I’ve been told that the preacher should always have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Some days that’s harder than others. Last week, there was no avoiding the intersection when I read a column in the New York Times which spoke about idolatry and heresy, of all things.
In this column entitled “When Politics Becomes Your Idol” (Oct. 30), David Brooks wrote about today’s political climate, making use of terminology not often found in the secular media. Even in church circles, talk of idolatry and heresy can seem antiquated and exclusive, hierarchical and judgmental. And here those terms show up with my morning coffee.
I’ve been watching Mr. Brooks with interest for a while. He seems increasingly interested in the power of religion and the spirit in our common life, the importance of values and character, the forces of grace and sin. Maybe that evolution prompted last week’s lament over hyper-partisan discourse in our time. He observes that these days people “often use partisan identity to fill the void left when their other attachments wither away – religious, ethnic, communal and familial.’ He wonders if political affiliation is now being used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness. He notes that people on the left and on the right now use politics to find moral meaning, turning politics into an idol, idolatry defined as giving allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose. Good definition.
Again, I’ve noted Mr. Brooks’ spiritual evolution over the years. A sign of that evolution is his willingness to listen to a range of voices. In this recent column, he cites insights from Andy Crouch, editor of Christianity Today. Mr. Crouch has written a book called Playing God, noting that idolatry is seductive because at first it seems to work: “The first sip of the martini tastes great. A new smartphone seems to give power and control. Status from a new burst of success seems really sensational. But then idols fail. And what seemed to offer more control begins to control you. Idols fail to deliver on their original promises. They ask for more and more and give less and less.”
All of that prompts Mr. Brooks to note that we need to put politics in its place. It needs to be displaced by more important dependencies: family, friendship, neighborhood, community, faith, basic life creed. And if we’re going to get these kind of priorities straight, maybe a good place to start is to think about what Jesus might say on the subject, or more to the point, where he might lead us, or even more to the point, whether we are inclined to follow where he leads. As G.K Chesterton said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” One of the desert fathers morphed that teaching as follows: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” Jesus calls our hearts to love of God and neighbor. There ain’t enough, ain’t much of that floating around in today’s politics.
With the help of Mr. Brooks writing about the idolatry of our current political climate, the heresy that it will be fulfilling, I wonder about the idols we worship. I wonder about where we give our hearts. Today’s idols are not carved out of wood or stone. But we give them power, as we seek to fill the God-shaped space inside of us.
Pray this week for grace to give our hearts to that which will satisfy our hearts.
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship-be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
-David Foster Wallace
Beware of any work for God that causes or allows you to avoid concentrating on Him. A great number of Christian workers worship their work. The only concern of Christian workers should be their concentration on God.
My Utmost for His Highest
We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.
-Oscar A. Romero
The Violence of Love
Don’t raise me up, I am but a messenger.
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