The topic of the sermon at my mom's church today was idolatry. The main point was that we must worship God and not idols of any kind, be they statues of Aphrodite or money or status. I certainly agree that setting anything up as an idol in our life tends to lead to disastrous consequences. What we set up as the object of our affection, devotion, and worship often fails to deliver: our true love leaves us, our political leader is found out in some scandal, the stock market tanks, we lose our job. We may neglect other areas of our lives out of devotion to our idol.
I started thinking about types of idols not mentioned in today's sermon. For example, one idol of mine that has been smashed in the past year or two has been the Bible, as in the inerrant-word-of-God Bible. In many areas of Christendom, the Bible has replaced God. It's easy to see how this has happened. If you believe the Bible to be the very words of God and further, that God only speaks to you from the pages of the Bible, then reading the Bible becomes conversation with God. The Bible becomes God. And God must be protected at all costs. We expect that God speaks to us in a clear, direct manner, so there's no room for disagreement about what he meant when He said such and such. Our interpretation of scripture must be the correct one. We stop being able to have discussions about overarching principles and values and how they might be applied in our current culture and get lost quibbling over whether it is "scriptural" to eat in church buildings, clap during songs at church, let women pray aloud at church and on...and on...and on.
Over at Richard Beck's Experimental Theology blog, I've been having an interesting discussion on the role of women in church. I described a bit of my experience as a woman in a denomination that I believe tends to idolize the Bible. Here's part of one posting:
When my husband and I were first married, he preached at a tiny congregation. The one where there were only a few men present, forcing these poor men into roles I swear God never intended for them to be in....We'd rather experience the madness of awkward men with poor reading skills leading scripture reading, men with no singing ability leading singing, boys with no Sunday school teacher because they were baptized and suddenly can't be taught by the woman who single handedly teaches all the children (well, except baptized boys), 10-year-olds passing communion trays to women who pass them to the person in the pew next to them......After awhile it becomes difficult to maintain a worshipful attitude in a scene like that.
To me, when our behavior starts looking foolish and feeling incongruent with what we know and feel makes sense, we should reevaluate. We just might be serving an idol.
I also wonder if most (or all) of our conceptions of God amount to idols. Projections of ourselves and worldviews onto a large or small deity we worship each Sunday. The preacher today made the point that the gods of ancient cultures were clearly false projections as they reflected the petty, divisive, quarreling nature of the men and women who created them. I couldn't help but reflect on the images of God held in any number of cultures today. Images which lead people into acts of terrorism against each other. Images which lead people to hate, to be divisive, to oppress, to stigmatize, to be intolerant, and even to be intolerant of intolerance. If there is a God, how can we know we have a concept that comes close to being an accurate one of God? Our images seem hopelessly flawed and continually adjust with each culture and over the passage of time. Maybe this continued adaptation of our concept of God will eventually lead to the truth. Maybe humanity isn't ready yet to understand the mind of God. Or maybe it's just not possible to know God in any human way. Maybe He/She/It is beyond finding out.