?  Is my IRA or 401K what helps me sleep at night (or what keeps me awake)?  Does my lifestyle continue to expand with each pay increase, even as I keep delaying my effort to tithe in gratitude for God's gifts?  Jesus is awfully blunt on this point, "You cannot serve two masters...You cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt 6:24).
  • Politic-olatry:  Do I identify myself and align my opinions with the Democratic or Republican party?  Am I a proud liberal or a proud conservative--a progressive or a traditionalist?  Either way, my idol is safely in place.  Do I get annoyed when the Church seems to be dabbling in the realm of politics?  Jesus shockingly exhorts us, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" (Mk 12:17).  In other words, all our heart, soul and mind!
  • Sex-olatry:  Again, am I outraged that the Church should try to talk about Jesus' teachings in this private area of my life?  Am I more worldly than wise in this domain?  Am I shocked that studies show 50% of men in the U.S. regularly view pornography, presumably justifying it as harmless entertainment?  Am I defined by my sexual desires or orientation?  Do I try to convince myself that this is the one area of life where it's O.K. to do whatever I feel like doing?  Jesus understands all of the issues related to properly ordering our sexuality toward the end for which it was created, and he gives us the strength to live what he commands: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8).
  • Self-olatry: Is it always my plans, my work, my family, my life, my creature comforts, and ultimately "my will be done"?  Am I either good enough already, or too broken and flawed, to allow God to transform me?  Do I bristle at obedience, whose Latin root is "to listen," even obedience to the living Word of God?  We live in an age of entitlement, so gratitude is very difficult indeed, and we are Americans who believe that we just need to pick ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps.  Jesus knows this temptation well:  "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23). 
Though it's not an exhaustive list, it certainly is an exhausting one.  The only way we can avoid being sucked into one or more of these paths of slavery is to "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29).  Only by leaving behind the false gods of our choosing can we follow him who has first chosen us.  This alone will bring the healing, wholeness and authentic liberation for which we long.