Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Satirizing Idols

The Old Testament is full of prophetic denunciations of idolatry, which God evidently regards as one of the greatest sins against Him (unfortunately, one of the most frequent as well). In some places, the prophets employ a kind of satire to expose the ridiculous folly of worshiping idols. Here are a couple examples.

“Half of [the wood the carpenter cuts] he burns in the fire; over that half he…roasts meat and is satisfied; also, he warms himself… And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it and prays to it” (Isaiah 44:16-17). In the Letter of Jeremiah found in the Book of Baruch, we read: “These gods of silver and gold and wood cannot save themselves from rust or corrosion… their eyes are full of the dust raised by the feet to those who enter [the temple]… They do not notice when their faces have been blackened by the smoke of the temple. Bats, swallows, and birds light on their bodies and heads; and so do cats. From this you will know that they are not gods; so do not fear them” (Baruch 6:11-23).

These may seem rather humorous, and are meant to be, but for a good reason—to open our eyes to the absurdity of idolatry. We may laugh at people worshiping carved or gilded idols in pagan temples and say, “What does that have to do with us?” Well, as I indicated in a previous post, idols come in all shapes and sizes, and more often than not we carry them in our hearts. You don’t literally have to pray to something for it to be an idol for you, only to give it inordinate attention, especially if that somehow detracts from the worship and service due to the true God. When you engage in some behavior (especially if it is habitual) or promote some position or agenda that is forbidden by God, then you are practicing idolatry.

Everyone has their idols, of one sort or another, because everyone has their sins. Why do we never learn, why are we so easily seduced by the lies of the demons who offer a wide variety of idols for our worship and service? There may be as many answers as there are unique individuals, but in many cases it may be reduced ultimately to this: we do not believe the word of God. God has revealed Himself and communicated his grace through the Church: the Scriptures, the Sacraments, etc. It’s all there: the Truth and the grace to live it; the Love and the offer to enjoy it forever. If we still choose what God has forbidden, or simply do not choose what He enjoins, then we’re saying, in effect, we just don’t buy it. We’ll make our own way, thank you, we’ll just do what seems pleasurable or profitable at the moment. Laughing at the satires against pagan idols, we fail to acknowledge the existence of our own little pantheon, while the demons compose satires about us.

Perhaps, though, we should laugh—at our own idols, be they interior or exterior ones. To see (at last!) how ridiculous it is to choose anything but what God has ordained for our salvation and happiness will make them seem less formidable or attractive. To unmask the deception is to take away the idols’ power (which is only what we give them). Suddenly we wake as if from a dream or stupor, and we see things clearly.

So do not fear (i.e., stand in awe of) them, says the prophet. They are not gods but silly and mute shells without substance or strength, whose devotees eventually become like them. Let us pray that the veils be lifted, the deceptions laid open, that we see all idols for what they are, and the true God for who He is. Then we’ll know whom to worship and serve. Then we’ll stop believing lies—and the joke will no longer be on us!