03 July, 2012

Idols? They're a Personal Thing

A thought here about idols in America. Basically, we don't have any and we might be slightly better off if we did.

In Sunday School we were looking at Samuel and how he made Israel throw away their Ba'als and Astartes. The conversation turned and turned until someone said something that made America's problem crystal clear.

The gist was this. When you sacrificed some grain to Ba'al or did a dance for Astarte or whatever it is you did to gain their favor, you rather expected and even felt entitled to a good crop or a son or whatever you prayed for. And that's why God was so offended by those idols. Some Israelite would sacrifice to Ba'al, received rain from YHWH Who sends His rain on the just and the unjust, grow a nice crop, and tell all his friends how trustworthy Ba'al was. The Israelites really trusted Ba'al in his little sphere of the world. God would not share the credit for the things He did with anyone, imaginary or not, so He fought back.

In America, that could never happen. We put our trust in 401k or the Affordable Healthcare Act or the stock market or welfare or private enterprise. When one of those things fails us, we're disillusioned or depressed or angry, but we don't feel personally betrayed. Our systems and processes are not personal. They're not idols.

The same goes for everything else they call an idol in America: TV, rock stars, sports teams, movie stars, political heroes. We're a lot more likely to ascribe the success of our personal favorites to God than we are to praise them for delivering something to us we'd actually received from God. We don't personally trust personal idols the way everyone did three thousand years ago.

Instead, we don't trust anything beyond ourselves and our kind. Our science, our governments, our culture. We trust our systems and processes, and we are simply assured there's nothing relational to them at all. That ancient Israelite trusted a "someone" named YHWH or Ba'al with his crops. Either way, he knew something was beyond in the control of some other being to whom he could and should relate. The modern American buys a tractor, digs a well, irrigates, and handles pests using tools well within his control. As long as rain comes to someone, somewhere, he'll be able to buy water from his neighbors or the aquifer or somewhere and he'll be fine. And if not, there are a couple safety nets he can fall into. There's nothing personal, nothing relational, about it.

American pagans don't have idols any more, but they don't have anyone else to relate to either. And when we become converted, I think it's very hard for us to make the transition to there suddenly being an invisible Being in our lives Who cares for us and about us, to Whom we can relate.

I'm not quite sure what it all means yet, but it was an interesting discussion. I love Sunday School.