I've been worried for a while about people calling too many things idols. It's all well and good to be against people watching too much TV, but is it really an idol? Or is it just an inferior amusement, sometimes used badly?
I've been reading in Isaiah, and God is clearly annoyed when His people turn to idols. There's a really great scene in which Isaiah describes a dude who's obviously pretty handy with wood tools. Our new buddy grabs a good-looking hunk of wood, and turns it into a table and chairs, then maybe a plate or two, finally takes the chips and scraps and lights a fire to cook his dinner. That last left-over piece, though, he carves into an idol to whom he can "say grace" for his meal. It's almost funny how God sees no difference between the activity of making dinner and a making convenient god.
That's an idol.
Faith, hope, and love, Paul says, are the three things that matter, and those are the three things the idolator poured into that last piece of wood.
Faith is a logical, conscious decision to live as if a god's promise will be kept based upon prior knowledge of his power.
Hope is the ability to hang on now because you know god will make enduring the present worthwhile.
Love is a commitment to think, feel and act in the best interests of your god.
I see all three of those things in the actions of Isaiah's unhappy wood-worker. He reckons that his god has given him today's food, so he exercises faith that his god will do it again. His hopes for the future are truly based on the way his god will make that future pleasant. And he has invested his time and passion into pleasing that god with his carved image and tiny offerings to it.
I don't see any of that in America's relationship with the television. We don't think the television brought us any good thing, so we don't rely on it to bring us anything in the future. We don't hope for a better future because of the television's oversight in our lives. Maybe we invest in that box, but all our offerings are to ourselves.
And therein lies the key, I believe.
Our idol cannot be seen, because we no longer believe in the invisible. We don't have to incarnate it any more. We look at history, and find we've gotten our own meals for our own selves, so that's where we put our faith. We hope for our future, because we have laid plans for it and because science keeps making it better every day. And we pour our love out to stir up more passion from within.
In other words, we've not moved a lick from Paul's day. We've made a god of our bellies, trusting our lusts to bring us every good thing and our strength to keep us against the day of trouble.
Don't rail against the television. It's just a little offering we make to our lusts. Our cars and our wide screens and our nest eggs, our jobs and our houses and our spouses, our movies and our shows and our nightlife; they are the little offerings we give to appease our god, the little sacrifices we make to ourselves. We sculpt our abs, sleep at our custom sleep number, and dine in every luxury we can afford in order to strengthen and prepare our god to conquer for us. When our body is strong and our minds are tuned and our attitudes are adjusted, we can make the best of all possible worlds for ourselves.
When the Living God sees us in front of a TV, He doesn't trip out. I'm sure He knows a better way for us to spend our time, a way to spend time together, but He's got big shoulders and He can bear for us to overdo some entertainment. Through Isaiah God tells us it's when He finds us wrapped up in the arms of another that He is angered. It's not Ba'al with whom we whore, though, it's our better selves.
We strive to have faith in ourselves. We hope to grow better and wiser. We practice loving ourselves. We've refined idolatry in much the same way we've distilled the cocoa bean into crack. Ba'al was harmless compared to our idolatry.
Do you want to send a message to America?