Subtle Idolatries

Theological Thursday 

I am an idol worshipper.  I don’t mean to be, or set out to craft golden calfs and prostrate myself before them.  It’s more unintentional…a blasphemy that creeps  unconsciously. 

Every time I’ve thought, “Lord, I could fix a lot of problems if You let me win the lottery,” or “Things would be better–life would really begin–if I had a wife,” I’ve misplaced my hope and devotion.  Does it really matter if I reference those good things through God, and rightly see the Holy Spirit as their source? 

A part of me says, “No”.  I esteem them too highly.  The moment they take any measure of appropriate attention  from God, I have idolized them.  I’ve ascribed salvific power to something other than my Beloved.     

It’s possible fallen humanity is prone to idolatry more than any other sin.  That could be one reason the very first commandments have to do with idolatry.  It certainly begins to make sense when you watch commercials.  Pick a product, whether it’s a brand of soda or the V-cast music service, and you’re likely being given the message that having this thing will transform your life, make everything whole and complete.  We know the reality is far from the propaganda.  

Idolatry has much deeper roots.  It can grow not only from misplaced hope, longing, or corrupt desire, but also from need.  From the moment sin marred the fabric of creation, every human has known unconsciously that the world is not quite what it should be, and that we need saving.  Some seek that salvation in the accumulation of wealth and power.  “It’s all about the Benjamins,” they say, and money’s (false) power to insulate us from chaos or distract from conscience.

Others seek it in sexual gratification or an “ideal relationship”.  You know the kind, the one that “completes me”.  And so they bounce back and forth between lovers, in and out of marriages, from church to church or group to group.      

Still others cling to a “belief system” or political ideology.   In some ways, whether Marxist socialism or unfettered capitalism, the ultimate goals aren’t different (maximum happiness for the most people), just the means of attaining them.  Or pick the political party or candidate of your choice, “If only John Public were in power instead of Dubya (or Clinton, etc.).”

Every election cycle brings a fresh crop of false Messiahs, invariably promising more than they could possibly deliver.  

But our idolatries aren’t confined to what we think can save us or bring happiness.  They manifest themselves also in what we think will destroy us.  It is simple fact that every age of humanity has had groups and individuals who believe they are living in “the Endtimes”.  Whether by flood or fire, nuclear war, pestilence and “super diseases”, meteor collisions, holes in ozone layers, decimated rainforests, or global warming, look to the thing someone claims will destroy the world and you will find idol-worship.  

Why can it be idolatrous to invest too much of yourself into “saving the world”?  I’ll not spend time on the obvious connection with the sin of pride, or the wrongness of thinking you can or should take the place of Christ.  Activism of any type can cross the boundary from faith into despair, from hope to doomsaying, from love into self-righteous autocracy over those labeled as “misguided”, “ignorant”, or “stupid”. 

Extreme social activism is particularly bothersome for the Christian, because we of all people should know our human propensity to sin and weakness, the Lord’s sovereignty over heaven and earth, and our God’s habit of manifesting saving power and grace through our weakness.  In the words of today’s first reading, from the Book of Daniel (Dan 6: 27-28):

“For he is the living God, enduring forever; his Kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end. He is a Deliverer and Savior, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, and he delivered Daniel from the lions’ power.”

Are you a person of faith, or not?  Do you have so little faith in God you believe driving cars and heating homes will overwhelm and destroy what He has made?  Do you believe God would allow two people (Russian and American presidents) on a world of 6 billion to   nuke everything into oblivion? 

Where is that fine line between our very real power, and God’s respect for free will?  Between responsibility for our actions and saving, amazing grace?  The fact is we do not know what is in the best interest of the world, or what God uses to provide for us.  Time and again in sacred Scripture what looks like evil and doom in fact is God’s will,  for our ultimate good. 

Take the Crucifixion of Christ, which having been hinted at on the way to Jerusalem, evokes Peter’s exclamation, “Never Lord! This will never happen to you!”

Peter’s love for Christ and sense of right recognized that perhaps no greater injustice could be done than to kill Christ.  And yet we find Jesus rebuking Simon, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16: 22-24)

Again, in today’s Gospel reading we find another example of how we can get it wrong.  In Luke 21: 20-28, Christ speaks of a time when Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies and “desolation”, of a “time of punishment, when all the Scriptures are fulfilled…[and] a wrathful judgment upon this people.  They will fall by the edge of the sword“.  This is most certainly not the “peace” and absolute “non-violence” envisioned by the modern peace movement.  But then again, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.  Not as the world gives (peace) do I give.” (John 14:27)

There may be a brand of “non-violence” that, while good-intentioned, is totally contrary to God’s will, and indeed stands as an obstacle to real and lasting peace.  Salvation cannot be fulfilled without the time of war Christ told us would precede (and in one Gospel “must come to pass before”) his Second Coming, and the true establishment of peace. 

To persist in anything (even that which is normally good), when it does not conform to the will of God, eventually becomes poisonous.  And so it is with our subtle idolatries.  Praise be to the one who taught us to pray, and his example of obediently insisting, “not my will, Father, but Yours be done”.   

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My Omega Button

On my blog-writing toolbar, there’s a little “omega button” that looks like this: Ω.  It’s the final letter in the greek alphabet, and means “the end”.   I’ve been fascinated by it since day one, and every time I write, must resist the urge to press it. 

It carries a morbid fascination for me.   I mean, what will it do?  Is it the blog’s self-destruct feature?  Was it cleverly placed by hackers to entice me with the allure of the taboo, whereupon clicking it will flood my computer with viruses? 

Or is it even more sinister and powerful?  Mayhap clicking it will cause me to spontaneously combust!  That would bite, but if you’ve got to go, what’s sweeter than being able to say you were too hot for this world? 

Perhaps I’ve entered the Twilight Zone, and now possess the singular power and responsibility to save or eradicate the planet at the tap of a mouse. 

 Like “the One ring” it calls to me, perilous and seductive at once. 

I tell myself I’ll wait until the prophecied 2012 Apocalypse, click the button, and claim responsibility for causing or averting the disaster (either way I win–even if I violate the principle of non-contradiction).   

And how will that Armageddon come?  Is the Ω really a “Jesus button” (He is the Alpha and the Omega), at which the pressing of said instrument, the Son of Man will part the heavens to bring a can of holy smackdown,  salvation to earth?

Until then, I think I may form my own “Omega Cult”, based solely around the existence of this button, and wearing of these accessories.    And since I’m especially Machiavellian, I’ll found a second cult whose sole existence is to kick wearers of  Ω accessories in “the junk”. 

Maybe I’ll use it to blackmail the White House or UN.  You know, standard supervillain stuff, “I’ll push my Omega button, unless you pay me $1 billion dollars!”

 But that’s so pedestrian.  Still, I wonder what type of response I’d get *hand inches toward phone*. 

Thanksgiving, Humility, and 7 Deadly Sins

Theological Thursdays, IV

I’ve been taking a “virtual” retreat by using a few podcasts (I recommend the OYM Youth Ministers’ Retreat–scroll down on linked page).  As I personally struggle with the sin of pride, I found the reflections on humility pertinent. 

One of the priests on the podcast claimed that whatever your dominant sin, humility is one of the primary means you’ll overcome it.  He claimed the greatest thing you could do to grow in humility was to develop a habit of gratitude (Thanksgiving connection!). 

From the understanding of sin passed down by St. Thomas Aquinas, we know that all sin is fundamentally a distortion of something that is (in its proper place) good.  The good thing becomes a sin when you take it from the proper order of life–where it fits into the harmonious and balanced lifestyle–and allow it to dominate you in a disordered way.  Gratitude, and taking the time to thank God for the good given, has the power to put a potential temptation back in its proper place. 

Speaking of proper place, a different priest’s podcast spoke of the life of J.O.Y.  (“joy” C.S. Lewis once said, “is the serious business of heaven”).  J.O.Y. is what you find when you have ordered your life properly, placing J.esus first, O.thers second (Phillipians 2: 1-13), and Y.ourself third.  I wish the priest had explained that placing yourself third doesn’t mean running yourself ragged, or ignoring your own needs or desires, but the basic principle is in the right place.  Where most martyr-inclined people go wrong is in ignoring their needs.  Placing yourself third and ignoring yourself are two completely different things.  After all, the self–even the personal weaknesses and limitations we experience– are all also gifts from God, through which God’s glory and blessings can come to us (from others), and for which we should be very thankful. 

So that’s my reflection for Theological Thursday. 

Tomorrow…Black Friday!  Or as my brother put it, “After the night of Gluttony comes the morning of Greed!” 

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Yar!  Prepare yourselves for the vigorous pursuit of all 7 Deadly Sins!  Most especially those three consumer-friendly baddies–Greed, Envy, and Wrath.  I don’t know exactly how I’m going to play my first foray into the friday shopping frenzy.  I may simply not bathe before going out, thereby using a barrier of personal musk as a defense mechanism against crazed shoppers.  On the other hand, that could backfire and swamp me in swooning ladies. 

I could always gather my doughty crew of pirates, “eyepatch-up” and put the “Black” (flag) back in “Black Friday”.  

Lush Nation

When I use the word “lush”, I’m not talking about foliage.  I heard a news report last night about the “average American”, and among the interesting little factoids shared, a few stood out. 

  1. Americans spent $155 billion dollars last year on alcohol. 

I’m not saying we bring back Prohibition or anything, but come on people!  $155 billion!?  Isn’ that the GNP of some Third World countries?  I did a google image search for “drunken idiots”+funny, and this picture popped up: 

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Make no mistake, that little girl is clearly screaming in outrage over our ridiculous consumption of alcohol, not because the starving water buffalo just ate her little brother.  Of course, your callous indifference to her plight would drive her to drink, but she’s too dirt poor to afford alcohol. 

And if that weren’t bad enough, compound it with these factoids…

   2. & 3. The average American works out 17 minutes a day, and spends 3 hours watching TV. 

Do we really need to look any further to discover the reason for our absurd levels of obesity?   Honestly, how hard is it to do some crunches, pushups, or dips while watching the boobtube?  Drop and give me 20 ya fat slobs!

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a water buffalo I have to headbutt into submission for someone. 

Death from Above

It’s always good to know environmentalists are thinking up new and delicious ways to avert global warming, while simultaneously killing us all.  Take, for example, this idea to beam solar power down from satellites in the form of microwaves.   

 Some are worried the Pentagon may use the satellites to bake people, given the military’s already developed this little contraption

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It’s a microwave emitter, affectionately referred to as “the pain gun”.  Envisioned as a non-lethal means of ending riots and dispersing crowds, the Army may be using it in Iraq.  It’s got a few kinks though, as the invisible pain-rays heat up loose change, metal implants, and cook contact lenses (yeesh!).

When I win the lottery tonight, I’m going to buy one, and use it to start riots.   So if you hear a large group of people screaming, and see me herding them to-and-fro while cackling madly, find some serious cover…and call me on my cell.  But I digress.

I think space microwaves are bad.  We know what happens when you nuke foil.  Some poor fool will eventually fly an aluminum-sheathed plane into restricted airspace, and ionize the whole atmosphere.  It’ll be fascinating to observe, for the few minutes we’ll have to kiss our asses goodbye. 

But if the eco-freak/military fringe doesn’t cook us, al-Jazeera will, with the help of inventor John Kanzius.  This happy bastard found a way to use radio waves to light saltwater on fire.   Just remember to lube up with a flame retardant gel if you hit the beach.  It’s just a matter of time before Jazeera sets the oceans aflame.  Here’s some video of the freakishly fiery saltwater:

Theological Thursdays III

Sins of Omission

I was thinking about “sins of omission” earlier in the week, and thought it would make a smashing supplement to last week’s “Theological Thursday”.   Catholicism distinguishes between two types of sins; those we actively commit (with some degree of intentionality or foreknowledge), and those that occur through a lack of appropriate awareness, action, or virtue. 

 The latter group constitutes the “sins of omission”, and is mentioned during Mass when we ask God for forgiveness not only for “what [I] have done” but “what I have failed to do”.   It seems to me that most of the quarrels, suffering, and poverty I witness among my students stems not from active malice (sins of commission), but from sins of omission.  Indeed, looking at the wider culture–especially at many of the environmental woes we face– I might even suggest most suffering today stems from “what we fail to do”.  I do not think it was always so, but as we have grown in power as a species, the damage of our indifference has equally swelled. 

I was going to continue this line of thinking in particular by examining the ongoing “sins of omission” against women in the Catholic Church.  I think they are a good part of the reason the issue of women’s ordination exists.  But I’m going to delay that argument today, because a hilarious example of the main topic just presented itself to me.  Behold, “Scuba Mohawk Pooh, in Thong”:

Pooh!

Magnificently horrid, isn’t he?  Along with “Mr. Phallic Butterfly”, Pooh represents two glaring sins of omission perpetrated by my school’s art teacher.  Given that kindergarten and grade school students pass through our school fairly regularly, she should have been aware enough (while hanging the art for display today) to notice and discretely refrain from posting the aforementioned material.  I can almost let Pooh go, but Mr. Butterfly is worse, and the subtly concealed marijuana symbols (“4:20”, etc.) and leering, flaming, psychadelic mushroom on another beg removal.  I hate being a censor. 

Assert Your Dominance

It’s been a long week, and one of the best ways I know to de-stress is to visit my parents and do a bit of yardwork.  While moving a pile of sand today, the neighbor’s dog decided it didn’t like my proximity to his territory, and voiced his displeasure.

Normally, I am a patient man.  And my superiority is so glaringly obvious I need not deign to respond to the pathetic slights, insults, and challenges of insecure, lesser creatures.

But there are days when a man is pushed too far, and there is only one way to deal with such impudence…whip it out and urinate on the offending party.  I would never go so far as the Romans (who’d rape conquered peoples to teach them who’s boss), but a little liquid disdain is usually enough to leave someone speechless, especially when it’s coming from my hugeified wang.

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I think I’ll list this incident in my gratitude journal, under the heading “More reasons to thank the Lord I’m a man.”

P.S.  I have not actually urinated on any person or animal.  The scene from Wolf, where Jack Nicholson does just that, is rather hilarious.

P.P.S.  The above photo is not a pic of me.  Frankly, I think the dude’s foot may be gangrenous.